In the meantime I was working on another project so I put Balch's file aside for a while.
On March 29, 1995, I found them again and wrote a letter to Mrs. Corinne Balch or descendants, telling them about the file and asking for further information. Some weeks later I realized that I would get no answer. I called the operator and asked for "Balch" at Paris, Tenn. but there was no privat person with that name only a company. Well, calling from Germany to the States is not a cheap matter and the operator refused to give me an adress. So the project was put into cold storage again.
But now coincidence helped me. In April 1995 two Amercians visited the monthly meeting of the Asssn. for Saarlandic Genealogy at Saarbruecken. Ed Greiff and his cousin Susan Alskog-Greiff were on a trip to St. Wendel to find out about their ancestors and were told to visit this meeting. I got in contact to them and was able to give them some information who to find out something about their ancestors who left St. Wendel in 1835.
I kept contact to Susan who lived in Washington (the state not DC). A month or two later I asked her to call the company at Paris, Tenn., and she agreed. The company had nothing to do with Fred's family but she was given another phone number from a town about 150 miles away from Paris. There lives William Balch, brother of the deceased. Susan talked to him and he was very much interested in the documents as up to this time there was no further information about the fate of his brother. So I sent him xerox copies of the file and received a letter in September:
"August, 27, 1995
Dear Mr. Geiger:
In a universe governed by order, I am amazed at how often random chance affects our lives. Mrs. Alskog's recent phone call is a case in point. It seems extraordinary that her interest in genealogy and your interest in local history would bring me information about the death of my brother, Frederick, half a century later.
The exact circumstances of his death have remained a mystery all these years, but of course I have never stopped wondering. also, my recollection of what facts were known to us is probably clouded by the passing of time. On thing is certain, the state of the art of communications gathering and distribution was primitive in those days compared to the present. So perhaps that accounts for some of the difficuly in those days.
I vividly remember the night our family received the telegram stating he was missing in action. We had not received a latter from him for some time prior to that. My parents tried desperately, but unsuccessfully, to get information. They contacted government officials, firneds who might have means of helping, and families of other soldiers who were in his unit who might be able to furnish details. I belive it ws from some of them that we heard Frederick's company was surrounded and pinned down in a bunker and that he was wounded while trying to radio for reinforcements. The suggestion in my mother's letter you uncovered about the possibility that he may have been the victim of an Allied bombing attack on a hospital evacuation train is news to me. We speculated so much and were so anxious for details that I cannot imagine why I don't remember hearing that before. However I was sjust a youngster then and that may have not registed with me for some reason. My recollection is that we thought he died in a hospital at St. Wendel.
Deceased at St. Wendel
In January 1994 I looked thru the newer stocks of the city archives of St. Wendel and by chance found a black book with the title
"Ehrenbuch der Stadt St. Wendel für die Opfer der beiden Weltkriege".
Book of Honor of the victims of both World Wars in St. Wendel
It was put together by order of the former mayor Graeff in the early Seventies by the local historian Hans-Klaus Schmitt.
It contains 80 pages and most of the names and dates of those men and women who died at St. Wendel as a result of one of the two world wars of this century, doesn't matter if they originated from St. Wendel or "just" died here.
There are catagorized in four divisions:
- killed in action
- killed by fighter bombers
- died on wounds resulted by the war
- missing in action
The part "World War 2" was divided
- known German soldiers killed in action
- unknown German soldiers burried at St. Wendel cemetery
- civilians killed by fighter planes or bombers
- foreigners which died from wounds suffered somewhere else in combat
- unknown foreigners ...
Chapter four "foreigners which died from wounds suffered somewhere else in combat" displayed five entries:
Peter De Brath (British pilot, rank: Sergeant)
Renalt Cole (his observer, British Sergeant)
both killed in action at St. Wendel on Sep 3, 1941 (plane crash)
Douglas, Arthur Innes (British POW)
* 1917 Aldensroad in London
died of wounds May 17, 1940 at St. Wendel
Frederik Taugye Lecher (US POW)
+ 26.09.1944 St. Wendel died of wounds
Friedrich Balch (US)
died of wounds 15.03.1945 at St. Wendel
De Brath, Cole and Innes are burried at Rheinberg Militär Friedhof near Krefeld, Germany, Lecher at St. Avold.
