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Transcript of Second Interview with Albert M. Hassenzahl

Albert Hassenzahl:

Well as I said Sarah, excuse me. when I entered the army, to back up just a bit, it was my junior year at the University of Toledo when Pearl Harbor came along on December 7 ah, 1941 and I finished the semester out in early February. When the semester was over I enlisted in the army and I was sent down to Camp Livingston, Louisiana, and I was in basic training with the 28th Infantry Division and the to spot some paratroopers in Columbus, Georgia on a weekend pass and they looked like the best troopers and soldiers I ever laid my eyes on.

So, I decided that would be well the, that would be, the outfit I wanted... In the meantime when I was with the 28th infantry see I went through the basic training school I qualified for possible officer training and I went down to Fort Benning and then went through officer training school what we were, Sarah we were called 90 day wonders. 90 days, 3 months ah, we became issued second lieutenants and shortly after that is when I volunteered for the paratroopers and I was assigned to 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 101st Airborne Division, and we trained in ah, about a year well into 1943, that in the states problems and then we went overseas. Dh, March or April of 1943 in England there in England we trained almost up to D-Day which was in June in 1944 and we had practice jumps and there were problems we ah, were assigned as a unit, and then on June 6, 1944 and if you want to take a look here Sarah and we ah, were in a martialling area. This picture here was taken on June 5th the day before these troops, myself included, jumped into Nonnandy about 1:30 in the moming. It was still dark out and that was about 4 1/2 hours before the Beach assault forces hit Omaha and Utah beach. A number of these people here ok, Beatty, executive officer, and a several other officers here and this is me believe it or not.

Right there and I never forget here when Churchill came along, he was a dower looking old gentleman, and Ike Eisenhower. General Eisenhower came along and he looked me right in the eye and he winked and he said with a whisper almost and said good luck soldier. And I've never forgotten, I guessed that rubbed off on me because I'm here.

You see I survived.

Sarah Baron:

That's all that matters.

Albert Hassenzahl:

We had a lot of casualties ah, we lost an awful lot of men because, you see ah, I don't know much you know about combat troops...

Sarah Baron:

Not very much.

Albert Hassenzahl:

Well first rank combat troopers like paratroopers, we dropped behind lines... [speaking to a dog] come here Maggie get over here now sit... we dropped behind lines, German lines.

So naturally we sustained a great number of casualties and I was in Charlie Company 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101 st Airborne Division Regiment and ah... we ah...I was ah wounded, you asked me if I was injured, I was wounded severely, D+3 in Normandy. I was shot through the chest.

Sarah Baron:

Is that what a D+3 means, in the chest?

Albert Hassenzahl:

Pardon me.

Sarah Baron:

...a D+ 3 was a...

Albert Hassenzahl:

That was the third day into Normandy, after D-Day, was June 6 and that would have been the ninth.

So at any rate I was evacuated back to the hospital in England and recuperated for about six weeks and I could have had a lesser assignment because of my injury but I fought real hard to go back to my company.

Sarah Baron:

You chose to go back?

Albert Hassenzahl:

Because you see I was single and young, and my company, my buddies were my family, at that point and time, and I couldn't picture myself...

Sarah Baron:

...without them.

Albert Hassenzahl:

Back there with my old comrades in Charlie Company so ah...we ah...that's where I went, and then we ah... trained in England and in the meantime I should say we ah, 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were pulled back in July taken out of Normandy and both of the units had page 4 cont. suffered many, many casualties so we were pulled out of, pulled out of ah...Normandy and came back to England to get replacement food, refitted, and to get arms and supplies and get ready for our next mission because being paratroops airborne.

We weren't. I apologize here break. All the time we went in on special missions behind the lines to establish ah...beachheads you might say into enemy territory but then ah...once that was done we were pulled back out to go onto the next mission you see which was called airborne mission so at any rate do you want me to go on with this theme now?

Sarah Baron:

Yes.

Albert Hassenzahl:

At any rate that this brings us up to approximately early September and then we were assigned another mission to make a parachute jump, a combat jump into Holland.

The Netherlands that occurred on the 17th of September 1944, but unlike Normandy where we jumped ah, about oh 1 :30 in the morning where it was pitch black and pitch dark we ah... jumped in broad daylight early in the afternoon and that was the way the mission was planned and we assembled and we were about a mile and a half ITom our objective which was on the bridge on the W offenheimer Canal Sarab Baron: um hum page 5 Albert Hassenzahl: which is North of a place called Innhoven and we got up to the bridge now this was getting an a hour or less of dropping in a drop zone (DZ) drop zone during daylight we were able to assemble and it was pretty much a surprise operation ah, we had a lot of backfire from German gun implacements all in all we were able to assemble quickly and we ran double timed up to this bridge and the Germans blew it up in our faces.

