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Turning down West Point

Green troops on the line


Stegmeier was born in Columbus, Ohio in 1922. At the time of the interview he is 85 years old. He attended Grandview High School then started classes at Ohio State University in 1940. He played baseball his freshman year in 1941 and was going to be on the varsity team in 1942 but the attack on Pearl Harbor happened.Stegmeier enlisted in March 1942. He was sent to Camp Wallace, Texas about June 1942. He had one of the highest grades on the army's classification test and was awarded a presidential appointment to West Point. He was sent to Amherst College in Massachusetts to the United States Military Academy Prep. He started there in late 1942. In 1943, Stegmeier and a bunch of his classmates decided that they didn't want to go to the academy. They wanted to go fight.They were sent to Camp Atterbury, Indiana. He was assigned to the 106th Infantry Division which was preparing to go overseas.Stegmeier shipped out aboard the Her Majesty's Ship Aquitania [Annotator's Note: Royal Mail Ship Aquitania, not Her Majesty's Ship] and landed in Scotland. They did some training then his outfit was taken to Omaha Beach. It was now about D+60. The path ways they took when they got off the LCIs, (Landing Craft, Infantry), were marked with tape so they could avoid the minefields.They followed the tape and carried their backpacks and M1s. At the time Stegmeier was carrying an M1.The 106th went by truck across France. In November 1944 they went into the front line and relieved the 2nd [Annotator's Note: 2nd Infantry Division]. They were kidded about being green [Annotator's Note: new and untested] and told that they wouldn't have anything to do and that they would be there holding the line until spring.They had foxholes dug along the top of a ridge from where they could see the Germans on the other side of the valley.On the morning of 16 December [Annotator's Note: 16 December 1944] Stegmeier and the others he had been on a four hour shift on the line with were on their way to the mess hall when they heard laughing and hollering. It was still dark. German troops had come in during the night and captured the mess hall and all of the guys in it.They ran back to the barn to grab their weapons and bed rolls then took off through the woods. By the time it was daylight they could see Germans everywhere. There were trucks and tanks.They met some fellows from another outfit who were wondering what was going on. They watched from a hillside as the Germans moved down the road. For the next day or two they were up on that hill.The Germans were more interested in going than they were in getting them. The Germans did send in an outfit with a loudspeaker playing Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. There was also a woman who Stegmeier later learned was Axis Sally, who urged them to surrender. They had been on the hill for a few days with nothing else to eat but some K rations.There were about 40 or 50 guys on the hillside with him. On about 18 December units of Patton's Third Armored Infantry managed to bust through with armored half tracks. His group ran down the hill and jumped on the half tracks. They were put in with the 34th or 44th Armored Infantry group. On 25 December they counterattacked into Houffalize.It looked as if they would get in pretty easy when some Tiger tanks came out from behind a building. The Tigers fired at them. Stegmeier's assistant gunner was killed and he was wounded. He fell into a ditch filled with slush and stayed there until night when the medics came out.There were German medics and American medics picking up dead and wounded and it was just luck as to whether a wounded man was picked up by the Germans or Americans. Stegmeier was picked up by Americans. He was taken back to a field hospital where a lot of the shrapnel was removed. He was then taken to a hospital in Namur, Belgium. From there some of them were taken by train to Paris where he was on New Year’s Eve.


Stegmeier was told that he had shrapnel on his lung and that his feet appeared to be frozen. One doctor wanted to amputate his foot but Stegmeier said no. He was taken to Le Havre and from there to a hospital in Taunton, England. The doctors there said that they should wait and take the shrapnel out later. He was in the hospital for a month or 6 weeks. The dead skin on his feet started to fall off and new skin grew in. The piece of shrapnel grew cartilage around it so the doctors decide to leave it in.In Taunton, Stegmeier met a young gal in the British ATS (Army Territorial Service). They met at a pub. He married and had five children with her. People said it wouldn't last but it lasted over 60 years before she died.On the day Pearl Harbor was attacked Stegmeier was working at the Valley Dale night club in Columbus [Annotator's Note: Columbus, Ohio]. The Valley Dale would host big bands. Stegmeier was there on that Sunday night when they got word about Pearl Harbor. Stegmeier was a student at Ohio State and worked at the club at night.It took a while for the reality of the attack to dawn on them. It was the next day when President Roosevelt got on the radio and described what was going on and that we were declaring war on Japan and Germany. War with Germany was expected but not with Japan.Stegmeier enlisted in February 1942 but wasn't called up until April 1942.


