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Friday, November 04, 2011

Rambling about my father

My father, Charley Wyle, is in the hospital again, with a recurrent gastrointestinal problem, and I feel like recounting some of his war stories, what with Veterans' Day coming up. I'll probably post others when the mood takes me. There are plenty to tell.

My father and his immediate family escaped Nazi Germany when he was about 15. They spent a year or so in Palestine waiting for their U.S. visa to be in effect, and then came to New York. Once this country entered the war, my father and his next-youngest brother Bert wanted to enlist, but they were viewed as German nationals, absurdly enough, and had trouble doing so. Eventually they finagled their way into the army. Bert became a medic with a glider company. (I use the term "company" without being at all sure it's the right one. I have only the vaguest notion of what constitutes a platoon, company, or any other military unit.) My dad ended up in the infantry.

Since he was 5'6" and scrawny, they gave him the largest available rifle. I believe it was a grenade launcher. As he had no sense of direction, they made him a scout.

A stubborn democratic idealist, he took great exception to the custom of having enlisted men used as servants in the officer's mess. He was almost court-martialed. After a painful personal struggle, he conceded, but he was never reconciled to the idea.

It was in the army that my father first met someone who convinced him that he had a fine mind and should do something with it after the war. His friend "Doc" was older, and well educated. Doc was killed by a mine or bomb that exploded just next to my father. My father had only minor injuries, enough to earn him a Purple Heart.

My father's unit helped to liberate Dachau. They were there early enough that German concentration camp staff seen dead in the well-known photos were still alive. Some of Dad's comrades in arms gave pistols to the prisoners and told them to do whatever came naturally.

Late in the war, when a few German soldiers here and there were just starting to surrender, my father and two other soldiers got separated from their unit and stumbled on a German company(?), about 200 strong. As they hid behind trees, one of the others suggested they start shooting. My father strongly disagreed, pointing out that they would be immediately slaughtered. Instead, he stood up and shouted in German that the Germans were surrounded, and that their only possible chance of surviving the day was to surrender and lay down their arms. They did. Three American soldiers herded 200 prisoners back and presented them to their second lieutenant. The lieutenant asked my father if he thought he could do it again. Dad said he could try. He was sent on several missions to talk Germans into surrendering, and succeeded. The lieutenant got a Silver Star. My dad got bupkes. But he knows what he accomplished.

That's all for now.


MzHartz said...

Wow, great stories! Your father is a brave man.

Danusha Goska said...

Fantastic stuff! Thank you for sharing your dad's amazing stories!