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Introduction to combat...

Medal of Honor action

Accidental grenade explosion kills one and injures another


Biddle was born in Daleville, Indiana on November 28th, 1923. Daleville had about nine hundred people. He lived there until he was twelve. His mother had to move to Arizona when he was twelve because of her health so he went to school in Arizona for 18 months. He recalls swimming everyday in the summer time. He enjoyed the climate in Arizona; it helped his health and his mother’s health. He went to Anderson High school and graduated in 1941. Biddle immediately got a job with a factory that produced parts for General Motors. He worked there for ten months until he was drafted. He worked seven days a week because his job was part of the war effort.The day Biddle was supposed to join he had lunch with a girl. She said if he ever got in the parachutes then he was to write her a letter. He went to Ft. Benjamin Harrison on February 2nd, 1943. They asked for volunteers and he raised his hand. They sent him to Camp Toccoa, Georgia to join the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was then sent to the 517th [Annotator’s Note: Parachute Infantry Regiment] as a replacement in February of 1944. He joined the 517th in Naples, Italy. It took them 28 days to go from the United States to Italy. Some of the ships were sunk along the way. He recalls that when his convoy entered the Mediterranean a flight of German bombers came over and sunk the ship next to his. The Navy gunners on his ship ended up shooting down two German bombers. Biddle's outfit was not entirely overseas yet so he and some of his guys did a practice jump in Palermo, Sicily. He recalls jumping on the airport there. After practice in Palermo they joined the rest of the 517th in Naples. They decided to introduce the men to combat by having them fight as regular infantry. They stayed on the line for ten days. It was a baptism of combat. He was with a sergeant who had received a package from home. The man distributed the contents of the package to his buddies. The sergeant was killed, shot through the head during their first day of combat. The blood was pouring out of him. Biddle notes the bravery of the medic who went out to try and help the man. That was his introduction to combat.The company commander could see how scared he was and told him to keep watch and walk the prisoners back. When he turned in the prisoners a lieutenant reminded him that, "we don't take prisoners." When he got back to the line there was another group of prisoners waiting to be taken back. Biddle informed the lieutenant that he was not going to shoot unarmed prisoners.They were then told they were going to jump into southern France on August 15th, 1944. They were put into planes at an airbase in Rome. They took off and jumped at 4:56 in the morning. It was dark when they jumped and a few minutes later it was light out. The combat there was not too tough. They had one or two incidents. For the most part they overwhelmed the Germans and took prisoners. They fought on the line through southern France to the Alps. They ended up near Sospel, France where Italy and France join. It took them three months to get there from where they jumped. It was tough combat because they had to dislodge the Germans from mountainous terrain. They pulled off the line in September. They were told they were going back to the states to train for Japan. They brought them to a place in France.


They thought they were going to head back to the United States. They practiced close order drill. On the 16th of December [Annotator’s Note: 1944], Biddle heard Berlin Sally talk about a big push or counterattack. Biddle did not have any idea at the time they would be a part of that. The 82nd and 101st [Annotator’s Note: Airborne Division] were sent to help out. The 101st was sent to Bastogne and the 82nd was sent to form up with the 517th. He and his comrades had to give up their weapons to the 82nd. After that they were issued all new weapons. Biddle and his unit were sent to the Bulge on December 22nd on trucks. They were sent to a little town called Soy. Their mission was to wipe out the Germans in Soy. He had no idea he would be scout. They pulled up in trucks. Their Captain asked Biddle to come with him when they got off of the trucks. They went to an officer’s headquarters at Soy. The Captain informed them that they wanted all German resistance eliminated. The next morning they decided to move out and the captain bellowed out, "Biddle in front." He had never been scout before. He went out as the lead scout, they assigned a guy to him and he was terrified. They moved out a little bit; he was creeping through the underbrush. He spotted a German. He figured he better shoot him and he did. The German was an older guy, the next German Biddle saw he shot as well. The man had a German belt buckle that said "God be with us." He was going to keep it as souvenir but he lost it. The third guy ran from him and he shot him in the shoulder twice. When the third guy got back and reported what was going on, the Germans threw everything they had at them. The fighting went on for an hour. All of the German fire was going over their heads. The lieutenant was with Biddle and he decided to have a cigarette. The lieutenant lit the cigarette only to have it shot out. The lieutenant turned as white as a ghost. Finally the Germans quit firing. They threw grenades at the Germans. The Germans seemed to not know what they were doing. As nightfall approached the captain told Biddle to take two guys and capture a prisoner. He did not like the idea too much. His second scout with him and one of his buddies volunteered to go with him. They went along a road that had a ditch nearby. His buddy figured he would capture the next man to go past. His friend told the German approaching to halt. The officer pulled his pistol out and tried to shoot, but Biddle did not fire and they decided to go back to their lines. He got behind the German lines by accident and lay there all night. He heard the Germans passing by him. He decided that if he was noticed he was going to try to use their password but he was never discovered. The Germans ended up moving back a little bit. He was able to figure out where the lines were based on the sounds of the guns firing. Biddle finally decided to try and get back to his outfit, he heard a friendly voice ask, "Is that you Biddle!?" They lay around all night and heard a German plane come over. A P-38 came behind it and shot the JU 88 down. 