In February 1994 I visited Lorraine Cemetery at St. Avold, France, and there a clerk gave the adress of Total Personal Command, : Department of the Army, Alexandria, Maryland, 15 km SW of Washington, DC. I wrote a letter to this institution requesting copies of the files of Balch and Lecher. As there came no response within a couple of weeks I forget about it.
In December 1994 a big package arrived from America. Total Personal Command had send xerox copies of the complete personal files of both deceased starting at the day of their death. I checked the file and decided to concentrate on Balch. The file started with his death and closed in 1948 with his re-interring on the local cemetery of his home town.
Also enclosed was a most interesting letter of Fred's mother:
"Paris, Tennessee, Jan 28th, 1946
Adjutant General E.F. Witsell, Washington D.C.
I am writing this letter with reference to our son, P.F. C. Fred R. Balch, Jr. 34717509 - Co. F. 376th Inf. A.P.O. 94. N.Y.
We have tried to be very understanding and patient with the lack of facts we have received about him. On March 15th 1945 we received a wire saying he had been missing in action since March 2nd. No other word was received until Aug. 29th saying he died of wounds received in Germany, March 15th. That is all.
We have talked with one boy who was with him at the time he was wounded - he did not think it was a fatal wound. Said he was wounded in the upper legs while radioing Hdq. for helß. For 7½ hours he lay on an improvised bunk saying, "I know the message went thru and you should receive help soon." I understand since then -just before they were captured he had the radio destroyed. The 90 men who were sent out encountered about 800 Germans - so we are told - one man escaped we have been unable to learn his name.
We have written the commanding officer of his Co. and Div. also the Chaplin. They nothing we can understand that as there was a 22 % Casualty in Co. F including officers. Some one must know more than we do - or the message would have read "presumably dead". We have not received his tag - nor do we know where he is burried.
Fred volunteered when he was 18 - was in ASTP as you know that folded up in the Spring of "44" - that meant the cream of the 18 year old was thrown, some 40,000 into the Inf. No choice - but to do as their country told them to do - and very few would have chosen the Inf.
His I.Q. at Ft. Oglethorpe was above average - his ons 3 month term in college (under ASTP) was good. We knew nothing of the few merits he achieved in the army, as he was very modest. He said any one with good sense could win Expert Inf. Badge etc. We did hear from one of his friends, while serving for about 3 months at St. Nazaire that he had more patrol duty than any man in his Co.
I am sure you are thinking - another letter from a doting parent - that is not true. If you cared to check on us - you would find us very sane thinking and acting people. In fact it has been said of us many times - in our small way - we have had much courage and have been an inspiration to many, many people in our little city.I am merely trying to show you Fred was a fine and true American - the type boys paid in ascertaining any details possible and sending them on to us and the other boys families. Suerely that is not asking too much.
One of the boys who recently returned thought it quite likely the patients of the hospital at St. Wendell, Germany, (that is were Fred was taken) were being evacuated and one of our planes bombed the train as there was much evidence and signs of "strafing and bombing in that area - shortly after March 2nd. I would think you have ways of checking on this.
Thanking you in advance for any information you may be able to send us.
Mrs. Fred H. Balch, Paris, Tenn."
Fred Balch with his mother and his brother Bill.
I also did not know that nine other Americans were interred with him in the St. Wendel cemetery. I now wonder if they were members of his group or if they came from various units in the general area.
I distinctly remember the hot summer morning when his remains were returned to us in our home town in Paris, Tennessee (a small rural town in the southern part of the U.S.). A military escort accompanied us to the funeral service in our family burial plot.
You asked for some personal information about Fred. He was drafted into the army upon graduation from high school in 1943. He was an exellent student, a member of the school football team, and was well liked by his classmates. He underwent a rigorous basic training course at Fort Hood, Texas, and finished with high marks.
My mother saved most of his letters. And just a few months ago I came across many that he had written me, his younger brother. After I finished reading them, I felt I had been transported back in time to that period of our lives, and that thru those letters I was given the chance to get to know him again some 50 years after his death.
One overwhelming reaction I got reading those letters is that he never complained about the hardships he endured. There were long forced marches with heavy packs, night maneuvers where he got no sleep, and may other stressful situations. He told about those things but there was never a not of complaint or self-pity.
