Kentucky veteran remembers capturing German general

By STEVE VIED | Messenger-Inquirer, Owensboro, Ky. | Published: November 29, 2013

OWENSBORO, Ky. — By late April of 1945, Allied forces were closing in on Adolf Hitler's Germany. The front page headlines in that day's Owensboro Inquirer spoke of the U.S. Third Army being just 79 miles from Hitler's mountain retreat and Berlin cut off from reinforcements by Russian troops.

It wasn't all World War II news on the front page that day. A story with political implications for Kentucky was tucked in below the fold: "A.B. Happy Chandler Named Baseball Commissioner." The sitting U.S. Senator and former and future governor of Kentucky would earn $50,000 a year in his new job, five times his Senate salary.

But one would have to turn to the back page of the paper that day to find a short article, just five paragraphs long, reporting the exploits of an Owensboro soldier who found himself in a highly unusual situation. "Staff Sergeant R.L. Dever Aids In Capture of German General" the headline stated.

More than 68 years later, Bob Dever clearly remembers that day in Efferen, Germany.

"A young kid, 8 or 9 years old, came running up, trying to tell me something," Dever said last week after finishing his lunch at an Owensboro restaurant. "I couldn't understand him. But I was lucky. I had a youngster in my platoon from Germany. I hollered to him, and he came."

It turned out that the boy was saying a badly injured German soldier was in a nearby house.

According to the newspaper article, the second platoon of "A" Company, 121st Infantry, was moving through the town when the child approached Dever, of the 1200 block of W. 11th Street in Owensboro. Dever and PFC Robert J. Dutter of Chicago went to investigate.

Dever, 89, picks up the story.

"I called for my first aid man — Dutter was his name — and said, ‘Let's go see.' There he was in a pool of blood. We reached over to take his coat off. He was weak from loss of blood. He tried to fight. We took off his coat. I never saw such a thing. It was a beautiful shirt. He was a German artillery general."

Nearly seven decades later, Dever lives in Louisville with his wife, Ellen, who is 85 and has serious health problems. He regularly drives himself to Owensboro to visit his daughter in a local nursing home, combining those trips with a visit with his nephew Bob Leach and Bob's wife, Rose, of Maceo.

Capturing the German general isn't the only news Dever made during World War II. For his actions during the battle for Brest in France (Aug. 7 to Sept. 19, 1944), Dever was awarded a Silver Star for gallantry when he led an advance that rescued his unit. A newspaper article states that Dever and his men were pinned down by machine gun fire on that day.

Dever remembers asking God what he should do when the bullets were flying over his head among the hedgerows.

"I got up and ran," he said. "A shell hit and tore a hole in the hedgerow. I dived through that hole and got those tanks."

Dever brought back three U.S. tanks and directed them into position to capture five machine guns nest and 15 Germans, allowing his unit to advance.

Dever didn't get out of Germany unscathed. During the long battle of Huertgen Forest, he was struck by shrapnel in the scalp and hand in November of 1944, and for a short period of time was listed as missing in action. He wasn't actually missing, he said, but failed to show up for roll call after being injured and taken to a hospital. He was awarded a Bronze Star for his actions.

At one point in that battle, Dever said he asked a captain what had happened to a group of U.S. soldiers that had attacked an enemy position.

"He said they were all dead or wounded," Dever said. "I told everybody to fall back and take the dead with them. I was hit by shrapnel, and I have a scar on my head."

When Dever takes off his World War II cap, that old scar is clearly visible. There's another scar up there, much newer, owing to recent skin cancer surgery. He's facing more cancer surgery near his right eye, which will curtail his trips to Owensboro for a month or so.

Dever, who worked for many years as a manager of a credit union in Louisville, said he doesn't belong to veterans organizations or participate in events for veterans as a rule. But he said he doesn't mind talking his long-ago experiences.

"I just tell kids if we hadn't won the war, they'd probably be speaking Russian or German," he said.

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