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Interview with Albert M. Hassenzahl [12/18/1998]

Albert M. Hassenzahl:

The date is the 18th of December, 1998. I am Albert Michael Hassenzahl, and the purpose of this recording is to make a record of my military experiences in World War II from early 1942 through 1945, some four years. This tape is made especially for my very good friend, George Gros, G-r-o-s, of New Iberia, Louisiana. George is the son of Sergeant Leroy Buddy Gros of C Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. It's the same company that I was in in World War II.

I am now 78 years of age, and I'm going back to 1941, the fall of 1941, when I was attending the University of Toledo in Toledo, Ohio. And I was in the middle of my junior year when December 7, 1941 came along and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I finished out the semester, and in early February of 1942 I enlisted in the United States Army.

I enlisted as a private and I was ordered to Louisiana at Camp Livingston and took basic training with the 28th Infantry Division which was stationed at Camp Livingston. After completing basic training I found that I qualified for possible officer training school at Fort Benning, Georgia, as an infantry officer. I applied for the school and was accepted and went to Fort Benning, and after 90 days was graduated as a second lieutenant in the infantry.

We were popularly or unpopularly known as 90-day wonders. At this point in time I had an opportunity or rather several opportunities to go to Columbus, Georgia, near Fort Benning, and I noticed the paratroops that were in town. And I noted what excellent appearing soldiers they appeared to be. I investigated the paratroops and I learned something about them and decided that that was the outfit that I wanted to be in.

So after Fort Benning and the infantry school, I put an application in to -- and this as all volunteer at the time -- I put an application in to parachute school, took a physical, and was accepted and spent four rugged weeks undergoing training. There were four stages, A, B, C, and D. A stage, A stage was strictly physical. It was a one week of washout, the weak people that couldn't make the grade were washed out before they got a chance to go on to B stage. B stage was on mock towers, and we learned hand-to-hand combat and judo, plus how to tumble and recover, all the other various practices that we had at the time. C stage was up on the towers. And at that point we were hauled up on the 250-foot tower with an open parachute that could be released at the top of the tower.

And the Monday morning that our class made this formation, we had to make of course free jumps off of those towers when the chute was released. But when we assembled and started our morning training, a strong wind came across the field, and I happened to be number three in the line to go up. Everyone stood at exaggerated attention before he went into his little scenario, and wouldn't you know that the first guy up came down with his chute open and broke his leg with that strong wind. The second guy went up and he came down and broke an ankle. And I was the third man up. I went up and came down, and everything was fine until just before I hit the ground, and a strong, strong gust of wind caught me and swung me at a sharp angle to the ground and slammed me down on my right knee.

That's my old football injury knee, and again wouldn't you know it was the same knee that contacted the ground first. So I spent a good six weeks on physical therapy before they let me go back and complete C stage some month, about six weeks later.

But I did, and completed C stage. And then D stage was the last stage where you go up in an airplane and make five practice jumps to earn your wings, and that must have been sometime, oh, in November. This was accomplished, and I was the recipient of a pair of silver wings, and I was a bona fide paratrooper from this point on.

We then spent, oh, some weeks in an assignment pool, and I finally learned that I, along with several other officers, were being posted to the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. It's a regiment which was formed late the previous year and was still undergoing training. So we went to the 506th sometime in December of 1942 and/or early in 1943. And then I found myself pulling duty as an umpire doing Tennessee maneuvers. This went on for some six weeks.

When the maneuvers were over I came back with several other people that were assigned with me, and came back to C Company again. And we were still getting replacements and equipment, and finally we got on trains and went to New York to the port of embarkation and boarded a British troop ship called the Samaria. That must have been early February of '43. And we spent some ten days or two weeks in a slow moving convey crossing the Atlantic Ocean, perhaps it was a little less than that. Finally we came into Portsmith, England, and spread across southeast England to various points where we had camps. And there we stayed in England, and we had training exercises almost continuously from late February or early March of 1943 all the way up almost to D day, June 6, 1944.

We had a lot of fun too, though. We'd get weekend passes to London, and London was a fun city for a GI in those days. There's lot of stories that could be told about London, George, but I'm going to pass those up and go on to D Day. I think that probably would be a little more of interest to you, so let's discuss that a little bit.

Incidentally, the Samaria, the ship that we came over to England on, was sunk several months later in the Mediterranean and all hands on it were lost. So we were lucky in that respect.

One more story, George, about our time in England before we went into Normandy on D Day, and I think it's a funny story that should be repeated. Our first company commander was Knute Rodstein. I wish you could have known him. He was a tall, six foot three Norwegian, and he was a noncommittal, silent type of guy, but with a tremendous sense of humor. So one Saturday morning C Company had an inspection by our battalion commander who was Lt. Colonel Turner, who was a young officer, a graduate from West Point, and he conducted the inspection of our company on this particular Saturday morning. C Company was detached from the battalion and we were stationed at a manor house on the outskirts of a small village called Ramsbury, R-a-m-s-b-u-r-y, Ramsbury, England.

It was a little place with thatched roofs in the houses, and it was a very picturesque little English village. And that was a short distance away, perhaps several miles, from the battalion CP, CP of course being our battalion command post and the rest of the companies that were in the battalion.

At any rate, in the courtyard where we had our Saturday morning inspection, on this particular Saturday morning Colonel Turner would always have one particular item that he'd pick on, and this particular morning it was the angle of your hat or your cap, your overseas cap. So before he started the inspection he took off his cap and then he started to put it back on again and he commenced the routine of checking each rank of the troops.

But when he put his hat on, he put it on backwards. And Joe Reed, our first sergeant, who was later commissioned in Normandy -- and you know him, of course, and my good friend to this day -- started to say something. Rodstein, our company commander, poked in the ribs, shut up, a silent shut up, so Joe, being the first sergeant, he did what he was told.

So rank by rank and man by man Colonel Turner made all of his little half corrections up and down the line through the three platoons in the company headquarters unit, and finally stood to one side of the company. And then, then, George, at that inopportune moment Rodstein, Capt. Rodstein, chose to tell Colonel Turner that he had his own hat on backwards.

Well, if you have ever seen a livid senior officer, Colonel Turner climbed up one side and down the other of Capt. Rodstein, and I can remember to this day how red-faced he was. He was a little guy, a little short fellow about five foot five, and in his typical Georgia accent he said, "Goddamn you, Rodstein, you knew my cap was on wrong, didn't you? I'm going to get you for this."

