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Posts Tagged ‘Army’

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Oral History Spotlight – Ted Paluch, Malmedy Massacre Survivor

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Ted Paluch, 1943

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.

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Oral History Spotlight – Dominic Martello, 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division

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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.

Find out more about Kasserine Pass on The National WWII Museum website.

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Turning Point: The Doolittle Raid, Battle of the Coral Sea, and Battle of Midway

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On April 2, 1942, the USS Hornet steamed out of San Francisco with sixteen B-25s secured to the flight deck. Also on board was the already legendary Lt. Col. James Doolittle and his crew. He and his all-volunteer force were on a secret, one-way mission to exact a small taste of vengeance for the attack on Pearl Harbor just  four months earlier.

To commemorate the 70th anniversary of what came to be known as the Doolittle Raid and the succeeding actions that turned the tide of the Pacific war, culminating with the battle of Midway in June 1942,The National WWII Museum presents the special exhibit Turning Point: The Doolittle Raid, Battle of the Coral Sea, and Battle of Midway. On display April 18 – July 8, 2012, Turning Point tells the  David and Goliath story of  how a woefully out-gunned and outnumbered task force of aircraft carriers, diligent intelligence work and handful of intrepid aviators halted Japanese expansion in the Pacific.

Get a sneak peek at images, artifacts and exclusive oral histories that will be featured in the exhibit at turningpoint1942.org. The site also includes classroom resources for teachers and information on how to bring Turning Point to your town with the new, affordable Green Traveling Exhibit option.

Find out more.

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Van T. Barfoot

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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.

This post by Historian/Curator Tommy Lofton

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Letters Home – Boot Camp

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On December 7, 1941, Richard Tobin McCurdy was stationed at Camp Wheeler, Georgia and looking forward to holiday leave when he could visit his family back in New Orleans. Below are excerpts from several letters home written between December 14 – 21, 1941. He describes the changes in the camp since the attack on Pearl Harbor and still holds out hope that he can come home for Christmas.

On Pearl Harbor –

“I received your letter the other day telling me of the attack Japanese attack on our possessions in the Pacific. They made the mistake of their lives. They do not know just how mad they made the boys here, who were expecting to go home for Christmas.”

On Life in Camp –

“Since the war started, things around here have been humming. All of our sentries have been carrying live ammunition in their guns for the past week.”

“Yesterday in the Mess Hall, Commander Waters was talking to us about the situation. He also discussed Week-end passes. Some guy up and asked – How about the three-day leave at Christmas, Sir? The commander answered that he did not know for sure whether we would get them or not – yet.”

“Private Clarence Hemby finally came back and gave himself up. He has been ‘Over the Hill’ for 3 weeks. He will probably get Court Marshalled [sic]. Going A.W.O.L. during War time is a serious thing. He is just a kid too – only eighteen years old.”

On the Future –

“Everything is swell here, and the gang here thinks Uncle Sam will make a short War and we will be home for New Years. Personally I hope the U.S. does not act too cocky. These sneaky Jap may be underrated. We can lick them all if we just put our minds to it.”

“Everybody is wondering when we are to leave and where we are going. These questions will soon be answered. Hope to be with you and family Christmas.”

“Who ever told you that the trouble with the army was you never knew when or where you were going – knew what they were talking about. Personally, I don’t give a damn!, but I would like to see you all at Christmas. After that, they can bring on Panama or what have you.”

“We have just about finished our training here at Wheeler. They have made it 10 weeks instead of 13 weeks…I have drawn all heavy clothes. I don’t know if this has any significant [sic], though, as they are sending a lot to Panama and Florida.”

“I hope you folks are not letting this war stuff get you down. There is nothing to worry about, Germany is getting her deserts [sic] and so will the Japs. Take care of yourselves, so we can talk at Christmas time. I don’t have much time off. I’ll be home, though, if only for one hour.”

About the Author –

Richard Tobin McCurdy served in the 3rd Battalion, 6th Armored Division. After training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, he traveled to Ireland. On November 8, 1942, he participated in the invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch) where he was killed in action.

Gift of the McCurdy family, 2010.173

Read more stories of sacrifice at www.mymemorialday.org.

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