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Published on 11/08/06 in the Fostoria Focus
‘The war made a man out of a lot of us boys’

Unscathed veteran
Dick Switzer in Germany during World War II. Dick fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a member of Co. H, 395th Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. He made it through the war unharmed and was on his way to Officers Candidate School when the hostilities ended.

Switzer helped US win Battle of the Bulge
Focus Correspondent

On the morning of Dec. 16, 1944, Fostorian Dick Switzer was busy on an important job for the 99th American Infantry Division. He was scouting forward positions for his unit in readiness for action against the German army.
Suddenly, without warning, he found himself in the middle of a German artillery barrage. Western Europe’s greatest battle of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge, had begun.
“The day of the Bulge, a rifle company officer, myself and a driver had gone forward to look for positions to move up to and that’s when all the shelling started,” Dick recalled. “We had an awful time getting back.”
Dick joined the Army in November 1942. He’d graduated from Fostoria High School in 1939 and put in a couple years at the Carbon.
Since he and his wife Phyllis were recently married, Dick decided to wait until he was drafted. He went in with 16 other Fostoria boys.
In Mississippi, Dick’s outfit was trained for jungle fighting in the Pacific, but the Army relieved the 99th of its machetes and other jungle gear and sent it to Europe instead.
Dick went overseas an instrument corporal for a .30 caliber machine gun section.
“An instrument corporal lays out the line of fire,” said Dick. “He has the instruments that you use to figure out the distance the guns have to be set at to reach the target.”
Shortly before the Bulge, Dick’s unit received its baptism under fire.
“Our first engagement was to take a pillbox. We didn’t have any trouble at all. We set up the guns and the rifle company moved in and took it real easy,” he said. “We captured a few Germans. Our training, it paid off. We did the job.”
In the first days of the Bulge, the American forces were taken completely by surprise. In one sector, Hitler’s forces advanced as much as 50 miles.
The 99th had relieved the 1st Division. Some of the guys in the 1st joked that the 99th was going to rest area, that there was nothing going on.
Things started going on very soon.
“The shelling started early and they kept it up and kept it up. There was a lot of confusion,” Dick said. “We didn’t know what was going on.
“We were told the Germans didn’t have that kind of equipment to throw at us. We were more or less figuring on just a clean up action,” he said. “We were scared, of course, but you just go on.”
The 99th was so green that they became known as the “Battle Babies” for their valor during the Bulge. The division overcame its confusion and retreated in good order.
“We fell back as far as Elsenborn. We dug in on Elsenborn Ridge,” Dick said. “We were on the north shoulder. We stopped them from going through to Antwerp.”
During the Battle of the Bulge, Dick was promoted to section chief, a sergeant in command of two .30 caliber machine guns. Each gun crew had two gunners, four ammunition carriers and a jeep driver.
Dick said he was very fortunate.
“I was never hit and I never lost a man. I felt very good about that,” he said.
By February 1945, the Allied armies had won the Battle of the Bulge and were pushing into Germany. Dick’s regiment, the 395th, had taken several small towns.
As they approached another village, Dick went forward with two men from different units, another sergeant and a radio man.
“The three of us got pinned down by sniper fire. I must have hugged the ground awfully hard because both the other two were killed. Finally, a tank came along.
“The guy stuck his head out and asked where the fire was coming from,” Dick said. “I didn’t move much. I pointed. Then ‘ping, ping, ping,’ off the tank.
“So he buttoned up and fired and really blew things up and I got back to my company,” he said.
Dick was one of the first soldiers to cross the famous Ludendorff bridge at Remagen. It was a railroad bridge and combat engineers had placed metal plates on it so vehicles could drive across.
The Germans were bombing and shelling the bridge to try to stop the Americans from using it.
“Because of our guns we had jeeps. We had the guns mounted,” Dick said. “We were lucky their bombsights didn’t correspond with the speed of their new jets. They were missing the bridge by 500 yards or more.
“I think I was more scared crossing that bridge than I was during the Bulge,” he said. “In the Bulge I was so active, taking care of the men and all, but on the bridge we were just driving across and they were firing at us.”
Dick’s section made it across and helped take Remagen. As the war in Europe ended, Dick was on his way to Paris to attend Officers Candidate School.
The Army held other experiences for Dick. One of his comrades was the famous baseball player Hoyt Wilhelm, who pitched in over 1,000 major league games.
A very happy surprise took place when Dick was packing up to move to a new command post. The door opened and who should walk in but Dick’s brother Dan.
Dan was in a tank destroyer outfit and when he ran into the 99th, he kept asking where Dick’s unit was until he found it. It was the first they’d seen of each other in nearly three years.
After the war, Dick returned to the Carbon. After he retired, so he and Phyllis opened a floral supply business. Dick and Phyllis have been married 65 years.
Dick is a charter member of the FHS Athletic Hall of Fame, having been inducted for his many years as timekeeper at local athletic events, a job he took over from his dad, Harold. He served two terms on Fostoria City Council.
Dick made it home from World War II unscathed. The two water-cooled .30 caliber machine guns he was responsible for had a lot to do with that.
He was also enriched by his experiences.
“The war made a man out of a lot of us boys, I think. It gave us a lot of responsibilities,” Dick said.
But a soldier needs a fair share of luck, too. In Dick’s scrapbook is a tiny white sock. It belonged to his daughter Sherrie Ann who was born while Dick was training stateside.
Below the sock, Dick wrote, “This was my lucky piece. I carried this with me all through the war. That was my oldest daughter’s first sock. My good luck piece.”