And of course that remained one of the funniest stories of all times. I got to tell this, though, Colonel Turner was killed D plus two in Normandy, but he was a respected and brave and tough commander.

Now, George, a few days before D Day we left our camp in Ramsbury and we went to a staging area that was cordoned off just before, just before June 6, D Day, which was D Day of course. And the day before that was the 5th.

The day before we jumped holds a special memory for me, June 5, 1944. Along in the afternoon we were called to assemble, and General Eisenhower, Ike, and Winston Churchhill and a party of senior officers arrived at our staging area and they inspected the troops in our outfit, the paratroopers that were about to make the jump the next morning across the channel and into Normandy.

And I just happened to be in one of the ranks with Ike and General Eisenhower, and Churchhill came down. I'll never forget how when Ike came down our rank, he paused in front of me for an instant and he winked, he winked at me and he said, "Good luck, soldier." And that's stayed with me all of this time.

We took off in our assigned C47, and we were loaded down with equipment of course, and we took off in the late evening and flew for several hours in big circles until the planes got in formation for the flight across the channel, which only took a comparatively short time. I might say at this point, too, that all the noncoms and officers in our battalion and in our company were given leg packs to jump. These leg packs contained ammunition or supplies or whatever else, and they weighed 30 to 40 pounds in addition to all of the other gear that we had on us.

And they strapped to our right leg with a 15-foot rope attached, with a quick release on our parachute harness. We had never jumped these bags before, and we got a quick few words of instruction on what to do, and that was after we'd get our opening shock from the parachute, we were supposed to pull this quick release on our harness, on our parachute harness, and the theory was that this leg pack would detach itself from our right leg and dangle about 15 foot below us, and when we hit the ground the leg pack of course would hit first, and in theory it was supposed to slow our descent.

Well, it didn't work out that way. I still have the scars on my right three fingers where the rope burned almost to the bone, and I never did see the pack. In addition, we jumped about, oh, 1:30 in the morning, D Day, which was about four and a half hours before the first beach assault forces hit Omaha and Utah beaches. They came in at 6:00 o'clock or shortly thereafter.

When my green light came on, I was the jumpmaster with 17 men in my stick. That was the number of paratroopers that filled up a C47 fully equipped. The plane was full with that number of soldiers in it with all their equipment. Well, I also had to throw a cart loaded with 60-millimeter ammo, a rubber tire cart with a yoke on it. That was the first time we did that too and the door was open. It's a small door on the C47.

When the green little went on to jump I was supposed to throw this cart out. Well, our plane evidently did not slow down to a prescribed 90-mile an hour jump speed because when I attempted to throw that came cart out, the yoke whipped around and got caught in the door. So I fell on my hands and my knees, and with all the strength that I had I was trying to shoulder the darn cart out of the door.

And later on I learned that Sam Smith, Sergeant Sam Smith, and Criska, one of my machine gunners, literally picked me out of the door after the cart because it took three of us to get that damn cart dislodged from hanging up in the door. And of course every second was precious because you're only over a drop zone for a few seconds.

So it seemed like I just an opening shock, hit the ground, and that was it. I was in pitch dark blackness, and I thought that I was the only GI to land on the coast of Normandy, but of course I wasn't.

So after I landed and got my wits about me somewhat, my next job was to get out of the parachute harness. And I found out that that was a pretty difficult thing to do with all the gear that we had strapped on us. And we had the old-fashioned swivel hooks that you had to unhook by hand. Lo, in desperation, I reached down and I was able to get a trench knife, reach a trench knife that I carried in my leg in a holster, and it was razor sharp, and I was able to cut myself out of the chute.

And that's how I got out of the chute, because I had hung up partially in a tree in the middle of the Normandy field that I landed in. Of course we had those earthen hedge rows around all of these comparatively small fields, and so I crawled over to the edge of a hedge row, and this being, oh, about quarter to 2:00 or 2:00 in the morning I finally made a contact with Criska and Walter Gargas, another soldier in my platoon and we started out and we gradually accumulated a few men.

I then ran into our platoon pilot, Bill Pine, 1st Lieutenant Bill Pine, and of course you know Bill. When we had accumulated, oh, a half dozen or so guys we cautiously went down this road and attempted to orient ourselves, because we had been dropped pretty much all over the Cherbourg Peninsula.

It took some time before we were able to determine just where we were. And also many of the road signs were down, so we couldn't use that as any kind of a beacon. In the meantime we ran into a few Krauts and had some minor exchanges of gunfire with them. And very luckily, George, we didn't land in the center of any big Kraut compound, we were on the outskirts of a little place called Ste. Marie Du Mont. You were there, as a matter of fact, last year with your wife.

We found this out later. Some of our men got up hung up in trees. Sergeant Bill Clemens, for example, our operations sergeant was hung up in a tree, and he came right down in a German compound and he swung off the ground, his parachute hanging there, and the Krauts came out and they just riddled him with gunfire.

And Bill Knight, who you know of course, Bill Knight, one of our other men, found him a day or two later and managed to cut him out of the chute and put him in a collecting point so his remains could be taken care of.

D plus 2 or 3, everything was in kind of like a fog in my memory. We were constantly shooting and firing and trying to take cover and trying to kill Krauts. I remember we were in a running fight with some Krauts along a hedge row, and we probably weren't more than 20 or 30 yards away from one another, and we were exchanging gunfire like mad.

And I felt, I think it was D plus 2, I felt a burning sensation in my right side and I just crumpled. The fire fight was pretty quick, and we had killed, we had killed most of the Krauts along the road in this bout, fighting in the ditches, and one of our men, Punchy Zettwich, Z-e-t-t-w-i-c-h, he had been a boxer, an amateur boxer, and he was one of the sergeants in our outfit.

And I still remember Punchy pulling me under cover and taking my big bandage that we all carried, and cut my jacket open, and that's where all the blood was on my right side. And I can remember him saying, "Jesus Christ, Al, I'm going to do the best I can," and he did, the poor guy.

I have a story, George, following on Punchy, a little later on in this scenario. But anyway, Punchy patched me up. And the next thing that I remember, I had lost a lot of blood, of course, by this time, and I remember laying on a stretcher in a courtyard of an old chateau, and the Krauts were throwing mortar rounds on the roof in the courtyard, and roof tiles were dropping down all around us on the ground, and I kept hoping that one of these tiles, one of those tiles wouldn't hit me in the eye. Anyway, our regimental chaplain, Fr. Maloney, came up and he was going to start the Last Rites with me. And I told Fr. Maloney, I says, "Get lost, Goddamn it," he told me this later, I said, "I'm not going to die, cut that crap out."

