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The Compassion of a German Doctor to a 4ID Soldier - Christmas 1944

This is a great Christmas story that dates back to the Battle of the Bulge, fought from 16 December 1944 through early January 1945 – 71 years ago. All 4th Infantry Division veterans and Family members and followers of WWII history will enjoy this – especially during this Christmas season.

It all started with a posting on the 4th Infantry Division Association website in June of this year. I encourage you to read on for a heartwarming story that you will be happy you took the time to read. You can skim the first half of the story, but you’ll want to read the last half in its entirety.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all – Steadfast and Loyal!

And thanks to Steve Richardson for sharing this great story with us. He sent it to me on 23 December 2015, just two days before Christmas. It sure made me understand the goodness in God’s people.

 

June 7, 2015

My father, Elmer A Richardson, served with the 4th Infantry Division in the 12th Infantry Regiment, Company L, 3rd Platoon. He was wounded and captured around 8 AM on the 16th of December 1944. We are traveling to Europe this August to "walk' his journey through Europe in 1944. I was hoping to go to the general area where his unit would have been at the start of the Bulge. I believe Co. L was in Osweiler, Belgium at that time. Is there any more information you can perhaps provide? Any pertinent information would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Steve Richardson

Indianola, Iowa

 

I am forwarding this to our historian for his input.

Bob, can you help?

 

DON KELBY

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

NATIONAL 4TH INFANTRY (IVY) DIVISION ASSOCIATION

 

June 15, 2015

I have some updated information. His records show on 18 Dec 1944 on or about 16:30 hours he was wounded and captured soon thereafter. I would be interested in finding out as much as possible about where his unit was at that time. Thanks.

Steve Richardson

 

June 16, 2015

I’m sorry I haven’t responded, Steve. This is the first time I’ve seen the note - must have missed it the first time it was sent to me.

Osweiler is in Luxembourg, not Belgium. I have a map, which I will have to dig for, that was given to me by a WWII historian in Luxembourg that shows where all the units of the 4ID were located during the Battle of the Bulge. 

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Deeds not Words!

Bob Babcock

 

June 16, 2015

Bob,

Thanks for taking a look at this. Yes my mistake on Luxembourg. If you have the name of the historian in Luxembourg I wouldn’t mind trying to link up with him as well.

Yesterday I went through some of my father’s papers I had photocopied prior to sending them off to the WW II Museum in New Orleans. One of the papers was handwritten, presumably by a doctor taking notes, of when and where he was wounded and captured. My Dad evidently told this person he was wounded near Eschweiler which is some distance from Osweiler. He was in a jeep driving down a road with three platoon sergeants and a LT, when they were ambushed by a German combat patrol. My thinking is he was near Osweiler as everything I have says the 12th Inf of the 4ID was near Osweiler. It is hard for me to believe Company L non-coms and the LT would have been that far away from their unit but I guess anything can happen in war. I believe they had moved through the Eschweiler area earlier in the month as they moved out of the Huertgen Forest to the Osweiler region. This is what my father remembered. He had a pretty severe abdominal wound and he spent 4 months in a POW camp so who knows what trick one’s memory plays. It is all speculation n my part as I have little hard evidence of location.

Also any locations you think specifically I should visit around Osweiler would be appreciated on this end. Thank you in advance for your help.

Steve Richardson CSI

 

June 17, 2015

From a note from Bob Babcock to Steve …

(Note to readers… you may want to skip this if your reading time is limited, this is a rather long After Action Report covering 4ID and specifically 12th Infantry Regiment of 4ID from 16-19 Dec 1944, the first four days of the Battle of the Bulge. Scroll down and continue reading the current note that has the heart warming story…).

16 December 1944 - D+194Against CT 8 and CT 22, the enemy remained defensive.  In the CT 12's sector, the enemy crossed the Sauer river in strength after a very heavy artillery preparation.  The enemy attacked Berdof, Lauterborn, Dickweiller, Osweiler and Echternach. The situation in general that existed throughout the 4th Infantry Division on the morning of 16 December when the German Commander in the west, Von Runstedt, launched his large scale counteroffensive, was far from favorable.  The division had been relieved after a period of hard fighting in the Hurtgen Forest and was considerably under strength in all infantry battalions.  At this time, three regimental combat teams were holding a front of approximately 35 miles along the west bank of the Sauer and Moselle rivers in the Grand Duché of Luxembourg.  Communications because of the shortage of equipment and the large division sector were strained to the utmost. 

