Muscatine (IA) Journal
The Germans outnumbered American troops 10 to one by the time U.S. Army Pvt. William Roudybush joined what became known as the Battle of the Bulge, one of World War II’s largest and most violent battles.
“There were 15,000 in the 106th Division and 15,000 in the 99th,” Roudybush, now a 91-year-old retired Muscatine doctor, said when asked about the 65th anniversary of the battle’s beginning.
He entered into the Battle of the Bulge around Dec. 18, 1944.
“None of us had combat experience,” he said.
Roudybush said German Gen. Gerd von Rundstedt brought 300,000 men to the battle, which was fought in the forested and mountainous region of Ardennes in Belgium and Luxembourg. The fighting took place in several towns and villages.
By the end of the war, 12,000 men from the 106th and 5,000 from the 99th had been killed, wounded or taken prisoner.
Some soldiers went AWOL, (absent without leave), which means they fled combat.
“I can’t get too nasty about people going AWOL when you’re facing 10-to-1 odds,” said Roudybush.
But Roudybush stayed and fought, knowing he had a skill that could preserve his life.
“What saved me was being a crack shot,” he said. “I could come close to hitting a man a quarter mile off and if he was one block over, I was a sure shot.”
Roudybush first honed his skill when he and his twin brother, Earl, hunted rabbits in their childhood hometown of Diagonal IA.
“We got to where we could hit them when they were running,” he said.
Roudybush was 25 and a graduate of Central College in Pella when he was drafted into war.
His daughter, Dorothy Burns of Muscatine, was a year old at the time. She said her father was a Methodist minister in Diagonal and helping on his father’s farm when the summons came.
He became part of the U.S. Army’s 99th Infantry Division and his superiors were impressed with his refined aim.
“I fired three shots and hit three bull’s-eyes,” recalled Roudybush. “The lieutenant said, ‘I want you to go up and down this line and teach these men to shoot like you do.’”
He was offered the position of second lieutenant if he’d agree to be a forward observer, but a corporal took him aside and asked him to turn it down.
“He said, ‘Please don’t take that. You’re the best shot we ever saw,’” said Roudybush.
Roudybush became a point man, going out ahead of the other soldiers to make sure the coast was clear.
He recalls spending one night on his belly, an M-1 rifle on his shoulder, eliminating enemy soldiers.
After firing his own five clips of ammunition, which contained 40 shots each, he had to find more.
“Another guy went up higher on a hill,” said Roudybush. “I ran up and asked him for more ammo and he said, ‘I still got my five clips, and I’ll give you four.’”
The next morning, Roudybush said his shoulder was black and blue from the force of the rifle pounding into his skin with each shot.
The Battle of the Bulge ended around Jan. 25, 1945, but the war continued. Roudybush said one of his toughest battles took place in March 1945, when American troops took over the Ludendorff Bridge, which spanned Germany’s Rhine River and connected the cities of Remagen and Erpel.
“The lieutenant said, ‘See that bridge? We’re crossing it as quick as we can and as fast as we can’,” recalled Roudybush. “‘On the other side is your Alamo. None of you are coming back if you don’t fight like hell.’”
“I sat on a machine gun for 12 hours, and all I saw were U.S. GIs coming in,” said Roudybush. “We had 300,000 troops. We ran out of places to put them.
“The day the war ended, May 8, 1945, they made me an orderly,” said Roudybush. “If anyone had things to send home, I made sure there wasn’t any silverware or things that didn’t pertain to war. I settled arguments. The only thing I couldn’t do is write passes for the fellas to go to France.”
After the Army, Roudybush decided to go into medicine. He graduated from the University of Iowa and moved to Muscatine in 1954.
“He loved practicing medicine,” said Burns. “He even had his office open on Sundays. He really cared for the Hispanic population and the poor. He would try to give them as many breaks as he could so that they could make it.”
Roudybush retired in 1988.
He and Ruth Veldhuizen married in 1940 and had six children.
“She had her hands full when I was in the service,” said Roudybush.
The couple had been married 53 years when Ruth died in 1994.
Roudybush maintains what he calls a bachelor’s life at his Muscatine residence and enjoys visiting with his family and friends.
Burns said her father didn’t really start discussing his World War II experiences until after his retirement.
“I think he pushed it aside and focused on his work,” she said.
But she’s pleased her father is willing to discuss his experiences now.
“It reminds us that we have to work to get along with each other and help each other,” she said.
Burns said her father often told her and her siblings that God brought him back home alive.
“He’s sure that the Lord was looking over him,” she said.