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WWII vets remember

December 08, 1998

WW II PanelBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer




World War II veteran Samuel Dixon can remember vividly the scariest time of his military career.

Dixon, just 18, was marching with a few other soldiers in France when they heard the "clop, clop, clop" of the goose-stepping German soldiers.

Frightened but ready to defend his country, he and his buddies scrambled for cover and prepared their guns and grenades.

"We thought it was 50 Germans, when all of a sudden around the bend came a donkey," he said with a laugh.

The incident was one of his more humorous experiences in a war in which he was wounded twice.

Dixon, of Williamsport, and fellow World War II veterans William Diehl and Edwin C. Bearss shared their wartime experiences with the public during a lecture at the Antietam National Battlefield visitor's center on Monday.

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Dixon, a retired gym teacher and coach, said he feels lucky to be among the survivors of the Normandy invasion that claimed so many lives.

He said the American soldiers encountered rough seas and heavy artillery.

"People were killed before they got off the boat. Others drowned because of their heavy equipment," he said.

Dixon said that as he advanced up the beach, a German soldier came toward him with his arms out and palms up.

"I took my first prisoner and I didn't even point my gun," he said.

William Diehl, who served with the 106th U.S. Infantry as a rifleman, also knows the feeling of being a few fighting against many.

Armed with minimal ammunition, Diehl and his company held out for days with no supplies in frigid weather during the Battle of the Bulge.

"We were told to stay where we were until after the holidays," he said.

They learned later that an ammunition supply truck was hit by enemy fire and destroyed.

He remembers the pain of being sprayed by fragments of artillery shells dropped through the trees by German planes.

"If you were hit and it bled it was a shell. If it only stung it was only wood," he said.

Diehl was captured on Dec. 19, 1944.

Their German captors stripped the Americans of their dogtags, watches, rings and family photos.

Diehl said the Germans would take the pictures, hold them in the air and rip them to shreds.

"I've seen men, just married, cry as they watched their pictures of their wives fall in the snow," he said.

After six months, Diehl and several other soldiers escaped and hid in the mountains until the end of the war.

Veteran Edwin C. Bearss, historian emeritus of the National Park Service, served with the 3rd Marine Raider Battalion and the 7th Marines.

He described for the crowd a campaign against the Japanese at New Britain during which he was wounded and watched fellow soldiers die.

Bearss said his company had descended a slope leading to a creek when it encountered enemy soldiers who opened fire on them.

Crawling on his hands and knees, Bearss said he was scared as men were killed and wounded all around him.

He was wounded in both arms, the foot, shoulder, elbow and rear.

In pain, Bearss said he found strength to drag himself to safety.

"I remember that day although it was 55 years ago, like it were yesterday. I lived through it but it changed my life," he said.

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