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Archive for December, 2014

John Garrett: A Veteran in the Spotlight

Born on July 6, 1922 in Oak Park, Illinois, John W. Garrett was in a fraternity studying Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Illinois when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Knowing they were at war, John decided to enlist in the spring of 1942.  As an engineer by education, John was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for basic training.  After basic training, Garrett was assigned to the 14th Armored Division at Camp Campbell, Kentucky.  In October of 1944, John and his unit were sent to southern France, where they moved up the Rhine Valley into the Vosges Mountains.

On New Year’s Eve night in 1944, John recounts defending against the last major German counter-offensive of the war, Operation Nordwind.

Operation Nordwind

Operation Nordwind

“On New Year’s Eve night, we had the first attack by the 6th SS Mountain Division against us. And we were the first unit they caught.  We had listening posts at night…we could hear movement.  And we knew we were going to get it, sooner or later.  What we did, we took equipment they had…concertina coil and criss-crossed all the deer trails and mountain roads to slow them up, because we knew they were coming.  We didn’t have any grenades or that, we were short on ammunition and everything, and we were half-way rationed and stuff.  So what we did, we got into this depot at Barenthal and we would make our own pull-type devices. We’d take a quarter-pound block of TNT and wrap a whole bunch of nails around them with tape. And then put a pull-type device to set them off. We had those all through the area where we knew the attack was coming.  We knew there was only one route they had to come and that was right at us, so we had everything set up for them.  So we had the attack.”

Americans in action during Operation Nordwind.

Americans in action during Operation Nordwind.

Garrett and his comrades saw almost continuous action towards the end of the war.  The strongest attack of Operation
Nordwind was halted by the 14th Armored Division in the fierce defensive Battle of Hatten-Rittershoffen, which raged from January 9th to the 21st in 1945.  John safely returned home in September of 1946 and worked as a steel salesman and contractor for many years until retiring in 1980 in Delavan, Wisconsin.

To hear more of John’s story and many others, visit http://bit.ly/1txxO9K

 

Together in War by Emily Irwin

Willard (left) and Wilbur (right) Diefenthaler.

Willard (left) and Wilbur (right) Diefenthaler.

Born twenty minutes apart in Kiel, Wisconsin, identical twins Willard and Wilbur Diefenthaler share a story of duty and sacrifice during World War II.  They were drafted together on December 7, 1942 and after induction at Fort Sheridan, Wilbur joined the 919th Field Artillery and Willard went to the 101st Airborne Division.

After three months, Willard requested a transfer and joined his brother at Camp Phillips in Kansas.  The brothers later joined the 106th Infantry Division, where Wilbur became an assistant supply sergeant and Willard worked with chemical warfare.  After training in Indiana, the 106th was sent overseas in October 1944 and experienced its first major conflict in December 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge.

On December 19, 1944, German soldiers captured Willard and Wilbur along with 1200 of their comrades.  Knowing his captors would take any valuables, Willard threw his wristwatch to the ground and stomped it into the mud and snow, effectively hiding it until the inspection was over.  This watch is now in the collection of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, its glass still cracked from Willard’s boot.

Willard Diefenthaler's wristwatch.

Willard Diefenthaler’s wristwatch.

In rain and sleet, Willard and Wilbur were marched towards Germany.  While bedded down in a boxcar, they narrowly avoided bombing by an Allied plane, which destroyed part of the train track, the train’s engine, and coal car directly next to the POWs.  The next morning, after the prisoners were forced to rebuild the train tracks, they were transported to Bad Orb, Germany and marched to Stalag IX-B, considered one of the worst German POW camps.  The prisoners passed the time by singing, writing poetry, praying, and sleeping.  They regularly went without food and, when fed, were forced to share a loaf of bread with six or seven other men.  Many prisoners, including Wilbur, became too sick to move.  On January 25, 1945, Willard was sent to Stalag 9A.  It was the last time he would ever see his twin brother.

Willard was liberated on March 20, 1945.  Wilbur’s fate was unknown until a fellow soldier saw Willard and said “I swear to God I buried you at Mannheim.”  It was then that Willard realized his brother had not survived.  Wilbur died in a POW hospital on February 21, 1945 at the age of 22.  Years later, Wililard learned that his brother had died of pnemonia, despite the efforts of German doctors to save him.

After the war, Willard went to vocational school in Sheboygan and became a machinist.  He married and had four children.  Willard passed away on May 14, 2008 at the age of 85.  He donated artifacts from his service and recorded an oral history with the Wisconsin Veterans Museum, preserving both his and Wilbur’s stories for future generations.

This article appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of The Bugle, the Wisconsin Veterans Museum’s quarterly publication and an exclusive benefit of WVM membership.  Learn more about The Bugle at http://bit.ly/1yQca0c

Read Willard Diefenthaler’s oral history at http://bit.ly/16o8J6M

A Date Which Will Live in Infamy by Emily Irwin

Stanley Gruber.

Stanley Gruber.

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, where an estimated 200 Wisconsin men and women were stationed on December 7, 1941. One such Wisconsinite was Gunner’s Mate Stanley Gruber. A Butler, Wisconsin native, Gruber entered the Navy in 1939 and was stationed aboard the USS Maryland. In April 1940, the battleship left Long Beach, California, destined for Pearl Harbor.

Photograph taken from Japanese bomber during the attack.  Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

Photograph of the attack. Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

The Maryland was moored along Ford Island in Pearl Harbor on December 7, near seven other battleships in a line now known as “Battleship Row.” When the attack began, Gruber manned gun three on the Maryland and stayed at his post despite suffering perforated eardrums, an injury which permanently damaged his hearing. During his oral history interview, Gruber discussed the devastation he saw during the attack: “So I’m lookin’ and I see a ship, and I didn’t know which ship it is. It was the Nevada. And when I looked the second time it was just a big ball of fire.”

Around 9:30 AM, 90 minutes after the attack began, the Japanese planes departed. Gruber described the aftermath:

The Maryland beside the capsized Oklahoma.  Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

The Maryland beside the capsized Oklahoma. Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy.

But after the attack was over, we started helping people on the Oklahoma, she was rolled over, and those Oklahoma sailors were all coming aboard our ship and they were all in the nude, maybe just shorts, and they had grease and oil all over them and everything. And there were four hundred-fifty of them that we couldn’t get out of the Oklahoma.

2,403 Americans lost their lives in the attack and 1,178 were wounded. While exact numbers are unknown, at least 40 Wisconsinites were killed that day. Described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy,” the events of December 7, 1941 united a nation and led to the United States’ entry into World War II.

Learn more about Wisconsin and Pearl Harbor at http://bit.ly/12n0YfB.

To read Stanley Gruber’s full transcription, click here.

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