Thursday, December 23, 2021

O'Hare Describes WWII Firing Squad: "German Justice Taking Its Usual Course . . ."

As time marches on, we are slowly forgetting what military historian Charles B. MacDonald has called "the greatest battle ever fought by the United States Army." The soldiers who fought in it are dying at the rate of 1,000 per day, and with them their history.

Unlike the talkative baby boomers in my generation - with our cell phones, the Internet and blogs - the soldiers of that Greatest Generation are strangely quiet and modest. They managed to save the world from a real Axis of Evil in spite of being caught late and off guard, and then went to work to make our own lives easy.

Although our memory is dimming, Blue Coyote tells us that in some portions of Europe, Americans are still considered "prima." The people of Bastogne still remember.

In his diary, my father never discussed what had actually happened during his captivity as a POW. Below you will find the only instance in which he speaks about the war. It's a letter he sent to the War Department in 1947, responding to an inquiry about one of his fellow POWs who never came home.

In reply to your letter of the 14th inst., I beg to express my regrets that you were required to make two inquiries concerning the above-noted matter. The receipt of your first letter was never called to my attention or you would most certainly have received a more prompt response.

Pfc. Michael Palaia and myself were sent with a detachment of American soldier-prisoners from Stalag IV-B to Dresden, Germany. After Dresden was bombed (about Feb. 14th, 1945), it became necessary for our captors to remove us to a new section of the City which, although not quite, was practically in the suburbs. It required climbing a rather steep hill to reach this place, from the summit of which it was possible to see practically the whole city. At the base of the hill was a moderate-sized street car barn and also a building in which German prisoners were hospitalized. I mention all of this as it may be necessary for you to fix the location of this place, and it is the only way I have of describing it, never having known the name of the section. Dresden is divided by the Elbe River and the section to which I have reference was on the eastern side thereof.

Our work after the bombing consisted wholly of cleaning cellars of their casualties and streets of their refuse. Our food ration per day was very low and survival made it necessary to pilfer food from cellars in which it was found from time to time. Unfortunately, Pfc. Palaia was discovered while doing this and at the time of the discovery one jar of string beans was found on his person. His number (prisoner number) was taken by the guard. The very next day when we had lined up ready to march to work, Pfc. Palaia was taken from our ranks by the German in charge - his official title being to the best of my recollection "Feldwabel." When we returned from work that night we learned that he was on trial for his life. Naturally, German justice taking its usual course, he was found guilty and four days after his apprehension he was killed by a firing squad. Four of our fellow-prisoners had witnessed this shooting, identified his body, dug his grave and buried him.

The shooting took place at some German military installation which, from the witnesses' reports was from five to seven miles from the location of our barracks. It must have been in a general westerly direction therefrom as I recall their stating that on their way they had crossed the river Elbe. I am not positive in my recollection of this, but I believe they also stated that they had constructed a cross for his grave to which they attached his dog tag.

The Month of his death was march, I am certain, and March the l6th, I believe. One of the witnesses was a Frank Terterici from Boston, Mass. I have a record somewhere of at least one of the other witnesses and his address. I will forward this information yo you as soon as I am able to locate same.

I hope the above account will be of some aid to you. Please have no hesitation in making further inquiry if you deem it feasible.

Asking your pardon for not having replied sooner, I am

Very truly yours,

B.V. O'Hare, Jr.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I am sorry that anonymous finds this so boring. The stories and experiences of that generation, be they the soldiers or the brave wives who toiled in the war effort (and began the womens's movement) are great lessons in history, and courage and ethics and community, some things that are lacking today.

Take a little time and talk to a veteran of WWII they are more than just inconvenient old people, they are lviing history

Anonymous said...

"I am sorry that anonymous finds this so boring."

I'm sorry, it's not boring, not at all, it's just .. sorta old news isn't it? I mean, Tom Brokaw covered this subject beautifully, what, 10 years ago? Did Berney just get the "Greatest Generation" book or something? Or just realize that his dad was from that greatest generation? Yo, where ya been on this Bern. What I find boring and offensive is Berney trying to associate and appropriate these genuinely precious greatest generaton vibes with .. himself. Ick. And zzzz.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Not so casual observer,

Vonnegut's 1945 letter home, sent to my family in '96, was only recently discovered. The same is true of my dad's brief diary, Gerhard Mueller's letter, and the 1947 letter concerning the execution of an American POW for pilfering a jar of string beans.

Since our WWII vets are dying at the rate of 1,000 per day and were unusually modest, I decided to post these items on my blog. That way there is some record somewhere. It's not old news to me. If this story is not posted somewhere, it will eventually be lost. In fact, I'm not sure how long that handwritten diary will be readable.

The reaction has been extremely positive. The anonymous commenter claims it's not really boring, but is boring bc it's from me. He obviously just has some personal animosity against me, and doesn't hesitate to trash a POW who was executed so that he can snark me, and at Christmas.

Fortunately, the MC will be running Vonnegut's 1945 letter as an op-ed. And Vonnegut's official biographer informs me my dad's brief diary will change what scholars currently think about Slaughterhouse Five.

Also, at this time in '45, my father was in a boxcar with no food or water, being sent to a prison camp. It's a story I'm happy to be able to share, and my only connection to it is my relation to some of the characters.

Blue Coyote said...

