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Battle of the Bulge, Elseborn, ME109s years ago


4222 Iris Ave., Mountain Green UT 84050-9738

These eyewitness accounts are excerpts of my personal biography, which I wrote for my children, as an account of my activities during my assignment as a jeep driver for A/395. My rank at the time was T/5.

When I read the account written by Bob Pillar, F/395, on page three of the Checkerboard I thought that story sounded familiar. So I got out my biography and there it was — not exactly as Bob remembered it but so close it had to be the same incident. (Differences are referred to as "The Eye of the Beholder" under excitement, many people witnessing the same incident remember it differently.)

After the war while was getting my degree in engineering I received my pilot's license and have almost 900 hours of logged flight time. I mention this background because in retrospect I have great admiration for that German pilot making a "dead stick" landing in the snow of "no man's land." I'll bet that ME-109 could have been recovered, restored, and returned to the air at least to a museum.

The day after we moved from our first farmhouse in Elsenborn I shot down my first German aircraft. I had just returned from the kitchen and pulled into the yard in front of the house. I reported to the CO, then went out front to turn my jeep and trailer around to face the road — just in case we had to leave in a hurry. I backed the trailer onto the cobblestone street and pulled forward so I could back into the yard. As I pulled up I noticed a command vehicle and a 3/4-ton truck pull off the road.

Everyone jumped out and lay in the ditch alongside the road. It was quiet, but no one gets into a ditch without a reason. I got out of my jeep and looked down the road toward the main intersection. The two ME-109 airplanes were coming in just over the treetops. One planed peeled off at the main intersection and headed north. The other plane continued east in my direction. They must have been out of ammunition because they were not strafing.

I hollered for some help to guide the ammo belt in my 50-caliber machine gun mounted between the seats. No one heard me. I couldn't wait. Pulling the bolt back to full load, I began firing. My first few rounds poured into the engine, which began to belch black smoke. Immediately the pilot rolled the plane over on its back and bailed out. His chute snapped open. Although he was a long way from where I was, I could hear firing and see tracers whistling by him as he floated down. I never knew whether he was hit or not.

The plane rolled up into almost a vertical climb, stalled out, wheeled over into a nose dive, and came straight down into a field about 100 yards from where I was standing on the road. It hit the ground and exploded, burying everything except for a few scattered parts. It actually hit about 50 feet from an anti-aircraft gun that was in the process of being erected. Boy was that ack-ack crew startled!

Several days later (or the rest of the story)

One afternoon I had driven to some buildings on the outskirts of Elsenborn. Just moments before I arrived, a German fighter plane had made a perfect, wheels-up, dead stick landing in the snow of "no man's land," coming to a stop about 200 yards from our position.

The pilot was still in the airplane. Our GIs were debating what to do. The airplane looked to be in perfect condition, except the engine had quit. The German airman had made a perfect landing in the snow. We didn't want to let him get away and back to his lines. Some of the boys wanted to shoot him as he got out of the airplane.

I suggested they calm down and see if we couldn't talk him in, without killing him. Pilots always had a good education so he was bound to understand enough English to comprehend what we wanted. Besides when we captured someone, G-2 wanted them returned in good condition for interrogation.

Surprisingly, I prevailed. So they told me to talk him in. By this time he had jumped out of the plane into a large hole in the snow. We couldn't even see his head. I called to him, telling him if he gave up he wouldn't get shot, and to come out of the hole with his hands up.

Several moments went by. We were beginning to wonder if he had been hit before he landed, or if one of the rounds that had been fired at him in the excitement after he landed had hit im — or if he was just afraid. After all, he had been fired at several times already!

Just as we decided that someone was going to have to go out and get him, he raised his hands over the edge of the snow bank. Then, with a little encouragement he slowly climbed out of the shell hole. Keeping his hands up, he walked over to our position. I patted him down for weapons and found a palm-size .32-caliber Browning automatic in a rear pocket of his flight suit.

It was a beautiful little pearl-handled weapon, which I kept until I got on the boat to come home. They only let us keep one registered weapon. I had several handguns, which I turned in. I had a 1917 model long barrel Luger, which I wanted to keep, so I turned that little .32 automatic in.