A GI’s Story: Pfc Willard H. Keeber’s Military Service – Part 5

The Morning Report for Company G on December 30, 1944, when the company records could finally be updated following all the chaos of the preceding weeks lists that M1 and 17 other soldiers of the company were presumed to be MIA on various dates from the start of the German offensive on December 16, 1944. The record reports M1 and 6 other men of the company MIA as of December 26, 1944 – 7 days after they actually went missing – and dropped them together from the duty assignments as of December 29, 1944. The 6 other men listed MIA with M1 for December 26, 1944 are Sgt Joseph Dallman, Pfc Jack Heimenz (who was transferred to the 106th from the 104th with Willie back in September 1944), Pvt James Keen, and Pvt Aloysious Scheuplien (the drafted green card holder from Danzig who – we assume – was the soldier mentioned in Floyd Ragsdale’s recollections that spoke excellent German and convinced the German soldiers pinned down in the field on the first day of the offensive to surrender or be killed), Pfc Charlie E. Sam, and Pfc John R. Forehand Jr.

Also on the December 30, 1944 list of 17 MIA soldiers is Pfc Donald Schultz listed MIA as of December 16, 1944. Though his status was never corrected in the Morning Reports for G Co, we know Donald was killed in action in the early morning hours of December 17, 1944 as reported in Floyd Ragsdale’s recollection. It is unknown when Donald’s remains were recovered and identified, nor when his family was eventually notified of his death. Donald Schultz is buried at Henri-Chapelle Cemetery with a date of death listed as December 16, 1944. I can only imagine his family’s sorrow over Donald’s death was increased by the time lag between his death and the notice the eventually received.

2nd Ba

The G Company Morning Report for the 7 men reported MIA as of December 26, 1944 were later updated on January 4, 1945 to indicate 5 soldiers – Dallman, Heimens, Keeber, Keen, and Scheuplein – were all found on December 26, 1944 and moved into medical care for “non-battle” connected “foot conditions”. Pfc Jack Heimenz and M1 went to the 649th Clearing Station. Bill’s later recollections were that he was later moved to Liege, Belgium, about 30 miles behind the front, and received treatment at a hospital in a converted school building. Sgt Joseph Dallman, Pvt James Keen, and Pvt Aloysous Scheuplein were sent to the 102nd Evacuation Hospital located in Ettlebruk, Luxembourg (North of the city of Luxembourg).

Based on Bill’s recollection that he was MIA and wandering the woods with 8-10 other GI’s, Carl Wouters, 106th Infantry Division Historian in Belgium, thinks it’s probable that the 5 men listed on the Company G Morning Reports as missing and recovered on the same dates (Dallman, Heimens, Keeber, Keen, and Scheuplein) were together during that time. The remaining 3-5 GI’s would likely have been from other companies of the 424th or perhaps from the remnants of the Bloody Bucket Division posted in Luxembourg or the 422nd or 423rd Regiments that had made their way to the 424th positions near Berg-Reuland, Belgium by late in the day December 19, 1944 and before the order to move out to Commanster, Belgium.

Sadly, on January 13, 1945 the Morning Report record was corrected to show the last 2 unaccounted men listed MIA on the Morning Report of December 30, 1944 – Pfc Sam and Pfc Forehand – were both Killed in Action in Belgium on December 26, 1944.

The 331st Medical Battalion was attached to the 106th Infantry Division for the duration of the War. Medical Battalions had their own organization including a Headquarters, 3 Collecting Companies (designated “A”, “B” & “C”) and a Clearing Company (designated “D”). When a soldier was sick or wounded he went himself or was taken by a medic or litter bearer to the Aid Station located about a mile behind the front line. The Aid Station stabilized the soldier, bandaged him up, and may have provided morphine or plasma. The soldier was then transported to a Collecting Company about 2 miles from the front by jeep or ambulance. At the Collecting Company, the soldier’s needs were determined, further stabilized as necessary, and sent on to a Clearing Company via ambulance or jeep. The Clearing Company located 4-10 miles behind the front line did triage to determine the best place for additional treatment, and provided necessary treatment to save lives and stabilize the patient up to and including surgery, and moved the soldier further back behind lines for additional treatment at either a Mobile (Field or Evacuation) or Fixed (General or Convalescent) Hospital. Evacuation Hospitals were intended for less serious cases where the men could be treated and returned to the front. Field Hospitals were capable of difficult and emergency surgery, so they were intended for more seriously wounded GI’s.

evacSmall

Upon crossing the Rencheux bridge on December 23, 1944 M1 was likely treated at an Aid Station first, then sent back to a Collecting Station where they were triaged and moved to the 649th Clearing Station before he was sent on for treatment for trench foot on December 26, 1944 likely at a Mobile Hospital that had formerly been school in Liege, Belgium (since Liege was regularly being bombed with German buzz-bombs the hospital would have needed to retain mobility in case it was hit).

M1 thought the hospital was a wonderful place! He was under a roof, warm, and dry for the first time since he arrived on the Continent 23 days earlier. He had a cot to sleep on with plenty of nice warm blankets and he was allowed to sleep as much and as long as he wanted. It was also the first time he was given three regular meals daily since the start of the Bulge 10 days earlier. Bill fondly recalled the food was good and the nurses even brought a cart around the ward with snacks between meals. While the opportunity to sleep was wonderful M1 never let it interfere with meal or snack times!