And he had a half smile on his face and he moved on out. And then I remember Bill Pine, Bill Pine came up and he had heard I had been hit, and he said something to me and I tried to answer him but I couldn't. I could feel a lot of fluid in my throat, I guess it was blood, and I couldn't talk to him.

He just patted my face, and he said later on he never expected to see old Hassenzahl again. But a curious thing happened then George, very curious thing. I've never forgotten it. I was transported by Jeep, two stretchers to a Jeep, down to the beach on Utah, Utah Beach, and smaller boats would come in and transport the wounded back out to the LSTs that were in deeper water. And while I was laying on this beach at this particular time there was quite a storm had blown up, and the wind was high and the waves were high and my blanket blew off of me, and I didn't have the strength to pull it back on.

It was cold and we were chilled, and of course in shock. You're in shock and the stretchers were real close together. And this arm, George, an arm came across my body and gathered up that blanket that had blown partially off of me and tenderly tucked it all around me. And I was just barely able to move my head a little bit. And the fella that did this was a Kraut prisoner, a German prisoner who was on a stretcher next to me.

And his legs were all mangled but he could move his arms, and he didn't say a word, I didn't say a word, we just looked at each other, and I tried to thank him with my eyes and I guess maybe he said you're welcome with his. But you know, that little incident has always stayed with me over the years. The LST that they loaded me on took a load of wounded back to England, and we were dispersed to different hospitals.

I think that I forget to say that I was full of plasma. If it hadn't been for the plasma that was available to the wounded soldiers like myself, I would have never survived. And it took a load of plasma to replace all of that blood that I'd lost. When we got to England, I remember going, I remember the nomenclature, to the 160th General Hospital in southeast England. It wasn't too far away from our training camps where we'd spent the previous year. And I spent, oh, it must have been a good month there or six weeks, recuperating and getting treated.

And fortunately my wound didn't puncture the lung, but it nicked it. And it took a lot of flesh out. I still have a big long scar on my side, and it damaged the rib real bad, one of my ribs. But I was posted back to active duty. And I know I fought hard to request it. I could have taken a limited duty assignment, but I elected to go back to my outfit because in those days your company was your family.

We were like a band of brothers, we didn't know it at the time, but that's the only place that I wanted to go back to, was C Company, 506th, and I did. About a month before, it must have been about late August now, we were getting replacements in and training and we in a place a called Chiselton in England, Chiselton being in England and fairly close to our original camp, but we were in a tent camp this time. It was pleasant and we scrounged up lumber and built floors in the tents, and it was in the summertime, so it was a very tolerable situation.

Food was pretty good as I remember. We had pretty good chow, and we were training for out next mission, which turned out to be called Market Garden. And that happened on the 17th of September, 1944. And that was when the 82nd and the 101st Airborne Divisions were attached to the British second army. Our mission was to go up north into Holland and all the way into Germany. At this point I had forgot to add that the 101st Airborne Division and the 82nd had been pulled out of Normandy in late July after D Day and returned to England to camps, to get replacement troops and to re-supply, and all of the companies of course were in pretty sad shape.

They had all lost a lot of men, certainly C Company had. In addition, our company commander, Knute Rodstein, had been severely wounded in Normandy after I was, D plus 7 or 8, and had been sent back to a general hospital in England, and he didn't rejoin the regiment until after we were in Bastogne in December of '44. And also my platoon leader, 1st Lt. Bill Pine, had become the company commander after Rodstein was wounded. Then when I came from the hospital in England to rejoin the company, I was promoted to 1st lieutenant and took command of the third platoon, my old platoon with Bill Pine originally.

So now, George, we approached the Market Garden operation on September 17th of 1944. In very sharp contrast to our jump in Normandy on June 6th in complete darkness at 1:30 in the morning, our jump into Holland was on the 17th of September, occurred early in the afternoon, in broad daylight, and we came in at a very low altitude. And I think that we jumped somewhere around 600 to 800 feet. And we jumped through a lot of anti-aircraft fire.

The Krauts were around us, around the area. And that meant, of course, that we weren't in the air very long at that altitude. Tragically, tragically C company lost a second plane load of men through anti aircraft fire from the Krauts. It was a complete stick of men and their platoon commander, and that meant of course that C company started the whole operation with one less portion of a platoon.

We had lost a plane load of men in Normandy on D Day, in addition to this plane in Holland. Our drop zone was near a place called Son, in Holland, that's S-o-n. Our jump zone was approximately two miles from our battalion's objective, first battalion objective, which was a bridge over the little Hemina canal. We assembled quickly on the drop zone, it being daylight of course, and we moved out. And when we got up to a few dozen yards, perhaps oh 30, 40 yards to the bridge, the Germans blew it up in our faces from the other side.

They detonated it from the other side of the bridge. We had a new battalion commander, his name was LaPrade, another West Poointer, L-a-P-r-a-d-e. LaPrade, another West Pointer as I say, and some of his headquarter people swam across the canal under covering fire, and they established a little bit of beachhead area on the other side of the bridge, and cleared it out, and we gave a lot of supporting fire until the engineers could come up and hastily construct a temporary bridge across the canal. Of course when the Krauts saw how many of us there were, I think they just cut and run, because we didn't get too much action on the other side of the bridge.

Well anyway, when the engineers put that bridge across, we poured across it, and due to the fact that we had pretty much an element of surprise, that even though they did blow the bridge we were very aggressive, all of our units were aggressive, and we able to get pretty close to Einholden. Einholden was our regimental objective, and I think you and your wife were in Einholden on your trip a year or so ago.

That was our regimental objective as well as the division's grand objective, Einholden and the surrounding areas, of course. Now bear in mind, George, that the 101st airborne had about one-third of the total airborne operation. It was the middle objective. Nijmegen, to the north of us, was the 82nd airborne objective, and they took their area, their objectives along the route, and they were successful in taking Nijmegen.

