Note: WarChronicle is very sad to report the death of Walter Bieder on July 2, 2008. He was 87 years old.
Walt had been a volunteer at the Quantico National Cemetery, and is now inurned with his wife Eleanor in Section 6 grave number 27 (see photos from the funeral service here.)
A better man never walked the ground. Rest in peace, Walt.
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The narrative below was edited from recorded conversations between June 2000 and July 2001.
Walter Bieder served with E Company from the invasion of Sicily to the end of the war. He was never wounded, and never missed a day in combat, which must be some kind of record for a rifleman. The Russians were so impressed they gave him a medal.
Bieder became platoon sergeant after Curt Colwell was wounded (Colwell had take over from Streczyk). For valor on D-Day, Bieder was awarded the Silver Star. He was also awarded the Bronze Star for his actions in Mons, Belgium.
I grew up on the west side of Cleveland, the old Brooklyn area. It was a nice neighborhood with a mixture of people. We had Polish families there, we had Irish. Germans were mainly around that area where I lived. My mother and dad, when they bought the house there, they paid seven thousand dollars for it; a big home with a living room, dining room, three bedrooms, kitchen, basement, garage.
I learned a little German from my grandmother when I was a young kid. She couldn’t speak English. And I used to pick things up from her. Some of the stuff came in handy when I was over there, but I’m not fluent at it. My father was from Germany. And I wish to heck when we were little he would have talked German to us. But my dad believed he was an American and only wanted to speak English.
I was 16 when my dad passed away. My father died in 1937, and I was more or less the head of the house. My mother was left with the five of us kids (I had three brothers and a sister), trying to keep up with our home. We didn’t have a heck of a lot, so my mother applied to get a Mother’s Pension. They called it that, Mother’s Pension. She applied it for and they gave her $76 a month for us kids and her. A worker who came around, like a social worker today, and she said, “Your oldest son’s going to have to quit school and go to work.” So that’s what I had to do.
I went to work for the Auer Register Company. They made heating registers, and I spray-painted them. They had spray booths in the factory and one of the older fellows there taught me paint spraying. That’s what I was doing when the war broke out and then when I got drafted.
My mother went to the draft board with me to see if she could get me a deferment for a while. The guy who was the head of the draft board was a mean old sucker and he said, “No, he’s no better than anybody else.”
I went first to Camp Perry in the northeastern part of Ohio. Got sworn in and everything there. From there I went down to Macon, Georgia, [Camp Wheeler], and trained down there. When it came time to go, we went to a processing camp in Shenango, Pennsylvania. From there we come up to New York and boarded a boat up there and then headed out.
When I went into the service I made out an allotment to my mother. When I went in we got $21 dollars a month in the army. I had left for myself seven dollars a month. I started making a little more money after I made rank, but the allotment was going home to my mother every month as long as I was in the service.
I joined the 1st Division in Africa: Oran, Africa. They had just come back from the North Africa campaign. And we started training there and first thing I know it, we got orders that we were going to invade Sicily.
Our outfit invaded in Gela, Sicily. Then we more or less went up through the middle of Sicily. We land on July 10th of '43 and took the island by August 17th.
So it was a pretty short campaign, but it was a rough campaign. Sicily is very mountainous country. And poor. You should have seen how some of the people lived there, boy, with their animals living in their homes. I’m talking chickens, pigs, and goats.
We went up as far as the base of Mount Aetna. It was a beautiful sight with the volcano smoking. And I’ll never forget this. One night in late July, a real bright moonlight night and you could see the smoke coming out of the volcano and we had a service in memory of our dead comrades and we had a bugler playing taps and it was the eeriest feeling as it was echoing through the hills.
Then we came back down and camped outside of Licata and stayed there until the end of October. There wasn’t much to do there because the weather was so hot. We could do a little calisthenics in the morning, or a little drilling in the afternoon. Then they let us do whatever we wanted the rest of the day. Not that you could go into town or anything. All we had to do was gamble. Poker, craps.
I seen Patton a number of times. They built a big platform for him down there, a stage for him to come up, and they assembled the whole outfit. [This event was captured in a photograph, see thumbnail at top of far left column.]