As Mother's letter indicated after basic training he was put into a special Army program for bright young men with leadership qualities. He was sent to the University of Florida and enrolled in an engineering course. But the program was abandoned due to the need for more U.S. troops in Europe. So the men were taken out of school and put in the infantry. He served with the 94th Infantry Division.
I am enclosing a picture of Frederick and also a snapshot of him with my mother. It would probably have been taken shortly before he went overseas.
I am sure this is more information than you need or may be interested in. However, I'm sure you can imagine the many memories and feelings that were triggered by the receipt of your letter and the records. I commend you for the thorough investigation youc carried about Fredrick's death and your efforts to trace what happened. I guess we will never know the details of the final events that led to his death. However I think it is wonderful that you have an interest in putting a human touch on a sad chapter in world history in which so many fine young men on both sides lost their lives.
Thanks for your interest in recording the events in a human and personal context, I will have a more factual recond of him to pass along to my son, which I hope will keep alive te memory of Frederick's sacrifice.
I have a request if it is not too much trouble. Would it be possible to get a picture of the plot and marker where he was burried ans also a picture of a sign identifying the cemetery. I just recently retired as a television news producer , and I told a reporter friend at the station about this. He said he would like to do a story, so if the pictures are available I would appreciate it. However if that proves to be a problem, don't worry. I certainly don't want to impose on you.
For as I said, it means so much to me that you took an interest in the fate of one U.S. soldier and followed through to help bring some sense of closure to our family loss.
With best wishes, I remain
William R. Balch, 542 White Rose Lane, Olivette, Mo. 63132, USA"
Extracts from Frederick's letters home
November 5, 1944
"Dear Mother and Father,
You should have seen me taking a shower today in a home made shower. Some holes were punched in the boottom of a gallon can which was suspended just about head height. Then pour some hot water in the can and you have a pretty good shower. Crude but effective.
"Dear Mother and Father,
I consider myself extremely lucky this Christmas Day. Our outfit is back in Reserve at present and are living in some old temporary German barracks. Therefore for the time being are somewhat sheltered from the weather and was able to attend church services this morning. We had a very good Christmas Dinner; Turkey, Creamed Dish and Sweet Potatoes, Grovy ___flower, Aspargus, Cranberry Sauce, Apple Pie and Egg Nog. The Egg Nog must have been 50 % Alcohol.
Of course that night and today haven't seemed anything like our Christmas I've ever known and hope to ever seen again. However as I was sitting around the small stove in our barracks last night I couldn't help but think of the parents and wives of fellows that have given their lives and can well imagine what their christmas this year was like.
In one of the packages I got the orther day was a picture of Pete in his Middy. What a ludicous sight that was. Thought of something for the next package if you can get it. A couple of cans of vegetable soup. Strange, huh?
Any way send a package of candy, cheese, spreads, cookies ... something similar. Took a roll of film but don't know how long it will take me to get them back. At any rate they have to be developed over here.
Well guess that's about all.
Lots of Love
12 January 1945
"Dear Mother + Father
Yesterday nd today have received letters ranging from Nov 22 to Dec 30th (Willie). Also a xmas card and a birthday card from you. Remember the song "there will be a change in the weather and a change in the sea". Wish the weather would change t waremer and forget the snow and seems as if there has been a change in the sea. I shouldn't have bet that money on the Dewey Roosen (?) Campain. Got a letter from William Reymonds brother. was very interesting and funny. ... (sorry but cannot read and understand the following sentence - Roland)
The Germans pulled out of this place in such a hurry that they left cattle, chicken, horses, some cannel fruit and other stuff. The kitchens have been slaughtening the pigs, chickens and cows and we've been eating pretty good lately. You ought to see me in one of the abandoned houses (cooking) ham, sausage, potatoes on a stove. Also they left jellies and jams which tast pretty good. Have been eating pretty good the last few days.
By the way I prefer that you didn't carry over news in your letters as I usually don't get them in chronological order and consequently don't know what you are talking about part of the time. Example: I get a letter telling about you having dinner for an out of town guest one day and servals day later I get a letter daying that so and so is coming to town and you are having a dinner for him.