The first British airborne division had as an objective the bridge over the Rhine River at the town of Arnhem. Now this was the northernmost objective and by far the toughest one, in my opinion. You remember the movie A Bridge Too Far, it's part of this saga. The British airborne division, they were just decimated because they never received their re-supply up through that road that we had contained through our sector, the 101st and the 82nd through their sector. The British tank columns never reached Arnhem and never reached the Rhine River, which would have re-supplied their British 1st Airborne Division. So consequently those people were almost decimated.

They were called the Red Devils, by the way. That was their nickname. They were a good outfit but they took an awful, awful schlackling there in Arnhem. At the end of the campaign, this particular campaign, we helped pull some of those poor British paratroopers across the Rhine River and bring them to safety in rubber boats that the engineers brought up under cover of darkness. We went across, and C Company participated in this, in this little rescue operation.

We would paddle across the Rhine River and we'd bring back, oh, eight or ten or perhaps a dozen, as many as we could crowd into those rubber boats, and we'd bring them back into the American lines. So after the we took our division objective at this town of Einholden, Einholden was taken and the Krauts removed, the people just poured out in the streets and they totally mobbed us as their liberators and saviors. And they do to this day, George, as you've often heard the veterans from our reunions.

The Dutch people appreciated and they still do the fact that the Americans had a great hand in their liberation from the Germans. So shortly after Eindhoven was taken the Germans cut back through our sector, the 101st sector, and cut the road at a place called Veghel. That's spelled V-e-g-h-e-l, Veghel. And our regiments, the 506th, was sent to straighten out the line and take the road back from the Germans. And this developed into quite a fire fight.

My memory is down around Zon again where the bridge had originally been blown on us. We went back into that sector and we took a portion of the road back from the Germans at Beckel, which is close to Zon. And I lost a very, very close friend. His name was Beau Winans, W-i-n-a-n-s. He was a 1st lieutenant and he had the machine gun platoon from headquarters company, the first battalion headquarters company. And he almost -- well, he did have the top of his head blown off at the top of the dike by a Kraut tank that was over on the other side. And I remember trying to catch him. I did catch him at the bottom of the dike when he rolled down. And Smitty, my platoon medic, was there.

And I asked Smitty -- I could see that he was mortally, mortally wounded, and I said, "Smitty, can you do anything at all?" And Smitty looked at me and he said, "Lieutenant, there's nothing anybody can do." And of course in a few seconds poor Beau was gone, and Smitty himself, poor Smitty himself a few days later when were in an operation that I'll tell you about in a little bit here, was killed in a place called Opheusden.

And I have fine, fond memories of both of those young men. Anyway, George, that same day later in the day, the weather started to close in. It started to rain and we went as far as we could while there was still some light. We held up at a large ditch, and there were open fields, and we were told to maintain our position there for the night. So we did.

And the heavens just opened up and the rain came like cats and dogs. And along about 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning a reinforced Kraut patrol came right in on top of us. There must have been, oh, a good 20 or more of them, and they came right in on top of us, and we spread out in this ditch. Anyway, anyway, George, this developed into a real fist fight. And it was as dark as the dickens, and you couldn't be quite sure, but you could tell who was a Kraut and who wasn't.

Anyway, I remember I had a tangle with a big Kraut who must have outweighed me by 50 pounds or so, and it really took some doing to put him under. And I've got to admit, I had a little help. I forget now who it was, but he was one strong son of a gun, that Kraut was.

The next morning in the first light that we had at dawn, as I recall we must have had 15 or 16 or more dead Krauts in that ditch. And on top of the ditch was where we had thrown them out, and I didn't lose any of my men. There were a couple that were stabbed and bruised up, and I was pretty well bruised up from this big Kraut because he worked me over pretty good before we were able to put him away.

I don't think I mentioned, George, that while it was still daylight, before we had this fight with the Krauts, a single German tank came up and opened fire on us. And one of the men in my platoon with a bazooka put a round through their tracks, their tank tracks. And of course that immobilized the tank itself, and the crew poured out of that hatch. There were four of five of them as I recall, and they came out of the tank. When they came out of the tank, our guys popped them off one at a time. And a little later one of my guys went into the tank and he got a Nazi flag from there, and I have that.

I traded something or other with him for the flag. I still have that flag in a foot locker upstairs in the attic over my garage, and some day maybe I can show it to you. It's got the big swastika on it. This action in the ditch occurred early in October. And then we had an action in Opheusden, O-p-h-e-u-s-d-e-n. Opheusden, that I mentioned a little bit ago to you.

On October 6, that date, that date, my friend, will be imbedded in my mind forever, October 6, 1944. We were ordered to attack through the little village of Opheusden. It was a regimental effort. 1St battalion and then A and C Company were on line, front of the line, crawling through this village house by house. And I was on the left flank and a British guard unit was on my left flank. And I'll never forget that British officer coming down like he was going to a picnic, and he saw me as the platoon leader, and in his typical British clipped voice he introduced himself and said something like, jolly good show, or something like that, and we'll have quite a show here, old chap. And I often wonder what happened to him because from that time on things got hot and heavy in Opheusden.

We had house-to-house fighting, and we entered this action in Opheusden with something like 118 men that we had left and six officers, including myself Capt. Pine, the company commander, Capt. Bill Fine. At any rate, at some point the Krauts retreated back from where we were in contact with them, and they almost immediately called in a barrage, an 88, a barrage of 88 fire on top of us. And that 88 fire was the most terrible weapon in the world. It far surpassed anything that we had in the way of artillery, medium artillery or tank artillery.

That German 88 was a multi purpose gun, it was anti personnel, it was anti aircraft, and it was anti tank. And the Krauts used it with precision. And it was an effective pinpoint type of weapon, and they poured that fire in on us, and we lost so many men, George, I'll never forget that afternoon and evening. We lost so many guys. We finally were relieved that night by the 327th light infantry regiment. And Capt. Pine had been horribly hit up on top of a dike where he shouldn't have been but he was, and he was evacuted back to a windmill where we had our aid station.

And I took -- now get these figures, get these numbers, George. From 118 men or so when we went into Opheusden and six officers, I took 26 men and myself. I was the only officer left out of Opheusden. The whole battalion, the whole battalion was down to just over a hundred men, that was three infantry companies and a headquarters company.

