The News Journal from Wilmington, Delaware on December 11, 1994 · Page 11
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The News Journal from Wilmington, Delaware · Page 11

Wilmington, Delaware
Issue Date:
Sunday, December 11, 1994
Page 11
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Historic battle remfjibered DEC 11 ' 1994 SUNDAY NEWS JOURNAL A11 "We set up in a schoolhouse . . . with 18 nurses and six or eight doctors. We were very busy ... we were taking in more patients than we had room for." RUTH H. DORSMAN I. ti ?c I . i I A - German paratroopers forced retreat through kriee-deep snow,; Same was smtemse tor msirse M Special to The News JournalBIU HUGHES By PHILMILFORD Staff reporter en weren't the only ones at the Battle ot the Bulge. U.S. Army nurse Ruth Had-dick, then 22. had already had her baptism of fire during the invasion of . Normandy. By Christmas week 1944, she was based with the 51st Field Hospital in Eschweiler, Germany, north of Aachen. "We were with the infantry all the way," she said, usually "about two to three miles behind the front lines." As a first lieutenant, Haddick (now Ruth H. Dorsman of Cherokee Woods near Newark) spent much of the war working in tents some heated, some not tending to severely wounded soldiers. Dorsman was raised in Greensboro, Md., and studied nursing at Church Home and Hospital in Baltimore. "When the war broke out at Pearl Harbor I was in training. As soon as I finished, I went down to the recruiting office and signed up." By the fall of 1943, she was in England, preparing for the invasion of Europe. She landed on Omaha Beach at D-Day plus 6 as part of Gen. Omar Bradley's 1st Army. The situation was "intense," she recalled. When the Battle of the Bulge began, "German paratroops started landing behind us, so we were moved back into Belgium," Dorsman said. "The snow was knee-deep, and it was very cold." "We set up in a schoolhouse . . . with 18 nurses and six or eight doctors. We were very busy," she said. As the battle continued, "We were taking in more patients than we had room for." She served mainly as a post-operative nurse. "We operated on as many as possible, and shipped the rest back to a hospital in the rear," Dorsman said. "We also liberated a detachment of Russians. They couldn't speak English,' but they helped us on the wards." Her hospital "was a little north of the bulk of the fighting" in December and January, Dorsman said. "Shells frequently landed around us but not directly on our hospital." After the Germans were driven back, the nurses continued on into Germany. They were on the outskirts of Berlin when the war ended. "I wanted to stay in the Army, but they had too many nurses," Dorsman said. "I got married, had babies, kept a home. But I still did a lot of nursing," said Dorsman who earned five battle stars. Battles Delawareans have chilling memories FROM PAGE A1 reached their objective a breakthrough to Antwerp and for them, the war was lost. In a major element of the battle, U.S. troops were encircled in the town of Bastogne on Dec. 22, 1944. Nazi Gen. Karl von Rund-stedt ordered the besieged Americans to surrender. U.S. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's famous reply: ;"Nuts." The soldiers in Bastogne stood their ground. The Army airborne was sent into Bastogne, which was finally relieved on the day after Christmas by Gen. George S. Patton and his armored units. The Germans were in retreat by mid-January. Author Gerald Astor, in his book "A Blood-Dimmed Tide," writes that German soldiers created a 60-mile-deep bulge in the front line, pitting two half-million-man armies against each other for six weeks in the dead of winter. As dozens of separate battles broke out, Astor says, the Battle of the Bulge degenerated into "every man for himself clashes "of individuals thrust into the crucible of war." - Cut off for two weeks The Delaware residents who remember the battle include about 40 survivors of the 445th Anti-Air-craft Artillery Battalion men like former Tech. Cpl. Otis G. Webb of Milford. 5 "The majority of the battalion was formed with men from this area," said Webb, 73, a retired milk distributor. "There were about 200 from Delaware, 200 from New Jersey and 200 from the New York City area. The battalion was filled to full strength, about 800, with replacements from .Mississippi." ; The battalion reached England !in February 1944, and was assigned to protect the coast from attacking planes during the D-Day invasion. A month later the 445th went into France, and its men had fought their way to a point just south of Aachen when the Battle of the Bulge started. "We were in Hurtgen Forest, on the Belgian-German Border," ;said Webb. Alerted to the German ;offensive, commanders ordered the artillery into the fray. The ifighting raged for six months. Webb was a truck driver, tow-jing the battalion's 32 big guns at itimes toward the Germans and at j times away from them. "Then the Germans dropped i paratroopers on us. We were cut ioff for two weeks," he said, "and didn't even know it" because of i the heavy fighting. J Most memorable, Webb said, ;was New Year's Day, 1945. i "The Germans put up all the planes they could get off the ground ... it continued all day, on and off," he said. "We burned Jup two sets of gun barrels that day" shooting planes out of the fsky. Once the guns were in place, ; "everybody was in the gun crew,"-feven drivers like Webb. "You jtook turns firing. You might be 'the ammo man, or something else." I In less than a year, Webb said, ;the 445th "had the highest record 'of any anti-aircraft battalion in ,'the