This is the story of the capture of thirty-five Germans and
their Lieutenant with a six-man wire crew somewhere in Belgium
between Mons and Charleroi. It was September, 1944. I was twenty-five
feet up on a telephone tying in our field wire to an open wire
lead along a railroad track. Suddenly I heard and saw a Belgian
man running toward me hollering "La Boche!" I knew
what that meant -- "Germans!" I never ever came down
a telephone pole any faster -- the body-belt and spurs were flying.
I had one man on this crew, Robert Baggs, from New Rochelle,
New York, who could speak French. I told Baggs to get with this
man and find out where these Germans were. He told Baggs they
were in a woods about a hundred yards away. He said they wanted
to surrender but wanted us to come to them to surrender. I didn't
like this, my thought being it was a trap. We had just lost one
Signal officer, Lt. James Reddeck on August 28, 1944, in a similar
situation. The Germans had a white flag on a bayonet and when
our men went to capture them they opened fire and killed Reddeck.
Sgt. Dick Myers was shot in the neck and could have been killed.
Dick was our Technical Sgt. in charge of the Wire Section.
A lot of pressure was put on me by the men of this wire crew
as they wanted to take some prisoners. I thought about this and
finally decided to believe the Belgian man and go ahead with
the capture. I told Baggs that this Belgian was going with us.
He would be first, then Baggs so he could communicate with him.
I would be behind Baggs. The other five men would be on each
side of the ravine leading back to the woods.
As we approached the woods, sure enough, about twenty Germans
came out, and I hollered, "Handa hoch!" I suspected
there were more in the woods. I could speak some German, so I
asked the German officer, "Wie viele deutcha in der wiese,"
which means, "How many more Germans in the woods?"
He said, "funfzehn" -- 15. I told him "Kommen
aus", meaning ''Come out." They did. We had thirty-five
prisoners to transport to the nearest P.W. camp.
I had trouble with one of our men who had too much to drink
en route. The Belgians handed out drinks to our wire men (cognac)
as we went through their towns. This man was Edward Mickel from
Brooklyn, New York. He was grabbing these prisoners' mess kits
and tossing them away after they were confused about what to
do with them. I told him to get on my jeep right now. He got
very angry and threw his carbine on the ground where I was standing.
The German officer stood with me close to the jeep. With Mickel
in the jeep we headed for the P.W. camp. I didn't want to court
martial him because I knew he wouldn't have carried on like he
did if he hadn't had too much to drink.
After we made this capture word got back to Captain John Wilson
and the Division Signal Officer, Col. George Bussey. Col. Bussey
said we shouldn't have taken time to take prisoners, but should
have kept on laying wire lines. Company Commander John Wilson
congratulated me on taking these prisoners. True to army life
-- you can't win. Anyway, I was glad no one was killed or wounded
in this situation. These Germans, no doubt, had heard our tanks
bypassing them. There is nothing more demoralizing than to hear
a lot of tanks going down a road -- what a noise they do make.
I'm sure these Germans were in retreat from Mons. That evening
this Belgian man invited us to come to his house for supper.
We did. His wife had some potatoes and dessert. I brought a large
can of sausage "C" rations for meat. They had no meat
and really appreciated the sausage. Their handicapped teenage
daughter was in a wheelchair.
Sometimes you don't think of the future, especially when you
are on the move in a Tank Division. I failed to get the Belgian
man's name and address, as I would liked to have corresponded
with him after the War. Without his warning and his help as a
sort of "peace maker" or negotiator, those Germans,
who were fully armed and well hidden, might easily have panicked
and killed us all.