The attached 70th Tank Battalion which likewise had taken severe punishment in the Hurtgen Forest, was at this time engaged in maintenance and clean up of vehicles.  Parts were virtually unobtainable, resulting in a number of tanks being actually non-operational.

All three regiments were contacted prior to 0600 and reports revealed that there had been some light enemy patrol activity in the sector of the 12th Infantry which was defending on the left (north) portion of the Division zone of action.  The usual small amounts of artillery fire had been received during the night but shortly after first light (0630) approximately 40 rounds of artillery of an estimated 150 or 170 mm fell in the 1st Battalion sector.

The towns of Berdof, Lauterborn, Alttier, Osweiler and Dickweiler received heavy artillery preparations but the largest concentration fell in the town of Echternach.  This heavy fire continued for several hours and was directed accurately in the immediate vicinities of the command posts which resulted in the complete loss of wire communication to all units below battalion level.  Shortly after 0900, the enemy began to penetrate our forward positions with strong reconnaissance forces and later stronger formations of infantry.  Three notable efforts were evidenced in the early hours in the vicinities of Berdorf, Echternach and the towns of Osweiler and Dickweiler.  Reports covering this early period, because of the lack of wire communication and the initial failure of radios, were few and the situation remained obscure for several hours, and only in the late afternoon was the situation beginning to clear. Company I was reported as being surrounded in Dickweiler.

At 1100, an alert order was issued to tank companies of the 70th Tank Battalion and initially some elements were ordered to move to the 12th Infantry Regimental CP.  By the time this supporting armor had reached forward battalion areas, Company F, 12th Infantry, had been completely surrounded in Berdorf and plans were being formulated to rescue them by mounting Company B, 12th Infantry, on the tanks.  A fire fight ensued on the southern outskirts of the town and this continued until dark with a small measure of success as the enemy was driven out of part of the town but contact with Company F had not been restored.

Concurrent with this attempt, similar operations were started to drive through to Company E which had been encircled in Echternach and Company G which was reported isolated in Lauterborn.  Company A, 12th Infantry, mounted on light tanks reached Lauterborn after a light skirmish and the Company G supply route was opened.  Strong resistance was met 500 yards northeast of Lauterborn.  The enemy was driven back but darkness quickly set in and forced the conclusion of this effort.

In the interim, the town of Osweiler continued to be occupied by Company L and Dickweiler by Company I.  Elements of Company K mounted on tanks of the 70th Tank Battalion broke into Osweiler first and then Dickweiler just in time to frustrate an enemy attack.  Thereafter Companies I and L and this small task force were isolated due to an enemy penetration moving to the southwest against Herborn shortly after dark.

At the close of the day, plans were being made to reinforce the regiment on 17 December and to resume efforts to reestablish contact with all units.The 8th Infantry Regiment continued outposting its positions to the right of the 12th Infantry's zone of action.  Little enemy activity was noted, except for 160 rounds of artillery fire at 1930 hours.  All units were alerted for a possible enemy thrust.The 22nd Infantry Regiment continued to maintain its positions and reported no enemy activity.  During the early afternoon, the 2nd Battalion was furnished transportation and alerted to be prepared to move motorized upon one hour's notice for the zone of action of the 12th Infantry.    

17 December 1944 - D+195

Due to a drastic change in the tactical situation, notice was received from higher HQ that all passes would be suspended indefinitely.The great German counteroffensive continued with the full weight of the 212 VolksGrenadier Division being thrown against the 12th Infantry.  The dogged determination of the Combat Team and all supporting units was the greatest contributing factor in saving the City of Luxembourg and its many important installations, both political (Radio Luxembourg) and military (HQ XII Army Group) from being overrun by the enemy.  

During the day, the enemy was able to extend its advance on Berdorf to the southwest as far as Mullerthal, and from Echternach southwest as far as Scheidgen, but its third penetration in the Osweiler-Dickweiler area was checked and heavy losses inflicted upon him.The 12th Infantry resumed operations at an early hour to contact all isolated elements and to reestablish former outpost lines.  All troops held in spite of mass German infiltrations up to battalion strength, as deep into our lines as four kilometers.  All units, however small, continued to stave off the enemy and harass him to the limit of their capacity.

