Haunting memories of bitter battles
The Buffalo News
BUFFALO, N.Y. — As a front-line medic in the Battle of the Bulge, Larry Titzler found himself serving in a little German town called Lammersdorf and began each day by heading to regimental headquarters about two miles away.
The purpose was to obtain information on planned troop movements and what medics could expect as the long and bitterly cold battle continued in the winter of 1944-45.
"There was a rumor that there would be a major movement of American troops," Titzler recalls, "and this one morning when the driver of the Jeep and I started for our trip to regimental headquarters for the latest liaison report, the doctor who was our company commander came out and told me, 'Wait a minute, I'll go today. Something big is coming up.'"
The 21-year-old Titzler, a member of B Company, 303rd Medical Battalion, followed orders and stayed behind as the driver and captain sped away.
"A half-hour later, an ambulance returned with the bodies of the captain and driver. They had taken a direct hit from an 88 mm shell," he says. "The Germans were on the high ground and could see the road. I was just in total shock. I went back into our headquarters and sat down in a corner and cried. That should have been me."
For a young man out of Riverside, who had been attending Chown Business School in downtown Buffalo hoping to one day become a certified public accountant, this brush with death was more than a mere wake-up call. Titzler realized just how perilous war was.
"I still think about that morning," he says. "It haunts me to the present day."
The incident at the Bulge was a long way from Princeton University, where Titlzer spent 1943 studying in the Army's engineering program. He was selected because he had tested well, showing a strong aptitude for advanced studies.
At the end of the Ivy League courses, he was supposed to be made a first lieutenant, but as is the way of the military, things changed. "They disbanded the program," he says, "and instead of making all of the candidates first lieutenants, we were made privates first class."
No explanation for the disbanding was ever offered, he says.
After that, random assignments were given, and Titzler landed with the 78th Infantry "Lightning" Division, where he became a medic with the 303rd. In October 1944, he arrived in Europe, just a couple months before the Battle of the Bulge.
"When we crossed the English Channel to France, we were put on some railroad cars that were called 40-or-8, which meant the car could hold 40 servicemen and/or eight horses," Titzler, 89, remembers.
His ride on the rails ended at Aachen, Germany, which had just been taken by U.S. troops. Weeks later, there would be the shocking death of his captain, who had taken Titzler's place in the Jeep, and other close calls.
One other one, in particular, stands out.
"The Americans suddenly made rapid advances to the Rhine River toward Bonn, Germany," Titzler says. "Near Bonn, there was one bridge left called the Remagen Bridge. The Germans thought they had damaged the bridge enough so that it would collapse into the Rhine after they left.
"It did not collapse. So the 78th Division, including my medical battalion, crossed the bridge."
But the span was in rough shape.
"I was in the back of a truck trying to keep the company's records safe, and the bridge was swaying," Titzler says. "The Germans sent some dive bombers to bomb and strafe the bridge, and I was right in the middle of the bridge. I gotta tell you, I was saying prayers. The bridge was about as long and high as the Peace Bridge."
"We made it over safely and went a half-mile down the road and stayed there about two days," Titzler says. "But while we were there, we were in this building, and you could see the bridge, and I was looking out at it, and the bridge actually collapsed in front of my eyes. I said to myself, 'Someone up there is looking after me.'"
Then moving north along the Rhine, the division progressed to Cologne, Wuppertal and finally Berlin, as Titzler and his fellow medics treated the wounded and transported them back to field hospitals.
"We were part of Gen. George Patton's army, and we loved the general," Titzler says. "He was tough, and told the Germans just what he thought of them. He also praised his troops."
Following his honorable discharge from the service, Titzler attended the University of Buffalo on the GI Bill. He graduated with a degree in business administration in 1948, but his dream of a career in accounting was swapped for a career as a high school business teacher, since there were no accounting jobs available.
At Tonawanda High School, he eventually became assistant principal and retired in 1989.
He and his wife of 62 years, Irene Lebieda Titzler, raised two children, Paul and Susan, and have four grandchildren and "one lovable great-granddaughter."
And while he considers himself a "No.1 patriot," he says the military actions of the United States in recent years are unlike World War II.
"We had a definite threat in World War II to our country, our life and democracy, but it seems today that our young men and women are dying and nothing much is being accomplished," he says, adding that he has "the greatest respect for those dying, and I pray for them daily."
In fact, he says, "some of my own former students are dead because of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan."