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Annotation

Robert Zawada began as a member of an I&R Platoon [Annotators Note: intelligence and reconnaissance] in the 99th Infantry Division and participated in the Hammelburg Raid. He grew in Ohio where his father was in real estate. His family fared better than most during the depression. He is of Polish descent and believes that is probably why his family fared well because they lived off of potatoes regularly. Zawada did give any thought to the war before Pearl Harbor. He was much younger than his classmates because he skipped a grade in school. He was not aware of Pearl Harbor when it happened because he got into a car accident in his father's brand new car that day. The discussions in his house were not about Pearl Harbor, but rather about how he wrecked his father's car. He did not know about Pearl Harbor until a week after it happened.

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Robert Zawada was 16 years old when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He graduated from high school in 1942. He did not think about joining the military after Pearl Harbor. He was too young to be drafted when he graduated, so he went to college at Ohio University for one year. He tried to join the navy while he was in school, but he could not get in because he is color blind. He was drafted in 1943 and assigned to the ASTP [Annotator's Note: Army Specialized Training Program]. Zawada transferred to Indiana University with the ASTP, but the program was cancelled shortly after he started. He was glad he did not go to OCS [Annotator's Note: Officer Candidate School] because he would have been a 19 year old officer trying to lead men that had been fighting for two years already. It does not work that way. Zawada was not bitter that ASTP was cancelled. Joining the real army was a shock. It was very different from the ASTP. He was hounded for having been in ASTP. The regiment he was placed in was very rowdy. Some of the men served time in jail and they all liked to drink. They proved to be a difficult group.

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Robert Zawada was assigned to the 20th Armored Division. They left from Fort Campbell, Kentucky and traveled by train to Fort Meade and then to New York for deployment overseas. They boarded either the Queen Mary or the Queen Elizabeth to cross the Atlantic. They made the trip in five days. Zawada did not think the ship was that bad. After arriving in Europe Zawada was transferred to the 4th Armored Division. Many of the men had disciplinary problems, so they had to transfer a lot of men to other divisions. They took trains from where they landed in Scotland to Portsmouth, England before crossing the English Channel. They landed in France at a mulberry [Annotator's Note: a mulberry is an artificial military harbor]. Then the division transferred to a replacement depot outside of Neufchateau, France. There, he was assigned to the 10th Armored Infantry Battalion, his commanding officer was very popular with the men. The division was made up of all replacements. Zawada figures that each replacement lasted an average of five and a half weeks. Only three or four people were original to his platoon.

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Zawada's first time in combat was in Alsace-Lorraine. In an infantry column, the tanks were always in the lead. At a certain point before combat starts, the officers would call up the men riding in half-tracks to the front to ride on the tanks for the last mile. He was called up to the front on this particular day. He was on the fifth tank. The tanks stopped outside of Ingwiller, France. He dismounted from the tank and rejoined the rest of his platoon. They started walking towards the town when they were ambushed by three Germans. Everyone became confused.The lieutenant sent Zawada and a man named Wojiy to clear two houses up the road from where they were. Zawada had no idea what he was doing and relied on Wojiy because he looked experienced. They took opposite sides of the house before realizing they were actually shooting at each other. The second house had twelve to fifteen people in the house, but no German soldiers.

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Wojiy was very paranoid and took the civilians back to the lieutenant [Annotator's Note: during fighting in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France]. Zawada stayed at the house to await orders. He saw a tank coming up the road with a loop antenna attached to it. He watched the men in the tank, but they payed no attention to Zawada. When the tank left, he had no idea it was retreating. Artillery shells landed close to his post, so he jumped into an abandoned German foxhole. As he looked down at the town, he saw eight tanks emerge from between the houses and about one hundred and twenty-five Germans. They started moving toward Zawada and he realized that it was a counterattack.Zawada realized he had to get back to his platoon. He started to climb out of the foxhole when four P-47s [Annotator's Note: American P-47 Thunderbolt fighter aircraft] flew over him. He stayed in the foxhole to avoid the plane's strafing and bombs. There was no sign of life after the attack. He walked back to his company and got in trouble for staying at his position. They stayed in their position for three days before pulling back to the village behind them. While they were in the second village they had taken, the lieutenant told the platoon they had an opening for a radioman. He volunteered for the position.

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When they left the village [Annotator's Note: during fighting in the Alsace-Lorraine region of France], Zawada rode in the turret with the lieutenant. He remembers looking at the 50 cal [Annotator's Note: machine gun] on the half-track and he put his arm over it to pretend like he knew what he was doing. He looked at the radio to figure out how it worked. They stayed in another town for a few days. They could hear shooting about a half a mile away. He recalls being on half-track duty and the men alternating watch. They moved from place to place for over a week. They pulled off the line and moved back. The division went into reserve in December of 1944. They were supposed to remain in reserve for two weeks, but they had to move into Bastogne [Annotator's Note: Belgium].At one point, Zawada's half-track broke down. They managed to make it to a small town that was completely deserted, the civilians left immediately. There was still warm food on the tables of the houses. They met another broken half-track in the town, but decided to move out when everything was fixed. That night, German soldiers moved back into the town and tried to kill the other half track men.