During the night 16-17 December, patrol efforts to reach Companies E (Echternach), F (Berdorf) and I (Dickweiler) had failed.  All communications with the 3rd Battalion's garrison in Osweiler and Dickweiler and also the three tanks were completely cut off.  Elements of Company B reinforced by two tank platoons resumed their counterattack on Berdorf.  The attack was pushed and the medium tanks drove into the town, firing at enemy in the buildings.  The leading tank fired several rounds into a large hotel which had formerly been the CP of Company F when suddenly one tank commander noted a large American flag being unfurled on the roof.  At least sixty Soldiers still occupied the hotel. 

The counterattack through the balance of the town was resumed but the enemy attacked with bazookas and knocked out one tank.  With darkness beginning to set in, the position was consolidated and heavy artillery, mortar and rocket concentrations continued upon our forces throughout the night. (Note from Bob:  If you'd like to read the March 1945 Saturday Evening Post article about the battle at the Parke Hotel in Berdorf…).  

In the interim, Companies A and G consolidated their positions in Lauterborn to the southwest of Echternach and were unable to effect contact with Company E which continued to hold out against tremendous odds in the heart of Echternach.  The enemy had established outposts on the ridges surrounding our positions in Lauterborn and laid down continuous mortar and artillery barrages.Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion of the 22nd Infantry had moved in the early morning to an assembly area in the vicinity of Bech and, supported by Company A of the 12th Tank Battalion (9th Armored Division), advanced in the direction of Osweiler.  Contact was established with Companies I and L.  Company C of the 12th Infantry, in greatly reduced strength, had pushed from the vicinity of Herborn and had nearly succeeded in closing the Osweiler-Dickweiler area prior to dark.  It halted and consolidated its positions on favorable terrain to the south of the two towns, which aided materially in the attempt to stabilize our lines.

On the extreme left of the 12th Infantry's zone of action, the enemy advance from Berdorf up the Schwaise-ErnzRiver valley had been anticipated by the Commanding General of the 4th Infantry Division.  The 4th Engineer Combat Battalion with the 4th Reconnaissance Troop attached was ordered into the line on the high ground immediately to the south of Mullerthal. …

18 December 1944 - D+196

Once again the enemy was aided by the weather, a thick fog preventing any use of the air forces.

The enemy's actions opposite CT 22 and CT 8 remained wholly defensive. Active patrolling was conducted and defensive positions were improved. There was continuous harassing fire in the areas of Mompach and Lellig.

Against CT 12, the penetrations of the enemy were all met and contained, and in several places, the enemy was driven back. The only new threat came from an estimated company of enemy moving on Dickweiler from Girst. This attack was repulsed and the enemy forced to withdraw. Then the enemy contented himself by harassing the defenders at long range. The 3rd Battalion of the 12th Infantry with two tanks moved to Herborn and with doughboys of Company K succeeded in reaching a point about 200 yards south of Dickweiler before driving back to Herborn. The mission was a complete success as supplies were carried.  In the interim the 2nd Battalion 22nd Infantry with Companies E and G continued its attack against an estimated enemy battalion. Company F with Company A 19th Tank Battalion attacked from the direction of Osweiler to the west against the same force.

In the central part of the 12th Infantry's sector, generally from Echternach through Scheidgen, Company E continued to hold out in Echternach. Companies A and G were still firmly entrenched in the vicinity of Lauterborn and made futile attempts to make physical contact with Company E.  Task Force Riley from Combat Command A of the 10th Armored Division assisted our forces in this sector by initiating an attack at 0800. They advanced to Michelshof thence to Scheidgen where they encountered heavy enemy resistance. Leaving a force to contain this town, they continued on andpassed through Lauterborn, establishing a line approximately 300 yards southwest of Echternach. Supplies were sent to Company E in Echternach.


Concurrent with these operations, Task Force Standish of CC A 10th Armored Division advanced at 0800 through Consdorf to our infantry and tanks in Berdorf.  In conjunction with Companies B and F 12th Infantry, they attacked to the southeast toward Hill 329 against heavy resistance and little progress was made. …

19 December 1944 - D+197

Throughout the northern part of the Division's zone of action, the enemy continued aggressively although no notable progress was made by him except in the vicinity of Consdorf where the road to Berdorf was cut by patrols. The heaviest fighting was from Hill 329 where the enemy estimated as one battalion were reported to be well dug in. Throughout the period, enemy troops were reported moving across the Sauer river from Minden to Steinheim, reinforcing its forces in and around Echternach.