Sarah Baron:

Wow!

Albert Hassenzahl:

But any rate ah, we were able to get across the river the engineers came up and put a bridge across. We got the bulk of our troops across. That was continuous fighting, in Holland ah, ooh, for several months ah, there are all kinds of things I can tell ya in detail, but I will simply say Sarah that we lost an awful Jot of men I might, October 6, 1944 is one day that will live with me for the rest of my life and on that date my regiment...

...was ordered to fight through a town called Opfusa which was and take it back :from the Germans in house to house combat. House to house fighting and the Germans. We went in we had already been in combat we lost men up to this point in time but on that particular date ah... the first battalion, my battalion which C Company was part of Charlie Company we were doing hand to hand house to house fighting through this little town of Opfusa and ah, the ah, and we came under an 88 mirage we went in ah I might say this it took Charlie Company going into this Opfusa operation it had 118 men left and six officers.

Sarah Baron:

How many did you start with?

Albert Hassenzahl:

Oh about 168 men and 8 officers at the end of the day in Opfusa don't forget those figures Sarah remember I said 118 men in Charlie Company and 6 officers didn't 1.

By the end of that day Sarah, I was the only officer left and I had 26 men in my company left and that was all in Charlie Company and we were pulled out at 327th Fighter Division Elitest they came in and we pulled back oh late in the evening, dark we looked back about 1500 yards and where we understood what was back of the lines and we went into a little orchard. The whole Battalion was less then 100 men, a battalion usually around 500, 600 men that's how badly decimated that we were you might find that hard to believe Sarah. Well Sarah, the next morning at the crack of dawn we had ah.. a German machine gun open up in an orchard across the field ftom us. You could always tell a German machine gun because of the rapid fire and rapid sequence of firing it had and ah, and ah, in contrast to American machine guns which had a slower rate of fire and ah, you know what can you ah' Oh, the Battalion Commander Col. LaPrad who was later taken to Bastogne .

He is a West Pointer,. he's a West Pointer he came up to me and said Hassenzahl, see I had been a platoon leader up until this point, Hassenzahl you are the Company Commander (laughing), Company Commander of26 men, But any way he says I want you to take your company into a rough blank movement around and hit those Krauts in the orchard, now at this point at this point nobody knew how many Germans were in the orchard you see.

Sarah Baron:

It was probably like going in there blind.

Albert Hassenzahl:

Well he said I'll give 81mm mortar support and ah, I thanked him myself for this item. We didn't know how many Krauts were in there no one did well any way I took my men through a ditch at an angle through this orchard. And I had a sergeant, he was a Mexican boy with the name of Sanchez. Sergeant Sanchez, he was also killed up in Bastogne a few months later, you see Sarah I remember these things and I can't remember my own name sometimes but I do know I will never forget these names as long as I live. Sergeant Sanchez had eyes like an eagle. He could see, he could see a fly on a fence post (laughing) 50 yards away.

Almost but any way Sanchez you call that 81 mm mortar fire into the woods and when you lit the fire we rush the woods. My 26 men. So he did and Sarah he with his eyes and his and his good grasp of the situation I tried to get him a reward, for him and I did later on, Sergeant Sanchez walked that 81 mortar fire in steps through the woods and we could hear and we could see the explosions and we could hear the Krauts in there screaming bloody murder. We were right on them.

So when the mortars lifted, we rushed across the road not knowing how many people in these orchards and Harold S. Forche my scout and I was about the second man in the back of a scout. We led our troops back in those days, we didn't stand way back, in the airborne we led our men. We led our men right up to the scouts. Some people say that's not good to do but we did it. At any rate the orchard was filled and the road but immediately after that Sarah I was still in the orchard with my scouts. The Germans came out of the woods with their hands up and we were in utter it was utter consternation on our part, on my part and we formed these troops up in what 26 guys I had, see I keep repeating, keep repeating so you know because we took just over ISO prisoners, and we later they counted over 55 dead Krauts in this orchard.

Sarah Baron:

That's a lot of guys dead, there.

