7:51 | Get involved with your government and be very careful how you are led. That's what Jesse Oxendine advises after witnessing the evil of the Holocaust first hand. German officers and townspeople were made to witness the hellish conditions of the concentration camp he had helped liberate. He wondered, could I have done this?
Keywords : Jesse Oxendine concentration camp Nuremberg trials German civilians Nazi Wobbelin concentration camp Elbe River
Uncle Sam came for him as soon as he graduated high school. Jesse Oxendine was needed in the big war, along with nearly every other boy in his class. His basic training was cut a little short because the Battle of the Bulge had depleted the ranks of more than one unit.
Jesse Oxendine thought all the Atlantic crossing was done in convoys, but he woke up his first morning at sea and was surprised to find the ship all alone in the ocean. It was a fast liner, able to outrun the German subs.
The 325th was confined to base on the coast of England, waiting for passage across the channel. That didn't stop Jesse Oxendine and his buddies from going to a USO club nearby. They managed to get out and back in through the wire without getting caught. The trip to Le Havre was in an old French freighter, not a pleasant ride.
Jesse Oxendine was sent to a replacement center near the Belgian border. It was in a marvelous old fortress and it was there that he was assigned to a glider infantry unit, part of the 82nd Airborne. He really liked the jump boots but he noticed that nearly every soldier had a Purple Heart.
Crawling under machine gun fire was something he had done several times in training, so when Jesse Oxendine got to Cologne and heard gunfire, he thought they were making him do it again. No, that's the real thing. Those German machine guns had a distinctive sound.
While at the Rhine River, a couple of guys found German machine guns. One of them was smart enough to take the ammunition out of it. The other one nearly made a casualty out of Jesse Oxendine. Then it was on to the Elbe River, where they prepared to take the town of Ludwigslust.
Allied troops were now moving into Germany itself. Jesse Oxendine's unit came across some sort of camp surrounded by wire. What they found inside was unbelievable. Skeletal prisoners with a shocking appearance, bodies stacked like wood, and huge furnaces. They had stumbled upon Wobbelin, one of the Nazi concentration camps.
Everybody wanted a Luger. The Germans were surrendering in droves and throwing their weapons in a big pile. Since the MP's were keeping the GI's away from the pile, Jesse Oxendine and some pals came up with a way to get some pistols.
After liberating a concentration camp, Jesse Oxendine's unit returned to France and were there when the war ended. They were rewarded with a plum assignment, representing US forces in occupied Berlin. They quickly discovered the night life.
While on guard duty in Berlin right after the war, Jesse Oxendine had more trouble with the Russians than anyone else. He recalls the time he and a buddy encountered four drunk Russian soldiers.
49 years after he was billeted in a Berlin apartment, Jesse Oxendine returned and sought out the building. The locals were delighted to meet him, including the country and western fan who was living in his apartment.
Jesse Oxendine sailed home on the Queen Mary. He had to wait around a week in New York because his unit was chosen for the victory parade. Word came about the atomic bomb while he was still in Berlin. He is thankful to President Truman that he didn't have to go invade Japan.
Jesse Oxendine never really had any close calls with the Germans in combat, but he came close to getting injured by his own comrades. He recalls the time a buddy got shot because of carelessness. The enemy did have a clear shot at him when he was helping some civilians recover their belongings. They didn't take it.
Jesse Oxendine and his three brothers were all fortunate enough to make it back from the war. One had been in Bastogne during the siege and another was not on the flight when his bomber was shot down.
His service in WWII was the most important time of his life. Years after the war, Jesse Oxendine teamed up with a German Jewish refugee to give lectures to schools and civic groups.
When his ship was drydocked in preparation for going to the Pacific theater, Frank Stovall left the crew to go to radar school. This was fine with him because he was now married. He was in Washington DC working as a field engineer when Japan surrendered. His last job in the Navy was testing acoustic torpedoes.
The men of the 92nd Infantry Division had to fight on three fronts. They had to fight the Germans. They had to fight the racial animosity of their fellow soldiers and commanders. And they had to fight Congress, which wanted to maintain segregation in the Army. Lyle Gittens made it through all that with an undampened spirit.
Robert James was propped up against a bulkhead, going in and out of consciousness. The kamikaze had destroyed the starboard gun mounts and there were many dead and wounded. He was grateful when someone gave him some morphine to ease the pain from multiple shrapnel wounds. This was the beginning of a painful journey to healing. Part 2 of 2.
Bill Adair may have been the luckiest man in the Bataan Death march. With a commandeered ambulance full of casualties, he threaded his way through the ordeal thanks to luck and guile. At the end, though, there was a camp waiting for him just like all the rest. Part 2 of 2.
