World War II – U.S. Army
Mr. Bader, now 90 years old, is quite a remarkable man. He was not only a valiant soldier who was always ready to volunteer for difficult missions and to do what needed to be done, but today he is still a man of integrity who continues to serve — only now he is investing in students lives as he substitute teaches in local schools.
Following are excerpts from our two-hour interview that was held on November 1, 2013 in Hammond, LA.The interview will be posted in several parts. I hope you are as inspired by his stories as I am.
“Where were you when the war started?”
“I was in high school. I was a senior. I graduated in 1941 in Norwood, Massachusetts. As soon as I graduated a few boys and I went to Boston to take the Air Corps Cadet Exam, and when I brought it home my mother would not sign it because I was the last son home. I had four older brothers and three had gone into the service and the other was married and left. But my mother wouldn’t sign it. She said no, which I didn’t know at this time, but my older sister told me she had gone before the committee that takes you into the service, and she pleaded to them not to call me now because I was the last one home.
“They eventually had to draft me in 1944. No choice of branch of service to go in. Went through Ft. Devin which was the center point in Massachusetts. That was the gathering point of the draftees. And from there I was assigned to Camp Blanding, FL for my basic training. Took a train ride from Ft. Deven to Camp Blanding, FL …where we learned the parts of the machine gun, learned the parts of the rifle, the M-1 rifle, learned how to use the bayonet. We bivouacked, or camped out, on beach sand…and they made sure we had a salt tablet everyday because the weather was very hot. We spent about 4 months there for basic training.
“From there, we took another train ride to New York and we boarded a transport to England. We got to England and had a midnight train ride from one end of England to the east end of England. We boarded a transport there – another boat – and we landed at Omaha Beach and there we made camp. They put us in a camp in France near Omaha Beach and we did more basic training there. And from there we waited for our deployment.
“We got on a freight train that night and they drove us all the way to Paris. But they found out they did something wrong so they backed up. I’m talking a couple of hundred miles – not just one mile – backed up. We go back to the bivouac area and the next day they put us on trucks. And that’s where I was assigned to the 5th Division, 2nd Infantry Regiment.
“The 5th Division had just finished a big battle, the Battle of Metz. And it was a terrifically hard fought battle. And when I got off the truck, I asked one of the men, I says, ‘Why do you need these four trucks full of replacements?’
“He says, ‘We lost a lot of men.’
“I says, ‘Who won the battle?’
“He says, ‘We did.’
“In the city of Metz, they [Germans] were dug in deep underground. It was a city. It wasn’t just an old town, it was a city. Had to go in and dig’em out. It was a hard-fought battle. And we were replacements.
“When I got off the truck, the sergeant took hold of me and assigned me to the Browning automatic machine gun. And they strapped two bandoliers around my neck and I had, if I’m not mistaken, four clips…the machine gun was heavy – heavy, but I had to carry it. I don’t know why they gave it to me, oh yes, they always asked for volunteers no matter what kind of training you had. When you got off the truck they asked how many have shot a Browning Automatic machine gun? I raised my hand. At that time in our country you weren’t worried about showmanship or something like that. Your allegiance to your country was uppermost in your mind and if you [could do] something, they wanted to know about it. So I raised my hand. It was an automatic machine gun — the kind that attracts enemy fire because it’s automatic. I used the machine gun for about three ground attacks.
[In one of those attacks…] “we were at a static line. A static line is this. If we’re going into a town, a mile from there we’ll dig fox holes and get into’em. And the enemy is in the town and there might be a little brook between us. And eventually we’re going to have to cross that brook to get to the enemy. That’s what we call a static line.
“When you have a static line, you also have an OP, an outpost, which is a position much closer than the static line to the enemy. He can almost see the enemy and what they’re doing and all that. And we have to keep in contact with him – the static line does. So one night, there was no communication with the static line. The Captain asked who could find the break in the line.
“I raised my hand, ‘I can do it, Skipper!’