We were all sitting there. He drove up in his command car, and got out, and got up on the stage. It was so quiet with thousands of men there. You could have heard a pin drop. He got up on the stage and he started talking, “You mighty men of the 1st Division. You were born on the sea, baptized in blood, nothing can stop you…” And he’s talking and going on and when he got done, boy, the guys all cut loose, “You son of a b—!” Boy, they were hollering at him. And he turned around, stomped off the stage, got in his car and took off. They show you in that movie they made of Patton? He was talking to all the guys and they cheered him? That’s a bunch of crap.
Before we left Sicily they told us, “You’re no longer the 1st Division.” They made us take off our insignias and everything. Shoulder patches, anything on our helmets, anything on our jeeps. Everything. “You’re no longer the 1st Division. You’re going to be replacements, that’s what you’re going to be.” And I thought, “Uh-uh, something’s up.” Then we left there and boarded a ship, a big English passenger liner, the Maloja.
We started out in the Mediterranean and made a stop outside of Algiers, in the harbor. I don’t know why we stopped there. Then we took off again and we had German U-Boats trailing us. We had a lot of escorts: destroyers, sub chasers, to keep them away. Every now and then you could hear, when you were down in your room down there, you could hear depth charges going off. Then we went through the straits of Gibraltar and then out into the Atlantic to throw the enemy off. We went within 500 miles of New York, turned, and finally got into England. We docked in Liverpool and stayed on ship all day. We had to debark at night. While we were on the ship they got everybody together and said, “You are still the 1st Division, but when anybody asks who you are, you’re just replacements.”
So we boarded a passenger train, all the shades drawn, and we wound up in a little town, Bridport. They had Quonset huts there for us. The English had them all made up. A bunch of Americans, there to pick us up with trucks, said, “Where you guys from?”
“Well, we’re just from the States. We’re replacements.”
And they looked at us, all suntanned, and said, “The hell you are.”
Anyhow, later it come out that we were the 1st Division.
We got into England November 14th. And we had our Thanksgiving there. Didn’t do anything the rest of November, December, didn’t do much of anything. After the first of the year, then we started training, and I mean training. We went out in landing craft, out in the English Channel. I thought my number was up one day. The Channel is a rough body of water. On a really stormy day, a bad day, we got way out into the Channel. And, boy, I tell you, that landing craft was bouncing all over. We had what I thought was an inexperienced coxswain in our landing craft. He hit one wave the wrong way and our landing craft went straight up and straight down. I was up by the front by the ramp. And when we come down, my face was in the water. I threw off all my equipment quickly in case we were going to go in but fortunately it righted itself up. And then a British navy boat came out, a big destroyer, and he ordered us back in. We went back, all soaking wet, went back to the camp area and got changed into dry clothes. Our officers were going to take us back out again. But the navy wouldn’t allow it.
We made a lot of other practice landings. We had all kinds of obstacles, live ammunition fired over us. You had to crawl on your belly with the ammunition right over you. It’d take your rear end off if you got caught.
We did our training there. We meet a lot of good people there, we had a good time, met a lot of good civilians. There was a family I knew real well, the Browns. A buddy of mine, Jack Hamby, and I found this little pub way out in this nice little town called Bradpool. Only pub there. We were the only two G.I.’s there. We had a ball. And the Browns would ask us over to their house “Come on over to the house, boys, we’ll have a little bit of supper.” So England was fun.
Hamby was from Amarillo, Texas. I never heard a thing about him since the war.
Fred Reese joined us in England. He looked like a little kid with his horn-rimmed glasses. We all called him Elmo.
I remember Colson. I’m not sure if he’s the guy we called Shorty or not. Ray Curley was a nice kid. He was a dare devil, I’ll tell you that. Ed Wozenski was one heck of an officer. Smart. Big. About six foot. Two hundred fifty-something pounds, all muscle. Guys would’ve followed him anywhere.
Lt. Hutch was one of the coolest cucumbers you ever laid your eyes on in combat. We’d go on the attack and he’d stroll along like nothing was happening. And his runner, right behind him, jumping at every sound and darting this way and that. Near the end of the war, when we were finishing up in Germany and going down into Czechoslovakia, he wound up as our company commander. He took over from Captain Caras. Hutch was quite a guy, I liked him a lot.
