This is the story of Mr. William Reynolds as told to Ms. Donna Sklar at the Holocaust Memorial Center, Farmington Hills, MI on August 17, 2006.
Mr. Reynolds served in World War II as a PFC in the 548th Artillery Battalion attached to the 102nd Infantry Division in the 3rd Army. He was born in 1923 of Kalamazoo, MI, a child of the Great Depression, and enlisted at the age of 19 in 1943. He and his friend, Wes enlisted together and served in the same outfit for the duration. They were briefly sent to England prior to following the D-Day invasion into Normandy.
As a truck driver he delivered munitions, primarily ammo, dynamite, and 50 caliber machine gun barrels to front line artillery batteries. Lest anyone think that is a relatively safe job, the Luftwaffe made it not so by strafing him, destroying four trucks he was driving. In the fog of war, he found himself behind enemy lines, and had to steal fuel from a German tank to return to friendly territory. (Germans, using captured American trucks were accustomed to seeing vehicles such as his.) PFC Reynolds and his regiment went through France, Belgium and Holland on the way to Germany. He had heard little about the on-going Holocaust until he reached the European mainland, where his command officers kept their troops informed of the atrocities that were occurring. In the course of the allied advance, PFC Reynolds captured seven German POWs, Luftwaffe officers who had no desire to fight on.
He experienced the Nazi’s work of death first hand in Gardelegen, Germany where his battalion discovered a barn filled with smoking, burnt bodies. The barn could hold 2000 souls. It was surrounded by entrenched machine guns, placed to mow down any attempting to escape. PFC Reynolds surmises that the trenches were used as mass graves, bulldozed over to hide the evidence of the massacre. Some were Jewish, all were killed to destroy witnesses who could identify war criminals. PFC Reynolds’ battalion commander, LTC Joseph Oliver, outraged by what he saw, compelled the civilians of the town to dig through the bodies in search of survivors. Only seven were rescued. (The Nazis were correct in that these survivors became were witnesses at the Nuremberg trials.) His outfit could not stop to properly dispose of the many bodies as the front pressed forward, but all left thinking and feeling that they would rather encounter a German machine gun nest rather than the grisly scene they had just left.
As the 9th Army moved eastward, German civilians offered no resistance and Nazi soldiers moved westward, preferring to surrender to Americans rather than Russians to the east. The 9th army had been halted by Roosevelt and Churchill to allow the Russians to capture what was left of Berlin.
PFC Reynolds, and his friend Wes, safely returned to the US, men and veterans, rescuers and witnesses. He met and married Marge, his wife now of 60 years, siring six children, 12 grandchildren, and many great grandchildren. He hopes those who were not there are convinced that the Holocaust happened, unlike some of those he encountered in the US after the war. He hopes that it will never happen again.