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1st action in the Hurtgen Forest

Becoming a POW minutes before the Malmedy Massacre

Massacre at Malmedy

Massacre at Malmedy

Lucky

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[Annotator's Note: Interview begins mid-discussion with brief mention of the Malmedy Massacre, the massacre of 84 American prisoners of war by the 1st SS Panzer Division on 17 December 1944.]Paluch is asked about his background and family. At the beginning of the war, Paluch originally wanted to join the Marine Corps, but was turned down. The Navy did not appeal to him and he eventually was drafted into the Army. Paluch was drafted in January 1943. He wanted to join the Marine Corps because he liked the uniform. When you're young you're crazy!Paluch heard about Pearl Harbor when he was playing a pinball machine at a luncheonette. He did not find out until around 5 o'clock in the afternoon, practically a whole day later. The newspapers had extras that would come out if a new story came about. Paluch recalls 1 of his childhood stores having electricity and that was a big deal. He grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He and his friends knew the war was going on. They got their information from newspapers. He expected to be drafted. After being drafted he was sent to Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. They were quarantined for about 3 months. Eventually they went to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma and also they were sent to New Orleans and Texas for maneuvers. Paluch was at Camp Gruber for basic training. He was in the Headquarters Battery of the 285th [Annotator's Note: 285th Field Artillery Observation Batalion], then Paluch was transferred to B Battery. Paluch's job was to work the switchboard. Paluch was shipped overseas in August 1944. Paluch was at Ft. Sill when D-Day occured. Paluch's 1st taste of combat was when 1 of the destroyers in their convoy was hit by a German submarine. They landed in Wales and went to England; from England they went to Europe. It was Paluch's 1st time overseas. He did not get seasick. They were attached to wherever they were needed. As an observation battalion they were sent where the combat had come to a stalemate. His first combat experience on land was at the Hurtgen Forest. He says, "that was a bitch in there." He recalls they made a move in the Hurtgen and they were moved back about a mile. The Air Force came over and bombed, then the artillery opened up. The ground started shaking and it was hard to hear. The Germans were so close you could just about step over them.

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At first, Paluch was attached to the 1st Army and was then transferred to the 3rd Army. When they got to the Hurtgen Forest it was dark and about 4:30 in the morning. He recalls an incident in the Hurtgen Forest with a cow and some hungry men. They ended up spotting a cow and realized it would be a good idea to kill it and eat it. There was a man from Idaho in the squad who was skilled in skinning animals and preparing them. They ended up killing the cow and eventually after a lot of hard work were able to enjoy the fruits of their labor.Paluch ran into a buddy of his who lived 2 blocks from him back in Philadelphia and gave him a steak from the cow. The 28th Division had come down and that is how he found his buddy. He notes that the destruction in the Hurtgen was intense. Trees were blown up almost down to the root. Paluch was never caught in artillery fire. He recalls that the pine needles would be blown out of the trees with such regularity that it could cover a foxhole. He and his unit were pulled out of the Hurtgen Forest. They were ordered to go to the 3rd Army after the Hurtgen Forest. It was not snowing yet when they entered the Ardennes. It was very cold. It did not snow until a week after the massacre. They did not get to the bodies until January. The morning before the massacre at Malmedy [Annotator's Note: Malmedy Massacre refers to the massacre of 84 American prisoners of war by the 1st SS Panzer Division on 17 December 1944], the men had something to eat for lunch and eventually started walking down a road. The massacre actually took place a couple of miles from Malmedy. There was a German column coming down the road; they had not met the Germans yet. The 7th Armored took the northern road and Paluch and his group took the road to the south. They ran into enemy fire and he got into a ditch on the side of the road. He could stand in the ditch and just barely see over the edge of the road. He saw tracers flying all around him. The Germans brought a tank around and there were German soldiers on foot. The soldiers on foot were SS. Paluch and his men were on the side of the road. Eventually the SS men in the German units caught up with Paluch and his men were captured. Paluch notes there was a lot of firing going on. They searched them and took anything of value. They only had carbines and at first the SS men had laid down withering machine gun fire to pin them down. He realized that they were overmatched. When he was captured he was immediately searched and anything of value was taken from him. Watches, cigarettes, knives, and other personal belongings were taken. Eventually Paluch was reimbursed a certain amount of money for the items that were taken from him.

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The guys who captured them were about in their 30s.The SS men put them into the field. Eventually the SS men circled around the group of soldiers and started firing into the group. Paluch was in the front of the group, maybe that's why he didn't get hit so bad, because the Germans fired into the center of the group. There were about 80 to 90 halftracks that passed by and fired. Some of the Germans came back and fired on the guys in the field who were still moaning. Paluch got separated after diving into a hedgerow. His hand was hit. Since he was bleeding, 1 of the Germans passed over him because he thought he was dead. He laid there for about 5 to 10 minutes. Paluch worked his way around to the other side of the field where there was a railroad. He figured he would walk along that because it would take him somewhere. Paluch met a couple of guys, Johnson and Anderson from the 2nd Division. They got together and walked into Malmedy. When he gathered himself, he ran into other men, some from his unit, some not. Paluch saw a lot of grotesquely wounded and injured men. HE saw one soldier who had blood pouring out of his mouth, another man had a few toes shot off. After Christmas, Paluch and his unit reorganized. He and his unit were engaged in mop up duty once they crossed the Remagen bridge. They had a lot of prisoners with them. Most of the men and machines were making a good pace at about 20 miles a day. There was no need for an observation battalion. They reached the edge of Czechoslovakia. There was a town near the edge that Paluch and his men saw. They passed Russian soldiers on their way into the town. Their goal was to do a little bit of looting. The Russians called them "Joe." The mayor of the town got people to come out and give the troops different items. Paluch was able to procure a few flags and a Luger. Most of the stuff that he attained he gave to people. After the war was over in Germany they were told that they had to be ready to go to Japan. They were in Southern France and the ground was flat. The camps they were in were littered with speakers. When they dropped the atomic bomb in Japan they were immediately informed. Paluch remembers soldiers yelling out, "Drop another one!!!." About a week later they dropped another one. Paluch was an MP [Annotator's Note: Military Police] in Europe for about a month and then he came home. It took about a week to get home. He landed on Christmas Day, 1945. He was discharged on New Years Day in 1946.