Lt. Duckworth, as far as I remember, joined the outfit in Sicily and then he went to England with us. Duckworth married a girl there in England shortly before we went for the invasion. And he got killed on the beach.
Spalding, well, he did his best, as far as I’m concerned. He was young and D-Day was first venture into combat. Some of us had already been in combat like in Sicily and Africa. But I guess he did the best he could.
Spalding, when he come to the outfit, he was really gung-ho. But outside of that, I never had no problems with him. I thought, on D-Day, when we were going up that hill there, and when we got pinned down way out in front there, I thought he held his head pretty good.
I had the honor of talking to Eisenhower and shaking his hand. And Field Marshal Montgomery. In England, before the invasion, Eisenhower came through our camp area, everybody was out in formation. He come through the ranks and stopped by every guy. He come to my platoon, stopped in front of me, and said, “Hi, sarge, where are you from?”
“Oh, yeah? How are things going?” Then he says, “How about Troina, Sicily? That was something there wasn’t it?”
“Yes, sir,” I said. “They threw everything at us but the kitchen sink and that come later.”
He laughed. He got back farther in our platoon and he asked one of the little guys, young boys, “By the way, son, how’s the food?”
It was crappy. We were getting all dehydrated stuff. Potatoes, milk, eggs—everything was dehydrated, nothing fresh. So the kid looked at him and said, “Lousy, sir.”
“Lousy, what do you mean?”
“That’s what I said, lousy.”
Eisenhower turned and looked at all these other ranking officers with him. Next day, you should have seen the trucks roll in there with fresh fruit, potatoes, eggs, milk…from then until D-Day we had good food. No more dehydrated stuff.
We were ten miles out in the water when we left the ships. And it was really rough that day. We debarked from the ship by a rope ladder that came down the side. A couple of guys went down first to hold the ladder steady when we were coming down. And when you’re coming down, the boat would be coming way up in the water and then all of a sudden it would drop down. We finally got everybody aboard, but it was rough.
When we left the mother ship we went out a ways and the landing craft circled. You have a navy boat there, a navy officer to guide you, to give you the go to go in. We were all out there circling around waiting for everybody to get ready, bouncing around there getting soaked, and guys were puking left and right.
Finally the navy guy said okay and we started and we all spread out and went in a line until we hit the beach. H-Hour was 6:30. We left the ships about 3:30 in the morning. So it took about three hours to get in there.
When we hit the beach, we were the first wave in. The coxswain we had on our landing craft, he was good. He run the boat up as far as he could and hit a sandbar or something and said, “That’s as far as I can get it.” And Spalding said lower the ramp. So we lowered the ramp and jumped out. First thing, whoop, the water come way up. So we had to wade in and then crossed a long beach because the tide was out.
The 4th Section of our company, when they lowered the ramp, cross fire right in there. Four guys got out of that boat alive. They were at the rear of the landing craft. One of them was a buddy of mine, Cordell. He told me they jumped over the side, into the water. That’s how they got out of there.
Our platoon, Spalding’s platoon, we made our way up the hill and kept pushing. We were sort of spread out. There were a couple of other guys around me. One guy’s name was Piasecki.
I hit this machine gun nest. It was set not on top of the hill, but just a ways down and dug in. I had a grenade launcher on my rifle. It was an armor piercing grenade, but not like a hand grenade. See, the regular hand grenade we called a pineapple. It was smaller and you had to pull the pin on it. The grenades that I used, when you fired, it automatically set off the mechanism in the grenade to explode on contact.
Our first platoon got up there and I got that one machine gun nest. I fired at it twice and the second time I hit it.
Farther up, in a little ravine, was a small anti-tank gun and I aimed at that and I hit that. And then my rifle, I don’t know what the hell happened with it, the mechanism fell apart, and I had to grab a rifle I found laying from one of the guys that was hit.
We started taking German prisoners and took a bunch down to the beach. Then we went right back up and joined the rest of our section. That’s when Spalding said, “Let’s go.” And so we started pushing back further.
We thought we had elements on our left and our right. But we didn’t. We were out there alone. And we got caught in a hedgerow.
