by Michelle Y. Green
Tonight I found my father’s dog tags.
Months ago, I had purloined the dusty keepsake box from my mother’s house. The tags lay tangled beneath a stash of yellowed newspaper clippings, forgotten tie tacks, a large caliber bullet, and an expired American Express card. What surprised me was that I did not cry.
Stitch-by-stitch I am piecing together the quilt that was my father’s life. Hewn from the coal mining mountains of southeastern Kentucky, he boarded a bus to Tuskegee with three dollars in his pocket. He left there as one of only two colored flyers to be triple- rated—a pilot, navigator, and bombardier. More times than once he said—we had a job to do, so we did it. They called themselves, “The 100 percenters.” Hollywood, Ken Burns, the obituary pages, even this year’s Superbowl have brought to light the legacies of these extraordinary men. But my memories are in the quiet things.
Dad shaved with a straight-edged razor given to him by Daddy John who, covered with coal dust, cut hair on the side. I loved to watch Dad lather his face and carefully cut around the cleft of his chin. And then the best part—the splash of Old Spice.
He spit-shined his shoes every morning. He complained that the seams on the toes of his ribbed socks hurt his feet. But he whistled as he placed each shoe on the wooden shoebox, dabbed the waxy paste from the Kiwi tin, and brushed vigorously until he could see his face on his shoe tops. And then, the crescendo—I got to watch as he affixed his many-colored ribbons and clusters, donned his hat, and left for the day.
I did not cry last night when I found his dog tags, but I have cried many times before that and will again. I am writing his story: “The Devil’s Bargain.” World War II, Korea, and Vietnam took a toll on him, and on us.
In his last days, Dad put me behind the wheel of his Porsche and asked me to take him home to Kentucky one last time. His vanity tag read “SOG 68,” which identified him as a member of the covert Special Operations Group in Vietnam. Each four-man team was so secret, that it was denied by the U.S. government.
I was well equipped. At 16, in his green convertible Jaguar XKE, Dad had taught me to “slide into fifth” on the flight line of Lackland A.F.B. For mere mortals, the trip to Jenkins, Kentucky, was an eight-hour drive from Maryland—especially through the winding mountain roads behind over-loaded coal trucks. But when we got to 81 South, he told me to “sting the gun!” In six hours flat, we could smell coal dust and whispering pines.
We knew there would be nothing left of Holler Number Five, because the state had cleaved his mountain home to make a new highway. What we did not know was that we would witness the ribbon cutting. I looked high into the mountaintop to see a single tire painted in white. It was Daddy John’s custom to paint white tires to decorate the mountainside behind his home.
Dad unburdened himself to me on the trip home. He took the wheel. When the time came, he knew I would write the truth—about the body snatches, the kill counts, the stalking Special Ops Groups, the comrades whose names would never appear on the marble wall back home. It has taken me years of mining memories, combing through personal affects, running the gauntlet of government red tape, and tear-soaked pillows to feel ready. My deepest regret is that, although I hear his voice clearly, he will not be here to read it.
By: Jan Meisels Allen (sister-in-law) and Michael H. Goldberg (son)
Not yet a teenager, I was sitting with my two sisters and parents eating dinner when the conversation, for unknown reasons, turned to prisons. “When I was in prison,” my father said. “You were in jail?” one of us replied. “No, I was in prison. Prison and jail are very different things.” This, and the discussion that followed, were the first time we heard about my father’s WWII experience.
Ed and Natalie’s Engagement Photo 1945
Induction into the Army and Early Training
My father was studying accounting at New York University when he received his draft notice and induction papers. The first order to report was sent in January 1943 for him to report in April 1943, after completing the “present semester.” In mid-April he was told he had been granted a postponement. On 28 June 1943, he was told he could continue until 27 August 1943, permitting him to complete his studies. On 7 June 1944 he attended New York University’s commencement while on a 3-day pass home from Camp Atterbury.
He left for Camp Upton, Long Island, NY on 17 September 1943 and for Fort Benning, Georgia on 1 October 1943 for his 13 week basic training. His basic training was designed to prepare the draftees to go to college. At the end of the 13 weeks of training, someone looked at his record and noticed he had a college degree, asking “how did you get here, you have a degree”, and assigned him to the 106thInfantry Division at Fort Jackson, South Carolina where he was sent in January 1944. As the division was on maneuvers he was then sent to join them at Camp Forrest, Tennessee where assigned to Company C, 423rdInfantry Regiment 3rdplatoon. Since Ed had an accounting degree, he was made assistant company clerk, a non-existent role in the Army. That lasted until they went to Europe. Before being shipped overseas he was sent to Fort Knox, then to Camp Atterbury in Indianapolis, IN, Camp Myles Standish in Maryland.