And we were pulled back about, oh, 1500 yards to the rear, and this is late at night, and we were dead, dead tired. We got back, oh, 2:00, 3:00 o'clock in the morning to this little orchard. We didn't even dig in because we were just so beat. And at the first crack of dawn, wouldn't you know we had the unfortunate luck to have stumbled upon to a Kraut, what turned out to be a Kraut battalion -- we didn't know it at the time -- in an orchard across the field from us. Machine gun, Kraut machine gun had opened up at the crack of dawn, and you couldn't miss it, it was totally different from our machine guns. It was a real rapid fire weapon.

And anyway, Col. LaPrade come up to me, and he said, "You're company commander," company of 26 men, he says, "you take command and take your 26 men" -- Well, he didn't know we had 26 men, maybe he did, I don't think he did, though. But he says, "You take your company around to a left flanking attack on those Krauts in the woods and we'll give you 81 millimeter mortar support from headquarters company. So anyway, George, we started along, my 26 guys and myself, and God knows we didn't know how many people were in that orchard over there. So we went along into a ditch to flank them from an angle.

And Sergeant Sanchez, God bless his memory, he had eyes like an eagle. He was a Mexican boy, and he said, I said, "Sanchez, you can see better than me. You call that 81 millimeter -- you call that 81 fire in on those Krauts in that woods, and we lift it we'll rush 'em." And that's what he did. He walked that fire, George, he walked that 81 millimeter mortar fire right into those woods, and you could see the explosions in the words and you would hear the cry of the Krauts. And when he lifted it, we did that, we rushed those woods and we started out and we went across the road, and we hit the edge of the orchard not knowing again what the hell was even in there.

And I remember, oh God, I can remember his name to this day, Forshee, Harold S. F-o-r-s-h-e-e, he was one of my men, he was my scout. And I was the second or third man behind him. In those days we led our men, we didn't follow them up. We led them. And somebody fired from the woods and killed poor Forshee right on the road. And anyway we bored into that woods. And when we got into the edge of the woods, honest to God, to my complete surprise, the Krauts came out of there, those woods, with their hands up. And I'm not kidding you, George, we must have taken 150 prisoners. We formed them up in a column or two on the road and we disarmed them. This with 26 guys, 26 guys. And we marched them down the road to our battalion.

I'll never forget Col. LaPrade coming up the ditch, trying to keep under cover, and his face, his face had a look of amazement like you wouldn't believe when he saw how many prisoners that what was left of Charlie Company had taken. Anyway, later count showed something like 50 or 55 dead Krauts in that orchard. And what we had hit, what we had hit was actually kind of a service brigade.

They weren't first class troops, but they were armed and they could shoot and and they could kill Americans. But anyway, we accomplished that mission. And that was, that, George, was probably one of the high points of my career, I think, in the military because, boy, we were lucky on that particular action.

And I got to relate one little incident that happened when we formed those Krauts up and disarmed and got them back to our lines. One of the guys came up to me and he said, "Lieutenant, look what I found on this Kraut." And he had the Kraut by the arm, and had him half down on the ground. And this Kraut that was the prisoner, he had a British commando knife, and that knife, and that knife had engraved on the blade, Capt. VanAntwerp, A-n-t-w-e-r-p. Capt. VanAntwerp was one of our company commanders that had been killed in Normandy. And I don't know if this particular Kraut that had the dagger, had the commando knife, was the one that took it off of VanAntwerp when he was killed, he could have been the fifth, sixth guy that had it.

But at any rate, he paid the price. A couple of my guys took him off into a nearby woods and disposed of him. Oh, I'd like to add one more little remembrance, George, about Opheusden. When we started our attack the previous day, I want to tell you this one, I had a bazooka crew. Matter of fact it was the same bazooka crew, two men and bazooka, a gunner and a loader, and they were the kids that had knocked the track off that tank a few days earlier where I had obtained the flag.

At any rate, when we were fighting house to house through Opheusden, I had this little crew in a ditch, and I told them to stay there and I'd call them as soon as I needed them. Well, as I was moving back and forth and across the road and keeping an eye on everything the platoon was doing, and every once in a while I'd call out to them or as they'd call out to me and say, "Lieutenant, here we are whenever you need us."

Well, at one point I was in a doorway, George, and I had the strangest feeling come over me, something told me to get those two kids out of that ditch.

So I yelled across the street -- and this is with fire coming in and artillery coming in, 88 fire coming in. I called them both, I've forgotten their names now, but I called them over to me where I was in this doorway. And they both got up with their ammo pouches and they ran across the street and they came up to me and crouched down alongside of the wall where I was. And just as they got -- just as they got to me, a shell came in where they had just been just an instant before and blew a tremendously big crater. And those two kids looked at each other and they looked at me, and the look they had on both of their faces I'll never forget as long as I live.

I have another story to relate about Opheusden before we leave it. And in 1994 I went over to Europe, as you know, with Skoggins, Claud Skoggins and his son Jeff, and Ted Hines. And the four of us flew in to Brussels, and we rented a car and we visited all of our old battle grounds from Normandy and Holland and Bastogne, and we spent, oh, a good two-and-a-half weeks, and we also went over to England.

But at any rate, when we got down to Opheusden, we were introduced to another friend, to the retired postmaster of Opheusden. And he's an amateur historian and he talked pretty good English. Anyway, he took us to a house when he heard who we were, and he went up to the door and knocked and he had a conversation in Dutch, and the owner of the house told him, nodded, so he beckoned to us.

And we went to the backyard of this house, and there was a little cross back there. In 1956, twelve years after the war was over, they found the dog tags and bones when they were putting in a garden or a footing or something, of P. K. Devoe, Paul K. Devoe, one of our soldiers that was killed in Opheusden. And he was listed as missing in action; they never found him. But anyway, he was found in 1956. And I have the original police report that was made out at the time. And he laid there for twelve years before being found. Paul K. Devoe, I remember him well, a good little soldier.

Well anyway, George, after this action in the orchard that we just spoke of, the first battalion being as decimated as it was, we went into a reserve position. The regiment was pretty well shot up anyway, and we were in this reserve position for a few days. Then we were ordered out to man an outpost line of resistance, an OPLR, along a branch of the Rhine River, close into Germany.

The Krauts were on the other side, and we had sent out patrols, and the Krauts had sent patrols over to us into our lines. On one occasion, I don't remember the exact reasons for it, I took a recon patrol out myself one night with two of my people. One was Jackie Meyers, one of my sergeants, he's gone now, he had a heart attack some years back and passed on. The other was Harold Sautner, good reliable man, he's also gone now.