Stegmeier enlisted because everybody was doing it. There was a draft going on and if you didn't enlist you would be drafted before long anyway. He and all of his friends enlisted because they knew it was their duty. When he enlisted he was sent to the induction center at Fort Hayes where he took the AGCT [Annotator's Note: Army General Classification Test]. He got the high score but didn't realize the significance of it at the time. He was sent to an antiaircraft training place at Camp Wallace, Texas between Houston and Galveston, Texas. They called it Swamp Wallace instead of Camp Wallace because it was near the Louisiana border where there are bayous.In basic training in the antiaircraft training place there was a search light battalion that Stegmeier was in. They went out in the bayous to train and lost the search light when it sunk.He was there for 6 or 8 weeks when he got word that he had a presidential appointment [Annotator's Note: to the US Military Academy at West Point] and was being sent to Amherst College in Massachusetts.Stegmeier had a good time up there. They were being prepped for the courses they would take at West Point. They were taught mathematics, trigonometry, calculus, qualitative and quantitative analysis studies, history, and English. In the physical education part Stegmeier took boxing. The guy that coached them in boxing was a German who had been a trainer for Max Schmeling, who was in the German Army at that time.In boxing, being left handed helped Stegmeier. During training they would box in three round bouts.At Amherst a bunch of them decided that West Point wasn't the place to be. They didn't want to tell their kids that they fought the war at West Point so they resigned and went overseas.Stegmeier joined the 106th [Annotator's Note: 106th Infantry Division] as a private. He had some army experience since he had been in the antiaircraft thing down in Texas so this wasn't too much of a change. Their lieutenant, who they called the Black Ace because he was a tough old guy, was a guy from Tennessee named Thigpen. Lieutenant Thigpen went overseas with them and he got wounded too in the Bulge [Annotator's Note: Battle of the Bulge].In the 106th Stegmeier was in company E, 424th Regiment, 2nd platoon. After being assigned to this unit he did a lot of training and every two weeks he did KP (kitchen police). At some point it was decided that he was a good candidate to carry the BAR [Annotator's Note: Browning Automatic Rifle].The BAR was heavier than the M1 and had a biped [Annotator's Note: bipod]. It could shoot 30 rounds very fast.One night Stegmeier made a mistake while out on the line near Saint Vith [Annotator’s Note: Belgium]. He thought he heard something in front of his line and started shooting. He had tracers in the gun and the Germans were soon dropping mortar rounds on his position. He caught hell for that.


Deploying overseas was the first time Stegmeier had ever left the country and it was interesting for him. When they landed in Scotland near Edinburgh the weather was chilly and cold and miserable and they had to camp out on the ground in it. They were sent to train near a town called Atterbury near Oxford. By that time D-Day had started and they were getting ready to send his outfit over.When they crossed the Channel [Annotator's Note: English Channel] they were scared. They started out in Weymouth, England where they got on boats. Then they got on LCIs. The channel was pretty rough that day; they landed and when the ramp opened up and they had to get out carrying all of their stuff. It was windy and the waves were all around them. There were guys there telling them to stay between the tapes.After getting across the beach they had to go up a cliff. Stegmeier had an M1 at that time which was heavy enough. When they got up on top they stayed the night.They were put on trucks. He thinks they were put on Red Ball Express trucks. It was a long trip. Stegmeier thought that they would go to Paris but they went around it. They didn't know where they were or where they were going, they just knew they were headed for the fighting.The trip from Omaha Beach to Saint Vith took 3 or 4 days, maybe longer. They would stop every now and then to eat. He doesn't recall a mess hall but thinks that the trucks each carried something.When they got near Saint Vith the roads got windy and narrow. When they got on the line and relieved the guys from the 2nd Infantry [Annotator's Note: 2nd Infantry Division], those guys just wanted to get on the trucks and go out. Stegmeier hoped that the 2nd Division guys were right and that they were just going to take it easy there until spring.They did get used to being there. They had a mess hall. Sometimes they would do some shooting.The area they took over was like farm country but forested. There was a big valley between them and the Germans. Where Stegmeier was had been a farm but the people who lived there had left. Stegmeier's CO [Annotator's Note: commanding officer] took over the house and they moved into the barn. They were right on the edge of the forest and their mess hall was about 100 yards back in it.They took over the positions the 2nd had dug. They had pretty good positions. They went in green and didn't know what they were doing. The weather in December was bad. It was snowing some and it was cold, miserable, damp and slushy. It was the last time they thought the enemy would make a push but they did. Even the high command was confused.


