This photograph has haunted me my entire life. If you know anyone from France, Germany or Austria, or the US Army 65th Infantry, please share this story with them on any social media you choose.
My father served during World War II, and he brought home many photographs and even more stories, most of them outlandish. Due to his lifelong battle with alcohol, I never knew him. All I was left with was his photo album and those few stories that have managed to trickle down to me over the years.
Needless to say, I was very obsessed with the entire photo album. But of all the pictures in it, the one that has always fascinated me the most was this one of a little boy in a uniform, sitting on a jeep. Who was this child? Why was he there? What became of him?
The story that was passed down to me was that he was a German boy that the company sort of adopted as a mascot, and that he was killed by the Germans, which made my father so angry he then killed all the Germans he could.
There are several problems with this story. The main one being that when my father’s company was breaking through the Siegfried Line, they were in no one place in Germany long enough to develop a relationship with a child.
Let’s follow his company’s path, and then I’ll give you some of my theories. I’d love it if someone could provide me with more pieces of this puzzle
The year was 1945, and my father was in the United States Army, 65th Infantry Division; 1st Battalion; 261st Infantry Regiment; Company C; 2nd Platoon; 1st squad.
- The division arrived at Le Havre, France on January 22, 1945. They were stationed in Camp Lucky Strike.
- They departed Camp Lucky Strike from February 25 – March 1, 1945
- From there they went to Ennery, Moselle, France on March 3rd.
- By March 7th, they saw their first combat in Boulay-Moselle, France.
- In March 17th, they were in Villing, Moselle, France
- They breached Siegfried Line, March 17-19.
- On March 20th, they were in Saarlautern and Reisweiler, Saarland, Germany.
- On March 21, they had reached Neunkirchen, Saarland, Germany.
- On March 27th, they were in Rockenhausen, Pfalz, Germany.
- On March 28th, they were in Schwabenheim, Hessen, Germany.
- They crossed the Rhine, March 29-30, 1945.
- On March 31, they were in Laubach, Hessen-Nassau, Germany.
- By April 1st, they had reached Hattenbach, Hessen-Nassau, Germany.
- On April 2nd, they were in Ersrode, Hessen-Nassau, Germany.
- On April 3rd they were in Berneberg, Kurhessen, Germany.
- They fought to secure the Mulhausen-Langensalza Line from April 4-6, 1945.
- On April 5th, they were in Treffurt, Thuringia, Germany.
- The fought the Battle of Struth, on April 7.
- On April 9 they were in Berka, Thuringia, Germany.
- On April 12, they were in Waltershausen, Bavaria, Germany.
- By April 14, they arrived in Arnstadt, Bavaria, Germany.
- April 17th found them in Breitengussbach, Bavaria, Germany.
- On April 20th, they arrived in Altdorf, Bavaria, Germany
- They fought the Battle for Neumarkt, April 20-22, 1945.
- On April 23, they were in Velburg, Bavaria, Germany.
- On April 24, they were in Deuerling, Bavaria, Germany.
- They crossed Danube to capture the sector at Regensburg, April 25-26th.
- On April 275h, they were in Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany.
- On May 1st, they were in Platting, Bavaria, Germany.
- On May 2nd, they were in Furstenzell, Bavaria, Germany.
- May 3rd found them in Neuhaus, Bavaria, Germany.
- On May 4th, they crossed over to Austria, and were in Scharding and Raab, in the Ober-Oesterreich region.
- On May 5th, 1945 they were in Linz, Ober-Oesterreich, Austria, and also helped to liberate the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. (This experience, more than any other, forever changed my father.)
- The Germans surrendered unconditionally on May 8, 1945, and they met with a company of the Soviet 7th Guard Parachute Division.
- The division remained in Austria until disbanded on August 31, 1945 in Enns River, Austria
What I get from this grueling itinerary is that my father’s company moved through Germany pretty quickly. I find it hard to believe he met the child during that time of heavy combat. Here are some theories I have about the encounter.
- My father was in the Le Havre area of France for over a month. He may have met the child there. If so, this child could not have been killed by the Germans while my father was there as they had yet to see combat.
- He was in Austria for almost 4 months. Perhaps he met this child there. If so, again, the child could not have been killed by the Germans, as they had already surrendered.
- What do the numbers on the jeep’s license plate mean? And what do the symbols on the uniform mean? These could provide clues.
- Obviously this kid was well liked or they would not have taken the time to fit him out with a uniform. You don’t rustle up spare uniforms and sew those impossibly high hems on a pair of pants for someone you only know for a day or two.
- I doubt he came from the concentration camp in Austria. He looks too well fed.
So what became of this child? Here are some of my thoughts.
- Perhaps he was in a neighboring village and hung out with them during the day, going home to his mother at night. I hope so.
- Perhaps he was orphaned and they did actually take him in. If so, when they left the area, any number of things could have happened.
Maybe he was left with some volunteer organization, but I suspect that regardless of the location, there were not many organizations up and running at the time. As with disasters these days, there’s a substantial lag before these groups gain a foothold. But who knows? Maybe the Red Cross took him.
But what I strongly suspect and fear is that this poor child was an Austrian orphan that they took in as if he were some sort of pet, and when it came time to ship out, each soldier looked at the others and said, “I can’t take him. You take him.” Faced with overwhelming amounts of paperwork, and anxious to get home to wives and sweethearts and start their lives again, they drove away, leaving him standing on the side of the road, amongst the devastation.
That image breaks my heart. I look into this child’s eyes and I long to know more. If he survived the war, he would be about 75 by now, so time has all but run out, and I fear I’ll never have closure on this story.
If you can fill in any of the blanks, please let me know. Thank you!