April 30, 1945 – July 8, 2017
My 13th Armored Division stories start at Braunau, Austria.
As outlined in my Conversation with Jean of August 21, 2017, the order of my 13th Armored Division stories will be mostly in the same sequence in which they occurred. And since that timeline began on July 8, 2017 in Salzberg, Austria, I have chosen to describe Steve’s and my visit to Braunau, Austria, first and then move quickly to the more pleasant aspects of our experience.
My main reason is twofold. First: Austria was not the most pleasant experience in our journey. Our B&B rental in Salzberg was neither pleasing, nor satisfactory. The host was not available in any caring way, and when he appeared, his arrogance was clearly visible. Further, his location was nowhere near Salzberg, and it cost us almost $200.00 to find transport to Salzberg where we could even rent a car. So, Austria in that instance tasted sour.
By the way, that was the only bad experience we had on our trip. A minor one to be sure, but a good place from which to start our 13th Armored Division stories. Good, because from there everything went uphill.
Arrogance and distain for brotherhood was also a major characteristic of Adolf Hitler. His birthplace was in Austria, as well. Braunau to be exact. On or about April 30, 1945, Braunau was captured by the 13th Armored Division. A memorable moment…
Lots of other historical stuff was happening at the same time.
In Berlin, as the Russians were closing in on his underground bunker, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. His cowardly death a testimonial to the evil consequences of arrogance and distain for humanity.
As I remember that day, I had a historical moment of my own. It was probably my most outstanding contribution to what we did as a Division. I shall use excerpts from a previously written story.
After a brief skirmish with the enemy in the early afternoon, and they surrendered, we took in about 20 German prisoners. We were traveling so fast we had no way to accommodate and keep prisoners. The First Sergeant came to our Squad looking for someone to take the prisoners back through the territory we had just come through and turn them over to the 80th Infantry Division who was following up on our advance. I volunteered to take the prisoners back through where we had just had our skirmish and turn them over to the 80th. Sergeant Smith said it would be a very dangerous task, and as we were spearheading our advance so fast, there would still be lots of Germans between us and where I would supposedly meet the 80th. Furthermore, there was no good way for me to be able to get back to A Company after I turned over the prisoners, as the situation was too fluid and confusing. No one really knew where they were, or were going to be. Also, they were advancing so fast that I knew catching up would not be easy.
I left my Company Task Force, and headed out with my prisoners in the direction of where I was told the 80th Division was supposed to be. I kept expecting to see German troops coming from almost any direction, as our task Force had penetrated deep into enemy held territory. It would have been no problem for any small group to overwhelm me and my prisoners. Don’t ask me why but, somehow, I was not afraid. Fortunately, nobody was out on the road I was taking.
Finally, after walking three miles or so, a small patrol of American soldiers approached us coming up the road from a westerly direction. I yelled at them as soon as I thought they could hear me and soon was able to speak with a Sergeant in the group that I had now identified as being from the 80th Infantry Division. They agreed to take over the prisoners, and thus enable me to try to get back to my Task Force.
I had been gone a good one and a half to two hours, and was probably eight to ten miles behind my group. I did not know the exact route to take to catch up with them, or anybody friendly for that matter. Incredibly, I was still not scared. I probably should have been. Anyway, I left my prisoners with the three soldiers from the 80th and started back on foot in the direction from which I came. I thought at that time, it would have been easy for any German in the area to cut me down, just walking alone down the road.
I went down the main road for about a mile, when, all of a sudden, a uniformed German came toward me on a small motorbike. I don’t think he realized I was a lone American soldier walking toward him on this lonely road. I don’t even think he was aware that we (Americans) were even close to being in this area. Before he realized who and what I was, I had raised my M1 rifle and made motions for him to stop and get off his motorbike. He got off his bike quickly, and didn’t reach for his 32 Caliber Walther Automatic Pistol he carried in a side holster. I asked him for the pistol, and he quickly took it out and handed it to me handle first. It was small, and I put it in my pocket, feeling safer that he couldn’t shoot me with that pistol anyway.
Somewhere in my head, I hatched the idea that I could use his motorbike to speed up the road and catch up with my Task Force. I then motioned him to show me how to start and operate the motorbike. I had never ridden a motorbike in my life, but I found myself in a situation where its use could be of great benefit to me to get back. Necessity was the mother of invention in this case.
He showed me that to start it you had to go from a walk up to a slow run on it for a short way, and when you had achieved a reasonable speed, let out the clutch and engage the small 2 cycle engine. I tried it a couple of times, and I caught on sufficiently well that I was confident I could restart it if I needed. I learned about speed control twist bars, clutch levers, and brake levers. All this instruction took place in a very short period of time, no more than 5 minutes. I was ready to go.
Down the road I went. Soon I reached the muddy road where our group had turned off in a southeasterly direction. I found going on this road was a real challenge. First, it was very muddy and slippery, and second, it had a very high crown. I slipped and fell off several times, adding cakes of mud to my already dirty and grimy clothes. I didn’t hurt myself, however. Being young and agile probably helped. I knew I was on their trail as the road was well gouged up with tank and halftrack tracks, so tracking them was easy on the muddy road. I was lucky they had taken it. It wasn’t too long after that episode that I happily caught up with my buddies in the Task Force. They were literally amazed to see me (and my commandeered motorbike). They thought they probably might never see me again. We were all happy in our reunion.
Getting back to our revisiting Braunau, Steve and I found a town, not exuding friendship or signs of welcoming, but rather a somewhat vague sign of acquiescence. There were still monumental plaques dedicated to historical references to Hitler, and no one had torn down the house in which he was born. They were both clearly in evidence. We have photographed them.
I couldn’t help but get the feeling that nobody wanted to talk about him either. I have no evidence. I didn’t really talk to anybody, so I can’t fairly make a judgement, but it still lingered in my gut. Anyway, Braunau probably was a good place to leave, and search for more positive signs of the kinds of reconciliation Steve and I were looking for. Leave we did, and went on to Berg.