Hannah Deutch was a teenager when the Kindertransport rescue effort became her means of escape from Germany. England was taking in thousands of Jewish children and she got her papers in order and left. Right away, as the oldest one in the large group, she became the leader on the journey.
Rufus Dalton was at the Maginot Line bouncing mortar shells off an old citadel. His unit was suddenly pulled and sent to take Patton's place in the line after the general was summoned to the Bulge. Once they got there, a fierce ten day battle ensued due to the last major German offensive, Operation Nordwind. Part 1 of 2.
He bunked with regular B-17 crew members, but Bill Livingstone was a gunnery instructor who was there to keep skills sharp. He was also there to substitute for any crew member who was not able to fly. His very first mission turned out to be a memorable one. Part 1 of 5.
The first assignment for the USS Reeves was escort duty on a huge convoy to North Africa. Frank Stovall recalls that there were no problems with submarines on that trip, but the rough seas made almost everyone seasick. He was surprised at the relative modernity of Casablanca.
Bill Adair was suffering from the effects of a concussion when the battle for the Philippines came to an end for him. Along with thousands of others, he was forced to surrender and was facing the prospect of joining what would become known as the Bataan Death March. Then fate intervened in the form of an ambulance without a driver. Part 1 of 2.
Wes Ruth was eating breakfast when he saw the planes coming in. He thought they were ours until the bombs started falling. As he drove frantically to his hangar on Ford Island, he saw the USS Arizona hit. The Japanese had made their move. As a photo-recon pilot, he was dispatched as soon as the attacks ended to search for the enemy fleet.
A week before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Frank Stovall was told in his Navy ROTC class that the Navy was on alert for a Japanese attack. A week later, he was mystified that the attack was not anticipated. After graduation, he became an anti-submarine warfare officer and was assigned to a destroyer escort.
When he had to bail out, Jim Wicker was literally sucked from the cockpit when he released the canopy because of his high rate of speed. He was just a hundred miles inland a few days after D-Day and the Germans caught him almost immediately. As he sat in solitary confinement waiting for interrogation, he was comforted by his faith.
It was a fierce week long battle for the city of Heilbronn. Even though they were only delaying the inevitable, the Germans weren't beat, yet. Forward Observer Rufus Dalton went into the demolished city looking for a rifle company he was instructed to find. It was an eerie setting with the city in flames all around him. Part 2 of 2.
Bill Garrison was standing in a chow line when a man up the line suddenly dropped, shot dead by a sniper. That was only one hazard at the air fields in China; the others being Japanese air raids and infiltrators. (This interview made possible with the support of COL ROBERT W. RUST, USMCR (ret.) in honor of LtGen Lawrence Snowden & LtGen George Christmas.)
Near the end of the war, the food supply in Holland had been disrupted and there was widespread hunger. Henk Duinhoven was lucky to be in the countryside, where gardens had been harvested. When he heard the sound of Canadian tanks, he knew that liberation was finally at hand.
Robert James was in the shower aboard ship when the alarm went off. He scrambled to his gun mount to man the 20 mm gun and then the threat became apparent. Kamikazes had broken through the air cover and were headed for the convoy. He heard some firing from another gun and turned around just in time to see a horrifying sight. Part 1 of 2.
On his first raid in North Africa, reconnaissance platoon leader John Souther captured a hundred Germans with no losses to his own unit. His job in the 1st Armored Division was to be out in front with his eyes open, and he was doing just that when a huge amount of enemy was spotted. Rommel's big push had begun.
B-24 flight engineer Bill Toombs was over Germany when bad went to worse. One engine was shot out. Then an 88 round went right through the number four wing tank. It didn't blow up the plane, but they lost all the fuel for that engine, so now they had two engines out. They made a desperate run for Brussels, which had been liberated.
Two engines were out, a third smoking, and they were were losing airspeed and altitude, but they were flying level and pointed home. Then time ran out for the B-17 and Don Scott had to slip down the hatch into the slipstream. Part 2 of 3.
John Souther was on reconnaissance patrol when he nosed his halftrack up over the edge of the gully in the Tunisian desert. A round from a German 88 immediately tore through the engine compartment, but left him unhurt. They paid mightily for that shot. With his radio, he began spotting artillery on their position, under fire the entire time. He was awarded the Silver Star for this action.
After a nerve-wracking mission to bomb Tokyo and a typhoon, B.E. Vaughan and the destroyer O'Brien suffered a second kamikaze attack which killed all three of his hometown pals who served with him on board. Then, began the grim task of collecting the personal belongings of the dead and preparing them for burial at sea.
The first operation for the 4th Division was the landing on Roi-Namur. Lawrence Snowden remembers that, though it was an easy victory, valuable combat experience and important lessons were imparted on the Marines.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.