Rendering of The Desert War-North Africa gallery with the Road to Berlin
We are proud to present to you the Road to Berlin, the first floor European Theater galleries within our newest pavilion, Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters. These galleries are a major component of the Museum’s capital expansion and are essential to fulfilling the Museum’s mission to tell the story of the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today.
All design for these galleries is now complete and construction of the exhibits has begun, ensuring that we will be ready for the Road to Berlin’s Grand Opening in December of this year!
As we count down to the Grand Opening of one of the most anticipated exhibit spaces in the entire capital expansion, we want to give you a sneak peek of the galleries and spotlight the generous donors who have made the construction of these exhibits possible.
Rendering of the Battle of the Bulge gallery with the Road to Berlin
We will debut this series of blog posts with an overview of the Road to Berlin. This collection of galleries features the European-Mediterranean Theater, which spanned several years and engaged hundreds of thousands of people in the air, at sea, underwater, on the beaches, and in the mountains and the desert. Through eight galleries, Road to Berlin will present a comprehensive narrative of the fascinating stories and events in Europe, helping visitors to understand and appreciate what proceeded D-Day in June 1944—the challenges, strategies, and operations that secured the path to Normandy, as well as the bloody battles that followed. The Road to Berlin will come alive through images, oral histories, artifacts, and stunning displays that mimic the environments of the battle scenes.
Rendering of the Into the German Homeland gallery with the Road to Berlin
The Road to Berlin will focus on the American path to victory that led to the capitulation of Germany at the end of the Second World War. These galleries will paint the entire American picture in Europe, so that our visitors will understand the amount and scope of sacrifice that led to our victory over Germany in WWII.
Visitors will begin in a Briefing Room that orients them to the big picture of the war in Europe. Then visitors continue on to the first stop of the journey alongside Allied forces: The Desert War –North Africa, where the Allies struggled but ultimately defeated German and Italian forces. Next, visitors will follow the Allies into Sicily, or the so-called “soft underbelly” of Europe, where they won glory with the first liberation of a major European city, Palermo. The journey then continues through the long, bloody Italian Campaign up the peninsula.
Visitors are then transported to a Nissen hut, like those used in England during the war, to learn about air power in Europe – from the infamous German Luftwaffe to the relentless American airstrikes across Europe. This serves as the launching point for visitors to join the Allies as they invade Nazi–occupied France on the history-making D-Day at Normandy. Visitors will then travel all over France, before entering the Ardennes Forest for the historic Battle of the Bulge. Finally, visitors break through the Siegfried Line for the final push into Germany.
Up next, the first stop in Road to Berlin: The Briefing Room
Post by Lauren Bevis, Donor Relations Manager, and Ashley Nash, Prospect Coordinator.
Memorial to the 394th regimental I&R Platoon of the 99th Division at Lanzerath, Belgium. On 16 December, 1944, these GIs held up the lead elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper for nearly a day, inflicting hundreds of German casualties, and delaying the German spearhead of the Ardennes offensive.
Oral History: The I&R Platoon of the 99th Infantry Division at the Battle of the Bulge
The 99th Infantry Division’s Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon, also known as the I&R Platoon tell the story of how the 18 lightly armed men held off the spearhead of Kampfgruppe Peiper for over 8 hours at Lanzerath, Belgium during the opening stages of the Battle of the Bulge – the ultimate David versus Goliath story of World War II.
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.
Of the more than 3 million visitors who have crossed the threshold of The National WWII Museum since June 6, 2000, a large number of them have had the pleasure of meeting affable volunteer, Thomas Blakey. The Museum regularly receives thank you notes from students, groups and visitors who have had the opportunity to visit with Tom during their time at the Museum, usually letting us know it was the highlight of their day.
Blakey, whose volunteer service predates the opening of the Museum, is a combat veteran paratrooper with the U.S. Army Double A, “All American, 82ndAirborne.” He jumped on the morning of June 6, 1944 behind Nazi lines at Normandy, France. His combat service was from France to Holland, including action in the surprise German offensive in the Ardennes Forest, the Battle of the Bulge.
Always quick with a greeting, a story or a joke, Tom is one of about 20 WWII vets who volunteers at the Museum. This first-hand interaction is invaluable for our visitors (and our staff!)
Mr. Blakey is also an active member of the Museum’s Speakers Bureau, traveling across the region to speak with schools, senior centers, community centers and other groups on his experiences. In 2010, he was recognized as the first Museum volunteer to pass the 10,000 hours mark.
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.
The response to the Museum’s Thank You For My Freedom campaign has been truly overwhelming. Thousands of people from across the globe have submitted heartfelt comments, photos and videos to show their gratitude to all who have served. We look forward to receiving thousands more as Veterans Day approaches.
Here are just a few examples of Thank Yous we have received.
THANK YOU For my freedom! To all who have served past and present to defend our country, preserve our liberty and keep us safe and allow us to enjoy our very unique way of life in the US. I want to send a very special Thank You to my father, Alan W. Pettit for his service in WWII as a member of the 78th (Lightning) infantry. He made it through the “Battle of the Bulge”, and after being wounded, came home to work hard, marry the love of his life for over 60 years, and raise his family. He was my hero!
In Memory of Archbishop Philip M. Hannan (1913-2011)
Born to an Irish-American family in the Washington D. C. area in 1913, Philip M. Hannan would go on to travel the world in service to his country and God. Following studies stateside, Hannan traveled to Rome where he continued seminary studies at the North American College from 1936 to 1939, a firsthand witness to the rise of fascism in Europe. He traveled extensively throughout Europe after completing his studies, and spent much of that time in Germany. His experiences in Europe where war clouds were gathering inspired him to join the military.
In 1942, Hannan enlisted in the U.S. Army, becoming a chaplain. Initially sent to Florida to minister to Army Air Force recruits, Hannan sought to be sent to the front lines where he was the most needed and could do the most good. Eventually, after multiple transfer requests, Hannan served with the men of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd “All American” Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Forest. Chaplain Hannan immediately went into action tending to wounded men, Americans and Germans alike. He spoke in awe of his fellow officers: “They were absolutely admirable…It didn’t matter to them if [the wounded] were German or American; if they were alive they would bring them into the hospital.” He felt a very different type of awe when weeks later his unit entered a concentration camp near Wöbbelin, Germany, an experience he would never forget.
After the war, Hannan played a major role in preserving the priceless art and relics in the historic Cologne Cathedral, which had been badly damaged by bombs and street fighting. Through negotiations with the German Archbishop of Cologne, Chaplain Hannan was made temporary protector and pastor of the ancient Cologne Cathedral in order to both preserve the artwork and minister to the troops of the 505th PIR. Archbishop Hannan remained a revered member of the Cologne Cathedral for the rest of his life.
After the war, Hannan returned to the United States and served the Catholic community as in the Baltimore-Washington Archdiocese. It was in this capacity that Hannan become well-acquainted with the Kennedy family, and would later give the homily at President Kennedy’s Requiem Mass in 1963. He remained in Baltimore for two more years, when he was called to New Orleans to help with recovery efforts from the devastation of Hurricane Betsy. He was named Archbishop of the Diocese of New Orleans on September 29, 1965 and remained in that post until December 6, 1988. Archbishop Hannan passed away on September 29, 2011, leaving behind a legacy of hope, love and generosity.
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.