The hedgerows were square, and thick as hell. They pinned us down in a hedgerow and they caught us flat-footed. We were there firing back at them but we couldn’t move because they had us pinned with machine gun fire. And our forces down on the beachhead didn’t know we were out there. And the navy was shelling, and we were catching navy shells also.
We didn’t have no communication. From what I remember, our radio man was knocked or something, I can’t remember. Anyhow, we had no communication that we was out there. And for the whole day we was pinned down out there in this hedgerow. They had us really pinned because they had cross fire and you had to lay flat right up against the hedgerow or you got nailed.
And that’s where a good friend of mine, Fred Bisco got it so bad. One helluva guy. He caught it in his face. He had half of his face blown away. He must have raised up or something and they caught him. He was a good man.
We were there until it started getting dark and then Spalding and Streczyk and them decided we’ve got to see if we can find locate the rest of our company. And we were started pulling out. We kept ten-yard intervals between men going back and there wasn’t a shot fired at us. I could never figure that out. They had us there all day long. So we don’t know what the hell happened to the Germans.
We took off to the rear and finally found the rest of our company. Captain Wozenski and the rest of our outfit. Wozenski actually cried, “Where are my men? What did they promise us?”
They were supposed to have bombed the whole beach area and they didn’t do it. They were no craters at all there.
D-Day night, out of 200 men, there was 60 of us left. Wozenski broke down hollering, “Where’s my men?” Sixty of us left.
We held up there for five days. They sent the 18th Regiment through us because we were so battered we couldn’t get going anymore. After they went through, we moved up farther. And we held up there until they got replacements up to us. When Wozenski brought all the replacements up, he was saying, “We’re going to have trouble.” He said, “These guys were hollering ‘Mama’ when our own artillery was going off.”
So Streczyk and them put each new guy with a guy who’d been through it. “Take care of them, show ‘em what to do.”
I was an assistant squad leader. Right after D-Day, I got made sergeant. Streczyk was platoon sergeant then. Colwell, he was a nice guy. He made platoon sergeant [after Streczyk] and I took over from Colwell when he left.
Back then, a squad leader was a buck sergeant. An assistant squad leader was a corporal. And then if you got promoted, if you went up higher, you got to be a staff sergeant which was a platoon guide. And then from there you went to platoon sergeant.
They were building up for the big push through France. They had the beach more secure and they had these piers that the engineers built out there where ships could come in and unload stuff. And then stack it all up. We had our tanks and so on and so forth.
The day it was to start we were told the Air Force was going to bomb from ten o’clock to noon. And they were going to bomb steady. You’ve never seen anything like it. The bombers come at ten o’clock. The sky was just black with bombers, coming over. Wave after wave, and just dropping their bombs out in front of us. And all you heard for two hours was bom-bom-bom-bom-bom....
Unfortunately, we saw a number of bombers get hit by anti-aircraft. I saw one of them get hit and blow up right in front of us. I’ll never forget that sight.
And at noon, when they lifted the last wave, we jumped off. It was a mess out there. St. Lô was just about leveled. I think they had to build a new St. Lô.
The Germans were always threatening a Blitzkreig. We had our own Blitzkreig right there.
The German Seventh Army was retreating and our people were divebombing them and strafing them, tearing them up to hell. At Mons, they were on one road and we were over here. And eventually we met.
Our platoon got up to a brick wall around a cemetery. The Germans were running around wild down there and the guys were picking them off. They were running. A couple of my men, “Fifty bucks I nail that son of a b—.”
We took a lot of prisoners there. Streczyk and somebody else went in a jeep into German lines and talked a bunch of Germans into surrendering. And they came in by the hundreds.
Ben Overstreet was a guy who never should have been in the outfit. Not that he wasn’t a good man, but he was too old. We were fighting, taking the high ground outside of Aachen, Germany. Whoever commanded that high ground had the advantage and we used to get counterattacked every morning by the Germans who would try and knock us off there.
Ben Overstreet got a little excited and he was going to take a hand grenade and throw it down the hill as they were coming up. Instead, he pulled the pin and threw the pin and put the hand grenade in his pocket. All of a sudden he realized it. It was too late and he got away from the guys.
He was a good man.
Eddie Vaughn was our mess sergeant. All we had to eat were rations. K rations, and once in awhile some C rations.