That all folks
24 January 1945
"Dear Mother + Father
I may seem to be getting slightly lax about writing you lately. But it isn't my doings. Seems as if some parcel can't leave well enough along. Wish stey let the Russians go ahead and finish the war, seems as if they 're doing a pretty good job now.
Am glad that you got the perfume, it arrived much sooner that I imagined it would. Didn't take but about six or seven weeks.
You can ask quite a lot of questions, can't you? We have no certain length of time for staying back in a rest area only we don't stay back there as long as you might think. Neither is there a lot time for staying on line or a certain place to in reserve. We are (eventually ?) in houses then as it is too cold to stay out if not necessary and there ware plenty of houses in these captured and deserted villages to stay in. don't belive I've requested a package in quite a while, so please send package of food.
31 January 1945
"Dear Marion, dear Curtis,
Received a couple of letters from you vesterday. Think I told you I reveived your nice "birthday". Thanks so much. Don't remember when I wrote you last. Also received a package from you yesterday containing candy beans, cookies, cheese tidbits and _ash clo__. Thanks a million.
Just got back from churck Funny but time in church doesn't creep like it used to do. Mabe the was has made the services mean more to me. Suppose that you have been reading in the newspaper about our Division and the 3rd Army lately.
You should see the new snow pacs we have. They're quite similar to ski boots. They should prevent quite ________ from being hospitalized due to frozen feet and frost bite. Guess that's all, write soon.
15 February 1945
"Dear Mother + Father,
That fried chicken certainly was good, when you said you were sending it, I didn't imagine that it would be so very good but I was pleasently surprised. Was the cranberry sause and shoe string potatoes.
The commanding General Third Army was here today; more brass then you can shake a stick at. Somebody saw a man and said: “who 's that"; somebody else said, "um that's just a Brig Gen". All of the officers in the regiment and quite a lot of the division must be here.
Got a letter from Barbara yesterday. Said that "Bun" had written them a letter on toilet paper as he had misplaced all of his stationary.
Took a shower today and put on some clean clothes. No idea how much better I feel.
Got paid yesterday and have a $50 money order to sent home as soon as I can get it. Still haven't received my $ 40 in the spearhead deposit.
The Germans have nicknamed us "Roosevelts bloody butchers" it seems. Guess thats all except to request a package.
That was the last letter to arrive to his parents. About one month later they received a telegram by War Department telling them Fred was MIA.
Fred's father then talked to a friend of the family, an admiral named Murphy. Murphy received this answer to his inquiry:
"1605 - Wednesday
21 March 1945
Admiral Murphy -
Upon further inquiry (have been phoning over to Adjutant Headquarters) have learned the following:
Frederick Balch was serving with the 94th infantry at the time he was reported missing on 2 March; this infantry was fighting with the 3rd Army on this date in the area near Saarlausen; they cleared and captured this city on 10 March and went on the Grimburg, Gusenberg and Hermeskeil and on 17 March took these three towns. Frederick Balch could have been on an advanced patrol and have been captured as CASUALTIES WERE VERY LIGHT in the capturing and mopping up of these cities. It takes three months before the Germans report their prisoners of war (through the International Red Cross).
I have been asked to call within two days and more information may be at hand.
Will continue to do so.
Then there was silence about Frederick Balch.
On June 9, 1945, they learned a little more. Fred's father talked to a man who had served in the same unit:
"Reported to me over long distance telephone June 9th by Pfc William Olsen, Co F, 376 inf 94th Division. Olsen a prisoner of war was liberated April 26th, 1945, arrived home Davenport IA June 2, 1945
He reports PFc Fred Balch # 34717509 Co.F.376th inf. 94th Div. 3rd Army, together with private Don Drace, Arn Phenel and Olsen were out post duty across the Saar River near the villages of Ayle and Acksern, Germany. They were surrounded and captured on February 26, 1945. Fred Balch was hit by a fragment of a concussion grenade in the upper part of his leg. He was helped by these men to a German Aid station. From there he was taken in an ambulance to a large military hospital at St. Wendel, Germany. Olsen making the trip with him in the ambulance, taling to him all the time and he was of the opinion that the wound in the fleshy part of the leg was not of serious nature. Osen was slightly hurt himself, they both entered the hospital at St. Wendel, Frederick going into a different part of the hospital than Olsen.