The day dawned cold and foggy with visibility limited to a very few yards. During the early morning hours, the enemy pounded our positions with heavy artillery fire and seemed to be reinforcing its troops on the bridgehead. Throughout the division sector, the situation was confusing, but an intelligence summary seemed to reveal that the enemy was regrouping and generally hiding out in wooded areas, mostly draws. The enemy was having considerable difficulty in maintaining communications and our constant artillery interdictions of its stream crossings prevented him from reinforcing its units with as much supporting armor as planned. The situation was also confusing to the enemy.

The 12th Infantry succeeded in gaining contact with some isolated units, in many cases only temporary. Nevertheless armor and infantry teams were successful in carrying sorely needed supplies to them. Local counterattacks were continued with systematic elimination of small infiltrating groups of enemies.

As our lines were becoming more stable, better communications resulted and prompt supporting fires were delivered, by both artillery and armor, resulting in heavy casualties upon the enemy.

By nightfall, the enemy was decidedly failing in its attempts to force back this shoulder of its counteroffensive.

Company I, reinforced, maintained its positions at Dickweiler and continued contact with Company L in Osweiler. Small enemy patrols constantly harassed their positions and at 1300, Company I repulsed a small attack. At 1500, Company C 70th Tank Battalion moved to Osweiler and took up defensive positions north of the town. The enemy laid many concentrations of artillery and mortar fire, notably at night. In the interim, the 2nd Battalion 22nd Infantry moved into Osweiler against light opposition, made contact with Company L and both units consolidated their positions to defend the town.

Company E, still firmly entrenched in Echternach even though a part of the town was held by an enemy force much larger than its own, was given permission to withdraw but the commanding officer elected to remain. An order to evacuate was issued by the CO 12th Infantry by 1800.

Companies A and G maintained their positions in the vicinity of Lauterborn and continued to prevent enemy infiltration. Task Force Riley resupplied Company E in Echternach in the early morning. Another team of this Task Force had secured Hill 313 by 1300 against stiff resistance….

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Deeds not Words!

Bob Babcock

 

June 17, 2015

Hi Bob,

Thanks for all the information. I knew it was a confused situation and the narrative in the other e-mail shows that. Interestingly he did tell me his unit was cut off from the main body once and they had to sneak through the German lines at night to rejoin their company. Sounds like that may have happened around Osweiler, although it also could have been in the Hurtgen Forest (in November). 

My father joined the unit around November 10 or 11, 1944. From his letters home and his military records that is the conclusion I have reached. He was a truck driver in civilian life and they were using him in that capacity until then. He was also had an expert marksman’s badge so I am guessing he was pretty good with a weapon.

He was also 26 years old at the time so he was not your average aged soldier. Had a daughter and wife at home but said he hauled a lot of brass to the Ordinance Plant in Ankeny, Iowa as a wartime civilian. Drafted in February of 44, sent to Camp Fannin, Texas for basic and then shipped to England around the middle of June 44. From what I can tell by his letters he was sent to France in late September or early October. Obviously he did not give many specifics in his letters so a little unsure of the timeline. Not sure when they stopped using the artificial harbors at Normandy, but he did tell me he set foot in France from the Normandy beaches.

I do know that he was a private when he joined the outfit and was a sergeant and squad leader by the time he was wounded and captured, all due to the losses they suffered. He did mention a LT. Reed who he liked a lot but he was KIA. I believe he was the one Dad said stepped on a land mine. Dad also mentioned a few other names of guys he lost but will have to run those down if you are interested. He also mentioned a Sgt. Nelson who went all the way with the 4th and survived the war.

As with most men in that generation he did not talk a lot about the war until later years. I became a high school history teacher and he eventually came to my classes to talk about the war. I did videotape one of those sessions. The WWII Museum in New Orleans has the original one and I have a DVD of it as well.

More info than you probably want. I do appreciate all you have done and are doing. If you do happen to think about it I would be interested in contacting the person in Luxembourg you mentioned.  Thanks again.