Albert Hassenzahl:

So we disarmed them, we disarmed them, we disarmed the Germans on the road. I remembered Co!. La Prad coming up a ditch ah trying to take cover in a ditch going very low and he came up and he saw how many, how many prisoners that Charlie Company composed of 26 men had taken he was just, you could see it in his face. He he just couldn't believe it you see, and thats thats probably ah... is one of the crowning moments that my military career had ah, so anyway ah we went through the rest of Holland and gained control. I could give you all kinds of stories but my time doesn't permit here, ah I took a patrol out one time a recognizance patrol which is usually three men me myself and two of my people from Charlie Company, which was after the feud after the fight in the orchard, and ah anyway we got up to a railroad the railroad was banked with double railroad tracks on top which was about a good thousand yards trom our own lines. This was a pretty much a static position and this salient we had a salient a thrust up into enemy territory and we never got any further than that.

Ah, ah we stayed that way for the rest of the war, but any way I had this patrol up, and I had on my stomach I had a sub-machine gun and I crawled across these railroad tracks, and I had at least one man on each side of me to the rear and the Krauts would come out at night and manned points along this railroad track and we had taken a compass reading we knew ah pretty much where these ah machine guns placements were that these Krauts would come out and man at night so we shot an azimuth so that compass we shot it between the two points that we were aware of that they, they had already established and came out at night and manned but I had the darndest luck the baddest luck so to speak when I got up to the railroad tracks a visiting Kraut patrol was going between the two points, and I don't know how many Krauts were there but we could see their bucket helmets bobbing up and down as they walked along the otherside of this embankment.

Sarah Baron:

Wow!

Albert Hassenzahl:

So I shifted my tommy gun forward and these Krauts came up and I fired and ah... ah he probably wasn't over 36 inches away from...we were face to face and then ah the men the Krauts fired with automatic weapons and each one of my men grabbed one of my legs and just yanked me, just literally yanked me back and down the embankment on our side and ah we were lucky to get back to our own lines. Our recon patrol was shot for that night because our whole line was wide wake then, but the funny part of it was ah Sarah when we got back to the lines I went to ah the, the Company CP at D Company where we went out and a fellow named Bill, Bill Reed was a good friend of mine a Company Commander and he was later wounded, in fact he was wounded pretty bad out in Bastogne, but any way Bill looked at me ah I was in his room with candles he had in his CP back in the line just back of the line and he said my God AI, what happened to you and I said I don't know what are you talking about anyway one of those automatic bursts had raised a big bloody blister on my lip...and that's about as close as you can come Sarah (pause) that's about as close as you can come (pause) Let's take a break here.

Late in November of that year. I'm still in 1944. We were pulled out of Holland and we went back to France. Omaha, France was the name of the place where the French army fought in barracks to get replacements to get resupplied and to get replacement men in to fill up badly dessimated ranks, that we had both the 101st and 82nd Airborne Division. So we were in Moralon (sic), France for about two or three weeks and it was kind of a fun time in those years. We got three day passes to Paris...(laughing) and we had some great times in Paris let me tell ya, yes indeed, but anyway about the mid, mid December, the Germans started an offensive in the Ardennes which is an area in Belgium adjacent to the German border, ah, my, do you recall do your ever do you know about this?

Sarah Baron:

Yes, I read about it in a book.

Albert Hassenzahl:

So this offensive when it started was completely unlooked for and our American intelligence hadn't no idea, no indication that it was going to happen so it was a complete surprise by the German military and they just rolled our troops back over areas that had been fought over months before so the only really reserve combat troops that Eisenhower had at the time. General Eisenhower had what was the 82nd and the 101 st Airborne Division that was down in Mormalon, southern France area...mid France area so any way we were alerted on one day, the 15th of December and we had only been there for a couple of weeks or so, three weeks at the most getting replacements ah and getting men and getting equipment so on and ah we were not completely outfitted yet... so we got orders to get ready to move out that same night by truck.

Sarah Baron:

How many replacements did you receive for your company?

Albert Hassenzahl:

I don't remember, I don't remember but not enough.

Sarah Baron:

Not enough?

Albert Hassenzahl:

Do you understand? But anyway that same night we got on the trucks, open semi- trucks and we drove all that night and were, and we went to a place called Bastogne, Belgium and we got off on the western edge of Bastogne which was just a very small town. It was then and I'll never forget Sarah how American troops were just running to the rear and ah ah almost in panic. Many of them were panicked and they had dropped their weapons along the way. They, they most of them didn't have weapons at least these are our troops that had been on line when the Germans hit them with their tanks and...

Sarah Baron:

They were pushing them back. When they were pushing them back.