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Zawada recalls the battle at the Shafenburg bridge just before the Hammelburg Raid. His platoon remained in the town of Shafenburg. He does not recall any battle for the bridge because it was a railroad bridge. Shafenburg had an SS school in it, so there was fighting taking place, but Zawada was not directly involved. He remembers crossing the bridge in the half-track. The driver thought it was going to explode and Zawada was ready to jump if he had to. They made it across the bridge and dug in to the east of it. The next day, two German bombers flew over their position. They did not harm them, just scouted their positions.Zawada remembers the lieutenant telling them that they were moving out to liberate a POW (prisoner of war) camp. It was a volunteer mission, but everyone went. He recalls asking his driver if he wanted to stay, but he said that would be nuts. The men were excited for the mission. Zawada had no idea they were going behind enemy lines to liberate the POW camp at Hammelburg.

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All of the men in Zawada's squad wondered why they were going behind German lines to liberate Hammelburg. Rumors circulated around the squad that Patton's son [Annotator's Note: General George S. Patton, commander of the Third US Army, whose son-in-law was Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters] was being held prisoner in the camp. The column moved outside of Schweinheim, Germany and waited for orders. They sat their well into the night, until 11:30 p.m., before they decided to go into the town. No one thought it suspicious that they were moving behind German lines to rescue essentially one person. They did not think of it in those terms. It was an adventure to them.Zawada did not know Abe Baum [Annotator's Note: Captain Abraham Baum, commander of Task Force Baum] at the time. He saw him during the mission, but had no interaction with him. He was just another officer from headquarters to the men. The split second decision to move out so quickly was what made the mission a failure. Initially, the plan was to get to the camp at dawn. Zawada was at the end of the column and he remembers how fast they were moving through Schweinheim. He had never seen a column move that fast. Once they made it through the town, they slowed down.The column in front of Zawada's began shooting at something off to the right. He got his gun ready, but they were shooting at their own men. They thought they were Germans because of all the turns in the road. They could not see that they were from the same division. They crossed onto the main highway and it went smoothly from there.

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Zawada recalls the drive being very easy [Annotator's Note: during the Hammelburg raid as a member of Task Force Baum]. He tried to sleep on the turret floor, but was unable to. There was no radio traffic between anyone. He had no idea what was going on in the front of the column. When they reached Lohr, everything changed. Zawada was in the fifth half-track from the end of the column. They heard tanks shooting in Lohr. He was told that tugboats in the river outside of the town were shooting at the tanks and the tanks were firing back. After the shooting stopped, he saw three people walking down the road, two men and one woman. He took the woman's watch. They let them out of the town.They were aware that they were at the end of the column, but it did not occur to them that something was going to go wrong. They realized that there could be Germans behind them. They were aware of the dangers. They moved from Lore to Gemunden, where there was a much bigger battle. At one point, three people came running down the road to get the column to move back and make room for the tanks to double back. Everyone was on edge and nervous.

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They crossed the river at Burgson to continue moving towards the camp [Annotator's Note: during the Hammelburg raid as a member of Task Force Baum]. At one point, they drove across open fields in the countryside and rescued Russian prisoners of war (POWs). He recalls that they looked very decrepit. Their clothes were rags and they had not bathed in months. The Russians were trying to kiss the Americans to say thank you. One of them ran up to Zawada and kissed him on the mouth. Zawada thought it was disgusting, but laughed it off. They were able to find the road again and they started heading towards the camp again.On the road, they encountered German tanks. The column came around a hill. Zawada could see the town of Hammelburg ahead of them. The German tanks started shooting at the column. Zawada and some of the other men started shooting at the German trucks that tried to come through. The gasoline half-track was hit and exploded and the second half-track from the end was hit. The third half-track from the end was hit and Zawada's lieutenant told them to evacuate their half-track. Zawada pulled himself up on the turret, grabbed his rifle, and waited to jump down. His rifle was taken by one of the men running by.

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After he lost his rifle, Zawada grabbed the grease gun [Annotator's Note: M3 submachine gun] from behind the driver. He was nervous and he did not have much time because the Germans were picking off the half-tracks [Annotator's Note: during the Hammelburg raid as a member of Task Force Baum]. When he stood up to jump out of the turret, the road was clear ahead and three of the half-tracks were on fire. He did not know what to do and he did not see the rest of the column. He slid into the driver's seat and drove the half-track. He drove for about a mile down the road over an embankment. He found the rest of the company. He recognized three of the men, one of them was his driver. They could not believe that he had saved the half-track.After the mess along the road, everyone got back into position in the column. Zawada was in the last half-track of the column at this time. They were not far from the camp, he could hear the shooting. After they took the camp, they called Zawada's half-track to the front. It was mass confusion when they took the officer's camp at Hammelburg. They were trying to figure out what to do with all of the prisoners. The prisoners asked Zawada how far it was to the American lines. Some of the men refused to walk back. They gave the POWs [Annotator's Note: prisoners of war] three choices: find a place on the half-tracks, stay in the camp and wait, or go out on your own.

