Theodore “Ted” Paluch was born and raised in the “City of Brotherly Love” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to a small family. Ted followed the war in Europe closely and thought that the United States might eventually get involved. “We used to gather round the radio or read the extras from the paper to follow the war. We knew what was going on.” Paluch recalls. Ted was playing pinball on Sunday December 7, 1941 when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor from a friend. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor Ted Paluch decided that he should join the United States Marine Corps. “I went downtown to join the Marines and they turned me down! I didn’t want to join the Navy so I decided that I would wait until they drafted me.” Ted didn’t have too long to wait, in January 1943 he received his draft notice and was inducted into the US Army. Paluch said, “When I was inducted into the Army I was excited. When you’re young you figure that you will do all the shooting…well it turned out a little different.”
“We had maneuvers in Louisiana and on our first maneuver my unit; Battery B 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion was captured. That was a bad omen. After that I figured that I might be captured if and when I ever went overseas. I really don’t know why I thought that, but I had a bad feeling.” Ted and the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion shipped overseas to Europe in August 1944. “My first taste of war was when one of the German U-boats sunk one of the ships in our convoy. They hit a tanker and it was ablaze. That’s when I realized that I was really at war.”
Paluch’s battalion first saw action in the Hurtgen Forest just prior to the Battle of the Bulge. As Ted explains it, “We were in the Hurtgen for a while, that was a bitch I’ll tell you. The damn trees would explode from the German artillery, and in just a matter of days it seemed that every tree within sight was stripped bare of all limbs. It was a bloodbath in there.” As bad as the Hurtgen was for Paluch, the worst was yet to come.
On December 16, 1944, the German Wehrmacht unleashed Operation WACHT AM RHEIN and attacked the US Army through a small, dark, dense forest that stretches between Belgium and Luxembourg known as the Ardennes. The surprise German Offensive, which is popularly called “The Battle of the Bulge”, rapidly gained ground and by the end of the day on the 16th many US units were in full retreat.
Shortly after being pulled out of the Hurtgen Forest and before the German attack Paluch and the 285th were sent to Schevenhutte, Germany to garrison the town. On December 16 the unit was given orders to proceed from the Seventh Corps to St. Vith and join the Eighth Corps. “We left Schevenhutte early in the morning on the 17th of December and were heading in the direction of Malmedy. I remember that it was wet, foggy, and damn cold. It wasn’t snowing yet, but I remember it being very cold.” The column of vehicles that encompassed Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion was a column of about 30 vehicles and roughly 140 men. As Paluch’s column neared Malmedy it went down a road and through the small crossroads town of Baugnez, Belgium. As the column went through the crossroads it came under fire from several German vehicles and tanks approaching from another road. These German vehicles were the lead elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper, the spearhead of the German attack in the Northern Ardennes. Paluch recalls, “The lead vehicles in our convoy were fired on. The lead vehicles were way ahead of us and the Germans were still a good bit away from them, so when they were fired on the lead vehicles had a chance to run and get out of there, which they did.”
As the lead vehicles sped away and out of harm’s way the after part of the column came under fire from the rapidly approaching SS tanks. “I saw them coming and our column stopped. I jumped out of the truck and into a ditch full of icy cold water. All I could hear was firing. I popped my head up to see and all I could see was tracers, I never saw so many tracers in my life. I pulled my head back down as a tank rolled around the corner and came towards us. I could see that the men in the tank and the troops with them were SS troopers. They had the lightning bolts on their collars. All we had was carbines and here was this tank coming down the road right at us. As it got close to us it leveled its gun at the ditch and the tank commander told us to surrender. What were we going to do? I threw my carbine down and threw my hands up.”
Immediately after surrendering Paluch was taken captive by two SS troopers who thoroughly searched him and sent him down the road with some other members of his column to the crossroads and into a field. While there the SS troopers searched them again and took anything that they could use from the prisoners. Ted says of his captors, “I had socks, gloves, and cigarettes, anything of value they took. The guys that captured us were young, they seemed like ok guys. They didn’t mishandle us or rough us up, they simply took us prisoner, searched us and then moved on. They were combat troops and didn’t have time to mess with us POWs. The guys that captured us and the tanks that were with them stayed around for about ten minutes and then disappeared. We were standing there in the field with our hands up not knowing what was coming. I could hear guys praying, maybe I was too…you know…you could hear it, all you could think of was getting away.”