Sherman [Annotator's Note: US M4 "Sherman" medium tank] tanks make a lot of noise but Tiger [Annotator's Note: German Mark VI "Tiger" heavy tank] tanks are relatively quiet. They were able to sneak up on them. When they were in Houffalize the German Tiger tanks came around from behind the building. They didn't hear them just all of a sudden there they were.The Germans had mortar shells that they called screaming mimis [Annotator's Note: screaming mimi was the nickname American soldiers gave to the rockets fired by the German Nebelwerfer rocket launcher]. The shells would go off up in the trees and men could be wounded from the limbs on the trees.Up until the 16th [Annotator's Note: 16 December 1944] they didn't have anything to worry about until they [Annotator's Note: the Germans] started their push through Stegmeier's group was on the hillside. They were there for a few days before Patton's [Annotator's Note: US Army General George S. Patton] guys got there. They were running out of ammunition and food and would have surrendered. Instead they were saved to fight another day.When Stegmeier was wounded he was wearing a big heavy coat. They didn't have chance to change much. They wore the same clothes everyday and he thinks that that was part of the reason his feet froze.They were dressed pretty well when they came across the channel but he thinks he was given the heavy coat later. He remembers when he had to give up his M1 and was given a BAR [Annotator's Note: Browning Automatic Rifle].Stegmeier was scared all of the time. He was scared when he got off of the LCI [Annotator's Note: landing craft, infantry] and he was scared on the 16th when they heard all of those Germans around and didn't know what they were going to do. None of them were about to become heroes. They just wanted to survive.When they went on the line in early November and up to 16 December they could see the Germans. They would send out a scouting party across the valley but they never came back with anything. Stegmeier had to go out once. The scouting parties usually consisted of 3 or 4 guys led by a sergeant.From the 16th on the Germans knew where they were and tried to get them to surrender.The most scared Stegmeier was in the engagement was when the Tiger tank came out from around the building firing the 88 millimeter gun. The next thing he knew he was hit.


When the guys heard Axis Sally playing over loud speakers they laughed. They knew it was just propaganda. The Germans had to be close to use the loud speakers. Stegmeier's group was up on the hillside where the Germans were trying to get them to surrender. He doesn't recall any German troops trying to push up the hill.After the war, Stegmeier was in another outfit and was an interpreter at a POW (prisoner of war) camp. There he learned that those guys [Annotator's Note: German soldiers] were also scared and were just like them [Annotator's Note: American soldiers]. When his group was going through the camps they were looking for SS men [Annotator's Note: members of the Waffen SS]. Those guys weren't very nice and had been trained to hate the Americans. In some cases the ordinary Germans like the Volkssturm [Annotator's Note: German militia formed in the last months of World War II] didn't like the SS men and would turn them in.Stegmeier's job as an interpreter was to sort out the prisoners. Winter was coming up and they were trying to get workers back to their area. If they found an SS guy they were put in another category that they were keeping. Stegmeier only found one SS guy. They had a tattoo under their arm [Annotator's Note: many members of the Waffen SS had their blood group tattooed under their left arm in the event they were wounded]. He saw this man's tattoo. The man spit at him. He felt like shooting the man. The man knew his days were numbered.Stegmeier was not fluent in German but knew certain words and phrases. Some of the Germans were good guys and some of them spoke English.He was a PFC. During the time he was with Patton's armored infantry outfit he was promoted to acting sergeant.After 16 December Stegmeier could hear the German's motors but not them talking. The only time he ever remembers hearing them talking was the morning they had captured Stegmeier's mess hall.


