My father is still going strong at 87. It seems, though, that not a week goes by without him mentioning the death of one of his friends. The friends he has almost never spoken of, however, are the ones whose deaths he witnessed as a member of the 106th Infantry Division in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge and during his time as a POW thereafter. The 106th Division's experience was extreme even in a time of extremes. As one concise summary puts it, when the division "caught the brunt of the German Offensive on 16 December 1944," its members: • had been on the Continent only 15 days, • had been in place in a "quiet" sector for orientation, • had the youngest troops (average age – 22) of any American Division on line, • had been in their new positions only five days, • had no prior warning that the Germans were going to attack, and • occupied a front line that covered over three times the normal distance. My dad, a member of the HQ Company of the 422nd Regiment of the 106 (pictured at left at Camp Atterbury, Indiana; my dad is the 2nd from the left in the top row), has told me that on the night of December 15, 1944, he was on sentry duty in the snowbound forest, believing there wasn't another soul within hundreds of miles off to the east. In fact, there were over 500,000 German troops readying the last Nazi counteroffensive of the war. The "After Action Report" submitted prepared by the Army one month laterlays out the devastation suffered by the 106th Division in bureaucratic terms that cannot hide the reality: It is presumed that the 422nd Infantry Regiment, 423rd Infantry Regiment, 589th FA Bn, 590th FA Bn and the 106th Reconnaissance Troop were eventually overpowered by the German forces east of ST VITH and the bulk of the personnel captured about 19 or 20 December. The strength of the German attack in the division sector and the forces available to the division at the time prevented their being relieved. Attempts to supply the units by air failed because of the weather, although, as learned later, two drops were made but not within their reach. It is known that they were still in the fight early 19 December. It is also known that prisoners were taken by the Germans. However, the final chapter in the defense of the SCHNEE EIFFEL penetration of the SEIGFRIED LINE held by these units is not now known. The estimated losses sustained during this period were 8490, including 415 killed in action, 1254 wounded in action and 6821 missing in action. A large part of the organizational equipment and most of the individual clothing and equipment of CT 422, CT 423 and the 106th Reconnaissance Troop were lost when these units were cut off in the SCHNEE EIFFEL region. What followed for my father were months during which he was solaced by only 2 thoughts. Each day he realized he still was alive. He has also confessed to me that throughout he was regularly struck by the astounding nature of the events he was living through. But it was hell. You can go here to read several accounts that overlap with his to a considerable degree. He was marched hundreds of miles through a frozen winter. He was transported in suffocating boxcars that were strafed and bombed by Allied planes. He and his fellow Jewish-Americans were segregated from the other American GI's; it is only because the Nazi bureaucracy required that he, a non-commissioned officer, be removed from a camp reserved for privates that he escaped being shipped to Berga, about which his army buddy Charles Guggenheim made a film many years later. Finally, he ended up in Stalag IX-A in Ziegenhain, Germany. He has told me that one of the most horrifying sights while in Stalag IX-A was not within the camp itself but nearby – a hospital for German Army amputees, with its countless number of men with missing limbs. Richard Peterson, a fellow POW in Stalag IX-A, describes their liberation: The tanks of the 6th Armored Division arrived almost too late to use what remained of the daylight. But before darkness came on Good Friday in 1945 they roared down the main street of Stammlager IXA, Ziegenhain, Germany, liberating over 6,000 Allied prisoners of war, including me. We cheered them until we were hoarse, and begged for cigarettes and food. The tankers did not know they would find Americans in the camp, and had made no preparations for the starvation they discovered. They gave us all their own rations, promising to send more food and medicine to us the next day. As I wrote above, my dad rarely speaks of those he lost along the way to liberation. But I know he thinks of them all the time.
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