17 December, 2011

17 December 1944

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
17 December, 1944        1230

Wilma, darling –

I’m kind of tired today – not having had too much sleep last nite. It was exciting for awhile – but today everything seems to be going along well enough. Yesterday I was too busy to get out to visit A Battery – although in the evening I was able to relax. We had a movie – “Jamie” – and although I hadn’t heard about it at all – it turned out to be very enjoyable entertainment. I think I forgot to mention to you that I saw “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay” – with Gail Russell – some time during the past week. Is that the Russell that had so much written about her? Yes or no – I thought the picture very mediocre – and except for a few laughs – it dragged considerably.

I got one more old letter of yours yesterday, dear – but welcome nonetheless; I also received a Christmas card from Barbara Tucker Ensign – mailed from Salem. I don’t know what she was doing there – there was no note of explanation. And I got my third annual Christmas gift from the Salem Hospital Medical Staff – a leather bound, pocket-sized address book. It’s rather neat but I don’t need it here. I’ll send it along to you, darling, to hold – or to use, for that matter. I’ve already jotted them a note of thanks – and defied them to think of something different for next Christmas. Now! Now!

The letter I received from you yesterday was dated 11 November and you mentioned the fact that you didn’t want to remind me of things too often lest I think you’re preaching. Hell – I never feel that way about anything you write, sweetheart. I always appreciate the content and the reason for writing what you do – and why should I consider that preaching? And if I’ve ever written that I didn’t want you to write ‘blue’ letters, I didn’t mean it that way, darling. Certainly I want to know your every mood – just as you do mine. Among other things, that’s one more way in which we’re able to reveal ourselves to each other – because when a person is ‘blue’ or lonesome – he’s just a little bit more easy to know – and darling I want to know as much about you as possible while we’re apart. Regardless of all that – we’ll get married as soon as it’s humanly possible after I return home. Right?

I liked reading your ideas on bringing up children. I’ve never exactly crystallized in my own mind just how that should be done – but I do feel there’s a wrong and a right way. Each of us benefits or loses as a result of his own situation. I feel that being an only child, dear, you missed out on a great deal – but you probably gained in other respects. The point is, sweetheart, that it’s going to be fun – bringing up our very own – someday and trying to do a good job in it.

This p.m. I’m going to make another attempt at visiting Able Battery – this being my 3rd day supposedly. I may not be able to make it however. Tonite should be quiet, I hope, and maybe we’ll play some Bridge. So I’ll stop now, sweetheart. Remember – no matter what I say or how I say it – I love you always, darling, and as strongly as I know how. My love to the folks, best regards to Mary – and

All my deepest love to you


about The Malmédy Massacre

17 December 1994 Photo of the Massacre Site
50 years later...
(photo by Gregory A. Walden as found on his website)
Most of this version of the Malmédy Massacre was found on the History Learning Site. Additional information came from The History Place's web site as well as Wikipedia.
On 17 December 1944, men from Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion were ordered to move from Schevenhutte, near Aachen, to St Vith in the Ardennes. Their route took them near the town of Malmédy. On their journey, on the N-23 St Vith road that passed to the east of Malmédy, Battery B met up with Lieutenant-Colonel David Pergrin of the 291st Engineer Combat Battalion. Pergrin had heard that the Germans were along the route which the men from Battery B were taking. He advised them to take a different route to St Vith. However, the officers in charge of the battery decided that they had their orders and, ignoring Pergrin's advice, continued along their designated route.

This journey took them to what the locals called the 'Baugnez Crossroads' - two miles south-east of Malmédy. In fact, there were five roads there and to the Americans it was known as 'Five Points'. A military policeman - and previously placed route markers - directed the convoy along its way. About half-a-mile from the 'Baugnez Crossroads', the first vehicles in the convoy were fired on by two tanks from the 1st SS Panzer Division led by Joachim Peiper. This unit was one of just two units in the whole Nazi military allowed to use Hitler's name in its title - the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. This unit had a fearsome reputation and Peiper was known as a man who would let nothing stand in his way of success - including the taking of prisoners. In the Russian campaign, Peiper's unit was known as the 'Blowtorch Brigade' for its violence towards civilians.

Joachim Peiper
with SS "Death's Head" Symbol on Cap

On this day in particular, it is said that Peiper was in a particularly foul mood as his advance had not been as successful or as swift as he had hoped. Though the 1st SS Division had suffered few casualties in terms of manpower, it had lost tanks and half-tracks in its advance as the US 99th Infantry Division had put up a far stronger resistance than Peiper had bargained for. The two tanks that fired on B Battery were under the command of SS Lieutenant Werner Sternebeck. He had lost five of his seven tanks in the advance. Peiper, it seems, was furious at yet more delays to his advance.

Clearly outgunned by the Germans, the men from B Battery surrendered after Sternebeck's attack. Peiper himself went to the Baugnez Crossroads and brusquely ordered Sternebeck to move on. The 113 American prisoners-of-war who had survived the attack were assembled in a field near the Café Bodarwé at the crossroads - this figure included eight Americans who had already been captured by Peiper. A young Belgium boy witnessed what happened next.