Vaughn says to hell with this. So we were out, this was in France, and he goes out and nails a nice cow. He went out and slaughtered killed it.
And he brought it into camp and here it was a prize cow from one of these French farmers. And, boy, they come storming and slamming about it and Eddie Vaughn says, “Aw, go on, talk to Uncle Sam, they’ll pay you for it.”
That night we had some steaks, and then we had beef stew, and, boy, we had really had something good to eat then.
Ray Curley was a hell of a nice kid who got hit bad on D-Day. And I didn’t think we see him anymore. Then he got patched up in England and went AWOL from the hospital. He traced us all the way to where we were at to come back and join us.
One day we were well into Germany, and I was coming back to my platoon area. I think it was Fred Reese who came running up to me and said, “Hey, Sarge, guess who’s back?”
And I said, “Who?”
He says, “Ray Curley.”
And I said, “What?” I said, “What the hell’s he doing back here?” So when I got back to my platoon area, and I talked to him. I said, “What the hell are you doing here, Ray? I thought you were home already.”
He went AWOL from the hospital and he hitched his way all the way up to where we was at. We were well into Germany. I said, “My God, kid, what’s the matter with you? You should be home by now.”
And he said, “Nah, I wanted to be up with you guys.” So then I had to go up to talk to our company commander, Captain Caras, and tell him Ray was back and that he was AWOL from the hospital.
And the old man said, “Well, if he’s AWOL from the hospital he’s going to have to be sent back.”
I said, “He don’t want to go back.” So I talked the old man into letting him stay with us and I should never have done that because it wasn’t too long after that that he got killed.
Fred got wounded and Ray got killed in the same town. (Fred was asking me if I could remember the name of the town and I’ll be doggone if I can remember it. He couldn’t remember it either; where he got wounded and Ray got killed.)
I felt so bad….We were in sort of a hornet’s nest in this town we were trying to take. The Germans cut loose on us good. Reese caught slugs in the rear. And Ray got machine gunned, I think it was in his back. He was running across an open alley when they got him. It was house-to-house fighting.
That’s the worst fighting: house-to-house, I’ll tell you that.
One time, I damn near one time lost it but I caught myself. I was sitting in a foxhole and we were getting shelled. I started just shaking and finally I just said, “STOP!” and got a hold of myself quick.
I don’t know how I did it but I did. I mean, I thought I was losing it for a minute. When you get shelled day after day, it kind of gets you. I can understand why Streczyk and some of those other guys broke down.
People don’t understand that. I’ve heard a lot of guys say [about someone who broke down], a coward or what? No.
Anybody that ever tells you that he wasn’t scared when he was in combat is a liar and I’ll tell him right to his face.
At Thanksgiving, we were in the Hürtgen forest. It was a cold rainy day. And they said all the troops were going to have turkey no matter what. We were sitting in our cold foxholes, water up over our legs and everything. Cold. But Eddie Vaughan, our mess sergeant, said us guys were going to get turkey no matter what.
So he made up a whole mess of turkey sandwiches. Then he sent up his kitchen help with the food on a jeep. They could only come so far we had to send guys to meet them to carry the coffee and the turkey sandwiches down to us.
By the time we got that, the turkey sandwiches were cold, coffee was ice cold, but, boy, it tasted good.
Every once in awhile I stop and I think about that day. Everybody was soaking wet and you’re sitting in your foxhole, water pouring all around you.
But those cold turkey sandwiches and coffee tasted good, believe me.
One day there we were pushing up and I was kneeling by a tree and I was motioning to my men on my right to move up and all of a sudden something went by my nose and zing hit right into the tree. Here was a sniper, he just missed me. It just went right across my nose and hit the tree and knocked out some bark from the tree. I always say the Good Lord guided that bullet.
The outfit went off the line [during the second week of December 1944] for a rest. We hadn’t had a rest since D-Day. We were in this town of Herve, Belgium for a break and that’s when I got a three-day pass to Paris.
A group of us went back there, even our company commander, Captain Caras. We were back there for three days. Then we headed back and the Bulge started.
We come back to our company area, and I wasn’t back even half an hour when all us noncoms got called to the CP. We were told the Germans broke through: “Get your men ready. We’re going up to meet ‘em.”