As the initial SS troops pressed forward the rear echelon infantry came into view and began to pass the large group of American prisoners standing in the open field at the crossroads of Baugnez. “One of the vehicles came around the corner and started firing into our group. I don’t know who the hell it was, or why they started firing but they did. We were standing there with our hands up and I was in the front of the group nearest the crossroads. As the German tanks passed they fired into the middle of the group of us, everybody started to drop and I dropped too. I got hit in the hand as I went down. After that as each vehicle passed they fired into the group of us laying there dead or dying in the field. Anyone that was moaning they came around and finished them off. After that they went back and took off. After laying there for I guess an hour or more I heard a voice I recognized yell, ‘Let’s go!’, so I got up and ran down a little road towards a hedgerow. The Germans came out of the house on the corner and took a shot at me and I dove into a hedgerow. I had some blood on me and I lay down in the hedgerow. I heard one of them come running towards where I was laying and look me over, I could feel that guy standing above me, he could have shot me in the back and gotten it over with, but he didn’t. I knew he was waiting for me to move but I just laid there…dead still.”
Paluch lay in the hedgerow for a short while, stuck his head up and saw no one, rolled down the hedgerow and crawled along a railroad line that happened to take him to Malmedy. Ted continues, “Along the way I met a couple of other guys from my unit who had survived. We all came into Malmedy that night together.” While in Malmedy, Paluch’s wound was tended to, he was interrogated by Intelligence and within two weeks he was back with the remnants of the 285th back in action in the Ardennes.
The aftermath of the infamous Malmedy Massacre.
“I never tried to think about the Massacre too much after the war. I tried to put it behind me, but it never really has been behind me, it’s hard to forget. I don’t know if we would have done that, but I don’t really hold any animosity towards them, I wish it didn’t happen but it did. A soldier gets orders just like we do and you carry them out. It’s a hell of a thing, but its war.” When asked if the memories of the Massacre affect him today, Ted’s eyes grew misty and his chin began to quiver as he said, “I lost a lot of good friends that day, I knew almost every one of those guys who were killed that day. I’m lucky…all my friends…all those young guys, they were all my age, with their whole life ahead of them. It never should have happened, and I hope no one ever forgets that it did.”
Ted Paluch (center) and fellow survivors of the Malmedy Massacre, 1945
Word of the massacre spread rapidly through American lines and helped to strengthen the American resolve to stop the German Offensive dead in its tracks. The Battle of the Bulge officially ended on January 25, 1945 when American forces pushed the Germans back to their original pre-December 16 lines. More than 1,000,000 American servicemen fought in the Battle of the Bulge making it the single largest battle ever fought by American troops. More than 83,000 Americans were casualties of the fighting. The victims of the Malmedy Massacre lay undiscovered and frozen until January 14, 1945, when American troops recaptured the area from the Germans. After the war, Jochen Peiper and many of his men were tried for war crimes as a result of the Malmedy Massacre. The trial prosecuted more than 70 persons. Of those 70, there were 43 death sentences issued (although none were carried out) and 30 lesser sentences.
Ted Paluch was interviewed at his home in Philadelphia by Manager of Research Services Seth Paridon on October 20, 2009.
Dominic Martello was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, went to high school at Jesuit High School and upon graduation joined the New Orleans Fire Department. Martello never gave the Army much thought, as he says, “The average fella never thought he would be in a war until the draft came.” Drafted by the Army before Pearl Harbor, Dominic was assigned to the 39th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division. Shortly after joining the 9th, he was shipped overseas for the initial landings in North Africa as part of Operation Torch.
The green US troops that landed between Algiers and Oran in November of 1942 had no idea what they were about to get into. The training that they had been given in the United States was not sufficient as Dominic recalls, “We needed all the training we could get. We were fighting professional soldiers and we were mostly civilians. These guys had been fighting in the desert for years. We were going to catch hell.”
Dominic was the driver for a halftrack that had 75mm howitzers mounted inside the vehicle to act as mobile artillery. Not long after landing in North Africa, Martello’s halftrack took a direct hit from a German 88mm artillery round, rendering it useless. With the loss of his vehicle, Martello fell in with the rest of the “dogfaces” of the 39th Infantry Regiment. As the North African campaign wore on, Martello’s unit slowly whittled down to a group of men that scarcely resembled their original state upon landing in November. By February at the Kasserine Pass, the heaviest weapon that his unit possessed was his Browning Automatic Rifle (B.A.R.).
