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Pa. men are two of a kind

September 28, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Two Bill Diehls were born in Greencastle in the summer of 1924.

The two Bill Diehls, who are not related, graduated from Greencastle High School in June 1942 and joined the Army in April 1943.

Two Diehls took basic and advanced training at the same time at the same bases in Arkansas and Texas. They shared the same hut. Their Army serial numbers differed by only one number.

Two Bill Diehls were sent to Europe in 1944 and ended up fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.

William A. was captured and became a German prisoner of war. William E. was reported missing in action for three weeks.

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Both survived the war and came home to Greencastle to marry, raise families and live.

One day last week, they were reminiscing in William E.'s living room on Williamson Road. William A. lives on Pensinger Road.

They had no explanation for the coincidences that have interwined their lives for more than 74 years.

"What he done, I done," said William E.

They were in a class of 16 boys and 35 girls in the Class of 1942. Those still in the area meet once a month at a local restaurant for a breakfast get-together. The two said they always go.

Both had afflictions that could have kept them out of the Army, but they insisted on joining. "Everybody else was going," said William A. His left leg dragged a little. "I told the man (recruiter) that I can do anything anybody else can do," he said. "They let me join, but they stamped my papers `Not fit for infantry duty'," he said.

A Veterans Administration doctor after the war told him that he had polio as a child.

William E. was told he had a punctured ear drum. "I said I didn't care, that I wanted to go," he said.

Both were sent to Camp Joseph T. Robison in Little Rock, Ark., for 16 weeks of basic training, then to Camp Fannin in Texas for advanced training.

They parted company there in December 1943 and would not see each other again until both returned home after VE Day.

William A. was sent to Camp Blanding in Florida as a clerk typist. He was promised a promotion and when it didn't come after several months, he raised cain with his lieutenant, he said. "The next day, I was headed for Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. I was back in the infantry."

He went next to Camp Atterbury in Indiana and the 106th Division. He was a rifleman in the 423rd Infantry Regiment. In October 1944, his unit boarded the Queen Elizabeth for Europe.

Everything was on the line in Belgium on Dec. 12, 1944.

"We were given two clips of ammunition and told to wait until after Christmas for the push into Germany," he said.

Two days later, the Germans opened the Battle of the Bulge and his entire unit of 7,000 men was captured.

William A. said it was the third biggest capture of American troops since Stonewall Jackson captured 12,000 Union soldiers at Harpers Ferry in 1862 and the American surrender in Bataan in 1942.

He was sent to a POW camp in East Germany and escaped in early May 1945 a few days before the German surrender. He was back home in July.

William E. left Camp Texas in early 1944, was assigned to a replacement unit in the 28th Division and went to Europe on a troop ship.

He was a mail clerk in Luxembourg delivering Christmas packages to the front lines when the Battle of the Bulge began. He was given a rifle and put on the line in a small village. He ended up missing in action.

The Echo Pilot, Greencastle's weekly newspaper, reported that the "two Diehl boys" were missing, adding that there may be a mixup in the names. The Army sent telegrams to both families. William E. returned to his unit after three weeks on Jan. 25. The local newspaper reported that he was safe. He came home on Aug. 3, four days before VJ Day.

William E. and his wife, Mary, have one daughter. William A. and his wife, Anna Lee, have two daughters and a son.

William E. returned to the family salvage business. William A. returned to his job with an aggregate company, a career he stayed in until retirement.

"We've been friends for these years," said William E. "We go to sales (auctions) together," said William A.

"We get each others' mail," said William A. "I keep his checks," said William E.

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