What I find offensive about Anon's take on "old news" is that national socialism/fascism is alive and well today. I doubt that Anon has walked through the Dachau prison camp museum as I have and still see survivors with tattoos on their arms reliving hell. I doubt Anon has ever stepped foot in a Veteran's Administration psych ward to help disabled veterans make it through one more day. I doubt Anon even so much has gone to a Veterans Cemetery, to see row upon row of crosses and/or stars of david, to thank the deceased for their sacrifices. Yet, Anon uses those hard fought liberties to post a thoughtless comment. Way to go, Anon!

This isn't "old news". Fascism always lurks nearby, waiting for a chance to take advantage of instable political entities. I posted about Europeans not forgetting about American sacrifices, however, they still struggle with right wing neo-fascism movements. It is a struggle that continues today!

Anonymous said...

There is a group in the Lehigh VAlley who are interviewing the WWII vets about their lives and experiences. They are video taping them and working in accordance with the Library of Congress formats so that they are archival in quality and content.
Their stories are coming to light nd being preseved. Thankfully, it will not all be lost.

Anonymous said...

"The MC will be running Vonnegut's 1945 letter as an op-ed."

Thank God for The Morning Call and Glenn Kranzley. We are so lucky to have such a fine newspaper serving the Lehigh Valley. Also, nice that you have an "in" there!

Bernie O'Hare said...


Anon 9:17, 10:45, & 9:14 are all one and the same person. He's so bored by this post that he has been here three times. I know who he is. What's really bothering him has nothing to do with my blog about WWII. He's on a one-man crusade against DA Jim Martin, and trashes anyone who won't jump on his bandwagon, whether it's me or the MC.

Anonymous said...

Bernie, ya got me. And while there's no good excuse for what I've done here, by way of explanation I'm frustrated with you because you never address any of my (as described by Morning Call Investigations Editor, Tim Darragh) "excellent questions that deserve to be answered," regarding DA Jim Martin and his shamefully obvious preferential treatment of select homicidal drunk drivers, including one who maliciously killed my daughter Sheena. Instead of addressing any of my excellent questions, you always circumvent them via attacking me personally ("you're a sick man," "get help," "get more help," etc.) which is basically what Morning Call managing editors above Tim Darragh do too-- minus the heartless ad hominum; they just ignore me. In my frustration, I've been doing the same thing to you that you do to me, i.e., attacking you personally. I apologize for this. I also apologize for temporarily hijacking the topic on an excellent series of posts about WW II and your father. My father was in WW II too and he's also of that humble and tightlipped Greatest Generation. I take after my mother. My "sickness" is still being incensed at DA Jim Martin for having sided against my daughter Sheena and in favor of the homicidal drunk driver who killed her ... and then, less than a year later, doing the exact same thing to the family of DUI homicide victim Zach Mohney. Bernie, you have all my related "excellent questions" on this case which I've e-mailed you privately and maybe I'll never understand, or get to the bottom of why, you and Morning Call managing editors above Tim Darragh can't, or won't, acknowledge the need for an investigation into DA Jim Martin's 'special handling' of select DUI homicide cases. However, I will stop trying to rouse your interest in this story, and, I will stop attacking you for your inexplicable inaction on it. Again, I apologize. Have a nice Christmas.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Mr. Villa,

It takes a big man to admit he is wrong. Good for you. And I am very sorry for your personal loss. It doesn't seem fair. I have a friend I'd like you to meet after the holidays. Like you, he suffered the loss of a child. I spoke to him about your situation a few weeks ago, and he'd like to help if he can. He's no shrink or anything like that, but has a group of people who have sufffered what you've suffered. Let's talk about this back channel after the holiday.

Anonymous said...

"It takes a big man to admit he is wrong. Good for you."

Thank you, Bernie. To be clear, I was wrong to attack you personally and anonymously on your blog; I'm dead-right about DA Jim Martin.

"And I am very sorry for your personal loss. It doesn't seem fair."

Losing a child, suddenly, and violently, and senselessly, is so surrealistically awful, unless one experiences it first-hand, one cannot even begin to imagine how bad it feels, every second of every day.

"I have a friend I'd like you to meet after the holidays. Like you, he suffered the loss of a child. I spoke to him about your situation a few weeks ago, and he'd like to help if he can. He's no shrink or anything like that, but has a group of people who have sufffered what you've suffered. Let's talk about this back channel after the holiday."

Although this is the nicest way to date that you've basically reiterated to me "you need help" (and I appreciate that, and I'd be happy to meet with your friend), what I'd really appreciate from you Bernie is an explanation as to why you continue to avoid addressing (here, or back channel) any of the "excellent questions that deserve to be answered" that I've been raising regarding DA Jim Martin and his shamefully obvious history of preferential treatment of "select/connected" homicidal drunk drivers. I'd like to meet with you in-person after the holidays to discuss this and I will contact you back channel to arrange it.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Bill Villa,

1) The fact that a MC investigative editor thinks some questions are "excellent" does not mean that I think they are excellent. There were four questions, and I know the answer to one of them. I do think there are three questions.

2) I know that CC has really been persuing Jim Martin, and it doesn't make much sense for me to jump in where he has already gone. Also, if some hints are true, I may be muddying the water by doing so. I will contact you back channel later this week.

Anonymous said...

photo from camp
"American prisoners captured during the Ardennes offensive of December 1944"

Anonymous said...

Wow. The matter-of-fact style of this particular dispatch is absolutely chilling to me. The incredibly thin line that shows the stark contrast between humanity and inhumanity seems surreal. Thank you for sharing these treasures. Again, wow...