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Afterwards, Paluch saw Peiper [Annotator's Note: Jochen Peiper, field officer in the Waffen-SS and personal adjutant to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler] in an attempt to identify him. He was a regular soldier. He could speak English as well. The SS men that surrounded Paluch were more or less regular soldiers who did not seem any different from any other Germans. Before the shooting started they were in a seemingly normal grouping with their hands up. The firing started and immediately everyone dropped to the ground. Paluch was not sure who started the firing. When the Germans started firing they were firing with pistols, rifles, and machine guns. He laid on the ground as soon as the firing stopped and tried to stay as still as possible. The SS men went through the mass of bodies killed anyone who was still alive. One man Paluch does not remember, yelled, "Let's go." Some of the men who were still alive made a run for a nearby house. That house was eventually burned out by the Germans because they thought people were hiding in it. Paluch made a dash to the woods. Onoe of the SS men shot him in the hand as he was running away. It was a grazing shot. The man who shot at him chased him and he fell down into a hedgerow. There was a decent amount of blood from his hand so the SS soldier may have thought Paluch was dead. He was face down and could sense that the German was standing over him. Paluch was able to roll over and crawl away. When he made it into Malmedy, it was apparent that people knew something had happened. Paluch was interrogated when he went into Malmedy. When he realized what was going on one of the first things in his mind was, "How the hell to get away." Paluch could hear guys praying. He recalls thinking about which way to go. He was hit in the hand when he was still laying on the ground. After intelligence got to him, he was put right back on the line. Paluch was asked after if he would be able to recognize any of the men who committed the massacre for war crimes trials, but he was not able to and subsequently did not participate in any. There was so much going on it was hard to remember who was doing what on the German side. One of the Malmedy survivors is writing a book and he claims to have pinpointed who started shooting 1st. The memorial today is across the street from where the massacre occured.

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Paluch has pictures of the Malmedy Memorial. He does not think about the massacre that much anymore. He has other things to think about. Today he has a lot of people who write to him asking about his experiences. People from Texas to Oklahoma to Belgium want his signature. Paluch gets about 5 to 6 requests a month. He signs them off and sends them out. After the war, he was home for maybe a month and had a PTSD moment where he tried to escape from his room during his sleep. Paluch realizes that it was probably their orders to shoot. He to this day is asked for his autograph. He does not have any animosity towards the Germans because he believes that they were just following orders. The Germans could not take prisoners. Paluch understand war; soldiers will follow orders. The Germans claimed those were their orders. If he met one of the Germans today he would probably just talk about the war with him. People are more tolerant now. People buy Japanese cars now; it's all over with now. Paluch does not have much animosity but he definitely wishes it did not happen. Paluch knew just about all of the guys who were killed. There were 150 men in the outfit. He has given a lot of speeches and contributed a lot of time to people who inquire about his story. He was part of the ribbon cutting ceremony at the Malmedy Museum dedication. His visit was on the house. When it was announced on the plane who Paluch was, the pilot sent back a complimentary bottle of champagne. Outside of a few bullet holes in the local buildings, everything looked relatively new. He is not sure if Americans were capable of doing something like that but he understands war and realizes that those guys were just following orders.

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Paluch believes that it is very important that institutions like the World War II Museum preserve the stories of people like him because people need to know what war is like. He notes that he was young and did not fully realize what war was. The massacre affected Paluch after the war. He feels as if he is more tolerant after seeing what he saw at Malmedy. He is not a liberal; he is conservative. He does look at things a little different. He considers himself very lucky to be alive and even to this day shows great emotion over the loss of his friends and comrades. [Annotators Note: Paluch does not say anything for about a minute and a half because of the emotion he is showing.] Paluch was 21 or 22 when the massacre occured and most everyone in his unit was around that age. He will be 87 in December. [Annotators Note: at the time of the interview.] Paluch was a little jumpy after the war. He was on the line in May when he found out the war was over. When they found out the news they raided a German store and stocked up on alcohol. They got drunk that night. Paluch said he was drunk about every night during the week for 3 to 4 months following the end of the war, but has not touched a drink in 20-30 years. Paluch had a girlfriend, but not really. One time after the war, he came home to find FBI cars outside of his house. They wanted to know about the massacre. He worked an old job at a shipping department. It was a desk job. The company moved south and Paluch got another job. He kicked around and worked at a bar in the morning and checked out the horse races in the afternoon. Paluch never got married, but he always had a girl here and there. His family is very big, over 300 aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews-- despite him not being married. He has 9 sisters and brothers and countless nieces.

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