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.