My grandmother asked two young female cousins to write to her two sons who were in the Army during the war. One of those female cousins was my mother, who wrote to my father and received a reply, while my uncle never responded to his letter. My father and mother met in August 1944 while he was on leave. The letter writing carried on throughout Ed’s service in the Army and they became very close. When he returned to the US he proposed to my mother—they married in November 1946.
On 16 October 1944 the 106th left for Great Britain on the troop ship, the RMS Queen Elizabeth out of New York harbor.
They arrived at Camp H, Sandywell Park, Andoversford, Gloucestershire (Cheltenham), England 25 October 1944. The Captain was not happy with the supply sergeant, demoting him and sending him to another unit; he promoted the existing Company Armorer to Supply Sergeant and my fatherto Company Armorer, although my father said they did each other’s jobs. Theydeparted from Southampton for France 30 November 1944 arriving in Le Harve 2 December 1944. During this time hewas promoted from private, to private first class to corporal (T-5). He was bivouacked in Vivouf, France then in Born, Belgium 9 December 1944.
Siegfried Line and Battle of the Bulge
On 12 December 1944 my father was moved into the Siegfried Line in the Schnee Eifel in Belgium, near St. Vith, Malmedy and Vielsalm, Belgium and Shönberg and Bleialf, Germany. Remarkably, this was replacing his brother Al Goldberg’s Second Division. The Siegfried Line –originally named in World War l for defensive forts and tank defenses built by the Germans in Northern France in 1916-1917, was a term also used in World War ll for a defensive line built further east during the 1930s opposite the French Maginot Line. The goal was to acclimate the new Division in a quiet area before moving to a combat zone.
The Battle of the Bulge began on 16 December 1944 and ran through 25 January, 1945. It was a major German offensive campaign launched through the Ardennes Region of Belgium, France and Luxembourg on the Western Front of World War ll. The US forces bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties for any operation during the war. The Battle of the Bulge was named by the contemporary press to describe the way the Allied Front bulged inward on wartime maps. The Germans achieved total surprise on the morning of 16 December. For many reasons the Allies were not able to counter the attack. For the Americans, 610,000 men were involved in the battle of which 89,000 were casualties including 19,000 who were killed—23,000 were captured including my father. This was the bloodiest and largest battle fought by the United States in World War ll. (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Bulge).
Two of the three regiments of the 106thwere overrun and surrounded in the initial days of the Battle of the Bulge. While one division is usually responsible for no more than 5 miles of front, on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge the 106th was covering 26 miles. My father’s division, the 423rd Infantry Regiment (and the 422nd) were encircled and cut off from the remainder of the Division near Schönberg. The officers received word for the regiments on the Line to pull back into Belgium and found they were surrounded. My father was in a jeep convoy with the supplies, which came under shelling and everyone jumped out of the jeeps and got down on the ground and stayed down, digging foxholes for four-five hours. Despite regrouping they were blocked and lost on 18 December 1944, both regiments surrendering to the Germans on 19 December 1944. One of the officers who was in radio contact with command got up and waved a white handkerchief and said they had orders to surrender. Previously, they had captured a group of about ten German soldiers, and the Americans turned themselves over to the Germans. They marched through several towns until they arrived at a train depot. The US Army never reformed the 106th.
The Family and American Public Notification
Secretary of War Stimson told the American people –over a month later—that the 106thsuffered 8, 663 casualties included 416 killed and 1,246 wounded—most of the division’s 7001 missing men were presumed to be prisoners–in one of the largest mass surrenders in American military history. (Brooklyn Daily Eagle 18January 1945).
My grandparents received a telegram that he was missing in action on 11 January 1945 and three months later, 14 April 1945, first learned that he was alive but a prisoner of war. The waiting to learn if he was alive was very difficult on them. My grandparents had last heard from my father while he was still in England (November 1944), before going to Belgium and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. The process of notifying the US government who is a POW was explained in a letter by my grandfather to my uncle Al. The Nazis inform the International Red Cross which in turn notifies the US government and then the War Department sends out the telegrams to the next of kin about their son being a prisoner of war. My grandfather, Joseph Goldberg, was the Executive Director of the Brooklyn Jewish Center, and his letters to Al relate the joy at the synagogue when everyone learned my grandparents received the first letter from my father saying he was a prisoner and feeling fine. While everyone was focused on my father being found, alive and then a prisoner of war held by the Nazis, we sometimes don’t focus on the concerns of the loved ones at home not knowing if their son is alive or dead.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 4, 1945
Stalag IV B Mülhberg, Germany
On 20 December 1944 my father and the other captured soldiers were marched to Gerolstein, Germany and the next day boarded boxcars. The box cars were designed for 40 men or 8 horses, knowns as 48s, but this time they carried 80 men. En route to Stalag IV B they were bombed by the RAF near Limberg, Germany. My father arrived at Stalag IVB, Mülhberg on 30 December 1944. The camp was situated between the small villages of Burxdorf and Neuburxdorf about 6km east of Mülhberg. Stalag IVB was a huge camp, holding up to 16,000 men. The camp became overwhelmed as the war neared its end and the numbers of POWs suffered—lack of bunks, bedding, clothing and food. My father said there wasn’t much more food for the Germans than for the prisoners.
