From the Woolner Family
© Leslie Woolner Bardsley
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Frank Woolner
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division

Written about 1990 and never published


Time dulls memory, but I am never going to forget a morning in Normandy when we were first introduced to wartime atrocity. This was at Argentan-Falaise. My early 703 tank-busters had already learned that combat was kill or be killed, but I think we all felt the combat would be waged decently.

As a matter of fact it was - where we bellied up to the average German soldier, the Luftwaffe, or even those tremendously efficient Kraut parachutists. Rommel's Palm-Tree brassard boys were tough customers, but if they captured one of us after a fire fight there was no summary execution; they grinned at us, offered a good meal, a glass of schnapps and good luck as a prisoner of war.

Not so the SS. These, until the very end when kids were drafted into the outfit sans indoctrination, were trained murderers. We got into atrocity and it escalated. I am not going to be a hypocrite and say that 3AD was innocent; the horror was tit for tat. Our own boys didn't start it.

On the morning recalled at Falaise, a German SS combat patrol came in and captured six of our boys. Just before dawn, after a night of routing light tanks through our leaguer, I was discussing the situation with a young officer named Jack Wissing.

Apparently, just after I left him to get some much needed rest in a slit trench, the SS patrol came in. Damned if I know why they succeeded, but the Krauts forever stated in their orders that Americans tended to be drowsy at dawn. Wissing wasn't sleepy; he was wide awake when I vacated the premises. Okay, we win some and we lose some.

But these black-shirted bastards took our shavetail and five other soldiers down behind the nearest hedgerow and murdered all but one with gunfire. The one was quick enough to run and escape. He told us all about it and the evidence was there.

I don't have any hard-on about the average German soldier; he was just doing a job as we were, but I'd still like to find those criminal SS and give them a dose of hot lead. All of those killed without need were my friends. The shavetail was our company's reconnaissance officer and because everybody was short-handed, although a buck-stripe sergeant, I was appointed to take his place as an acting recon officer.

Which I did, and nobody complained. It happened that I knew my maps and compass, and it happened that I was stupid enough to be unafraid when I should have been shit-scared. You old troopers know how it was; we obeyed orders and we goofed off whenever that seemed feasible. I make no excuses to my tank-buster early command or to Lt. Col. Barr; they knew all about me; they knew when I deserved a pat on the back or a kick in the rump.

The business at Fromental made us all atrocity-oriented. We didn't want to be, but how else do you react to animals who observe no rules? The guy who killed [Division Commander] Rose may have thought that the General was reaching for a pistol. The bastards who killed my friends knew that they were disarmed and helpless.

Spearhead brats may question, but we weren't very kind to the SS after that. Spearhead did not hurt Wehrmacht, Luftwaffe, parachutists or Seemarine prisoners; we treated them well, swapped drinks and traded tall tales. No way with SS.

I want those people dead; they weren't fair fighters; they were murderers; and I will never excuse that. War itself is a form of murder and if we humans ever learn to reason together then this ancient curse may become stone-age history.

The allies were decent soldiers, as were most of the Germans who opposed us; we were all tough and hated to hurt the innocent. If I had to kill, then I will go to hell with blood on my hands - but I never scragged a helpless prisoner. Some of my colleagues did and, as a non-com, I closed my eyes and ears. The victims were always SS. We committed atrocities too, or call it instant justice where sub-human cretins were known to have slaughtered unnecessarily.

In Belgium, during the Battle of the Bulge, these animals mowed down a whole raft of captured American artillery troops. I personally saw one instance in which they murdered Belgian men, women and children with blows from rifle butts. Make it very clear; the wrongdoers were almost always totenkopf SS. An old-timer, I harbor no hatred of the then Wehrmacht soldier; he was just like me - stuck into service and battling for his nation.

I know a few of them now; like me they throw their hands out and admit how wrong it all was. We can fish together like old friends. They are welcome visitors at my central Massachusetts barracks and they have urged me to visit a new Germany to talk about peaceful angling and sport shooting.

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