Steve Richardson CSI

 

June 17, 2015

Bob,

Both my wife, who never met my father, and I are excited to go. I am sure it will be very emotional at times, especially as we visit Stalag XII C in Hammelburg. I understand that parts of the camp are still a German Infantry training center. I have considered taking along his WWII army jacket with his cloverleaf (it’s really Ivy Leaf) insignia/stripes and wearing it some of the time. I have mixed feelings about that though. I certainly don’t want to disrespect anyone in uniform nor the memory of those who fought. However at the same time it will be a part of him with us as we take our journey.  That final decision is yet to be made.

One interesting side note to me anyway - my father’s marriage during the war did not last, which I understand is somewhat typical. However the woman he did marry later, my mother, worked at that very Ordinance plant where he hauled so much brass. They were married for 48 years until Dad’s passing in 1996. Mom worked her way up to Supervisor on the 30 cal line. Dad always said when he shoved a clip of DM (Des Moines arsenal) rounds into his M-1, he never had misfire. In some ways I tend to believe it was the hand of God at work. I have been trying to find 30 cal rounds with DM stamped on the bottom. I managed to find one in a flea market a year or so ago. Would love to locate more:-) – You will read more about this later…

Will take a look at your book and I thank you for allowing me to share my family's past with you-in addition to your most valuable help.

Steve Richardson CSI

 

 

June 17, 2015

Steve, my view is you are showing respect, not disrespect to wear your dad’s jacket part of the time - or all the time. The 4ID patch is well known in Luxembourg and around the Hurtgen Forest area. I never go anywhere without my 4ID cap on my head - covers my bald head and helps me advertise the unit I’m so proud of. And, seldom does a week go by without someone commenting on the 4ID patch - they either served in the unit or know something or someone who helped make the history of the division.

If you want a 4ID cap to wear, the 4ID gift shop at Fort Carson has them for sale. I can get a contact point out there if you want me to. They keep talking about putting the gift shop online but the last I looked that still hasn’t happened yet.

I love hearing your family history. Was your dad a member of the 4th Infantry Division Association? Did he ever attend any reunions? 

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Deeds not Words!

Bob Babcock

 

 

June 17,2015

Thanks Bob. Helps with my decision. I would love a hat if you could give me the contact info. 

Not that I know of. He joined the local American Legion and became good friends with two local vets, one of which was Gen. Patton's personal mechanic. The other was an officer in the tank corps. 

He did look up Sgt. Nelson after the war. He was in Central Illinois. I guess they and my mom drained a local bar of their Bourbon:-) Nelson thought Dad was KIA. And was shocked as hell when he showed up unannounced. 

(Steve bought four 4ID caps through the gift shop at Fort Carson, thanks to me hooking him up with the CG’s wife to make sure it happened)

 

Now… fasten your chinstrap and read about the phenomenal experiences Steve and his wife had when they visited Europe late this past summer. The previous info was background info – this is why I wanted to send you this information to warm your heart on this Christmas Day. 

December 23, 2015

Bob, I apologize for not writing earlier about our trip to Europe following my Dad’s steps across the continent with the 4th Division. I have thought about it many times but wanted to now take the time to tell you what happened. What did happen and subsequent discussions have forever changed our lives.

As you recall my father was wounded and captured in the Battle of the Bulge around Osweiler, Luxembourg. His wounds were very serious. He was taken to a German hospital and operated on by a German doctor named Ludwig Gruber. For some particular reason, Dr. Gruber did two things; he did an untested procedure on my father to save his life; he also developed a friendship with my father and asked if he survived the war to please write him at the address he gave my father.  Dad did both. 

Just prior to leaving on our trip on a whim I Googled Dr. Ludwig Gruber, Mallersdorf, Germany. Up came a Dr. Ludwig Gruber. Knowing it likely was not to be the same person, I took a stab in the dark and hand wrote a letter to this Dr. Gruber telling him of our trip and a wish to meet the family if this was truly the family of the original Dr. Gruber.

We left the States on August 28 bound for Paris. We spent two and a half days there before we headed to Normandy. Just prior to heading to Normandy by train I received an e-mail from Dr. Gruber as I sat in the San Lazare train station in Paris. It was the son of the original Dr. Gruber and yes they wanted to meet us as well. We completely rearranged the latter part of the trip to meet the family. More on that later.