They brought trucks in and loaded us up and we went until we hit them.
The area where the Germans came through was held by the 106th Division and the 99th. Those guys were fresh from the States, they had no battle experience. They did an awful lot of damage to the 106th Division, I’ll tell you that. Just about wiped them out. That’s where we had to go back up to. To plug the gap.
During the Bulge we pushed up and took this town (we wore white sheets to blend in with the snow). We had Christmas dinner there in the dining room of this big house we had taken over there for the CP.
The mess sergeant brought up the meal. We set the table and we took turns. We had squads out on outpost and then we’d rotate and take turns so each guy could come in and sit down and have something to eat.
[NOTE: Cowplop was not the actual name of this officer.]
One day, I went to get replacements at the CP, and was walking along with Captain Caras. I seen this little guy barking orders at these recruits left and right. I looked at the captain and he looked at me and laughed, “Ha-ha, that’s your boy, Bieder.”
Lieutenant Cowplop. Stupid and a know-it-all. He didn’t know nothing. He was shanghaied out of the Army Air Force, and they put him in the infantry. To this day, if I ever see him, I think I’d walk right up to him and punch him right smack in the face.
So I got my replacements and took him with me down to where my platoon was. I had a parameter out, guys guarding on look out and everything and the rest of the guys were taking it easy. We needed a little break. Cowplop come into this house I had for the platoon CP and he looked around and said, “Sergeant! What are all these guys doing here playing around?”
I said, “They’re just taking it easy. We had a rough battle and they’re taking it easy.”
He said, “They should be out—”
I said, “I got the parameter all set up out here.”
And he said, “Well, got them up.” They got to be doing this and that.
The guys are just laying there, they looked at me, and I shook my head.
He said, “I gave an order, sergeant.”
And I said, “I know I heard you.”
“You better obey it.”
I said, “No. I’m not. I’m not going to have you coming in here telling me. You haven’t had no combat experience, you’re not going to come in here and tell me.”
“I’m going to have you court martialled.”
I said, “You know where the old man is. Go tell him.”
So he didn’t go back but he fussed around and gave me a hard time. And then we got called up to the CP for a briefing on our next push. So we went up there and the captain laid out the first platoon will do this, the second platoon do that.
When we get back to my platoon headquarters, I get all the squad leaders together and brief them on what we’re going to do. He start giving different orders.
I said, “Oh, no. You heard what the captain said.”
He said, “Well, we’re going to do it this way.”
I said, “No, we’re not.”
So we shoved off on the attack and I more or less led it. I didn’t pay any attention to him. Then we stopped and he went back and told the old man he wants to have me court martialled for disobeying orders on the field of combat. The old man calls me up there and says, “What’s the matter, Walt?”
I said, “You briefed us before we made this push. You told us what you wanted to do. The way the asshole wanted to go, he’d have got us all killed.”
So the captain looked at him and said, “Let me tell you something, Cowplop. From now on, till I tell you different, you take orders from Sgt. Bieder.”
And that set it up between him and me right there.
It was the first time I ever didn’t get along with an officer. When we went into combat I watched him. I watched him like a hawk. I wouldn’t turn my back on him.
Before we got to Czechoslovakia, I was asked if I would accept a battlefield commission and I said yes. Why not, you know?
First, I had an interview with General Taylor. He asked me all kinds of questions, asked me if I would take it. And I said, Yes, I would take it if it was offered to me. So he asked me about different battle situations and that, then he said, “Okay, sergeant, we’ll let you know.” So I left. Then I didn’t hear anymore about it.
One time we got pinned down out there in battle. Cowplop was 15 yards from me, hollering, “Sgt. Bieder! What do you do? What do we do?”
I said, “You’re the goddamn lieutenant, figure it out!” But eventually, I had to take over.
You really got to size up the whole situation, what you think is out in front of you there and getting the men to move up in spurts and firing at the same time.
If you stay there, they’re going to get you for sure. Same way if they’re dropping mortars down on you if you stay in that one spot you’re going to get nailed. You got to keep moving no matter if they’re dropping mortars or not. I had that a number of times with fresh guys that just come into the outfit. I can remember they were dropping mortars on us and they were trying to zero in on us and I kept hollering, “Get up, move!” Because if you stay here they’re going to zero in on us and they’re going to blast us to hell. I had to run around and make some of these guys, more or less kick them in the ass and say, get going! Otherwise, you’re not going to leave here.