They heard rumors about what had happened at Malmedy during the fighting in the Bulge. After hearing that they were ready to take off and kill all of the Germans that did that. It was hard to imagine that the Germans would do that.They heard about what happened at Malmedy and they heard about Bastogne, specifically about the 101st [Annotator's Note: US 101st Airborne Division] being surrounded and later heard about McAuliffe [Annotator's Note: US Army General Anthony McAuliffe] saying "nuts."When Stegmeier got through in the hospital in Taunton and was sent back over, he was on limited duty so he couldn't go back to the infantry. At that point the Japanese war had not yet ended and they were still thinking about sending a lot of the people from Europe over to fight in the Pacific. Stegmeier has a German name so he was asked if he spoke any German. He was taken from the engineer battalion he was in in Lyon, France and sent to up to Germany to an area where there were a couple thousand German prisoners who they were trying to screen. Stegmeier was sent to Bingen, Germany and they were glad to have him there to help out.When they went on the line to relieve the 2nd [Annotator's Note: US 2nd Infantry Division] they didn't pass through the town, they just went right by truck to the line. Stegmeier guesses that they were about a mile from Saint Vith which he never got to see. He went there recently and was surprised by the size of the town.When Stegmeier went back overseas for the first time after the war he thought that he would be able to recognize places but couldn't. The road from Bastogne to Saint Vith is like a freeway. Back then it was just a little narrow winding road. Saint Vith is now a modern city with Burger Kings and Wendy’s. It is a lot different than 60 years ago. It brought back a lot of memories.Stegmeier was surprised to find a memorial to his outfit in Saint Vith. It showed him that someone there thinks of his outfit. They were pretty green. They weren't like the 101st Airborne. Stegmeier never ran into any 2nd Division guys after replacing them. They did seem happy to be leaving and even showed them where things were.After the war he did not keep in contact with any of the men he served with in the 106th [Annotator's Note: US 106th Infantry Division] with except one man. They were friends at Ohio State, went into the army together and went to Amherst together but went into separate regiments when they joined the 106th. Stegmeier kept in touch with him after the war. The man had some health problems which affected his weight gain after the war. He had been a prisoner. The prison camp he had been in was near Stuttgart.Stegmeier kept in touch with some of the men who had gone on to West Point from Amherst and some of them even wrote to him when he was overseas. One of them graduated from West Point and went into the Air Force and was a major the last Stegmeier heard. He and his wife visited Stegmeier when he was stationed nearby. The man and he had been roommates back at Amherst. He was a nice guy from East Orange, New Jersey.


Stegmeier thinks that it is important that we continue to study World War II. He once completed a survey stating that he thought that the draft should be reinstated. He feels that the draft would instill in young people a feeling of responsibility.The war changed his life. He came out of the war married and with a kid. His oldest boy was born in England. Unfortunately he was killed in Los Angeles serving as a deputy sheriff. He grew up with a feeling of responsibility. He has tried to instill that in his children but doesn't know if he was completely successful.Stegmeier feels that it is important for there to be museums like The National World War II Museum. There are other types of museums that he doesn't like such as presidential museums. Every president has one. Stegmeier likes is the Smithsonian in Washington D.C..When he first got back to the States he was happy to see his family. He went back to school right away on the G.I. Bill of Rights and got his degree in law. He spent most of his career working for the government as a condemnation attorney condemning land for public highways. He was not very popular. People weren't very happy when the government took their land. These cases frequently ended up in court. In one case Stegmeier was called a "Jesse James without a gun."The first thing Stegmeier ate after returning home was ham and eggs. Overseas they had Spam and powdered eggs.[Annotator's Note: For the remainder of this segment Stegmeier shows photographs and other documentation to the interviewer and describes what each item is or shows] Stegmeier and a couple of other guys were on a Sherman tank that was on fire with the crew still inside. He was on the ground and the two other jumped up on the tank and pulled the crew out. For that he was awarded the Bronze Star. He also has a Purple Heart for being hit by shrapnel from an 88 fired by a tank.Stegmeier carried a picture of his wife, who he met in Taunton and was married to for 60 years, with him and had it at the POW camp. A prisoner drew a picture of the photograph. He also has a Nazi medal [Annotator's Note: the medal is the German War Merit Cross with swords] and a map he salvaged from a barn outside of Saint Vith. He as a photograph of the memorial to the 106th Infantry Division in Saint Vith.Stegmeier shows a photograph of a monument in Bastogne dedicated to General McAuliffe and a team photo from when he played baseball for Ohio State as a pitcher.

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