Getting older doesn’t mean that we all get dementia. The sharp minds of many veterans could help us learn about the truth of the battles fought first hand, as it actually happened. Even those with cognitive decline have amazing reserved memories.
We sometimes treat the stories of the older veterans as something that might bring them sadness and stress. Sometimes family members may get tired of listening because the stories or parts of it may appear to be repeated or told differently. Perhaps this is true for some. However, it is always important to open the door to listen. If the teller gets emotional, allow the tears, and then lead the conversation into a happier time.
Many of the stories are surreal and fit for history books. In fact, some war experiences conflict with articles on websites and perhaps accounts from the Pentagon. Some of the recorded accounts only cover the dates times and battle overviews. The real stories and perspectives are told by soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who were actual participants.
Our war heroes from World War I would be hard to locate. Heroes from World War II and the Viet Nam War are leaving us in great numbers.
On August 8, 2017, William (Bill) Matthies passed away after a fall put him in the hospital. I visited with him for a short time on the Sunday before and I read this blog to him. He was as cheerful as he could be under the circumstances and was as sharp as he ever was. His affliction was never dementia, but he cared for his sweetheart who has been suffering from cognitive and memory decline. He approved of my account of his experience, but said that the boat I pictured was a P.T. boat and not a gunner vessel like the ones in this mission. So I changed the picture. I am so sorry that I didn’t get to visit with him more and get more stories about D day and other Naval Assault Force activity. I am blessed to have known this great man who was not only a hero but a talented artist as well.
In 1941, Bill Matthies was drafted into the Navy and he had to leave his school sweetheart and go off to fight in World War II. As a member of a secret Naval Assault force, he fought under General Patton from D-day at Normandy to the Rhine River. He stated that Bill O’Reilly’s account in his book, “Killing Patton,” of the surrender of the Germans was not accurate. He related the history of how Patton used his secret special Naval Assault Force to bring surrender from the Germans at the Ludendorff Bridge over the Rhine at Remagen, and the surrender meeting that Patton arranged. Bill had a front seat and starring role in that historical day.
He related that the true story was as follows: The U.S. Army was approaching the Rhine from the east to cross the Ludendorff bridge and the Germans were attempting to blow it up to keep Patton’s army from reaching the east side. However, Patton was preparing to launch his secret, the NAF. While the Germans were setting explosives, the U.S. army was skillfully disabling them and moving the tanks and heavy equipment across the structure. At the same time, the NAF gunner boats had been making the way down the Rhine from the Ocean. Bill accounted that he was on one of the gunner boats that was storming toward the bridge with gunners blasting away at the west side at the same time that the U.S. troops and tanks were storming in and across from the east and the demolition crew was disabling explosives. “All was blasting at the same time.” He said they were very close to the bridge when explosives lifted the bridge up and sat it straight down on the pylons. At that time, the Germans saw the gunner boats and the commanders lifted their hands in the air and surrendered. Afterwards, Patton organized the summit at Remagen for the surrender and arranged for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to build a floating bridge by the Ludendorff to allow for passage of foot soldiers and to repair the bridge. Bill said that he was in the gunner boat crew that helped string the floating bridge under the direction of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers from the 276th Engineer Combat Battalion. After the bridge was captured, U.S. Army 276th Engineer Combat Battalion and specialized welders and steel workers from 1058th Bridge Construction and Repair Group repaired the bridge and the rest of the U.S. forces crossed over to the east.
Bill was upset that none of the accounts include the involvement of the NAF or the accounting of how that treaty was negotiated and signed at Remagen. He related how Patton was upset with Eisenhower because he gave the Russians control and credit for the territories won by U.S. Patton stormed out of the meeting and refused to be a part of what he believed to be a sham.
He told of other stories about how Patton could be reviewed as a bully and treated wounded soldiers badly. However, he was also a respected tough leader by those who fought under him. After the war in the European front was secured. Patton filed to take over operations in the Philippines, but he was refused. It is Bill’s belief that Patton was set up to be killed when he was riding in his jeep driven by an army soldier. Another jeep driven by another soldier rammed into him and his neck was broken. He died from the injury shortly after that.
During Memorial Day and July 4th, we need to celebrate the contributions of the veterans that have helped to keep our country safe. Respect them, listen to them and give them thanks for all they’ve done.