Something that has always bothered me after my limited combat experience with L Company, 347th, was what is our responsibility to the families of those who were killed in combat? We who write for the Golden Acorn News are the fortunate ones – the survivors.
I often ask, who cares about those that were killed in combat or wounded and later die? They are not here to tell of their experiences, their hopes and their dreams. Only their families and loved ones have deep scars from W.W.II.
Over the years I have contacted four families of those who were killed the day I was captured in the Bulge, or in the Saar Union, or were also prisoners.
Lt. John McCarley, who had been our Executive Officer and later was promoted to Company Commander, yelled at me, “Maddy, come up here with me,” as we were advancing on January 1, 1945. I was lagging behind because I could see tracer bullets flying all over and already many of our company were pinned down or already hit.
Then Lt. McCarley turned around, grabbed his stomach, fell over backwards, helmet fell off his head rolling away from him and he never moved again.
In June 1949, after graduating from Cornell University, I went down to McCarley’s hometown of Port Chester, New York, with a fraternity brother of mine.
We looked up a McCarley in the phone book and drove to their home. An elderly man was taking down storm windows.
I asked if he knew John McCarley. He said, “Yes, he was my son, but he didn’t return home. He was killed in W.W.II.” I said, “Yes, I know that. I was with him.”
He said, “Wait a minute.” He called his wife and daughter. We were there about an hour. I told them my experiences with their son. They said he was 27 years old and liked the Army and was going to make a career of it. They left his body to be buried overseas. Who cares? Maybe just me. I’ve never heard from his family since.
I do a lot of speaking in churches. One time I was staying with a couple in Huber Heights, Ohio. The hostess, Naomi Harmon, was getting down the breakfast cereal the next morning, and making small talk. She said this was her second marriage and that her first husband had been killed in W.W.II.
I said, “What was his name?” She said, “David Leach.” I said, “I was in his company when he was killed.” She showed me some of his military papers – orders, etc.
Then several weeks later, I met a fellow church member of Naomi’s. She said that she was a “basket case.” No one had ever told her anything about David.
Later on she contacted me and said that she had never had a memorial service for him. He was from eastern Ohio. She wondered if I would come to a service on Memorial Day, which I agreed to.
Shortly thereafter, Jim Hunter, a BAR man in the second platoon of which David was first scout, called and wanted me to go to the National 87th Reunion. I told him about meeting David’s widow and he said he would come to the memorial service, which he did. Jim was right behind David when he was shot and said that he was writhing on the ground due to the injury. Then a German soldier stood up, shot him again, and he never moved. Jim and I were captured together on January 1, 1945.
We both spoke at the service and then had lunch with David’s sisters and families. Naomi said this experience overcame some of the bad feelings between her and his family. His mother thought she should have had control over his body, but the Army says that the wife does. So feelings were improved in the family over this experience. Naomi thought David was killed in the Battle of the Bulge, but actually he was killed in the Saar Union, as if it makes any difference.
Eugene Redlinger and I were pinned down together about 20 feet apart. While the Germans were coming out to return some prisoners, I told Redlinger to creep over to a woods about 50 feet away. I was right behind him. He was 18 and I was 19 years old.
Then, zing, zing, two tracer bullets went through both of his knees. He kicked up his legs and started to cry. Blood was running from the wounds.
I told him to lay still and we would get him out that night. He either died of loss of blood, shock, or froze to death.
Several years ago, I found in some publication about Redlingers living in a town in Iowa. So I called the operator and told her my story. She said, “Which one do you want to call?” I said, “Start at the first of the list,” which she did. The lady that answered said she had heard of his death and gave me the phone number of his brother. So, I called him. He was very cool and not very talkative. Of course, I had caught him off guard.
The only thing he said was that when the body was returned, his father opened the casket to see if it was him and nothing was ever said about him in the family after that. Who cares??
Another fellow captured with me was Paul Vana from Montour, Iowa. Several years ago we were in Montour. How do you find out where a person lives or if they are living? Go to the barber shop or a bar. We ended up in a bar at 3 P.M. A lady sitting there said Paul had lived in the next town, but she thought he was dead.
So, off we went. We found a cousin of his. She said Paul’s parents were divorced and he took this quite hard. When he returned from the prison camp and the war, he was in and out of VA hospitals for several years and ended up dying there in the late 40’s.
The last time I saw him was in Gerolstein, Germany, a railroad switchyard town. We were staying in an old warehouse. Probably 300-400 prisoners there.
One night we were unloading rafters off railroad cars. Then all at once, one twisted, flew up and hit Paul in the face, knocking out three front teeth with blood flowing out of his mouth. This was the last time I ever saw him.
Although he was not killed in action, I’m sure his combat and prisoner of war experience contributed to his early death.
I have mixed emotions about these visits. Was it the right thing to do? I hope so. I do care about the supreme sacrifices of these men. They paid the big price. I was one of the fortunate ones who survived 13 days of combat and 3 1/2 months in a German POW camp and a wonderful life since then.
Others that survived from Company L, 347th that we still keep in contact with are Dow Luetscher, Jim Hunter and Tom Mark. We are the fortunate ones.