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Published on 04/23/06 in the Fostoria Focus
Bob Walter’s WWII experience told in national magazine
By LEONARD SKONECKI
Focus Correspondent

Fostorian Bob Walter did not enjoy a typical Christmas in 1944. He exchanged no gifts with anyone. What he exchanged was gunfire with German soldiers.
Bob fought in the Battle of the Bulge of World War II on the Western Front. Bob’s experiences are the subject of a feature article in the March 2006 issue of “World War II,” a monthly magazine devoted to the history of the conflict.
Bob was a member of the 393rd Regiment of the 99th Infantry Division. The 99th was a fairly inexperienced unit when it assumed its position in the front line in November 1944.
It wasn’t long before the Germans attacked in force. Then the 99th, known as the “Battle Babies,” got plenty experienced in hurry up time.
On Dec. 16, the Germans launched the assault that become known as the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s gamble to capture the vital port city of Antwerp, split the American and British forces and break up the Allied offensive in the West.
During the battle and its aftermath, Bob came eyeball to eyeball with German tanks, was wounded twice and had a comrade killed right next to him.
On Dec. 16, Bob, a technical sergeant, was ordered to take his platoon and “clean out” a few German soldiers who had infiltrated the regiment’s kitchen area.
It wasn’t just a few infiltrators. It was the first wave of the German onslaught. Soon Bob and his men heard firing coming from all directions. Standing was dangerous; they hit the ground.
A young private named Snow crawled up next to Bob and asked if he could stay next to him. He thought Bob seemed lucky. Bob said sure.
Moments later, Bob turned to say something to Snow. But Snow was dead. He’d taken a German bullet between the eyes.
“I had not even felt him twitch,” Bob told the “World War II” writer.
Bob and his men were quickly cut off. Soon they encountered a new threat — German tanks.
With no weapons to combat the Panzers, Bob’s platoon hid in the woods next to a road and warily eyed the Nazi armor as it rumbled west.
“I was so close that, had I had one, I could have touched the armored giants with a fishing rod as they passed,” Bob recounted in his magazine story.
Eventually, Bob was able to get his platoon back to the American lines. Nonetheless, the Americans were pushed back until Bob found himself manning a foxhole in Belgium at a place called Elsenborn Ridge.
On Dec. 20, the German 6th Panzer Army paid a call. At 9 and 11 in the morning and at 5:30 in the afternoon, Elsenborn Ridge was hammered with fire from artillery, tanks and self-propelled guns.
Bob got another good look at German tanks as several of them advanced to within 60 yards of his unit’s foxholes. They called in to direct American artillery fire on their own position to take the tanks out.
Bob hadn’t suffered any injury in the battle so far. That changed on Christmas Day.
“I was just letting myself down into my foxhole. Most of my body was down in, but my hands were still out. There was a tree burst. The shrapnel tore the back of my hand.”
Bob hustled back to the battalion aid station for treatment. He got patched up and returned immediately to the front.
The Allies stemmed the German tide and in January began pushing the Germans back. The war came to an end for Bob in February 1945.
His unit was returning from a night patrol. Bob was riding on the fender of a jeep when it collided in the dark with a second jeep, pinning his legs between the two vehicles.
He lost the feeling in his legs and wondered if they’d been cut off. A medic told him his legs were still there.
Two days later, Bob was in Paris. Then it was on to England.
There is no record of Bob’s shrapnel wound so he never received a Purple Heart. The scar on his hand is a six-decade-old reminder of Christmas 1944.
Bob worked with writer Jay Marquart of Bluffton on the “World War II” article. Jay had written a number of articles for “World War II.”
He wrote an article about Fostoria native Lloyd Fisher. That article mentioned Bob so Bob contacted Jay and they began their collaboration.
In an E-mail, Jay said, “I’m glad to hear Bob is going to receive additional coverage for the article. He’s a great guy and deserves it.”
Bob was surprised by the response to the article. He’s received letters and phone calls from Virginia, Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania and Kansas.
Of course, lots of Bob’s Fostoria friends stopped by Readmore to buy a copy of the magazine, too.
“I’m amazed,” he said. “I was amazed they made it a feature article. I didn’t expect something like that.”
Bob also got another call that he said “kind of floored me.” The folks at the History Channel read the article and want to interview Bob for a documentary they are making on the Battle of the Bulge. Bob will meet with representatives from the History Channel in Columbus soon.
When asked what he remembers most about the Bulge, Bob says he wonders “how did any of us get out of there?”
With courage and determination, Bob and others like him did “get out” and lived to tell the story of what happened. It’s a story well worth reading.
(These and other of Bob’s experiences are recounted in “Baptism of Fire in the Bulge,” “World War II,” March 2006.)


 

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