Put at the edge of the Kasserine Pass in an effort to disrupt any German infantry attempting to infiltrate American lines, Martello and the rest of his unit were pounded by German artillery. As he puts it, “Those 88s were pretty close; you could hear them go by.” After the cessation of the artillery barrage, the German infantry attacked with a force that Dominic felt he could deal with, but the tanks that supported the German infantry were something that Dominic’s unit could not stop by any means. Martello recounts, “When you have a .30 caliber rifle and a tank is coming at you…you will not survive. The rifleman has no chance against an armored vehicle. When I saw those tanks coming…it’s a hard pill to swallow. How are you going to fight against a tank with a B.A.R.? There’s no way.”
The tanks and most of the infantry cut off Martello’s group. Constant machine gun fire kept the GIs pinned down. “I was in a cactus bush when they were shooting at me. That was the only place I could go. I figured I had better jump in there because I could get those cactus needles out of my behind a lot easier than that lead that they were shooting at me.”
That night Dominic’s group pulled out of their positions and attempted to escape the encirclement that had cut them off from their own lines earlier that day. The small band of GIs marched down a desert road and followed a German unit towardwhat they assumed were the American lines. Martello remembers, “It was so dark the Germans couldn’t tell if we were Americans or some of their guys.” The next morning, out of ammunition and more importantly, water, the small band of men were betrayed by native Arabs and captured by a German tank unit. The German officer in charge of the tank unit gave instructions to his men to shoot Martello and his comrades. However, the Germans refused. Dominic says of the incident, “I thought I was going to die right then.”
Dominic was captured at the Kasserine Pass in 1943 and spent 27 months in a German Prisoner of War Camp. When he was captured he weighed 200 pounds, but when he was liberated by US troops later in the war, he weighed a mere 87 pounds. Martello remembers, “We were so malnourished we couldn’t even walk.”
The war ended in 1945 but even now, the war still rages for Dominic Martello. “I’m back there, that’s my problem. Post Traumatic Stress, I was just back there. I can be driving my car and BAM…I’m there. I can be eating supper and BAM…I’m there…24 hours a day, seven days a week…all my life. I’m controlled by memories…I don’t want to be but I am.”
Dominic Martello was interviewed by Museum Historian Thomas Lofton in Martello’s home in Metairie, LA on August 28, 2008.
Harold Joslin was born in Sequim, Washington in 1918. Joslin had never before been on a boat, or even on the water for that matter when he joined the Navy in 1939. After basic training, Joslin was sent to radio school where he was brought up to speed on the latest radio technology. His proficiency with a radio was duly noted and he was officially assigned to be an intercept operator on Guam. Joslin was sent to Guam in May of 1940. Joslin’s wife, Mrs. Marie Elizabeth Joslin, was sent to Guam in September of 1940. As the political situation in the Pacific was deteriorating, all dependents were ordered off of Guam in October of 1941. The Japanese invaded the island on December 8th, 1941. Joslin recalled that he and eight other radio operators took to the hills of Guam to evade capture. On December 9th, a patrol of Japanese soldiers located the nine men and captured them. Joslin was immediately put into the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral with the other American prisoners of war. Joslin and the other prisoners remained in this church for a month, living off of a meager portion of rice and soup. The native population of Chamorrans on Guam deeply resented the Japanese occupation, often paying the ultimate price for colloborating with the Americans. In one such instance, Joslin recalls a Chamorran who wrapped up a message for the Americans into a bundle of food. The Japanese intercepted the message and the Chamorran man was beheaded.
Joslin then boarded the Argentina Maru, an old freighter, bound for Japan. Joslin recalls that even though it was late spring, it was very cold when they landed in Japan and the men huddled together for warmth. For the next 45 months, Joslin remained in captivity at Zentsuji, the prisoner of war camp. Joslin passed the time by studying, reading the Bible, and doing his best to maintain morale among the men. When Joslin was not maintaining morale, he worked on a dock transporting food and supplies off of Japanese ships that were constantly coming in. Joslin was able to steal food from these ships and he notes that he was always looking for a way to sabatoge Japanese equipment. The Japanese allowed a certain number of messages to be broadcasted from Tokyo via short wave radio. The following is one of the messages that Harold Joslin was able to send during his captivity. He chose to make the message out to his wife.
