Battle of the Bulge veteran remembers WWII
On Dec. 16, 1944, Melvin Diemer was stationed in Bastogne, Belgium. In 2012, this date may not jog a memory in most people, but it was the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.
The battle marked the Germans’ last intensive push toward France in WWII. The offensive lasted until Jan. 28, 1945. According to History Learning’s website, the U.S. Army suffered more than 100,000 casualties.
A 21-year-old draftee from Perrysburg, Ohio, Diemer had arrived in France as a medic in the 90th Regiment. He survived D-Day, only to find himself just behind the frontlines during the intensive month-long fight for control.
“We were so close to the lines, sometimes we were ahead of the Germans,” Diemer said with a laugh.
Diemer recalls the weather being a deadlier enemy than the Germans. It was 10 to 14 below zero. Infantry soldiers were losing their feet to frostbite.
“Their feet would turn black,” Diemer said.
It was so cold, Diemer said, that the men would have to pee on their M-1 rifles in the morning to warm them up enough to fire them. After the first shot, Diemer said, they were fine. Diemer recalled if a man died with his arms spread eagle they would have to bring him inside to thaw him out enough to lower his arms.
“We lost more over the weather than what we did the Germans,” Diemer said.
The artillery unit Diemer was stationed with had 45 men. It took a team of 10 men to fire the large guns. The shells were the size of milk bottles, and they were using white phosphorus in the shells. The idea, explained Diemer, was to fire it over the German troops as they were marching. The chemical burns the skin and will keep burning as long as it is exposed to air.
The Germans were using Tiger Tanks. Diemer said they were so large and heavily armored that the US shells would bounce off them like ping-pong balls. Every now and then the Germans would lob a couple of rounds in their direction. Fortunately the shells never landed on the medic station.
Diemer said they would set up in vacant houses whenever possible. They had one ambulance; they were the first triage station the wounded were taken to. Diemer said they averaged about two wounded a day, although he could recall a day when they had five.
“We just patched them up and sent them back if we could,” Diemer said.
Food was frequently scarce. Usually they had K rations that came in a box. They consisted of two cans: one with biscuits, and the other with eggs and ham in it. Some times they would use the camp kitchen, but generally they didn't have a lot to cook.
“If you had an egg over there it was priceless; you had the world in your hands,” Diemer recalled.
Diemer was awarded two Purple Hearts and three Bronze Stars for his service in WWII.
Every other man who served in Diemer's medic unit has since passed away.
“War is a hell of thing. When you see your buddy lying there with their guts hanging out, it's hard to take. You never will forget him. You don't make friends over there because they don't last too long. You got a friend and the next day he is gone; it's hard to take.
“I was lucky,” Diemer said.
He made it home and was a successful carpenter in the Fort Wayne area, where he raised his four children, two sons and two daughters. For the past few year he has lived at Coventry Meadows Nursing Home. Now 91, Diemer remains sharp. He never dreamed he would live so long, but his mother lived to be 94.
“I take it one day at a time, but I never will forget,” Diemer said.