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Zawada said the POWs [Annotator's Note: prisoners of war] did not look that bad. He remembers that there were about twenty-five men on his half track. The POWs at Hammelburg were not happy by the time Zawada reached the camp because they realized they were not a huge army, but a small advance [Annotator's Note: during the Hammelburg raid as a member of Task Force Baum]. The men in the company began to realize that the mission was not a good idea. They just wanted to get out and get back to a safer place. Baum sent out feelers to find out the Germans positions and the best way back. Zawada was with one of those groups.In the second town that they came to, a tank exploded from a bazooka hit. Baum used Zawada's radio to tell the rest of the men not to come that way. They regrouped at a hill and were informed that some of the half-tracks needed to be burned. Zawada's half-track was picked to be burned. He went to find more gas cans. He poked his head into a group of officers looking over a map, but he could not find out any information. He thought Baum was holding the map upside down, but he had it oriented to the terrain.

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Zawada realized the mission was a failure when they were under tank fire outside of Hammelburg and when he drove the half-track back to the column [Annotator's Note: during the Hammelburg raid as a member of Task Force Baum]. Harley Lapelle, one of the other half-track drivers and a senior member of the platoon, told Zawada that he was going to put his name in for a silver star if they ever got out of there. That was the first time he realized that the mission would not be a success. After they burned his half-track, Zawada was an infantry man again.The Germans attacked the company when they came out of the woods. They fired everything they had at the same time towards them. Zawada went blank at some points and he does not remember anything that happened until he got hit. Years later, after the release of Abe Baum's book, a man called Zawada and told him that he remembered what happened between the time of the shelling and when he was hit. He told Zawada that he watched him from underneath one of the other half-tracks because he looked like an experienced infantryman. When there was a pause in the shelling he remembered Zawada running out from under his half-track and was about to follow him when Zawada was hit.The rest of column retreated to a stone house on the top of the hill directly behind them. They were waiting for Zawada and saw him get hit. They thought he was dead and left. Zawada was bothered for a long time because he thought he was one of the first to fall back, but he was one of the last. He was hit by either a mortar or a dud shell.

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Zawada tried to run when he got hit, but he no idea how badly injured he was [Annotator's Note: during the Hammelburg raid as a member of Task Force Baum]. He tried to stop the bleeding with his belt, but he was not bleeding that bad. He tried to get rid of his German souveniers because he knew if he was taken prisoner they would kill him for having all of those objects. He had no place to go, he could not crawl away because his leg was so badly damaged. He was a able to crawl over to a trench from a fallen tree to avoid the shelling. He saw some men surrendering with white flags in the town.Zawada was trying to figure out how he could surrender. He saw another man lying not far from him with the same injury as him. The soldier was African-American, which was strange to Zawada. German soldiers walked over to the soldier and shot him. By that time, the German soldiers walked up to Zawada, all he could think about was how much he did not want to be shot in the face. The soldier took Zawada's bayonet and walked away.

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Zawada was trying to figure out what he was going to do [Annotator's Note: during the Hammelburg raid as a member of Task Force Baum]. He did not want to get left where he was. He surrendered and four Germans carried him to one of their half-tracks. It was a huge relief to him that he was not killed. They took him to the POW [Annotator's Note: Prisoner of war] camp in Hammelburg. He passed out several times before he woke up on the operating table. He saw a man at the end of the table holding a saw and he started screaming. They gave him ether and he passed out again. He did not regain consciousness for quite a while. The surgeon amputated his leg above the knee because gangrene had set in.

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Zawada was in the camp for about a week before the American army liberated the camp [Annotator's Note: prisoner of war/POW camp outside Hammelburg, Germany] on 6 April 1945. The Germans marched out some of the prisoners before the Americans arrived, but left the patients in the hospital. Two American doctors and an orderly came to the hospital to assess the patients. Some of the men from the 14th Armored Division brought them some food after they liberated the camp in the afternoon. Two American pilots started loading men onto stretchers from his ward. The doctors left the men in the hospital, but the orderly stayed.They thought they were going to be taken out of the hospital that day, but no one came back for them for four days. There was no food or medicine in the camp. On the fourth day, the orderly found a group of engineers camping near by, but they did not believe him, they thought he was a deserter. Around 2:00 p.m., a lieutenant from the engineers came to the camp and radioed for ambulances. They took them to an evacuation hospital, where Zawada says they cleaned him up, fed him, and put a traction cast on his leg.

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Zawada regrets not finding out who the others prisoners were in his ward. He's never been able to find out anything about any of the men in the ward. Years later, a reporter from the New Orleans Times Picayune did a piece on Hammelburg. Zawada wrote a letter to the writer asking him to give him any information he could find about the prisoners in the hospital at Hammelburg. Colonel Odom, one of the American doctors who came to the ward when Zawada was there, lived in New Orleans and was interviewed by the same writer. He got upset with what Zawada said and refused to talk about it. Zawada thought Odom's reaction was suspicious, but he paid no attention to it.

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