“Dearest Marie: I am safe and well and surely hope you are okay. Go to the commander in Seattle and have him help you get an allotment started. Do you miss me like I do you? I am counting the days until this war is over and I can come home to you. Be a good wife, won’t you, dear. I Love You. Signed Harold.”
Joslin returned to the United States after his captivity and remained in the Navy until 1976.
Harold Joslin was interviewed on March 1st, 2012 at his home in Northern Virginia by Special Projects Historian Tom Gibbs.
Colonel Van T. Barfoot, a Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died earlier this morning at 92 years old. Always very patriotic, Barfoot joined the Army in 1940 before the start of the draft and by December 1941 was promoted to Technical Sergeant in L Company, 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division. In July 1943, Barfoot took part in the invasion of Sicily and fought at Salerno just two months later. In January 1944, Barfoot landed at Anzio and with his unit pushed inland. By May his unit held a defensive position near the town of Carano, Italy. During his time there, Barfoot lead numerous patrols during the day and night over the next four weeks in an effort to probe the German lines. While out on patrol, he learned the layout of the German minefields, which would prove important for a future attack. On May 23, his company led an attack against the Germans. As a squad leader, Barfoot requested to lead his squad to the German flank, going through some of the German minefields to get to the enemy positions with minimal casualties.
Barfoot led his men to the minefields and placed them in a position to defend a possible withdrawal. Being so familiar with the area, he personally moved through ditches and depressions in the terrain toward the enemy. Barfoot reached the first enemy machine gun on the far right flank and destroyed it with a hand grenade, killing 2 and wounding 3 Germans. He continued along their defensive line to the next gun emplacement and immediately killed two soldiers with his Thompson sub-machine gun, while wounding and capturing three others. As he approached the third gun emplacement, the Germans there surrendered to him. He left the prisoners there for his support squad to pick up and proceeded to “mop up” the area and captured a few more prisoners. In total, Barfoot captured seventeen men during his attack.
Barfoot and his men then occupied the German positions. Later that afternoon, the Germans launched a fierce counter attack on Barfoot’s position. With a bazooka, he knocked the tracks off of the tank closest to his position, causing the other two tanks to move away towards his flank. As the crew of the disabled tank attempted to dismount, Barfoot quickly grabbed his Thompson submachinegun and eliminated them. Along with the attack that afternoon, Barfoot also discovered several abandoned German artillery pieces and disabled one of them. At the end of the day, Barfoot aided two of his severly wounded men and carried them to a safe position some 1,700 yards away.
Not long after this action, Barfoot received a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant and soon afterwards learned that he was to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on May 23, 1944. Given a choice to return to the United States for the award or to be awarded in the field, Barfoot felt it was important not to leave his men. On September 28, 1944, Lieutenant General Alexander Patch awarded him the medal in Épinal, France (see photos below).
Van T. Barfoot retired from the US Army as a Colonel, after also serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Colonel Barfoot has been a long time friend of The National World War II Museum. He was awarded the Museum’s American Spirit Award in 2008 and attended our most recent Grand Opening event in 2009. Colonel Barfoot’ s story will live on within future exhibits of the museum that will be featured in our US Freedom Pavilion and the Museum’s Campaigns Pavilion in the near future.
It was personally a great honor to know Colonel Barfoot and to be able to call him a friend. I will always remember his unique sense of humor, his patriotic feeling towards this country and his devotion to God. We have lost another great warrior and hero of World War II. While he may be gone, he will never be forgotten.
Lynn D. “Buck” Compton, leader of the 2nd Platoon of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, died on February 26, 2012 at the age of 90. During World War II, Compton joined Easy Company in Aldbourne, England and entered combat with them during the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, parachuted into Holland for Operation Market Garden, and suffered through the bitter cold in Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, Compton attended Loyola University Law School on the GI Bill and became lead prosecutor for the trial of Sirhan Sirhan, the murderer of Robert F. Kennedy. He became a judge in the California Courts of Appeal and served there for twenty years, until he retired in 1990.
