As the time grew near for Vernon Hoops to head off to war, he met with a German pastor that had been preaching at his Lutheran church in Byron, Nebraska.
The pastor ended up giving him not only words of encouragement, but something else that may very well have saved his life. Vernon was just 19-years-old when he left Byron behind. He was drafted into the Army in August of 1944 and he says while others may have been afraid, he was totally in favor of going and excited about the opportunity to fight for his country.
The brave young private was acting as first scout ahead of the 45th Division, "We had been across the Rhine River that day and we were riding tanks."
March 27th, 1945, that's the day a German snipers bullet went through Vernon's service prayer book barely missing his heart, "I didn't have any fear that day." But to Vernon's surprise, "All of a sudden, Kabang! I was supposed to be looking out for those krauts, just supposed to check out what's ahead."
At first, he didn't feel a thing, "All of a sudden, I noticed I was hit." The American tanks rolled up behind Vernon as he laid bleeding on the streets of this small German village, "They cleared them out in a big hurry."
But the damage had been done. The snipers bullet missed his heart by a half an inch and left a lengthy scar behind as it passed through his left arm and as for his unconventional body armor, well, Vernon feels the prayer book may have altered the path of the bullet and saved his life, "It appeared as though it could have, I don't know, I don't know how much a bullet like that would glance off anything I don't know."
Private Hoops was awarded a Purple Heart for his valor and maybe just as important...Vernon's grand kids wrote essays at school about their hero, "They talked about Grandpa doin' this and doin' that and I would be proud to read that cause it was a lot of good stuff...made me look like a big deal." Vernon was awfully glad to be back in Byron after his brush with death. And another person that was pretty thrilled about return was his future wife Norma. The two of them have now been married for 60 years.