“Lotta snow on the ground. Big moon up there. You have to crawl because you have to feel the wire all the way to the break. Once you get to the break, you can pull out your knife and bare the wires and splice and tape’em together again. If you don’t have tape, use whatever you have to cover it. And I came back.
“Captain said, ‘You fixed it?’
” I said, ‘Yep.’
“’Your new job is with me from now on. You’re going to be my runner.’
“This captain of ours, Capt. Jones –no better Captain I have seen better than him. He was true to his word.
“But anyway, so I traveled along his side from then on – I was with him, no matter where we went or what we did. And every time we were about to attack the enemy he would reconnoiter where the enemy wall is before we ever got there. Now this is the scenario:
“Let’s go Willie.”
“I said, ‘Where we going, Skipper?’
“He said, ‘We’re going to see where we’re going to be the next morning at one o’clock (or two o’clock, or three o’clock…)’
“He had a compass on his wrist. He’d look at the map. Find out where the enemy’s position is on the map and put that azimuth on his compass. And, so help me, we would go. We would walk, maybe half a mile, or a mile.
“How he knew these things is beyond my conception– I think because of the experiences he had – reading maps,…or where you’re going to place men if you’re gonna attack something. He was phenomenal – phenomenal.
“He’d say, ‘Right there. We’re going to go right up there about 20 or 30 yards. We’re going to have our men there in the morning.’
“In one of our engagements, he won the Distinguished Service Cross, which is next to the Congressional Medal of Honor – terrific. We were in a wooded area and the Germans were dressed in OD’s — white camouflage. And they infiltrated our position and he killed seven of them out of a clip out of his 45 out of his fox hole. He was a very good fighter, a very good fighter.
“And as far as the Battle of the Bulge is concerned, that was my first battle.
“Wow, that was a big battle to begin with!”
“Yeah…[chuckle]. Well, I never knew I was in the Battle of the Bulge until two things happened. One, I saw it on my discharge papers that I was in the Ardennes, okay, so that was the Battle of the Bulge. Then I saw it on TV.
“The 5th Division just got through with a battle, the Battle of Metz. They just got through with that. Just before they finished with Metz, the “bulge” started.
“And Eisenhower called a meeting of all the generals, including Montgomery, the English generals, and the U.S. generals. I think McCullough was the general that was surrounded by the Germans, then the breakthrough was in Belgium and Luxembourg.
“Eisenhower says, ‘I need a general to volunteer to make a ring around McCullough up there.’ Patton — he’s always ready to go.
“He says, ‘I’ll go.’
“Eisenhower says, ‘No, you just finished Metz. Your men are not ready.’
“And Patton’s famous words, ‘My men are always ready.’ That’s his famous words.
“And they really weren’t ready, because they just finished Metz. They’ve just got three or four truck loads [of troops], and only in one company. There’s a lot of other companies that have suffered the same casualties, you see.
“But he said, ‘My men are always ready.’ And sure enough [chuckle], we headed out — our company headed out.
“Christmas Day, they fed us a good meal. And the day after Christmas we walked — started walking to the battle, because…Metz was very close and we were bivouacked in that area. And we went into the Battle of the Bulge the day after Christmas, and it was already started.
“Now you’re gonna say, ‘How come the planes couldn’t get ’em? How come these other people couldn’t get ‘em?’
“Well they couldn’t because there was a lot of rain, lot of fog, and snow. There was no sky cover. There was no help from the airplanes. And that was almost impossible to get to those men – the Germans. They did a terrific breakthrough.
“In fact the Germans sent a sergeant or a lieutenant in there with a white flag and asked McCullough to give up. And he used some unexplainable words, [chuckle] that I don’t use. And then he told them to go back. And they went back. And that’s when the “bulge” ended and they had to retreat, retreat, retreat.
Next, Willie Bader’s acts of bravery that won him the Silver Star and Purple Heart, in “I can do it, Skipper.” (Part 2)