At any rate, the three of started out from a point on our lines and we about a good thousand yards across some open area to get up to an embankment that had a double railroad track on top. And the track was a good 40-foot high on the top of this embankment, so we went out slowly to the end of this embankment where the railroad track was, and we listened. Now previously in daylight we had taken an azmuth reading to go between the strong points that we knew the Krauts would come out and man at night after dark. So anyway, I had the point of the control of this patrol, and I started to climb up the top of this embankment, this 40-foot embankment. And at any rate I got to the top and I was on my stomach and I had a Tommy gun with me.

As a matter of fact, Sergeant Sanchez had given me his own Tommy gun, and he said, "Lieutenant, I want you to have this piece because it's a good one." And with a man on each side of me -- I appreciated that, too. With a man on each side of me I got across the second row of tracks, and all of a sudden I heard some noises and I froze. By God, the damdest luck, a Kraut patrol, there weren't too many of them, was coming along their side of the embankment. It was dark and I could see their helmets come up the side just above the railroad embankment.

This lead Kraut came, he came face to face with me not, oh, more than 30 inches, 36 inches away from my face. And he looked in my face and everything happened in seconds. I had shifted my -- oh, milliseconds really. I had shifted my Tommy gun so that it was pointed forward, and as soon as he saw me and I knew he saw me, I let him have a burst from the Tommy gun. And then all hell broke loose. The other Krauts and the patrol reacted and they were firing at the top of the embankment.

At the same time both of my guys at the same time were one on each foot, they were dragging me across these double railroad tracks and down the other side. So that kind of shot our recon patrol for that night. We were very, very lucky to get back to our own lines with our skins intact. But anyway, when I got back to the company CP that we moved through, I think it was -- yeah, it was B company, and got into the CP, Bill Reed who was the company commander at the time and he was later wounded badly, said to me, "Jesus Christ, Al, what the hell has happened to your lip?"

And the Kraut I had clobbered or possibly the one behind him, they were all firing automatic weapons, anyway he raised a big bloody blister on my upper lip. And that's about as close as you can come, I guess. Now in the first part of November, George, we were finally pulled out of Holland after about some 62 days of straight combat. We loaded up on trucks, and the British came in and took over our lines from us, relieved us, and we headed back to a place called Mornalon, France. There we were put into reserve and we were supposed to regroup and get replacement men, and because we were just very, very low on men and supplies, and none of the units were at full strength.

We were supposed to get equipment, new equipment, including radio and communication equipment which had been lost during the battle in Holland, and replacement men of course. So we were assigned quarters in Mourmelon, France, this old French army barracks which had been there for a number of years, since World War I. But they were comfortable.

Don't forget this was under a roof where we had been used to being out in the open for much of our time in Holland. And this was sort of a fun time because both the 82nd and the 101st Airborne groups had been pulled out of Holland. We were given three-day passes in groups to go to Paris. And believe me, we all had a good time in Paris, needless to say. This took us up close to the middle of December. Oh, one day on the 15th of December, as a matter of fact, we were alerted for an imminent emergency move out to the Ardennes in Belgium, and it seemed that the Germans had mounted a surprise major offensive, and our troops that were up there on the line in the Ardenes had been pushed back with extremely high casualties.

The Germans had taken a lot of ground back that had been won in the previous months. So anyway, we loaded on these trucks late in the evening. And I must relate one little incident. Many of our men had not been assigned any weapons. Some still didn't have weapons in their hands and some of our men were still in Paris. My good friend Joe Reed, who you know, former 1st sergeant, who had been commissioned in Normandy, battlefield commission, one of my very good friends to this day, said, "Jesus Christ, Al, I don't have a goddamn weapon. What the hell am I going to do?" So I said, "Joe, you're in luck. I just so happen to have a spare Tommy gun rolled up in my bedroll."

And I did. I didn't know what I was going to do with it. But anyway, I give it to Reed. If I hadn't given him that tommy gun he wouldn't have had any kind of weapon going up to battle the next day in Bastogne. And I got to say this, George, old Joe Reed, he made that Tommy gun count. He took a lot of Krauts with it in the next offensive.

Anyway, late in the evening we loaded on to the semi trucks. They were open bed semis and it was cold at this time of year as you can appreciate. We started from Bastogne on the back roads in a convoy and drove all that night. We arrived at Bastogne early, early in the morning, pre-dawn, just before dawn, on the 16th of December. And I'll never forget the spectacle of American troops streaming back to the rear, many of them had thrown their weapons away and they were in a panic. And they were very going to the rear, and here we were, the paratroopers of the 101st airborne division, going up and getting ready to go into combat again. We had just been out of combat. It never ends. First batallion then got orders.

Our battalion commander got orders to go northeast of Bastogne about five or six miles through a little cross road village of Foy, F-o-y, to a very small town called Noville, N-o-v-i-l-l-e, Noville, for the purpose of reinforcing some tenth armored elements, which was called Team Desapre. A Major Desapre had a batallion of tanks in this town of Noville, and we were sent up there to reinforce them because the Krauts were pushing within a very short distance of Noville at that time. So we went on a quick March through Bastogne, which wasn't very big anyway, to Noville. And I've got to tell you this, for the lack of ammunition that we had, there were 10th armored tanks on the road going up out of Bastogne and they were stripping their 30-caliber machine gun belts of 30-caliber ammo, and they'd give the loose shells to us along the road so we could load the clips for our M-1 rifles. That's how serious and close this whole mission was.

And we had orders to take the high ground northeast of Noville and dig in a defensive line at that point. Anyway, we started out and we through the little cross roads of Foy and we reached Noville quickly, and we made contact with Major Desapre's (ph) outfit, and immediately went into the attack northeast of the town. We already had our orders, the company commander had been on a reconnaisance and knew exactly where to place us. Major Desapre years later in his memoirs -- he became a major general -- he had never seen combat infantry troops, George, that reacted with the precision that these American paratroopers did from the first batallion of the 506th parachute infantry regiment. We came up in a column of twos, a column of troops on each side of the road, into Noville to reinforce his outfit and we immediately went into attack with, as he said, no confusion. He said it was the most well integrated infantry attack that he ever witnessed. That made us all feel kind of proud. Okay.