In Normandy we hired a tour guide by the name of Ben Trumble. Ben is a Brit who lives in Picauville just outside Carentan. He has a villa that was built between 1480 and 1580 where you house and take meals for the time one is there. Ben is an excellent tour guide of the area. In fact since he has lived there he has befriended local Frenchmen who were alive on June 6, 1944. We visited with one such gentleman who vividly explained what happened to his family on that day as American Airborne and German infantry fought for their homestead. In fact not two hundred yards from Ben’s home a C-47 went down with a stick of 82nd Airborne. He has a picture of the road in front of his home on June 7, 1944 with American Airborne walking the road. We made all the important sites, from Utah to Omaha beaches, St. Mere Elise, Brecourt Manor and the American Cemeteries. Interestingly I may have mentioned it but my mother worked in the Des Moines Ordinance plant turning out 30 and 50 cal ammo from 1942-1945. Ben does a lot of metal detecting and had three rounds of 30-06 with DM 1943 stamped on the bottom.

From there we went back to Paris and on to Amsterdam where we rented a car and drove to Aachen. It is south of Aachen where my father caught up with the 12th Infantry. He talked about Eschweiler and the Hurtgen Forrest campaign. He went into battle on November 15 a private and out on December 11 a staff sergeant. We traveled the road between Duren and Schmidt. In Hurtgenwald, the small town, we met up with a group of Germans doing what they called a Motocross. It was a weekend reenactment but all with WW II era vehicles, weapons and uniforms. We spent most of a morning talking with the people. We asked why no German equipment and they said if they rolled that out, they are called Nazi’s and that is very bad. So it is all American and British equipment. None of the weapons are operational but they are there. It was amazing the things they had. We spent most of the time talking with a police officer dressed as an American paratrooper. They were quite taken with my father’s shirt and jacket from the War.

We then thought we would drive by a Hurtgen Forrest Museum that was not supposed to be open on a Sunday. It was open, another sign for us that things were going right. It was an interesting stop and talk with the museum volunteers.

From there we veered off my Father’s steps to visit Malmady, Bastogne, and Luxembourg City. We then headed to Osweiler, Luxembourg.  In Osweiler, I knew from the battlefield reports my dad’s company, Company L, 12th Infantry, held Osweiler from 12.16.44 on but my father was wounded on 12.18.44 and captured outside of town. We drove through the small town two or three times.

On our final trip through I saw a door to a building that said the Café was open. I pulled into the driveway and walked in. It was empty but I heard voices in the kitchen. I walked in and was directed to a Mr. Weigert, who talked to us for almost an hour and a half. His father had been taken by the Germans in 1942 and survived a work camp. Mr. Weigert had a book in German describing the history of the town during the war. Amazingly, my German was good enough I could read about half of it. What I did find in it was reference to many of the men of Company L my father had often talked about. One in particular stuck out and that was Sgt. Myers. There was a good paragraph on that man alone and how his unit “saved” the town from being taken again by the Germans. Sgt. Myers was my Dad’s company Sgt. It was an interesting meeting and again on a whim.

We tried to figure out where the hospital was that my father would have been operated on by Dr. Gruber. My dad always described it as a German Nun’s Retreat. We were not successful but did enjoy Echternach  before heading to Hammelburg, Germany where my father was held in Stalag XII C from late January 1945 until rescued by Patton’s Third Army on April 6, 1945. We found the camp, which is now the German Infantry Training Center. Some of the original buildings are there but even though we asked they could not let us in. It was not for lack of effort by the German gate patrol. They spent a good deal of time on the phone trying to get us in but to no avail. Regardless, it was worth the trip there.

We agreed to meet the son of Ludwig Gruber on a Wednesday afternoon as that was when the doctors’ practice was closed. It is in a small Bavarian town called Ergoldsbach about 60 K East of Munich. We got there about 12:15 and out walks Ludwig Gruber, Jr. He is a doctor today, as is his brother Thomas. They practice in the front of their father’s home which was where the original Ludwig had his practice. The first thing they did was slide my father’s 1947 letter to their father across the table. Obviously I had never seen the letter. They had never seen their father’s response, which I slid across the table as well.  We spent 9 hours with the family, Bob. It was probably the most moving 9 hours I have ever spent. Even though my wife never had the chance to meet my Dad, she too was experiencing the same thing the Gruber family and I experienced.