While at Stalag IV-B one of the prisoners was a Dutch Artist who sketched the prison camp on a piece of toilet tissue. When he was liberated and sent home he painted the prison camp and had prints made and sent to each of the prisoners that were in the barracks with him.
Being a prisoner in a German POW camp was not easy—and even more difficult for those who were Jewish. My father’s dog tags had an “H” for Hebrew marked on it. He chose not to throw away the dog tag, despite the” H” out of concern that, if found, his parents would be told he had likely died. He also thought that the dog tags with the” H” saved him. My father wrote that there were always more US soldiers arriving in the camp than leaving. “After a while, we realized that no Jewish soldiers had left Stalag 4B, all the Jewish soldiers were in the group that remained. I had not thrown away my dog tags, so it was known that I was Jewish. One rumor was that the German commander of the camp was not a Nazi but an old line soldier who said that in his camp the Jews would be safe and as long as he was not able to send out all the Americans he would hold the Jews as long as he could.” The camp had been set up earlier in the war for British non-coms. Another rumor was that the British-Jewish soldiers involved in the camp’s black market paid off the Germans.
My father was then a smoker, and his kriegsgefangenenlargerletters home to his parents all asked for cigarettes. The Red Cross also supplied the prisoners with cigarettes. Prisoners with cigarettes could trade them for food. This was the first time he quit smoking. (He quit smoking for good decades before he died).
He suffered frost bite on his feet, bursitis in his shoulder from beatings by the guards, and a hearing loss as a result of the War. There were 350 other Jewish POWs who were sent from another Stalag—Stalag IX-B –to a concentration camp — Berga, a sub-camp of Buchenwald — where 21 percent died in 10 weeks, the highest rate of attrition among American prisoners of war.
My father was liberated by the Russians on 23 April 1945. The night before the Russians arrived all the guards disappeared. The POWs, including my father, hiked to a German Luftwaffe Academy in Riesa on 2 May, just before V-E Day –8 May 1945. My father was malnourished and weighed less than 100 pounds by the time he was liberated. A Russian dietician arrived at the camp to help. Men not under any restrictions could leave camp and walk into town. During a walk, a German family invited him into their home just before a Russian patrol arrived. He realized he was being used to show the Russians that they were “good Germans.”
Every day a US officer would come to the Russian camp to get a count of US soldiers in preparation for an exchange of liberated Russian soldiers, but with no one to stop them, as soldiers felt well enough they would leave for their own lines without waiting. On 15 May, my father left Russian Control in Riese for Halle by hitching a ride on a Russian Army truck to get to the US lines, and two days later, was flown from Halle to Reims, France on a hospital plane. On 18 May he left Reims for Camp Lucky Strike, St. Valery France and on 28 May was admitted to a the 77thField Hospital with hepatitis. About three weeks later he left the hospital and arrived at Camp Wing in Le Havre and on 22 June 1945 he boarded the Liberty Ship, SS Walter Reed which sailed for the United States the next day. My father arrived at Hampton Roads, VA on 7 July, debarked, and trained to Fort Dix, NJ the following day. His father, who’s First World War CO was now the Secretary of the Army, forwarded a letter from the Secretary informing him that an order had been issued that former POWs should all be discharged. When my father showed that letter to his CO he was given a 72 day furlough as the CO was sure the information was accurate, but it would take that long for the order to reach him. On 10 July he arrived home for his recuperation furlough. He traveled to Torrington, CT to meet his future mother-in-law on 17 July, the night before she gave birth to my mother’s youngest sister. My father was promoted to Sergeant on 11 October 1945 and given a medical discharge from the US Army on 19 November 1945.
NOTE: The information on the time line was compiled from: 1 Ed Goldberg’s own records that included a detailed listing of where he was when; and 2. An audio interview Ed gave his grandson of his military experiences. I checked the spellings of the names of the towns and found all but one, Vivouf, France. As Ed included it in his notes I have kept this town listed, it may no longer exist or he may have misspelled the town. His binder of notes is lovingly kept by his children who shared it with me for this article; as is the DVD of his military experiences ‘interview.
One can search for prisoner of war records available online at the National Archives by going to:
https://aad.archives.gov/aad/series-description.jsp?s=644. Ed’s record which I have, but for this article wanted instead to focus on his scrapbook and interview may be found at: http://tinyurl.com/pbgwcm3
There are three great movies that I think are well worth watching, even though they are filmed in black and white. For me, they don’t make movies like this anymore. They are: “This Land is Mine” (1944), “The Seventh Cross” (1943), and “It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946). These three are some of my most favorite movies.