European Theater of Operations 67 aircraft knocked sdown." ! That record came with a cost: i Between its July 1944 landing on ' Omaha Beach and May 1945, the '; battalion suffered 165 casualties, including 15 deaths, said Webb. ;The leader of his gun battery, ,'Capt. Warren Grier Jr. of Wil-J mington, died just before the war J ended "on May 3, 1945, the day we met the Russians." the fighting altogether in favor of playing his trombone as part of the Ninth Infantry band. But Pierce, a 75-year-old retired DuPont Co. production foreman, earned eight battle stars, four invasion arrowheads and the T i Oi. urunze oiar mm mm Medal during If. VI World War II. M M He saw more combat in four years than most soldiers see in a lifetime. Besides blowing his PIERCE horn, the Wilmington native had an infantry job as a truck driver. He fought in North Africa and Sicily, hit the Normandy beaches on D-Day and reached Germany before the Battle of the Bulge started. "We were sent to the Ardennes" when the German counterattack began, he said. "The outfit moved out in mass, the whole division." By the time they arrived south of Bastogne, he said, "The snow was knee deep or better. We just pushed forward. It was 'advance, advance, advance.' Just pure plain destruction of both man and equipment." Pierce escaped injury, but he hauled plenty of casualties back after supply runs to the front lines. Eventually, the unit crossed the Rhine river. They ended up on the German-Austrian border at the Danube river when the war in Europe ended in May 1945. One of his fonder memories of the war: Playing for President Franklin D. Roosevelt when he visited Casablanca in North Africa for a conference with Stalin and Churchill in 1943. Through Bastogne just In time For 73-year-old Abraham Oyb-khan of Heritage Park, recollections of 50 years ago hold no glory. It s not good when people are getting killed," he said. The paratrooper, a member of the 82nd Army Airborne, was just a few hours OYBKHAN late for the initial invasion of Europe: "I hit England on D-Day," he said. But he jumped into Holland in September, and was in France when the Bulge began. "I came off KP and our platoon leader said we were leaving in The national organization Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Inc. acts as a clearinghouse for information about the conflict, publishes a quarterly newsletter, helps keep veterans in contact with each other and makes available books and videos about this major engagement of World War II. For information about membership and services, write to the group in care of Post Office Box 11129, Arlington, Va. 22210-2129. Namur r " wiw " 9 &mj.'fk. three hours," said Oybkhan. Because of poor weather conditions, the paratroopers were taken by truck to the Ardennes. Going through Bastogne, Oybkhan said, "The 101st Airborne was following us. But then they were surrounded by a German tank outfit." Fighting continued in the Ardennes for more than a month, said Oybkhan, a radio operator. "It was artillery mostly," he said. "Sometimes we had to pull back . . . On Christmas Eve it started to snow. Then they attacked our .positions." 1 he snow continued. It was very heavy, almost a foot. And it was bitter cold. One time I set my canteen and rifle against a tree, and they both froze," he said. On Jan. 29, "We were almost on the German border, and a mortar shell hit the trees. It exploded and killed a couple of guys and I took what I would call superficial wounds," said Oybkhan. Shrapnel had pierced his helmet, causing head injuries. He was taken to a field hospital, moved to Paris, treated and ordered back to the front. By that time, the battle was over. Oybkhan has been back to Europe three times, and one of his old buddies made an anniversary parachute jump on June 6. "But it's not for me," he said: "I'm out of that." 'Everything was disrupted' Another artilleryman from the First State remembers the disorganization of that Christmas season. "Everything was disrupted dur ing the battle," said former Cpl. Joseph Sparco of Elsmere. Sparco was among the men of the 116th Anti-Aircraft Artillery battalion, at least 122 of them from Delaware. They got word of the German attack while advancing toward the Rhine. Sparco, then barely 20, recalls an anti-tank mission on the road The Battle of the Bulge Hoping to force a negotiated peace, the Germans launched a last, desperate offensive on Dec. 16,1 944. Aided by bad weather and surprise, they drove a deep "bulge" in allied lines. Some 81 ,000 U.S. troops were killed, wounded or captured Detore the termans were pushed DacK by early hebruary, 194J3. 4 North Sea Netherlands..! if. bat area Germany Belgium Dinant; f France L. I German advance halted Dec. 26, 1944 Celles i I tana T ! , ass mv Malmedy Stavelot - Weather clears and air power halts the German advance. Patton's 3rd Army reaches Bastogne on the day after Christmas. Germans push SO miles into allied territory. Surrounded at Bastogne, U.S. troops answer a German surrender ultimatum with a defiant "Nuts!" More than 600,000 German troops backed by 1,000 tanks attack from the Ardennes Forest They achieve complete surprise. 