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WWII Hospital Ward

nurse and soldier

Trench foot is caused by extended exposure to damp unsanitary and cold conditions and often suffered by Infantry soldiers. It causes the exposed area (most often the feet) to turn red or blue, swell and be numb prior to treatment. The affected area can become extremely painful and resistant to pain relief during treatment. There may also be ulcerations or open sores. The treatment includes rest, elevating the affected area, massage, and careful monitoring to prevent infection in any open sores that could lead to gangrene, which could result in amputation. Patients treated for trench foot often have such sever pain as circulation returns to the affected area that even the weight of sheets causes extreme distress. Walking would be unbearable. Even well-treated with full recovery in the short term, trench foot can lead to long term complications including sensitivity to cold, impaired circulation, and vascular damage.

The record of M1’s hospitalization doesn’t include anything more than dates and diagnosis, so we cannot now know the treatment provided or the severity of his pain or discomfort during that month in the hospital. Bill later said he was told by a physician at the hospital to never let his feet get cold and wet again, to carry extra socks in his pockets, and that he’d never be able to have a career that involved work out-of-doors when he eventually returned to civilian life. He was admonished to take good care of his shoes and feet for the rest of his life or risk further complications.

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Temporary setup of 25th General Hospital at Liège, Belgium, during January-February 1945. Top Left: Schoolhouse where the organization Headquarters and Administration were temporarily housed. Top Right: Doctors’ and Nurses’ quarters in Liège. Bottom Left: Apartment buildings where the Enlisted Men were temporarily quartered. Bottom Right: Train tracks in the snow, Morlanwez, Belgium.

Trench foot and the treatment must have been sufficiently unpleasant that even much in later life, Bill followed the Doctor’s instructions to the letter. All his life he carried extra socks in his pockets when he had to be outside for any length of time. He also was careful to take good care of his shoes even though he was a research scientist and later corporate executive working indoors. Every Sunday when he was not traveling he’d take out his shoe shine box and go through a ritual of care for each pair of shoes, making sure they had adequate waterproofing and put them on stretchers to ensure they fit properly. He never wore the same shoes 2 days in a row. On camping trips and fly-in fishing trips to Canada where he spent a lot of time outside in wet conditions on small watercraft he carefully cared for his feet, socks and footgear each night.

Later in life poor circulation from trench foot ultimately damaged the veins in his legs over time to such an extent Bill was not able to have a triple coronary by-pass because none of the veins in his legs were usable for that procedure. Poor circulation directly resulting from trench foot also caused staph infections serious enough to require hospitalization more than once. On discharge from the military in 1945, Bill was given a disability rating of 5% per foot for trench foot. Due to the increased complications he experienced his rating was increased to 30% per foot after vascular damage was confirmed during the coronary by-pass operation.

While in Liege receiving treatment, Bill recalled that it was not uncommon for German V-1 or buzz bombs to pass overhead and fall elsewhere in Liege. The V-1 bomb was used by Germany against Antwerp and Liege starting on December 16, 1944 concurrently with the start of the Ardennes Offensive and on through the end of January 1945. A total of 7,000 V-1 bombs breached Belgian borders during this time, bound for either Liege or Antwerp. The designation V-1 was shorthand for its full German name; Vengeance Weapon 1. Known as the buzz bomb or doodlebug by the Allies, it was an unmanned jet engine powered aircraft with a steel fuselage and plywood wings with a 2,205-pound bomb payload. Although the buzz bomb was not reliably accurate in either range or target it had the advantage of being less expensive for Germany to produce than the alternatives. The buzz bomb was launched from a distance (in this case from Germany) with the jet engine propelling it to its intended target. The engine would stop when the bomb approached the target and the aircraft would drop in altitude until it ultimately landed and exploded hopefully close to the target. For citizens and soldiers on the ground simply hearing the engine of the buzz bomb as it passed overhead was not a cause for concern. Hearing it’s approach and then the silence of the engine cutting out as it began its descent toward its intended target was indication you may be in its range and had better take cover.

618th Med Clrg Co Belgium 2
618th Medical Clearing Company, Belgium

Bill recalled that the buzz bombs regularly flew over the hospital in Liege. But when the engine cut out, he and everyone in the ward capable of it would roll off his cot and then under it for protection should the bomb happen to fall on the school building. Fortunately, none hit the hospital while M1 was there. Bill said he felt sorry for the soldiers that were not well enough to get under their cots when a buzz bomb was falling, because the “poor slobs had to lie there exposed and wondering if this was the bomb with their number on it.” One has to wonder how much protection a cot would have afforded the boys who were capable of getting under theirs had a bomb landed on the hospital. Perhaps a prime example of doing something – even something not likely very effective – was better than doing nothing.