“Buck” Compton entered the public spotlight when Dr. Stephen Ambrose wrote a book about Compton’s World War II unit entitled Band of Brothers. Several years later, the book became a popular ten-part HBO miniseries that enabled the men of Easy Company to become household names around the world. Even ten years after the series first aired, it is considered one of the most important World War II books and film projects ever produced. Humbled in his service, Compton contiued to promote the series and the story of Easy Company at various military shows and museum events across the country up to the day of his death. He was a good friend and supporter of The National WWII Museum and participated in several events throughout the Museum’s history. We will miss him dearly and will continue to honor his memory with all of the Americans that fought and gave their lives in World War II.
” I don’t think what I personally did in the war was any big deal. The men who didn’t come back again, so that we can enjoy the freedoms we hold today – the men who gave life and limb for us – they are the real heroes. I don’t want anybody venerating me for my military service. Venerate those who live with injuries today and those who didn’t come back.” – Lynn D. “Buck” Compton, Call of Duty: My Life Before, During, and After the Band of Brothers.
Ardell Bollinger had always wanted to fly. No matter what it took, the Pennsylvania bred boy wanted to be in the air when it came time for him to serve his country. Bollinger joined the Army Air Corps with the sole intention of joining the ranks of men flying above the earth and attacking America’s enemies through the air in 1942. “I knew that I wanted to fly, there was never any doubt as to where I wanted to go and fight.” recalled Bollinger. After taking his initial Air Corps training as a radioman, Bollinger was assigned to the fledgling 384th Bomb Group and learned his trade in the venerable Boeing B-17 “Flying Fortress”. The 384th began its training in Gowen Field, Idaho in December, 1942 upon their activation as a combat unit. The 384th were then shipped all across the country to locations such as Wendover Field, Utah and Sioux City, South Dakota. It was from there that the 384th received their orders for combat. Rumors ran wild amongst the men as to where they were to fight. Many men wanted to see action in the Pacific in order to carry the war to Japan, but others, such as Bollinger, just wanted to get the job done and weren’t concerned with whom they were to fight against.
On May 3, 1943 the 384th Bomb Group and Ardell Bollinger left the United States bound for England and the Eighth Air Force in order to conduct heavy bombing missions on Hitler’s Germany. The trip across the Atlantic took many days as the first of the bomb group’s “forts” arrived at their home field of Grafton Underwood on May 25, 1943. Bollinger and the 384th flew their first combat mission against the enemy on June 22, 1943 with a mission to Antwerp, Belgium. Ardell followed his baptism of fire with seven more missions to targets such as, Hamburg, Germany, Paris, France, Le Mans, France, and Abbeville, France. By September of 1943, Bollinger had completed eight missions as a radio operator in several different B-17’s.
Josef Mengele (left) with other SS officers at Auschwitz. From the Hoecker album, courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington D. C.
Dr. Josef Mengele (1911-1979) is a name associated with inhumanity at its worst in the modern world. Unlike Adolf Eichmann, for example, whom Hannah Arendt famously personified as the “banality of evil,” claimed only to follow rules and do simple paperwork which ultimately led to mass murder; Mengele, on the other hand, basked in the freedom which the racist ideology of the Third Reich afforded him. Most infamous for performing savage experiments on living—and unwilling—subjects, mainly children, Mengele is also often remembered by survivors for his cold decision-making during the selektion process at the entrance of Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was one of several doctors who decided who would live to work, and who would be sent to the gas chambers immediately.
Mengele held two doctoral degrees, one in anthropology and a second in medicine. It was while studying in Frankfurt that Mengele met and came to idolize Dr. Otmar von Verschuer, who was known for his work in genetics and more specifically twin studies, interests which Mengele latched onto.
In 1937 Mengele joined the NSDAP, and later volunteered for service with SS Medical Corps. In this capacity, he worked as a genetics researcher with the SS-run Race and Resettlement Office (RuSHA) in Posen. RuSHA’s foremost mission was to maintain the so-called racial purity of the SS by means such as approving the marriages of members of the SS—only after several weeks of invasive scrutiny of a chosen partner and her family background. In 1942, Mengele was sent to the Eastern Front with the 5th SS Panzer Division Wiking, where he was wounded while serving as a combat surgeon and transferred back west due to his injury.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.