The idea is to take the chance of getting up, running, and hitting the ground firing, and repeat that process until you got up to where you could get at them or make them run.
We were taking a town one time and we were out in the open and fortunately I hollered, “Everybody return fire!” We got up and run to a brick wall outside of this town and I said, “Okay, let’s go.” I told this one squad leader of mine, “Come on, get your men, get over that wall.”
He said to me, “There’s Germans on the other side.”
I said, “No s—.”
I went up over the wall and then they followed me. After we secured the town this squad leader of mine said, “You know, sarge, you wasn’t supposed to do that.”
I said, “Hell, what were you going to do? Just stand there and let everything go by, you’re not going to do nothing?”
Just one of the experiences, you know.
The roster would change so fast it was hard to keep up with it sometimes. My last platoon roster before I left the outfit down there in Czechoslovakia was altogether different when we first started out.
I have the last roster that I had and it’s altogether different really.
You always had to report the wounded and killed in action, and it would change all the time. The first sergeant would bring make up new rosters maybe every couple of weeks or so
When we were in Czechoslovakia we had a lot of new, young boys who hadn’t been through much at all. They were replacements. When we got the word to cease firing and all forward movement, the guys starting really carrying on.
And, boy, I really got mad. I went out there and screamed at them. "That’s enough! You don’t do this. You think of your fallen buddies!"
When the fighting was over, I got decorated by the Russians. I didn’t even know it was coming. I didn’t know a thing about it. But one day I was told I was going to Pilsen to receive a decoration from the Russians.
Lt. Cowplop heard that I was going to get a decoration and he couldn’t understand. He told the other sergeants, “What the hell did he do to deserve that? He don’t deserve it. I deserve it.”
The guys told me all this when I come back from the decoration the next morning and at chowline for breakfast. He was standing up with the other officers and I had that medal on my shirt.
I walked up to him and I took the medal, “I understand you deserve this medal more than me. Here, goddammit.” I stuck it on his shirt, and walked.
Hutch was standing up there trying to keep from laughing. Cowplop took the medal and he was so mad he threw it on the ground. Him and I, we just didn’t get along. I wouldn’t have minded so much if the man knew what he was doing. I mean, you get some arrogant guys but they know what they’re doing. This guy didn’t know nothing.
When we were down in Czechoslovakia, the first sergeant called me up to the CP. He said, “Walt, get yourself a jeep and driver tomorrow morning, go to division headquarters, and get your bars.”
I said, “What? I don’t want them now.” I said, “I know I got high points in the company to go home first. I want to get the hell out of here. I’ve had my fill with fighting and I don’t want anymore.”
I knew I was going home and if I took this commission I had no idea where I’d wind up. They couldn’t guarantee me that I could stay with my outfit. And I knew they were taking getting men ready over to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan. They were looking for experienced combat men and I just had my fill of combat and I didn’t want to chance it. And they wouldn’t guarantee me I could stay with the outfit.
Our company commander, Hutch, said, “Take the bars, Walt. What’s the matter, don’t you want to be one of us?”
I said, “That’s not the point”. I said “It’s not that I don’t want to be one,” I said, “the thing is can you guarantee me I’ll stay here with the outfit?”
He says, “You’re sure you don’t want them?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “Okay, tomorrow morning go and talk to the battalion adjutant and see what he can do about you.”
So next morning I went up to battalion and talked to Captain Fish, he was the adjutant. He was another one I knew well. He said, “Go on, Walt, take the bars.”
I said, “Nope, I don’t want them.” I says, “If you can guarantee me I’ll stay here with my men, fine. But if you can’t, I don’t want them.” I said, “I know what they’re doing. The Pacific war is still going, and they’re starting to send guys over there.”
He said, “Sit tight and I’ll see what I can do.” So he called regiment and I sat there and waited and waited. And regiment called division. And I still sat there and waited. Finally they came down in the afternoon and said, “Tell Sergeant Bieder he can go back to his platoon, he doesn’t have to take the bars.”
