Charles F. Appman dies; survived WWII Malmedy Massacre
PITTSBURGH — A proud old man died the other day, one of the final living links to a grim chapter in American military history.
Charles F. Appman of McCandless was among the last survivors of the Malmedy Massacre in 1944, when SS troops machine-gunned 84 American prisoners during the Battle of the Bulge.
Mr. Appman, who died Monday at age 94, was among 43 survivors. He testified about it to the U.S. Army and, in later years, often repeated the tale to his family.
"He played dead," said his son, Bill Appman, 58, of McCandless. "He was fortunate. He had some fellows fall on top of him. The blood from their wounds [leaked onto] him and it looked like he was dead, too."
A forward observer in Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery, Mr. Appman was taken captive at Malmedy, Belgium, on Dec. 17, 1944, by troops under SS Col. Joachim Peiper, a veteran of vicious fighting in Russia.
The Germans rounded up more than 120 American prisoners in a snowy field and mowed them down, killing 84. Mr. Appman lay among the dead and dying for an hour before escaping.
The incident became known as the Malmedy Massacre, retold in news accounts, several films and most recently a 2012 book, "Fatal Crossroads," which includes testimony Mr. Appman gave to Army investigators in 1944 and 1945.
Mr. Appman told his story again over the years, mostly to his children, although in 1994 he gave a lengthy account to the North Hills News Record on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's last-ditch counterattack in the Ardennes Forest.
Although he'd seen plenty of combat since landing in France three months earlier, Mr. Appman said those experiences paled compared to the terror of seeing his fellow soldiers murdered and the wounded executed one by one.
"We just hoped and prayed while we lay there listening to them shoot every man that moved," he told Associated Press writer Hal Boyle on Dec. 19, 1944.
Born in 1919, Mr. Appman grew up in Penn Hills and was drafted into the Army. After training in 1943, he became a corporal in the field artillery and landed at Normandy on Sept. 19, 1944.
He was driving a truck near Malmedy when German machine-gun bullets suddenly pierced the windshield.
He and his comrades jumped into a water-filled ditch as German tanks bore down. Then he heard a voice say, "Hands up."
He said SS troops robbed the men of their valuables. After the Germans herded them into a field, Mr. Appman later told the Army, one of them pulled a pistol and shot a soldier near him, then another.
"Then almost immediately they opened with machine-gun fire," he testified. "I hit the ground with the rest and made believe I was dead. I lay there while they searched the bodies, and I could hear the German laughter with immediate fire at the moaning ones."
As he lay among his fellow soldiers, he heard the Germans killing off the wounded with pistol shots to the head.
"I could hear them calling, 'Hey Joe, Hey Jim' and then 'wham,' they would give somebody the coup de grace," he said in 1994.
He tried holding his breath so the Germans wouldn't see his exhales in the cold air. At one point, a German soldier cocked his pistol and shot the man on top of him. He felt the body quiver as the man died. He thought he was next and wondered, "When you are shot in the head, did it burn, did it hurt?"
While lying there, he said he saw a bright, white light.
"I knew it was God, and it calmed me, and I stopped shaking," he said.
After lying in the field among the bodies for an hour, he heard another survivor say, "Come on, let's get out of here," and fled with others who were able to run.
The Germans fired on them.
"He could see machine-gun bullets kicking up snow as they were running," recalled his son. "He crawled under a barbed wire fence but got caught up by the collar on his shirt. Someone came back and unhooked him from the fence."
He was rescued by members of an engineering battalion and later discovered a bullet hole through his coat and sweater.
"He came out unscathed," said his son.
Physically, he was fine. But mentally, he suffered.
"Today they would call it post-traumatic stress disorder," Bill Appman said. "He just dealt with it. He didn't know what it was. He took some kind of nerve medicine, I remember that."
Mr. Appman came home, like millions of other veterans, to go to work and raise a family. He never went to reunions and kept in touch with only one other Malmedy survivor, Robert "Sketch" Mearig of Lititz, Montgomery County, who died in 2007 at age 84.
As the years passed, Mr. Appman mellowed, but he never forgot that day in Belgium.
"Maybe I've grown lenient with the years," he said of the Germans in 1994, "but I still think they should not have been so nasty to us."
After the war, Mr. Appman went to work as a surveyor and then took a job with Alcosan while raising his three children with his wife, Jane, who died in 1992.
The family moved in 1971 from Penn Hills to Franklin Park. After the children were grown, Mr. Appman and his wife moved to Hampton. About a decade ago, Mr. Appman moved to the Hickory Hills Apartments in McCandless.
Besides Bill Appman, Mr. Appman is survived by a son, Wayne of Greenfield, and a daughter, Wendy of Saxonburg.
The funeral is at 11 a.m. today at H.P. Brandt Funeral Home in Ross, followed by burial in Allegheny Cemetery.