Albert Hassenzahl:

When they pushed them back, yeah. So ah we got our first battalion ah my battalion to immediately get into Bastogne. Col. LaPrad had orders to take the Battalion through the town and go to a little place, Faye. Heres a picture taken ofFoye, its just a cross-road. That was taken after the action was over. To a place called Nolville, Nolville and that was about 5 miles ah east of Bastogne so ah the first battalion then went ah through the town and L I remember this. This might be of interest to ya Sarah. Ah, we were so ah slow there we had no, not enough ammunition and the the 10th Armored Division that was up in Bastogne at the time was stripping their thirty caliber machine gun belts of cartridges and handing us handfuls of cartridges to load our. clips for our Ml rifles with, then we were going into an attack.

Within a short time so anyway that was how close this whole operation was, so anyway ah I'm going to shorten this up for you the long, the long and the short of it is that it urn we got into Nolville and we immediately we into an attack and our Company Commanders had received a recognizance a little bit before with the reserve troops and we all we went in with limited ammunition MI rifles, light machine guns, a few bazookas to relieve, not to relieve, but to reinforce ah a battalion of tanks, defense armors that were already in Nolville, well the Krauts the Germans had a weapon called 88. You heard me mention it before the 88s were on their tanks and there ah on there Tiger tanks and Panther tanks and that weapon that 88 cannon was far superior than anything that we had Sarah. It would blast an M4 tank tank destroyer, an American tank, destroy it to smithereens and half the time our 76 mm cannon wouldn't even penetrate a Tiger tank. Old timers know this, so anyway ah the Tiger tank we were attacking high ground. We were east of northeast of Nolville and when these tiger these tanks opened up on us we had no alternative but to pull back to the town. We put up a perimeter defense around Nolville and all that afternoon, sit down Maggie that's good, all that afternoon and all through the night ah we held those perimeter defenses, and tanks would come up and fire down the street into the buildings where we were, and we had a few bazooka rounds and we did our best and we did hold the lines and the infantry tried, the German infantry tried to break through this and ah we had orders from divisions to hold Nolville. Don't retreat, you hold it at all costs. Just, just stay right there and ah I never thought Sarah that I would ever live to be here. Well, this is the end of Hassenzahl and Charlie Company and all the rest of my buddies because I didn't think we would get out of Nolville alive. So late in the morning the following day, we did get orders from the divisions that we fight our back fight our way back to Nolville, which was halfway between Bastogne and Nolville to Foye and I mean Sarah to Foye back to our lines when we got to Foye, we did that, we got to Foye and we hit an awful strong Kraut road block, and that road block was something else. Ah, we lost a lot of men there and heard several stories there and we finally got through that road block and back into Bastogne where we lost an awful lot of men, and ah we were all caught up and were into reserve and the very next day why the Germans had penetrated our lines, ah ah A Company and C Company from the first battalions to comb the woods to ah to thrust to try and drive these Germans back. And just about the same time Sarah is when the skies opened up and it started to get cold. The temperature went down and down and down and the snows came. Turned out that was the worse winter in the Ardennes in a hundred years, and it was so bitterly cold that I never thought there would be a time when it would ever be warm again.

Sarah Baron:

Did you ever get frostbite or anything?

Albert Hassenzahl:

Oh yeah, not me but a lot of our men did get frostbitten and have there hands and fingers frozen ah there feet were frozen because we went into this action just to say again with hardly any preparation, you see and very little supplies, very little ammunition, very little of anything.

Sarah Baron:

Your guys didn't have winter supplies?

Albert Hassenzahl:

Huh?

Sarah Baron:

Did you have winter supplies? Boots or nothing?

Albert Hassenzahl:

Not then, we did later on but that was the other thing. We had leather, here's a, a pair of miniature paratrooper boots. (sound of snapping fingers) German, Dutchman an old friend of mine gave them to me, he is dead now, but this was made in Holland by an old shoemaker, a cousin's shoemaker. That's how paratroops boots used to look.

Sarah Baron:

So very thin.

Albert Hassenzahl:

But they are leather. They aren't designed, Sarah,for snow and cold, cold weather anyway, anyway we survived somehow, and ah General Patton broke through to us around Christmas time. Ah and we were ah and the skies opened up and our C-47's could resupply us. They tried to many many times, the C-47's would come over, but the fog would roll in and there was no visibility. They couldn't pinpoint their drop, though if they did drop something the Krauts were just as likely to get to it as we would you see.

So, it was a miserable situation and I'll tell ya something Sarah (pause) the life that I had been given to me all these years. I appreciate...

 
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