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Memories descend upon WWII paratrooper in New Berlin

He recalls action in self-published memoirs

In his World War II uniform, Herbert Eggie sits with Alexi, a stalwart companion toward the end of the war.

In his World War II uniform, Herbert Eggie sits with Alexi, a stalwart companion toward the end of the war.

Dec. 2, 2013

New Berlin — The engine of the plane roared as Herbert Eggie and the 20 paratroopers under his command looked down through the open door at the drop zone behind the German lines in World War II Holland.

The pilot had lifted the plane's tail so that the parachutes wouldn't catch on it, but the pilot had still not given the signal to jump. In seconds, Eggie knew the plane would be out of the drop zone and his paratroopers could land right in the midst of the German army.

Seeing the chutes of paratroopers from other planes opening all around below, Eggie made a crucial decision and boldly gave the order to jump. He and his command leaped into the air, ripped by shrapnel from anti-aircraft artillery, but when they reached the ground, they were still in the drop zone.

The strings of his parachute had wrapped tightly around him and he would have been easy prey for a German soldier, but he was freed by a comrade who used his bayonet to cut the strings.

That jump was probably the most harrowing of nearly seven months of combat, Eggie said last week in his New Berlin living room.

With the Dec. 7 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor coming up, Eggie, a retired attorney who has lived in New Berlin for 50 years, doesn't remember where he was when he learned of the attack. But he does remember thinking that his budding law practice in Chattanooga, Tenn., was down the drain.

In his mid-20s, he was prime for being drafted, and he knew it. So, he enlisted first. Wanting to be on the front line of defending his country, he asked for the infantry.

In the thick of it

Pearl Harbor was the start of a long adventure that took him through seven months of combat from the deadly Battle of the Bulge to Hitler's lair at Berchtesgaden.

"I didn't want to sit back and be a clerk," he said, even though he fully realized that death in combat was a "possibility." After first being stuck in a stateside post, he volunteered for the paratroops, virtually a guarantee that he would be in the thick of the fighting.

With the 101st Airborne Division, he was part of the deadly Battle of the Bulge, the costliest action ever fought by the American army. He was part of the desperate American defense of the besieged town of Bastogne in which Lt. Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army, in a famous march, raced to rescue.

Fighting extended into the frozen forests of the Ardennes. Although the German tanks couldn't get through, they fired shells overhead. Those shells exploded and drove shrapnel down into Americans on the ground, to devastating effect, he said.

In addition to the artillery terror, Eggie remembers the terrible cold of the Ardennes that winter.

"More soldiers were incapacitated by frostbite than by enemy fire," Eggie remembered.

Holocaust outrage

But the horror of war was almost dwarfed by the horror he found when he helped to liberate a concentration camp.

"There were hundreds of bodies lying in a row on the ground, they were only skin and bone," he said.

He entered a hut and found survivors in appalling conditions.

"It stunk so bad, I had to get out," he said.

That atrocity so enraged Eggie that he asked if he could shoot the camp's commander. And he meant it.

"I was beside myself," Eggie said. "It was really bad, really bad."

As American troops pushed into Germany, Eggie was among the first Americans at Hitler's mountain residence at Berchtesgaden. But he said he found that the Germans had pretty much cleaned it out before they left.

Recording his history

Eggie has written about all these exploits and more in a self-published book titled "Close Calls and Unforgettables."

"I like to write," Eggie said simply about his motivation to record his experiences in print.

He had just finished his 600-page historical novel about an actual plot to assassinate Joseph Stalin and he was wondering what else he could write about. Eggie decided his war experiences might be of interest, as well.

They are described in a matter-of-fact articulate style that belies the fear that was his constant companion.

— Jane Ford-Stewart


WHAT: Herbert Eggie's book "Close Calls and Unforgettables"

HOW MUCH: $15, plus $2.50 for optional shipping

INFO: (262) 797-8441

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