Olsen was transfered from this hospital on March 1st to another hospital at Gudwizburgh Germany. He did not see Frederick after they entered the hospital at St. Wendel, but was of the opinion that he Frederick was still there on that date, March 1st."
2½ months later - on August 29 - the Balchs learned of the death of their son on March 15 in a hospital near St. Wendel, Germany. But they never found out what really happened.
This certification of death belongs to the xerox copies I got from Alexandria and was dated March 20, 1945
" Sanitätskompanie 243 (medical company)
Field post No. 59992
family name Balch
first name Friedrich
birth date unknown
birth place unknown
day of death Mar 15 ,1945, 4:05 hrs am
place of death St. Wendel, Field Hospital.
dog tags (always to note) Balch, Friedrich R, 34717509 T 43-44
reason of death heart- and circulation weakness after lung shot
burial site warrior cemetery of St. Wendel / Saar,
Single grave No 18
signed by Dr. Gerlach
Staff Dr. and company leader"
A temporary resting place for Frederick was the local cemetery, children's section. A hand drawn map by Pvt. Berry, 606th Quartermaster Grave Registration Company, from 1946 shows the graves of 10 GIs on St. Wendel Cemetery. Fred's grave was No 15. Today there are the graves of German civilians, although the children's section still exists and right of it there are graves of German soldiers from 1st and 2nd World War.
On January 26, 1946, the body was disinterred and brought to St. Avold Lorraine Cemetery to be reinterred on February 8, 1946, in section YYY, row 12, grave 143.
Somewhen in 1947 or winter 1948 Fred's parents decided to bring her son home. The remaining sceleton was put in a coffin, loaded on a ship to the States and by railroad truck transported to Paris, Tennessee.
"DP 34 GOVT DL PAID WUX MEMPHIS. TENN JULY 26
SPICER AND MCEVOY
507 WASHINGTON ST.
REMAINS OF THE LATE PRIVATE 1ST CLASS FREDERICK R. BALCH JR. SN 34717509, BEING SHIPPED TO YOU ACCOMPANIED BY MILITARY ESCORT ON TRAIN NO ONE HUNDRED NINETY EIGHT LOUISVILLE AND NASHVILLE RAILROAD LEAVING MEMPHIS SEVEN FITY AM TWENTY NINTH JKULY AND DUE TO ARRIVE PARIS STATION AT ELEVEN THREE AM RAILROAD TIME TWENTY NINTH JULY REQUEST YOU MAKE ARRANGMENTS TO ACCEPT REMAINS AT STATION UPON ARRIVAL YOU ARE DIRECTED TO NOTIFY NEXT OF SKIN CONTENTS OF THIS MESSAGE
CHARLES M. ODENWALDER
A note from 1948 published in the local newspaper of Paris, Tennessee, tells about the last rest place of Fred Balch:
"FREDERICK BALCH BURIED THURSDAY
Body of Young Paris Infantryman, Killed in Germany, Returned Home
Prayer services were held for Frederick Robert Balch, Jr., son of Mr. and Mrs. Fred R. Balch, at Maplewood cemetery at 11:30 o'clock Thursday morning, July 29.
Frederick was fatally wounded in battle at Ockfen, Germany, on Feb. 26, 1945. He was removed to St. Wendel, Germany, where he died on March 15, 1945. He was buried at St. Wandel and afterward removed to a permanent cemetery at St. Avold, France. From this cemetery his body was returned to his home to be buried in Maplewood.
Frederick was twenty years old February 1925. He lived all of his when he died having been vorn in twenty years in Paris, Tenn. with the exception oy his army service from July, 1943 until that date of his death. He graduated from Grove High School witht he class of 1943. Immediately after his graduation he voluntarily enlisted in the Army of the United States and was assigned to the 376 Infantry Battalion, 94th Division. He was a Private First Class and Radio Operator of his company.
In August 1944, Frederick was sent overseas to St. Nazaire, France, and while on duty at this post he saw more hours of patrol duty than any other soldier in his company. In December, 1944, he was assigned to the Saar area of Germany where he served until his death. Had he returned from the battle at Ockfen, he was to have entered Officers Candidate School.
