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World War II Veteran: John Phillips

posted on April 9, 2006 at 7:08 PM

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Born: 1923
Reason for entering military service: Phillips, a Waterloo native, enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
Assigned: Initially assigned to Army Air Corps but was reassigned to Company E, 424th Infantry Regiment, 106 Infantry Division.
Rank: First Lieutenant


"Suddenly we had walked into a German ambush. They were behind us. They were around us. They were in the trees. They were in the bushes. They were firing from every direction..."

Background:

In January of 1945, 22 year-old John Phillips of Waterloo was part of a group of replacement troops sent to the 106th Infantry Division fighting the Battle of the Bulge. After taking the town of Medell, Belgium, Phillips took a small group of men just beyond where most of his unit was camped. There, he began directing the placement of two machine guns to protect against a German counterattack. Phillips was captured, sent to a front-line German field hospital for surgery, and then forced to walk 15 miles to a prison camp near Koblenz, Germany.


Transcript

In January of 1945, 22 year-old John Phillips of Waterloo was part of a group of replacement troops sent to the 106th Infantry Division fighting the Battle of the Bulge.

(John Phillips) The winter of 1944 and '45 in Europe was one of the worst winters they have ever had. It was bitterly cold, there was snow up to our knees and our hips, and we were—for 24 days we were on the attack and never once got inside. We were sleeping in fox holes. And we had not been issued Winter foot wear, so we were losing as many men with frozen feet and frozen ankles and frozen legs as we were from enemy gun fire.

First Lieutenant Philips, who had just become the executive officer for Company E of the 424th Infantry Regiment, had spent the last 24 days pushing the German troops back to where the battle had begun. After taking the town of Medell, Belgium, Phillips took a small group of men just beyond where most of his unit was camped. There, he began directing the placement of two machine guns to protect against a German counterattack.

(John Phillips) Suddenly we had walked into a German ambush. They were behind us. They were around us. They were in the trees. They were in the bushes. They were firing from every direction, and I got hit five times, three times in the stomach, once shattered my left bicep, and once in this bible. The fifth bullet was lodged in the bible, and that probably was the one that saved my life that day.

Phillips was captured, sent to a front-line German field hospital for surgery, and then forced to walk 15 miles to a prison camp near Koblenz, Germany.

(John Phillips) The worst thing they did was to hold the pistol to my head and tell me, "you know, we can shoot you at this point and nobody will ever know what happened to you." And that was actually our worst fear that they would do this, because nobody knew where I was and they could have shot me and buried me and nobody ever would have known what happened to me.

After five days, and still suffering from his wounds, Phillips was loaded into a crowded boxcar and sent to Hammelburg, Germany. He was still wearing the same bullet riddled uniform. When Phillips arrived, he joined 1500 other officers being held in one area of the camp. With no tasks or odd jobs to perform, the time passed slowly. Most meals totaled 500 calories and included weak coffee, a grass based soup, and black bread made mostly from sawdust.

(John Phillips) The morale was terribly low. Everybody was—they were sick and—about all they did, 1,500—can you imagine, 1,500 American officers sitting around all day long and most of the time they were making up recipes and menus, because they were all going to start restaurants when they got back because they wanted to have a lot of food around.

Tags: battlefront Belgium education European Union Germany history Iowa military prisoners of war veterans war water Waterloo winter World War II