Each deals with deeply divided human emotions, overcoming extreme adversity, man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man, and the basic will to consciously or subconsciously do what is right; even in the face of extreme hardship. Perhaps a major reason I enjoy viewing these movies is they transport me back to another era and time, of memories of my mother; of how her life must have been like in pre-and post-war Germany, and of how she had to survive during that horrific period of time.
Each of these movie’s primarily focus is from the adult’s sufferings, their actions or in-actions and how they eventually overcome tragedy and adversities. However, they fail to take into account the children; they also were part of that era and they too suffered; albeit in much different ways.
When I view these films, each one invariably leads me to view them from what my mother’s point of view may have been, from when she was a child growing up during a tragic period in time. The films were in black and white however my mother’s vision was very colorful to me.
She is now long gone to a better place – but her influence, her emotions, her stories, reside as strong in me as they did when I first heard them. I remember her life was not easy, but she strived to make sure ours was!
My mother was born in Germany during the winter of 1932. During this era, her homeland was undergoing a great transformation. A new leader had been promising the Germans change: jobs, food, anything to make the German people believe and robotically “fall-into-line”. She told us one of her early memories were of seeing posters depicting adults talking and asking one another, (?) “What does Adolf Hitler want? (answer) Freedom and food for every decent working German!”. This was an actual poster slogan; she remembered this one very vividly! She reminded us of the thought of more food as something she particularly liked when she saw this poster.
For a time, this leader was actually delivering on his promises. Food was not plentiful for all, but there was food available as well as work. Germans were finding work by participating on government works projects; one such project was to construct the best road system known in the world, at least up until that time. The Autobahn, or Reichsautobahn (Freeway of the Reich) continued into 1930’s and it gave jobs to thousands. It was a make-work program; but the road program also had a sinister plot. the highway was built primarily to move the troops and equipment around faster for the eventual war that was to come. Remember, few Germans had cars. After the war, President Eisenhower even understood the importance of infrastructure when he began building America’s “National Highway System”. An interesting requirement of our own roads was to have sections within them to be straight and wide for several miles. This was to allow military aircraft an emergency “runway”, in case of war!
My mother often shared her own experiences and the thoughts she had of the Germany she knew in the 1930’s and 40’s and into the 1950’s, with me and my brother. Some of her thoughts and ideals, expressed within those stories I could not even begin to truly imagine or truly visualize as a child. It was not until much later in life when things began to clear up for me and make more sense.
Both my brother and I were often a major focus of her stories. As a post-war child of the early 1950’s, I have many early memories of walking on ice cold wooden floors in the mornings, watching the coals glowing in the wood stove, crawling into a toasty bed at night with a warm water bottle near our feet, blankets and pillows several feet thick, and morning breakfasts of merely bread and milk (that is when she had them). As a child, even during that bleak period of time, I thought we were rich. It was my early perception of life, but that perception was far from the truth. I would learn the truth much later in life. I cannot begin to imagine what she must have given up just to ensure the two of us had enough to eat.
In the late 1960s, we revisited Germany and she was able to show me where some of those stories actually were played out – as if from a movie, they came alive to me.
One story I remember her telling me was when she and her brothers and sisters had actually cut down a telephone pole deep in woods to use for fuel in their stove. She told us they had no coal or much of anything else to use for fuel to heat the house or cook food. The war was now in full force and its effects were devastating. Everyone in the neighborhood was in need of food, wood or coal. She didn’t say who came up with the idea, but at age 8, (knowing my mother as I did, I had my suspicions. She and her older sister and brother got their younger siblings to help them cut the pole down, tie a rope around it and then they all managed to drag it home. She remembers how proud they were to have accomplished this task. (Leave it to Beaver was not yet a television program, so her parents were not as prepared to give advice or guidance as Ward and June Cleaver often did. Remember, my mother’s parents were also not as affluent). So…they used the wood! They were found out by the Jägermeister (not the well-known popular German drink, rather a Senior Forest Supervisor) who was able to track them to the house by following the trail they made dragging the pole behind them.
All other stories she told would touch us one way or another. Some would bring tears to our eyes or make us laugh together, all would eventually fill my mind in later years, and still fill my mind. Perhaps, by her telling us of her earlier childhood years and life, she hoped that wouldn’t let us take our life for granted. Maybe it was to remember her! Now, I will never know…! Who wouldn’t want just five-more-minutes to get to talk to their mother? I’m sure of one thing, as she told us the stories she would remember and re-live them herself. I could tell by looking into her eyes. I still often think of her life and what she must have had to endure during those hard times. Now, I can only imagine.