Pfc. Balch was post humously awarded the Purple Heart; also the Good Conduct American Theatre Ribbon; four bronze stars for battles of Ardennes, Northern France and Rhineland campaigns; World War II Victory Ribbon; Combat Infantry Badge; Sharpshooter Badge with Expert Rifle Bar. His Company won a Presidential Citation. Frederick was active in sports in school. He played football four years at Grove High, and was also active in Boy Scout work and in his church. He was a member of the First Methodist church in Paris.
He leaves his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred R. Balch, and one brother, William Raymond Balch."
In the middle of June 1995 I returned from a trip to the States with ten photos from St. Wendel and surrounding areas dating March 1945 and about 250 xerox copies of after-action-reports from several Infantry and tank divisions in my pocket and started translating them. I found that lots of my results in the book "Die Amis kommen" published half a year before were pure nonsense. So I decided to publish something like a sequel to the first book. First it was only a script for a lecture hold for the AG Landeskunde at Saarbruecken, then it became the 1st version of that sequel.
While putting all together about the occupation of St. Wendel County so many data gathered about near-by operations, so it finally became a book about the occupation of our state, the recent Saarland. While doing this I got a copy of the history book of the 94th Infantry Division, Fred Balch's unit.
Activated on Sep 15, 1942, at Ft. Custer, Michigan, 94th InfDiv left New York on August 1944, stopped in Great Britain and finally landed in the Utah-Beach-section, Normandy, on September 8, 1944. Until Jan 1, 1945, she stayed in the area of Lorient and St. Nazaire until she got released by 66th Infantry Division. On Jan 7, 1945, she released 90th InfDiv south of Wasserbillig, Germany, and entered the Saar-Moselle-Triangle. Thru fierce fights she advanced thru Tettingen and Butzdorf to Nennig but had to retreat a couple of times (Orscholz Jan 20, Berg Jan 23-25, Campholz Feb 15).
Supported by heavy artillery and air planes the division attacked with her three regiments and broke thru the Siegfried Line and following 10th Armored Division she cleared the Saar-Moselle-Triangle south of Orscholz and Saarbrug until Feb 21, 1945. Under heavy German fire they crossed the Saar River and built two bridge heads, one near Ockfen on Feb 22 and one near Serrig-Taben short after. Fierce fights began but the bridge heads could be united and a heavy bailey bridge was build near Saarburg on Feb 26.
The Division tried to extend north to cover the advance of 10th Armored Division to Trier and to enforce the united bridgehead of Saarburg. A German counter-attack against 302nd Infantry Regiment broke thru her lines and forced the division to build a new front line to throw the Germans out. This happened until March 8.
On March 13 94th Division crossed the Ruwer River and participated in Operation Undertone with the target to reach the Rhine River and to encircle the retreating German troups. Until termination of hostilities two months later the losses of 94th Infantry Division were 4,789 wounded and 1,156 KIAs.
One of them was Frederick Balch.
From: The 94th Infantry Division, "CT 376", p. 350-353:
"On the afternoon of the 25th, Company B of the 61st Armored Infantry Battalion was attached to the 2nd Battalion. Along with the 3d and 3th Platoons of Company F it was ordered to attack Schoden and the enemy pillboxes harrassing the bridge site from south of the town. The armored infantry worked north along the river and after some heavy fighting forced its way into the southern edge of the objective. To the right, Captain Frederick D. Standish led the Company F group along the railroad tracks through a more heavily fortified area. As they advanced, their right flank was exposed to the fire of a series of enemy pillboxes on the high ground east of Schoden. Progress was slow and only after bitter fighting were the first pillboxes in their zone taken. Following this, attempts were made to re-establish contact with the attached company on the left. Just about dusk, a column of Germans was seen coming down the railroad tracks. Knowing that the armored infantrymen were farther to the north, it was assumed the Germans were PWs being moved to the rear. This column was almost on top of the security force outposting the pillbox in which about half of the party was resting, before the group realized that the Germans were not prisoners. Fighting developed at extremely close quarters and the numerically superior enemy breached the American defenses. The Germans surrounded the pillbox and Captain Standish's repeated attempts to fight through the enemy and get his men out of the surrounded box were of no avail.