Bill also told his wife once early in their courtship that after he arrived at the hospital he became acclimated to the sound of buzz bombs overhead and could sleep through them. However, one night the engine cut out and was falling when M1 was awakened by the noise of everyone attempting to get under cots. Disoriented on awakening, M1 thrashed around in his blankets trying to find the trusty M1 he picked up from Donald Schultz in Grosskampenberg – not remembering he was in the hospital. An orderly ran over and tried unsuccessfully to wrestle M1 under his cot. When the orderly realized time was running out before the bomb would land he threw himself on top of M1 on the cot – putting his own body between M1 and any possible incoming shrapnel from the bomb. Fortunately, the bomb landed elsewhere. With the sound of the bomb landing elsewhere in the city, the orderly patted M1 on the arm, got up, and walked away calmly. M1 was never forgot the orderly’s bravery and commitment to protecting his charges.

M1’s medical record shows a total of 31 ineffective days (days not in battle) and a total of 29 hospital days. Since M1 was admitted on December 26, 1944 that means he would have been discharged on January 23, 1945. M1 rejoined G Co on February 7, 1945 when the company was located in Plainevaux, Belgium 84 miles from Liege, 15 days after he was discharged from the hospital. M1 would have likely been sent to a Replacement Depot likely to be refit with uniforms, supplies, and equipment before being returning to combat duty during those 15 days between hospital discharge and rejoining his Company with the 424th Regiment.

During the rest of the war M1 never again saw any of the 8-10 others with whom he was MIA, so we assume he was the only one later returned to the 424th after he treatment. Perhaps the others sent to other Infantry units from the Replacement Depot. Or perhaps their cold injuries were enough worse than M1’s and they were given other duties that kept them out of the cold.

In June 2000 Bill went to the 54th Annual Reunion of 106th Infantry Association in St. Louis, Missouri. There are a few photos in our family archive from the event that show Bill beside Sgt Joseph Dallman. This would have been the first and only contact that can be confirmed between Bill and any of the other soldiers with whom we presume he’d been MIA. When Bill returned home after the reunion he didn’t mention specifically meeting Sgt Dallman again – only that all the other 106th veterans were friendly and welcoming. The Cub publication of the 106th Association after the reunion lists both Bill and Dallman as being from the 424th Division. The photos show both men wearing name-tags which we might guess that listed their Division and Company as they do now at Reuniuons. Did Bill and Dallman recognize each other? Did uncover their history in conversation? This writer cannot imagine that if they didn’t immediately recognize each other that they wouldn’t have compared notes and realized their common experience. Bill went to this reunion without his wife in attendance so since he never mentioned meeting Dallman with his her or other family members we can never be sure what they discussed or shared. After his death, Bill’s wife reached out to Stg Dallman’s daughter in the 2010’s only to learn that Dallman had very recently died a few months earlier. Sgt Dallman’s daughter reported her father had suffered from frostbite while MIA so severe that he was not returned to the front after treatment in 1945 going instead to a clerical position far behind the front lines.

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54th Annual Reunion 106th Infantry Division Association June 2000 St. Louis Missouri              Left to Right: Bill Keeber, Jos Dallman, Geo Geib, Richard Jalemink

Meanwhile, during those 15 days M1 was at the Replacement Depot, G Co had been in Ennal on January 23, 1945, moved to Deidenberg, Belgium on January 26, 1945, and then to Medell, Belgium on January 28, 1945. Then G Co moved to Plainevaux on January 30, 1945. On February 2, 1945 Morning Reports show Floyd was dropped from the duty assignments on January 29, 1944 (along with quite a few other men from Co G). Floyd was sent to the 7th Armored Clearing Station for cold injury to both feet and later transferred to the 96th Evacuation Hospital. In fact, 45 men would be removed from the unit and sent for treatment for frostbite or cold injury between January 3, and about January 27, 1945. For the same period there were 22 sent for treatment for various illnesses, 2 non-battle casualties (unspecified), 10 wounded in action battle casualties, 12 missing in action, 2 killed in action.

Because Floyd was admitted to care he wasn’t there when M1 rejoined the company. They’d been separated since they rejoined the 424th Regiment on the morning of December 19, 1944 after the frightening night they spent with 3 other G Co boys trying to find with their unit after being left behind during the withdrawal from the front line above Grosskampenberg over 6 weeks earlier. We cannot know if Floyd was ever informed of his friend’s whereabouts during those intervening weeks. Was he even aware the friend he knew as Willie was still alive?

The Morning report of February 19, 1945 shows M1 was sent back to the 106th Clearing Station for treatment of Tonsillitis on February 17, 1945. There is no medical record, so he was likely not sent on for treatment and returned to duty from the Clearing Station. According to the February 22, 1945 Morning Report, he was returned to the duty roster on February 21, 1945 – the day before Floyd returned from his own treatment for trench foot on February 22, 1945 from the 96th Evac Hospital.

Having been apart 65 days finally Floyd and Willie/M1 were together again with G Co for the first time since the early morning hours of December 19, 1944. However, Floyd’s memoir never again specifically references Willie after relating the frightening adventure they shared that night before he, Willie and 3 other men of G Co rejoined the 424th in the area near Berg-Reuland. One wonders if they were still able to be friends after all they’d separately been through in the over 2 months they’d been apart.

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WWII 60mm Mortar Men

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