Biddle recalls finding the pilots from the downed JU 88 [Annotator’s Note: in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge]. They did a little souvenir hunting. The next morning they moved out and the captain said, "Biddle out in front!" He thought, "Oh no, not again." One of his buddies on the patrol saw a German that he did not. His friend shot him right between the eyes. When the German died, the rifle was pointing directly at Biddle. They were headed towards their objective and their captain sai "Make sure you guys clear our flanks." Biddle saw a bunch of Germans and began to pick them off. He estimates he got ten or fifteen of them. He never checked out the damage for himself. That was the action that got him the Medal of Honor. They went to another town the next morning. The townspeople were worried that the Germans were going to come back. They cooked him and the men a meal. The townspeople thought that he was in charge because he could speak a little bit of French. He smoked a pipe; one of the townspeople gave him a new pipe.Biddle was out front one night, approaching Saint-Jacques, Belgium. It was a small town, about three or four houses and a church. He scouted right up next to the edge of town. He had a submachine gun that night. A German outpost started shouting at him and his men. Biddle's men cut loose and killed about ten to fifteen of them. They were in a line coming to relieve the outpost. They were able to take the town without any casualties. There is a picture of them taking Saint-Jacques in Life Magazine. They sat down near the houses until they were told to go in them. Biddle grabbed a flashlight and went through the house. All he could see at one point was a German panzerfaust. He could tell that there were Germans in the house at one point. The sergeant had a feeling they were in the basement. They dropped a grenade in the basement and seven Germans came up to surrender. The next morning the Germans were firing artillery at them. Biddle could hear it coming through the air. A piece of shrapnel went through his neck and scalp. The piece of shrapnel was very close to his jugular. He knew he was not hurt badly. One kid got killed next to him and he was only hit with one little piece of shrapnel but it went through his brain. Biddle was sent back to the hospital after he was wounded. He heard V-1 and V-2 rockets flying overhead. One of them landed short and hit a part of the hospital he was staying in. He recalls a nurse coming around after the rocket hit asking the soldiers if they were alright. He was moved to another building where they had a hospital. Biddle was then sent to England for a week to rest and recuperate. He saw a man from his outfit who asked him "Were you up there when that guy killed all those Germans?" He told Biddle that they were putting the man in for the Medal of Honor. He did not put two and two together at that point.


Biddle was not allowed to return to combat because he was being put up for the Medal of Honor. He was told that he had to go back to the United States. Some guys were offered to be occupation troops in Germany but he did not get that. He felt that he may have to go fight the Japanese but the war ended in the Pacific on August 15th. A group of guys went to Washington D.C. on October 12th, 1945 to receive their Medals of Honor. President Truman told Biddle, as he told a lot of soldiers, that he would, "Rather have one of these then be President." A soldier by the name of Jake Lindsey had received the Medal a week before him. Truman asked him what he would like to be after the service. Lindsey said he would like to work for the VA [Annotator’s Note: Veteran’s Affairs] but was not sure he would pass the test. Truman said, "You just passed the test." Truman passed an executive order exempting Medal of Honor recipients from having to take a screening test in order to work at the VA.Biddl came home and ended up marrying his wife. They have been married for sixty-two years.He accepted the fact that he was going overseas. On the way over on a liberty ship, most of the men got sick. He did not get sick. Some of the guys were smoking cigarettes to ease the sea-sickness. Biddle picked up smoking and did not quit until 1950 when his six-month-old tried to grab a cigarette out of his hand and got burned.Biddle was petrified his first time in combat. He crawled behind a big rock and bullets were hitting everywhere. He had a Mexican kid with him; he would come in his tent at night drunk and wake Biddle up. He was with him behind the rock. The Mexican kid insisted that he was hit but Biddle could not find any wound. He did not want to call a medic because he did not want him to be killed. The Mexican kid went back to the medic never to be seen again. He had been shot in the big toe.Biddle had a friend from Indianapolis. He was riding a tank after the Battle of the Bulge and the captain caught him. The man said that his feet hurt. The captain said that he had better get back and see a medic and something better be wrong with him. He went to the medic and his feet were frozen. Biddle ended up meeting the man later on and they had a laugh about it. He recalls looking at sand tables explaining where they were going to jump in Southern France. 