Meanwhile, the 1st and 2nd Platoons of Company C were in Ockfen. Having been heavily hit by enemy artillery the previous night, they were relieved late in the afternoon for a short rest. When word was received that Captain Standish and the remainder of the company were in trouble, the platoons organized and proceeded north. A small security group moved up the east side of the railroad to protect the right flank, while the bulk of the small force advanced west of the tracks. The relief party succeeded in breaking through the German perimeter and fought its way up a communication trench to the American held pillbox. The group then discovered that it was against the rear of a huge box; facing a blank, concrete wall. Both sides of the fortification were receiving continuous streams of grazing machine-gun fire from five or more weapons which spelled each other in raking the box. Attempts were made to talk to the trapped men, but it was impossible to establish contact through walls of concrete six feet thick.
Remains of a pillbox not far from Schoden near the Saar River
short before it was demolished to build a new road
At the same time, the enemy was working on the front of the pillbox in an effort to induce the trapped men to surrender. When this failed, the Germans employed a bazooka which did no damage to the well constructed fortification. A large demolition charge was next placed in an embrasure of th pillbox by the enemy, and at 0145 hours there was a terrific explosion. Groans and cries of agony followed. There was a period of silence followed by the sound of movement noth along the railroad tracks. Repeated attempts by the relief party to move around the position were stopped cold by the enemy's grazing fire. At 0300 hours, the flank security of the relief party was forced from position and nothing remained for the 1st and 2nd Platoons to withdraw.
Months later, after the termination of hostilities, First Sergeant Bower, in a personal letter to Staff Sergeant Shafto of Company F, gave a complete account of this action from the viewpoint of the defenders of the pillbox. The following is quoted from this letter.
32 W. Van Buren St.
Oswego, New York
13 June 45
Received your letter today and I sure was waiting for it. Thought maybe you had writers cramp. Of course, you 're excused this time, as I know you must be busy.
Well, Shafto, it makes me feel better now to hear that you tried to get us out of the pillbox that fateful night. I will tell you just what happened.
The first thing, we did not have enough security out and what was out, was not out far enough from the CP ... I could not get communication with the battalion at that time as the radio (SCR-300) was smashed by a grenade and the operator was hit in the stomach. I had talked to Colonel Martin and told him they were attacking from the right and front, down the railroad. We had quite a few casualties and no aid man. The artillery officer also was hit. Our men did not get out in time ... as they left the pillbox there were hit. I don't know who was killed. There were some, as the bodies were outside the pillbox. We had about twenty-two or twenty-five in the pillbox. You know they never got us until 0130. Our ammunition gave out but we would not let them in the pillbox. They blew two holes in it and threw concussion grenades at us all night. The last thing they threw at us stunned us and we never fired a shot after it went off and they came storming in. I sure would have liked to know what it was. You know after our 300 radio went out, I treid to contact company CO with 536 every half hour up to 0100 - I tried, but no avail. They had both entrances to the pillbox covered - we were holed up like rats. By the way I have said many times since, if I rever run into the medic, a T/5 - can't think of his name - I would smack him. We had to tear our undershirts for bandages ... when we needed him, he was not there. It was a hell of a mess, Harold, men crying and screaming. I had a hard time as most of them wanted to give up, and I thought sure we would have been freed from that trap ... All we had left was a few tracers when they blew that last hole in the pillbox.
As soon as we came out of the pillbox, they knocked allour helmets, searched us and stripped us of everything. Mortar fire was hitting all around. One went off just sic feet from where I was standing. Two Krauts beside me got it and I dove into a trench right on top of the Krauts. They raised hell. I guess maybe I hurt them, as though I cared. It is just like a dream that you want to forget.
I could have escaped the first night, but we had to carry our wounded ... even then we did not get half of them. I guess the Germans carried them out. There were a lot of Krauts all through the woods in the rear. We hiked three days and two nights back and forth through the woods, never on any roads. It was all hell. Nothing to eat or smoke.
Do you know, Shafto, you say I am too old for the infantry. Well, I am. But, as a prisoner I stood up better than the young ones. And I had those shoepacs and they just about ruined my feet. Never got any shoes until after we were liberated. You know my socks wore out and I was wearing them with no socks at all. There quite a few of us in the same condition. Sure was hell, as we were hiking all the time I was a prisoner and nothing to eat. I passed out twice but a lot of the boys passed out every day. Krauts would wait until we came to and then it was up your feet and catch up to the rear of the column. We wee strafed three times by our planes. Guess I must have had a horseshoe .. to get back without a scratch, outside of a n infected foot. Still got scars from it. Am having a nice time here, peace and quiet. Don't let anybody tell you this isn't God's country...
