Infantry officer receives Soldier’s Medal for helping victims of deadly German train crash
Stars and Stripes March 20, 2023
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — An officer has received the Army’s highest individual noncombat award in recognition of the aid he rendered to the victims of a tragic train derailment in the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen last year.
Col. Charles Bergman received the Soldier’s Medal on Saturday at the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch from Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of U.S. Army Europe and Africa.
“I am thankful Col. Bergman and people like him were there to quickly respond with life-saving efforts,” Williams said.
Bergman, who was serving as an exchange officer with the German 10th Panzer Division, was driving to meet his family after training with the German military on June 3, 2022.
A car in front of him swerved abruptly. Bergman then witnessed a Deutsche Bahn train fly off its tracks. One of its five cars angled sideways as it screeched through the trees and turned nearly upside down.
Police said later in June that the derailment killed five people and injured 68, including 16 seriously, according to a Der Spiegel report.
As one of the first people at the scene, Bergman assisted in calling rescuers, helped survivors out of the creek and calmed victims before and after going into one of the derailed cars to help others.
“From the very beginning … I couldn’t believe this was all happening,” Bergman said.
Bergman, an infantry officer, said the fundamental first aid classes from his early days in the Army helped him respond.
Inside the train, Bergman aided a woman with two injured young children, one of whom was a 4-year-old whose head was pinned against trees and bushes.
“Bergman’s exemplary actions, sense of urgency, and dedication to duty were essential in the rescue and care of men, women and children victims of this terrible accident,” the award citation says.
He also helped others with suspected broken bones and said he spent about 90 minutes at the site assisting first responders, for whom he expressed his appreciation during a phone interview Monday.
Bergman said the scenes of that day are ingrained in his memory. He is much more safety-conscious now and doesn’t overlook anything from seat belts to where his family sits on a train, he said.
While the Soldier’s Medal award is in his name, he deflected much of the credit to the Army as a whole.
“In my heart, I think all soldiers would do the same thing,” Bergman said. “It’s not about recognizing me. It’s about recognizing what soldiers do.”