The intelligence was good for the southern France operation. The intelligence officers claimed to know the rank and serial number of every German in the area. Everyone was told they were going to land on their designated landing spot. Biddle had to walk fifty miles to his landing spot. The spot he was originally supposed to land at was filled with Germans and the guys who landed there were killed. Both sides had information on what either side was going to do. Fortunately the Americans had a better plan. The jump was put together pretty fast. A one star General [Annotators Note: Biddle cannot recall his name] was in charge of the whole bit in Italy. He climbed up the back of a mountain and eliminated the Germans who were on top. Biddle notes he was a great soldier, a daredevil type. One of the guys protecting the general had been in prison for a little bit. They got him out of prison to be the general’s aid.One of Biddle's guys was from North Carolina. He talked a German officer into surrendering two hundred troops. He convinced the men that if they turned themselves in they would be treated like kings. His unit lost a sergeant on one of their jumps, he was captured. In the process of being captured he was able to kill the German taking him and make his way back to the unit. They had two guys who were sick of being shot at and they decided to give themselves up and were given twenty-five years of hard labor for desertion. They did have one person executed for desertion. One of the guys died in prison and the other guy got an honorable discharge and went to medical school under the G.I. bill.Biddle's unit, the 517th was formed in February/March of 1943. They allowed the officers to throw out anyone they did not like. They had all types of requirements. They were only allowing soldiers who were the equivalent of five Germans. A few guys in other units got kicked out because they refused to jump. The 517th never had a refusal at the door. The battalion commander was a West Point graduate. The commander earned one of the lowest passable GPA's at West Point but Biddle notes he was brilliant in the field. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross. His name was Colonel Boyle. Boyle led part of two companies up a mountain in France and took no casualties. Boyle ended up getting a piece of shrapnel in his groin that killed him. Boyle's mother was German and lived about ten miles from where Boyle was killed. The combat in Southern France was easy according to Biddle. The day after he jumped they intercepted a German car carrying a German officer. He had a motorcycle escort. Biddle's squad was set up to intercept them. They killed everyone except the driver.


One of Biddle's squad members was ordered to cut a piece of wire. He went up to cut the wire as ordered by an officer and was killed when the wire electrocuted him. One of their fellow soldiers in Italy died because he kept his grenades in his baggy pants pockets. The pin became loose and it detonated. Biddle heard the pop of the grenade from down the line. The grenade ended up killing the kid next to him. The guy was a “mental case” forever.Biddle came across a young German tied to a tree. They came out into a little opening and they saw this German kid tied to a tree. They left him with a machine gun and some grenades. Biddle was told to shoot him but he refused because the kid looked scared. The kid was maybe fifteen years old. They cut the chain and let the kid loose. He later ran across a German kid about that old in the hospital that lost a leg. He was happy to lose a leg because it got him out of combat. The Germans that Biddle killed walked in front of him in plain day. It was like a shooting gallery. The men around Biddle said that he shot them all in the head. The Germans were about two hundred yards away. He heard one shot from the Germans, it was a piston shot so he figures that one of the Germans was putting someone out of their misery. Biddle walked up on one of his guys who had a German prisoner. The German soldier took his watch off and gave it to Biddle. He sold the watch when he got back to England. He got thirty dollars for the watch.Biddle recalls how cold it was when he was fighting. There was a foot and a half of snow on the ground. He recalls taking his overcoat off and keeping his feet warm. His hands were so cold he was not sure if he could fire his rifle. It was so cold that one time his BAR [Annotator’s Note: Browning automatic rifle] man tried to fire his rifle and it would not fire. He was assigned to be the BAR man for the jump into France. He had to take the weapon out and zero it in. He told his buddy to shoot it for practice and he did it well, Biddle made him the BAR man. He was able to carry a carbine for the jump. He recalls seeing a house blown up by a mortar barrage. When Biddle saw the Germans there was about 17 of them. He was able to take all of them down with his M-1.


The Germans had no idea what was going on. The worst part of the Battle of the Bulge for Biddle was when his friend was killed. His friend got killed on a patrol in Saint-Jacques. They were pretty close. He was Catholic. He wanted Biddle to go see the Pope with him. Biddle said he was not Catholic and did not need to see the Pope. His friend said, "Well you are my friend and I want you to come with me." He and his friend went to visit the Basilica. He quit drinking and smoking and tried to do his best up until when his friend was killed. His name was Francis Blue. He was from Illinois. He was a first sergeant in the 511th. He got in trouble at a bar by throwing a chair through a plate glass mirror. They reduced his rank and sent him overseas in the same unit Biddle was in. There was a sergeant Rivers who was killed outside of Soy who was a very good soldier. Biddle notes that all of the men were good soldiers. Rivers was killed by a bullet to the head. Another man he served with was a "super combat" soldier. He would go in and clear houses with his submachine gun.Biddle has not been back to where he fought to earn the Medal of Honor. One of his friends was able to go back and trace his steps. The war changed his life completely. He would have been working the rest of his life at a factory. He had been there about six years and was told that his services were no longer required. Biddle thought that they were making a mistake when he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Medal of Honor recipients feel as if they were just doing their duty. The Medal made opportunities available for Biddle that he would have never had. He has been to many Medal of Honor reunions. The service organizations have given him lifetime memberships. People also show him a great amount of respect.

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