Well, Harold, I never was much of a hand in writing letters as you know but I could write pages ... Give my regards to all of the boys that are left. Also officers, Colonel Martin, Captains Whitman and Standish in particular.
By the way, _____ took a fit in the pillbox that night. He was a mess. Took two of us to hold him down and he was throwing up all over - what a mess. He finally came out of it. You know, Shafto, I could not give up all that. Am taking a double shot of Four Roses now in remembrance of our many good times together ... Hope to have some more as soon as time permits. How about it, old boy? Another thing, your letter sure made me feel good ... Don't stop writing.
PS: Excuse writing as I am nervous as hell. Don't forget our reunion in New York City. Could never find out anything about McGuiness. I guess he is done for, may God bless him, sure was a good sport and a damn good soldier."
During these operations, Lieutenant Colonel Martin, the battalion commander, and Major John R. Dossenbach, the executive officer, were both wounded while working forward to check on the progress of the attack. Captain Standish, in some unknown manner, made his way from the battle position, through the German line, while in a complete state of shock brough on by days of exhaustive fighting during which he drove himself relentlessly. He was found wandering about in a dazed condition."
The wounded radio operator in the pillbox who had been hit in the stomach was Frederick Balch.
Southern part of St. Wendel barracks which served as a field hospital in World War II.
Short before Christmas 1995 another letter from Bill Balch arrived:
I am overwhelmed with gratitude to you for the material you sent me. The pictures and maps, along with the extract from the 94th Division history presented a clear and detailed view of the events leading to Frederick's death.
The world is so different in 1995 than it was in 1945 ... it has become infinitely smaller. In 1945 I was a young teenager living in a very isolated environment. We depended on radio for news - television which has brought the world into our homes had not yet been developed. Most people travelled by train or bus, and the system of interstate highway's hadn't been developed. Figuratively speakting, Europe was seemingly as far away as Mars or Jupiter.
I point this out only to give you some perspective on our life-style and outlook in those days. The idea that we someday might be able to retrace the route that led him to the end .. that we might actually see those rivers, towns, and hills ... that was something as impossible as landing a man on the moon.
But thanks to your interest in history, and the fate of one fallen soldier, you have given me the opportunity to experience that final journey.
It is still difficult to cope with the loss after all the years that passed. Being able to see the pictures you sent showing specific locations and fitting that in with the narrative of the company history makes it all come alive for me. And I must admit it it somewhat like reading a Greek tragedy - in that although you know the final outcome is a foregone conclusion, you are still hoping for a miracle that isn't to be.
After receiving your material, I also re-read some of Fred's letters written from Europe. Some were from England, some from France, and some from Germany. As you probably know, the overseas mail from the soldiers was by V-Mail ... apparently small photographic copies of the original (I assume that was to conserve space on ships or planes which carried it). There was only about as much as a post-card would contain today. Most of the letters were thanking my folks for sending packages of food (Fred was known for having a big appetite). Of course all mail was censored, so there could be no details about where they were or what they were doing.
There was not a single complaint in those letters about his duties, the weather conditions or anything else. About the only thing that now might be considered a clue as to where he was was the mention of being in a house that was cold and that he was cooking some meath there. He also mentioned being issued a snow-pac - which I assume would be winter clothing or shoes. So that was probably written from Germany.
Of course it is difficult for me to conceive of the horrors that the war inflicted on your country. Just as we lost a loved one, I'm sure you have older relatives who experienced the same grief of loved ones lost in battle. But additionally your people suffered the physical damage to their homes and towns that resulted from the bombs and battles on your soil.
It was a sad chapter in history, and certainly a tragic loss of lives of a generation of young men and women.
I apologize for dredging up my thoughts and recollections that span so many years. But I hope they will help express my appreciation for the extraordinary effort you have made in providing information about Frederick. Without your interest, I would never have learned the answers to a mystery which seem unfathomable.
I sincerly hope that if you visit the U.S. again that you will visit us. We have extra bedrooms in our home, and my wife and I will be delighted to have you as our guest. As I mentioned, the U.S. Military Personnel Records Center is only about five minutes away.
Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year, I remain