So when we started this attack, out to the high ground, the high ground being up out of Noville, we got about half or three-quarters of the way there and we had already suffered quite a few casualties both our battalion and the 10th Armored. The 10th armored had lost a number of tank destroyers and Sherman tanks by virtue of that German 88 that was mounted on the Tiger panther tanks. And as you know, much superior to anything that we had on our tanks. So there we were. Those tanks opened up on us on the high ground and we had to fall back, and we fell back and we put a perimeter defense around Noville until all that day and into the 18th.

We held this perimeter defense at Noville. Our orders remained the same, our orders were to hold Noville, no retreat. We had to stay right there. And I never thought that we'd ever get out of that alive. I said to myself a number of times, Hassenzahl, this is it, this is the end of the outfit and the end of all your people here. But anyway, early in the afternoon of the 18th we got orders from regiment that we could fight our way back to Bastogne. And when we got back to Foy, back through Foy, we could expect to receive some artillery support from the second batallion, the 506th, and from the artillery unit. So we started in the afternoon of the 18th with C Company at the point and we went west towards Foy.

We had a lull in the attack from the Krauts at that particular time, so when we -- but when we got into Foy there was a strong point that was reinforced by German tanks, and we had a lot of trouble getting off the road and through the area of Foy. And one incident, one incident stands out in my memory and that is, we were stopped by heavy machine gunfire and tank fire at Foy, which is the crossroads between Noville and Bastogne.

We had a sergeant by the name of Eugene Esquible, E-s-q-u-i-b-l-e, of Mexican lineage, and he mounted, George, he mounted an American Sherman tank that had been hit at this time and had a 50-caliber machine gun mounted by the turret, and he neutralized the heavy machine gun nest as well as a number of Krauts that were dug in. He could see them from the position he was up on top, exposed position on that tank, and the lighter artillery piece that they had in position there.

But finally a blast from the Krauts knocked him off the tank and he was hit pretty hard. And poor Eugene, he was eventually -- he eventually went back to our own lines by way of a half track from the 10th armored. But of course the rest of us were under fire and were returning fire all this time too. This was a big firefight at Foy. I'd like to mention one -- I'm running on here at the mouth, George.

But anyway I'd like to mention one other incident at this particular time. It stands out in my memory because if you recall, when I was wounded in Normandy in a hedge row there, Punchy Zettwich, one of our men, patched me up, and he put a compress on my side where I was losing all the blood and he pulled me back under cover, and I would...and I was evacuated to that aid station at the chateau.

But anyway, this was Sergeant Zettwich, God bless him, he was hit at this crossroads... sorry about that, George. I want to get back to Sergeant Zettwich here. So the fire fight was letting up a little bit, and I had dragged him to cover and over to a half track. By this time, as I say, the fight was letting up so it wasn't as bad as it had been. It allowed me to put a compress on his side. And it struck me that he was hit in just about the same area that I had been in Normandy in June of that year. And a couple of us loaded him on to the half track that was going back to the division. I said, "Punchy, you're going to be okay."

And he looked at me, and he could barely move. And I'll never forget what he says. He said, "Lieutenant, I don't think so." And with that the half track moved out with a number of other men in it. We got back to our lines from the medical collecting company okay, but poor Punchy, he died on the way back.

When we went over in 1994 to visit Europe, we were up to Noville and Bastogne and Foy, and I was thinking of Punchy. And then late one afternoon we went to the cemetary there near Bastogne where many of our fellows ended up, and I found Punchy's grave. And I knelt down and I had a little conversation with him. And he's still there, bless his heart. God rest his soul. Well, you can imagine how shot up our first battalion had to be at this time. Our battalion was placed in division reserve, and we didn't expect to get back into combat as quick as we did.

It never ends, George. I'll tell you, I never thought we'd have any respite there at all. We spent the night, that night after the battle throughout and through Foy and after Noville, we spent the night in some barns in a farmhouse on the outskirts of Bastogne. And what happened was a Kraut estimated battalion force had broken through our lines at some point around the railroad tracks, just to the west of where we were quartered in this barn, and away from our lines. And C Company and A company of our battalion were ordered to sweep the woods to the east of us and clean out this force of Krauts.

And it became a dreary, cold, miserable, wet, turning into snow day. We had to go through pine trees which were grown real thick. This was the beginning, George, of the coldest winter that the Ardenes had recorded for the last 100 years, and that snow never stopped. It just kept coming and coming. And the temperature kept going down and down. And it was so miserably cold and wet that you can't imagine. You just couldn't seem to get warm. At any rate, at any rate we managed to comb those woods, and between the two companies we were able to clean it out. How we did it, I don't know to this day. We took a good many prisoners.

We also left a lot of Krauts laying in there. As a matter of fact, their cries went on for hours after we pulled back. But that particular threat was taken care of. One sad part of it was that a platoon commander, like Joe Reed, had lost men in his platoon that he had to take a look at their dog tags. Matter of fact, he couldn't bring himself to look at the dog tags, he had to get somebody else to do it. These men that were lying there and had been killed in this little action in the woods had just been assigned to the company a few days before we left for Bastogne by truck, a few days before.

And that was their baptism by fire. And only a few years ago Joe Reed learned that Audry Holbrook, Audry Holbrook who was in this action too, was a squad leader, he was the one that went and looked at the dog tags and gave Joe Reed the names of his men that had been killed that he didn't know because they were so new.

And as I'm sitting here, as I'm sitting here, George, dictating this story and this record into this recorder that I have, I can't help but think that all of this that I'm relating happened almost to the day 54 years ago. And I am so lucky to be able to possess a nice, warm, comfortable home and family. I've had a pretty good business career, and I've been able to enjoy the fruits of that career. When I think of many of my poor buddies that never had the chance, never had the opportunity to live their lives, to marry a good woman, to have a family, never to enjoy life as I've enjoyed it all of these decades since the War, I am indeed a lucky, lucky man. And I appreciate it so very, very much.

So George, we're towards the end of December. We spent Christmas in a foxhole. A great amount of that time was spent on outpost lines and patrolling and doing various missions against the Krauts to push them back even further east into Germany. Along about Christmastime George S. Patton, our great General of World War II, broke through our lines and brought support up to us. And the skies opened up after Christmas, after the first of the year, and the planes came in and dropped our supplies to us by parachute, re-supplied us, roads were opened up, and we had no more shortages of ammunition or rations or anything else.

