Kirkpatrick remembers decisive battle in Germany

Published 12:29 pm Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dick Kirkpatrick entered the latter half of World War II, but took part in the Battle of the Bulge, where he earned a Purple Heart.

He began his military career well after the war had started, entering the Army in his native state of Ohio.

“I went in in March of ’43,” he said. “I was inducted in Camp Perry, Ohio. I was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., which was a very large permanent camp.

“While I was going through basic, they sent word out to the different companies on base that they were interviewing soldiers for going to college. What the Army was doing was they were afraid that they were going to run out of engineers, so they were trying to get volunteers or fellows that they felt were qualified to take engineering and send them to college and replenish the engineers that might be lost or needed in the war. I was picked, and I ended up going to Fargo, N.D.

“ I went up there early in the summer of ’43. I was up there for nine months through Christmas. About that time, there was a lot of pressure put on by the media that the Army was spending money to send soldiers to college when all these soldiers were dying in Europe. So, the Army decided to abandon the program, and we were sent out to different units. Even though I had been in the infantry, they sent me to Camp Gruber, Okla., and went through basic again.

“The division I was with there, the 42nd Division, was sent overseas,” he said. “They shipped us off to New York, then they shipped us across the Atlantic. On board ship, our company was selected for KP (kitchen patrol) duty. On the seas, if it was rough at all, everybody was sick. After about three or four days of rough weather, nobody was coming to the meals anyway!”

Once in Europe, Kirkpatrick’s division was assigned to France.

“We ended up in southern France in Marseilles,” he said. “We were sent to an area that was cleared for troops to move in and billet there. We spent about a week there. It was cold and miserable. Then, they sent us up north, and we ended up going around Alsace-Lorraine. We were there for a week or two; we spent Christmas there. They sent us Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.

“Then, they decided to move us out to combat duty, and they moved us to northern Alsace-Lorraine on the southern edge of what they called ‘the Invasion of France.’ What was going on is the Battle of the Bulge developed. We were assigned to the southern part of the battle, near the Ardennes Forest.”

Kirkpatrick was wounded during a battle as German tanks prepared to cross into France.

“Where I was hurt was near a town near the German border called Gamshein, right on the Rhine River,” he said. “We had to take that town so we could move on into Germany. I could see the German tanks on the French side of the Rhine River.

“We were dug in prior to taking this town, but we found out later that an observer from the German army was in a steeple, and he was a spotter for the German army. We just got shelled and shelled and shelled.

“I was out under a tree, and a shell came over and hit the tree and just splattered shrapnel everywhere, and that’s where I got hit. I counted 13 holes in my overcoat! I was taken out and sent to the aid station. I was badly hurt in my hand. That turned out to be fortunate; my trigger finger was incapacitated. In fact, I thought I was going to lose my finger.”

Kirkpatrick was sent to a hospital in southern France, where he was met with good fortune.

“The Lord was with me, because I had a doctor who wasn’t too keen about the war,” he said. “He didn’t believe in sending troops back in after they had been wounded. So, I got reassigned to an ordinance house located in Lyon, France. We were billeted in a slaughterhouse. They told us later that they never did get over into Gamshein. The German tanks coming across the Rhine came and captured a lot of them, I guess.”

From France, Kirkpatrick’s division was ordered to serve in the Pacific War in Japan.

“The word came through that the ordinance outfit was ordered to pack out, and we were going to the Pacific for the war down there,” he said. “We went back to Marseilles and were loaded onto a ship and embarked for Japan.

“After we were out on the high seas for a couple of days, word came through that the Japanese had surrendered. Our ship hadn’t made the Panama Canal yet. Word came that if we had made the Panama Canal, we would have gone on to Japan, but since we didn’t make the Panama Canal, they turned our ship, and we headed into Newport News, Va., and I was discharged from there.”

An honored marksman and recipient of the Purple Heart, Dick Kirkpatrick took part in one of the major battles of World War II.