7 Mi ..u A . uerman front lines Dec. 16, ii. vim Forest Bastogne ffj 1 0 miles S 5-Vielsalm , X" mm. & I retreat' t ' J Feb. 7, V v iai; - Ettelbruck, V Luxembourg V, I Germans are pushed back to their original positions by late January, but fighting continues. With reserves gone, Germany ultimate defeat is assured. Germany Source: U.S. Department of Oelense. to Bastogne. "On the nights of Dec. 21 to 23, the German troop carriers were flying in our sector," he said. "The battalion destroyed 41 planes." "Then, on Dec. 24 at daybreak, me and a few men were sent on 'recon,' and we picked out a position in Belgium" to block the German path between Liege and Bas togne, Sparco said. Explosives experts "put dynamite in the trees" and blew them up, closing the road "to keep the German tanks from coming through. As the battle raged, the battalion's 90mm mobile guns and 40-caliber quad machine guns hammered aircraft and tanks, and also served as field artillery. "There were also dogfights above us. And we heard President Roosevelt speaking on the radio that Christmas morning." "It snowed after Christmas," Sparco recalls. "We always carried the roof of a captured German barracks with us." To keep warm, "we used to build a dugout, then put the roof on top. We had a stove in there, and we'd go inside to keep warm." A-V:-.2... SPARCO Facing the music ! With his cushy billet as a musician, many old soldiers might ; think former Tecji. Sgt. Walter W. ;xPierce of Klair Estates avoided : i V,: L Mil x s ' ' - raj- . id AP Infantrymen of the U.S. 1st Army plod through, snowy woods In Belgium's Ardennes Forest as they advance to contact German lorces at the start of the Battle of the BMge In December 1944. The 41-day battle claVmed 19,000 American lives. The Battle of the Bulge "was one of the worst times we had in the war," Sparco said. As the bulge was gradually closed and the New Year arrived, the 116th found itself using a Belgian farmhouse for cooking and for Mass on Sundays. The day after they moved out in early January, Sparco said, "the Belgian family moved back in. Then it blew up. The Germans had put a time bomb in the house." A woman and two children died. Clearing mines with bayonets Like many ground troops who fought their way through Europe that winter, Pfc. Charles H. Bradley Jr. isn't quite sure where he was when the German army "We were somewhere in the area of Aachen," said Bradley, 72, the retired trea surer of a local BRADLEY Cadillac dealer and a resident of Lovering Avenue in Wilmington. "We were in the 49th Combat Engineer Battalion," which usually built bridges often under enemy fire. Bradley took part in the June 1944 Normandy Invasion "at H-hour plus five" on Utah Beach. When the Battle of the Bulge broke out, the 250 men in his battalion were assigned "to different divisions. Our troops were going both ways" as the battle lines shifted back and forth, he said. "We were in the Ardennes, but we didn't know what that was, then." Bradley and his comrades searched for land mines. "We had mine detectors . . . like' metal detectors," to sweep across the ground and clear pathways through the mine fields. "But sometimes we used bayonets," crawling along the ground and sticking the blades into the soil to look for buried mines. It was a tense, high-risk job, Bradley said, but nobody complained: "You had no choice." "Actually, I was supposed to be a flamethrower," he said. "But during the Normandy Invasion my flamethrower was blown up," so he switched jobs. Inching through mine fields, "you'd put white crosses on the mines" so people wouldn't step on them. Sometimes the mines blew up. "If it was an anti-personnel mine, it just blew your leg off. But if it was an antitank mine," he said, "you were dliid." Frank Pompa, Gannett News Service The thing he remembers most Jb the weather. Even with overcoats, he said, "it was just extremely cold." 'There's a lot a man can endure',' Frank D. Vari, former Wilmington City Council president, traces his role in the Battle of the Bulgfc to service as a Boy Scout during the Great Depression. Vari came to the United Stated from Italy at age 5. When he joined the Army after the outbreak of World War II, Vari saiJ, "You had to take a test. And they asked me what I did, my hobbies.' Vari mentioned that as a scoiit he'd learned first aid. The Arrn made him a medic. J In December, Vari was a corporal near Bastogne. After monthi of heavy fighting, "Our outfit wap supposed to be having a rest period. " But when the German counterattacked, "we had to go back on the lines." The Germans advanced quicklj, pushing the Americans back. "Some of our division got caught in a pinch," Vari recalled. "Our unit was trapped, to a certain extent "We could hear their guns g$-ing off and the shells landing at the same time. They were close. They almost surrounded the whole place. We were hoping for a good day so our air force coutd come out, but they couldn't see anything. We had snow and fog?' Dug into a hillside with another medic, "I remember Christmas Day. I got up, and we had had a real bad night, with artij-lery and everything. The first thing I saw was the steeple of ii church down in the valley. It w4s a beautiful day, the sun was just coming up over a little village at the bottom." J Then U.S. planes began to fly, turning the tide of battle and saving Vari's unit. J Through December and January, "We had a lot of casualties, from beginning to end," Vari said. The battalion's 20 medics woujd stay in foxholes under fire, "bat when somebody hollered for la medic, you had to get out thefe and try to help." Vari administered first aid, bandaged wounds and injected mcf-phine, but further treatment was done by others in field hospitals. He was never wounded: "G6d was with me," said Vari, who went on to a career with W.T. Grant Co. in Wilmington and la lifetime of politics. Now 73, he lives in Union Park Gardens. T Vari still looks back on the Ardennes as "a very, very cold place. . . . Butthere's a lot a man can endure." ' v

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