Their father, Ludwig Gruber, was drafted after Germany had invaded France in 1940. He had completed Medical training in 1932 and had his practice in this small town. He was drafted and trained to treat the troops of the 212th Volksgrenadiers. They went to the Eastern Front and saw most of the action around Leningrad. In late fall 1944 they were transferred to the Western Front for the Ardennes Offensive. The job of the 212th was to block the lower flank of the offensive since they were the most seasoned troops. Here they ran into the 4th Infantry Division on 12/16/44.

Neither family can imagine the number of patients Dr. Gruber must have seen cross his operating table prior to going to the West. Why did he develop a personal and seemingly deep relationship with one of his charges, let alone an American? That was the burning question both families discussed and still struggle with today. While talking, the Grubers slid a postcard with the Abbey in which the operation took place. It was on our way back to Amsterdam so we endeavored to stop.

After leaving the Grubers the next day we stopped at Dachau. One photo in the museum there hit us like a ton of bricks. It was a picture of 5 German Doctors and one prisoner. The doctors were to determine if one of their own citizens was to live or die due to their ability whether to work or not work. Why was Dr. Gruber not like them? More questions, few answers.

We found the Abbey in Helenenberg, You can Google it as it has been a Youth Shelter since the mid 1920’s run by a non-profit foundation headed by a priest. They take emotionally, physically, and mentally handicapped kids and teach them life skills and job skills. They also have about 50 orphans there from the refugees situation in Europe.

Today there is a total of about 160 kids there. It is on the main road from Bitburg to Trier. It also is on the high point of the road. This is important to the story of my father. My dad always said that an American officer came in under a flag of truce while he was there to see if there really were American wounded there. The Americans were going to shell the place due to its strategic location and the fact the Germans were parking military vehicles on the lee side of the hill. Under an agreement brokered by the Priest at the time, the Americans and Germans declared the Abbey a non-combat zone and it and the lives were saved. My father was the only American there, by the way. The lead officer, Captain Sherman (which happened to be the first name of my Dad’s older brother) interviewed my Dad and then wrote my Grandmother saying he had met my dad and although wounded and a POW was alive and no longer MIA.

While visiting the site we were escorted around the grounds by one of the staff who got us half an hour with the director, Father Steenken. While I was briefly trying to tell him why we were there, he stopped me mid sentence and came back about 5 minutes later with a large bound book. In that book was the journal entries of the priest in charge from during the fall of ‘44 and the winter of ‘45. On the entries for the end of December and January 44/45 the priest mentions he sent a letter via an emissary to the Americans asking them not to shell the Abbey. He also wrote that Capt. Sherman and Lt. Leubke came in under a flag of truce. They interviewed the staff and an American wounded POW - my Dad and the decision among all was to spare the Abbey.

How many German wounded and staff were saved because of the actions of the priest will never be known. All we know is my Dad was the only American there however we are sure there were many other considerations given as well. Regardless lives were spared. Father Steenken gave me copies of the pages where this was all written, in German of course, but none-the-less very important documentation for us.

Two last pieces of this amazing puzzle: Ludwig Gruber, Jr is also a metal detecting guy. He offered to show me what he has found. In his stash were five 50 cal spent cartridges. They were the only cartridges he had ever found. On the bottom of each was stamped DM 1943.  

The last piece took place when we returned home. We flew back on Saturday, a long day. We went to bed thinking we would skip church on Sunday, however we chose to go as neither one of us could sleep. The scripture reading for the day was Romans Chapter 15, verses 1-5. That passage talks about the strong and healthy must take care of the weak and unwell. Needless to say with all we had been through it spoke to us. I then e-mailed Ludwig, Jr. about the passage. He dug out his father’s Bible. In it Romans 15, verses 1 and 2 were underlined.

Bob, I have never worn my religion on my sleeve and not been what one would call an evangelist. I am still not overtly that way but this trip changed both my wife and me, not to be evangelists but rather to understand there is more to this story than coincidence. It may have taken almost 71 years for the story to come full circle but that circle has now been made and it is an amazing story and one I am not sure what to do with, other than to tell it as much as I can.

I certainly appreciate your help in my research. A reporter for the Des Moines Register wrote about the story. You can Google the title, When Elmer met Ludwig. The story should pop up.

Merry Christmas to you. Steve Richardson

 

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