We were enjoying, as much as we could, the good things that the American Army tried to get to its soldiers, and did in most cases. We had sporadic fights over the next 45 days. But along about the end of January, as I recall, we went down into the Alasance-Lorraine area, which was to be our base of operations for quite some weeks. And along about the very early spring we participated in sweeping into parts of Germany, our division, our battalion. This I must tell you: The first battalion of C Company, was one of the lead companies into a place called Landsberg, Germany.

And you probably know that Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, his book when he was in prison there back in the 20's. I think it was the mid or late 20's. I hadn't really believed the stories of the atrocities against the Jews and the Polish people and the PWs that the Germans had in their concentration camps. But let me tell you, when we first approached Landsberg, you could smell it.

It was -- there was very, very sporadic fighting. The guards that were on duty just fled, just left. They deserted the camp. But when we got in there and when we went past that barbed wire and so those poor, godforsaken human beings and the shape that they were in, they were walking skeletons. Not only that, before our arrival, just very shortly, probably hours before we got there, the Germans had piled corpses like cord wood, one on top of the other, in huge piles before they -- they didn't have time to put them in the furnaces that they had there.

Anyway, we went into Landsberg and we rousted out all the old men, the women, the children. We made them dig three great big common graves to put these poor corpses in. We had to do something with them, we couldn't just leave them lay there. I will never forget that incident as long as I live. I believed everything now that I'd heard in the past about the German atrocities. They did it. And they were responsible for it. And they can't refute it. It was cold, hard facts. How one human being could do that to another one, I don't pretend to have the answer. After Landsberg, Germany, we were pretty much on the move. We moved down into southern Germany and into Bavaria.

There was talk about diehard Germans resisting in the mountains in Austria, southern Austria. It never materialized but that's why we were sent down there. The battalion had gone into Bavaria and into Burtches Garden. And we were the first troops to go up into Hitler's bird's nest on the mountain called Der Waltzman, just out of Berchtesgaden, the town of Berchtesgaden. I have several books from there as momentoes that I took right out of Hitler's bird's nest right up on top of the mountain, along with several souvenirs. Almost all of us got something we brought along with us in the way of a souvenir from the bird's nest. They are treasured objects in most cases.

Collectors are still after us to buy them. The war was over and Germany had surrendered. Numbers, hundreds, even thousands of German prisoners were turning themselves in to parts of southern Germany. It was kind of a fun time. We had the distinction of being the first troops to start the journey home. We ended up on the Riveria until the ships were available to bring us back. And that was just a fun time. We lay in the sun, we swam in the beaches, and we went home on a big troop ship. As I recall, I got home sometime in late August, which was early, very early.

Primarily -- well, only because of high points. The soldiers and servicemen who had the highest point average, those were points that were given for months of service, months in combat, for each of the assaults that you were in. The Bronze Arrow had earned points for the Normandy invasion. A Battle Star was worth five points, points for each of the main European combat operations. Five points for each Purple Heart, and I had four of those. All of those were added up, and you had to have something like 70 or 80 points minimum to start home.

Well, many of us in the outfit, like myself, had well over a hundred. I don't recall just how many now that I did have, but it was something like 140 or so. They were all cumulative. You also got points for each decoration, individual decoration that you had. So it was a great time in our lives to finally be through with the War and plan your future, along with a number of others. I enjoyed the ride home and didn't have to worry about submarines attacking our ships like we had on the way over. We came into New York Harbor. God bless that Statue of Liberty. It's a beautiful, beautiful thing to see.

We went by train then to a Pennsylvania Army post to be discharged and on home from there. I have one last story to tell you, George. It might be of interest to you, I think it probably will be.

I've loved dogs all my life. When I went into Service I had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. He was an old dog when I went into Service. He was about ten years old. And I left him with my older brother, my brother HT, who had a very large farm in western Ohio, on the Pennsylvania border. He used his farm in connection with his business. He owned a potato chip manufacturing business. But anyway, HT had kept Pump for me for the four years that I was in the Service.

As I said, this Bay Retriever's name was Pump, P-u-m-p. Pump is the name of a duck boat that we used for hunting, duck hunting in the marshes, in the waters of northeastern Ohio. So when my brother met me at the train station and brought me out to the farm, I got out of the car and the poor old guy, he had rheumatism, he was so old. He was lying on a berm in the back of the farmhouse. And he saw me and he just stared and stared.

All of a sudden his legs started to go, but he had rheumatism so bad he could barely walk at the time. The poor old guy, he finally staggered up, George, and I knelt down, he just poured into my arms. George, he wouldn't leave my side for the next three or four days. At night he'd come upstairs in the farmhouse and he'd sleep right alongside my bed.

One night, after I was home about a week, about 2:00 or 3:00 o'clock in the morning, old Pump got up, he licked my face. And this was very strange because Chesapeake Bay Retrievers are very reserved animals. They aren't very demonstrative. They are not dogs that you can love and hug. They're nothing like my Maggie today, an English sheep dog that I have and love very much. But anyway, he got up and just kissed me, he licked my face. And I told him, "Get down there. Lay down, Pump." And he did. Along about dawn the next morning I woke up and there was poor old Pump. He was stretched out, and he had gone away to dog's heaven.

I always thought poor old Pump had said good-bye. Isn't that a nice story? I just wanted to tell you, George, it's been a privilege. And I've so enjoyed these past three or four nights that I've sat here in my den to relate some of the memories that I can recall from my years of service in the military. I promised you, I promised you I'd give you this report, and I'm glad I'm finally able to do it. I can't think of anyone other than yourself that I'd want to have what this tape contains.

For so long a time over the years I guess I was much like many combat veterans, I didn't want to talk about it. And I didn't. Nor did I try to relate experiences that I had. Most people, most people wouldn't understand it anyway. It's a different situation when we go to the C Company reunions because we're all of the same feather, so to speak. We all understand. We're all brothers that served in the same kind of outfit. Civilians for the most part don't. They couldn't be expected to, of course. Of late years I've had several people tell me, especially my neighbor next door, Bill Becker is his name, he's a very successful home builder whom I've become very, very close with.

He's probably half a generation younger than me. And he's told me so many times, "Al, the experiences that veterans like you have should be diseminated to people as a matter of record." I think he's right. Not too many more years, George, most of us are going to be gone. And after we're gone there won't be anyone who can give a true picture of what went on during the World War II years of 1942 to 1945.

I can't think, I can't think of anyone more fitting to receive this, George, than you. And I wish you and your family and Carol and the kids the very, very best. And may God bless all of you.

[End of Interview]

 
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