Gene Kenneth Bleuer was born July 2, 1929, in Rock Island, Illinois, to James Kenneth Murray and Charlotte Adele Haines. In 1930, Adele, Gene, and his sister Betty, were living with Adele’s parents, Ira and Cora Haines. Ira was an accountant at the Rock Island Arsenal. Adele married James Murray in 1931 in Cedar Rapids. Gene’s biological father later abandoned them and his mother supported them. Adele later married Paul Bleuer in 1935. Gene graduated from St. Joseph Catholic High School in Rock Island in 1947. He worked at Coca Cola Bottling Company for a short time before joining the National Guard, 44th Division, Battery B late in 1947.
Gene married Alice Larson in 1951. He worked at John Deere Planter Works. They had a daughter, Nancy, while he was in Korea. He later married Joan Sievers but she died in 2004. He married Jackie Christopher in 2005.
He was inducted into the Army in December 1951. He was a sergeant first class in the Army during the Korean War, entering the service in January 1952. His unit completed basic training at Camp Cooke, California, and he went to a leadership school at Fort Riley, Kansas. He went to Korea in October of that year.
Gene was captured overseas and became a prisoner of war. He was one of 14 members of the Army Fifth Regimental Combat Team taken prisoner by Chinese troops in North Korea. He led the combat patrol on a pass outside of Pyongyang, which they were to hold until the Allied troops could get through it. But they were hit by a Chinese Division that far outnumbered them. He spent 91 days in captivity. He and three others were freed but the others never made it home. He attempted to escape, but was injured and recaptured and later exchanged for sick and injured Chinese troops as part of Operation Little Switch. After his recovery, he was sent back to the line and served with the 936th Field Artillery Battalion, a unit of I Corps.
“I still see the faces of those left behind; it’s hard not to think about. I was one of the lucky ones that got back.They weren’t. There were a lot of heroes there.” ~~ Gene Bleuer at Ceremony at the Rock Island Arsenal in 2019 honoring National POW/MIA Day
In September of 1953, Gene was enroute home from Korea.
In 2001, Gene told a Dispatch reporter that he would wake up in the night screaming in fear, thinking of the other POWs who screamed in fear and anger from their holes in the frozen ground. His cell was a 10’ hole in the ground covered by a thatch roof. He slept leaning against the wall, lived in his own excrement and ate rice and raw fish. The Chinese soldiers would urinate on the POWs if they complained about being thirsty. His return to normal life was plagued by nightmares about his time there.
After his military service, Gene enrolled at St. Ambrose College. During his time at Ambrose Gene studied and graduated with a degree in math and physics. Gene then worked for International Harvester Farmall Works as a manager of production operations where he worked until his retirement in 1986. Gene was an avid sports fan, especially when it came to college football. He was a diehard Notre Dame and Iowa Hawkeye fan. Traveling was a hobby for Gene, most notably having memorable trips to Ireland and cruising near the Baltic and Mediterranean Sea.
Gene was an active member in the veteran community. Gene served as the president of Quad City Chapter 168 of the Korean War Veterans Association, where he was captain of the honor guard. Gene was commander of the Western Illinois Chapter of Ex-POWs. He was also president of the IH Farmall Retirees Club.
Gene died on June 15, 2011, at the VA hospital in Des Moines, Iowa.
To learn more about Gene’s military experiences and life, visit Interview with Gene Bleuer (illinois.gov).