At about 1415, soldiers from the 1st SS Panzer Division opened fire on the 113 men who were in the field. The firing stopped at about 1430. Survivors were killed by a pistol shot to the head, in some cases by English speaking SS who walked among the victims asking if anyone was injured or needed help. Those who responded were shot. Some were clubbed them to death as later autopsies showed. Incredibly, some prisoners did get away after feigning death. It was three of these escapees that came across Pergrin.

Colonel Pergrin had heard the attack by Sternebeck and went to investigate, first in a jeep and then on foot. Near Five Points, three Americans rushed up to Pergrin. It was these men who first alerted the Americans that something had gone on at the crossroads. Pergrin took the wounded men to Malmédy and at 1640 contacted the First Army's headquarters to inform them that some sort of massacre had taken place at Five Points. The same day, 21 survivors of the massacre made statements to the American authorities in Malmédy. Their accounts were remarkably similar despite the fact that they had had little time to discuss their experiences.

Because of the nature of the Battle of the Bulge, no one side could claim the land that the dead men lay in. It was not until 14 January 1945 that the Americans could lay claim to the area around the crossroads and recover the bodies. 71 snow-covered bodies were recovered. The freezing weather had done a lot to preserve the bodies and that made the autopsies easier, especially as some had been covered in snow.
When the massacre took place, Peiper had left the area around Five Points and had moved on. He was not at the scene when the shooting started. However, on 12 December, it is said that Hitler had issued an order which stated that no prisoners were to be taken and that a "wave of terror" was to descend on the Allies who stood in the way of the offensive. However, in the trial at Dachau no written evidence was produced to substantiate this and, as evidence, the court ignored it. Also Peiper's men had taken prisoners in their advance prior to the Malmédy incident. So what happened?

The sheer number of prisoners almost certainly sealed the fate of the Americans. Over 100 prisoners could not be left where they were - in the field. But there was no spare capacity for the Germans to guard them as Peiper had ordered the SS units under his command to speed up their advance. They could not be sent marching back towards the German lines as Peiper only had control of one main road and his unit was using it. Any men marching in the opposite direction could easily clog up the road. Peiper's other worry was that he might be attacked by American units known to be in the area.

Two theories have been put forward to explain what happened.

The men were deliberately murdered in cold blood. Certainly, the 1st SS Panzer Division had been responsible for atrocities in Russia and they had already shot captured Americans in their advance in the Ardennes Offensive - and more were shot after Malmédy. It is possible that Major Werner Poetschke, who commanded the 1st SS Panzer Battalion, gave the order - but no evidence has proved this, just rumor.

Another theory put forward is that some Americans tried to escape and were fired on by the Germans. Other Germans heard the firing, but were not aware that the targets were three Americans as opposed to all of the group. Either trigger-happy or simply battle-hardened, they opened fire on the group as a whole. In October 1945, an American soldier made a sworn testimony that he had escaped with two other men (who were killed) but he had survived and made it back to US lines. The law as it stood then would have allowed the Germans to shoot at escaping prisoners - but not at the whole group. It is possible that their escape precipitated the shooting of the other men.
In May 1946, Peiper and 70 of his men were put on trial. The charge stated "That they willfully, deliberately and wrongfully permit, encourage, aid, abet and participate in the killing, shooting, ill treatment, abuse and torture of members of the armed forces of the United States of America." Controversy soon arose. The defense team raised allegations of mistreatment including physical abuse by the U.S. Army and cited the use of mock trials in obtaining SS confessions as improper. The defense also complained that the court's legal expert, a Jew, constantly ruled in favor of the prosecution.

One of those who were charged was 18-year-old Arvid Freimuth who committed suicide in his cell before the trial started. Forty-three of those accused were sentenced to death and the rest received prison sentences. Controversy continued, however, as various U.S. Army Boards conducted critical reviews of the trial process and methods used during pretrial interrogations. As a result, most of the death sentences were commuted and over half of the life sentences were reduced. In 1949, following a series of public charges and counter charges by trial participants and further investigations over whether justice had been served in the conduct of the trial, six of the remaining death sentences were commuted. By the early 1950s, following years of accusations, denials, investigations, controversy, and political turmoil, the final remaining death sentences were commuted and release of all of the convicted SS men began.

In December of 1956, the last prisoner, Peiper, was released. Peiper lived in France following his release from jail. In 1974 he was identified by a former Communist resistance member of the region who issued a report for the French Communist Party. In 1976 a Communist historian, investigating the STASI archives, found the Peiper file. On 21 June tracts denouncing his presence were distributed in Traves. A day later, an article in the Communist publication L'Humanité revealed Peiper's presence in Traves and he became the subject of death threats.

Upon the death threats Peiper sent his family back to Germany. He himself stayed in Traves. In 1976, During the night from 13 July to 14 July, Bastille day in France, a gunfight took place at Peiper's house, in which Peiper himself shot several times. His house was set on fire. Peiper's charred corpse was later found in the ruins with a bullet in the chest. The perpetrators were never identified, but were suspected to be former French Resistance members or Communists.

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