When I was coming out of battalion, Wozenski drove up, spotted me, got out of his jeep, grabbed me and said, “Goddamn it, kid, we made it!”
Then I went back to my platoon and my men were already waiting for me to give me the business with the bars: “Where the hell are your bars, Bieder?”
“I didn’t get them.”
Then Hutch, the company commander said, “Re-up Walt, I’ll make you top kick [first sergeant] and I’ll give you 90 days home.”
That was a good deal I turned down, I should never have turned that down. But all I had in my mind was getting home. I said, “No, I got top points and I want to get the hell out of here.”
That evening, the first sergeant of the company then, Russ Harden, called me up to CP and said, “Walt, get your stuff together, you’re going home.”
Harden, joined us kind of a late, almost near the end of the war. He replaced Fitzsimmons who was our first sergeant. He took a second lieutenant battlefield commission. After he got the commission, I lost track. I don’t know what happened to him. Russ Harden come in as first sergeant, he was a hell of a nice fellow, I was pretty friendly with him. I often wonder what happened to him, I never got the chance to find out.
So Russ said, “Get your things together, Walt, you’re going home.”
That was June the first. The last day I was there I fell out with my platoon for retreat and bid goodbye to them all and turned my platoon over to my platoon guide and said, “I’ll see you.”
We took off from Czechoslovakia in a DC-3, like they used for the paratroopers. We flew to Metz, France. We were there a week in Metz for processing and everything. Then we took a 40/8 French boxcar down to Marseilles. Spent a week in Marseilles. More processing.
Then we got in a B-17 bomber (they had taken a lot of stuff out of the inside and put seats in there) and flew us to Casablanca. I had a seat in the nose of the bomber with the bombardier. That was really nice. That was a nice flight. We flew up the French coast and over the rock of Gibraltar. And coming into Casablanca it was really nice. We were sitting in that nose and you could see that runway coming up at you. Then we spent 48 hours getting briefed on how to handle yourself in case the plane had to go down and ditched.
The funniest part of it was the guys I was flying with were all Air Force. Some of them had been through all this stuff, the ditching and everything. And there was one other army sergeant there, same rank I was. Who did they put in charge of this plane to handle things? Us two army guys.
Then we flew out of Casablanca and then we stopped for fueling in a little island in the Azores called Santa Maria and they came out with a bus and loaded us and took us to the mess hall. They treated us top notch, they treated us like we were VIPs or something. Then we left the Azores and landed in an air base in Miami. Finished the processing, then took a train from Miami to Camp Atterbury, Indiana. And that’s where I got discharged. That was July 1st. It took me one month, all told, from the time I left the outfit till I got home.
I worked at a movie theater, learning management work. When the war ended in Japan in August, people went wild out in the streets and everything.
I was out there watching them and I just lost it. I started screaming and crying, ‘Goddamn fools! Get down on your knees and thank God!” The way they were carrying on, it was terrible. I just couldn’t take it. I had to go back in the place and sit down, I couldn’t take it.
People should be thankful. Thank the boys who did it and say a prayer for the boys that didn’t come back.
That’s the way I look at it anyway.
. . . .
I don’t talk too much about this stuff. If I feel somebody understands, I don’t mind talking about it. But I won’t with somebody who doesn’t really know what the hell it’s all about.
This is the most I’ve ever gotten into talking this way since the war. I know Colson said he put a lot out of his mind. I put a lot out of my mind too.
[The anniversary of D-Day had just passed. I told Walt his old buddy Fred Reese said he was going to call Bieder on the day and ask if he was hiding in his basement. Walt laughed.]
I belong to VFW here in Occoquan [Virginia]. Little town right down the road from us. I went to a meeting that night. I was just sitting there when they were starting the meeting. I was about the only World War II man there. One of the guys, the secretary who takes the minutes, he said, “Before we start this meeting, I want to remind all of you this is the 57th anniversary of D-Day. And we have one of our own brothers here that was there on D-Day.” And he said, “Walt Bieder, stand up.”
And they gave me one hell of an ovation. It really made me feel great. The veterans there where I belong are Vietnam veterans, and there’s a few Korea veterans. It made me feel good. I wasn’t expecting it.