When Elmer Watson arrived in Marseille, France aboard a victory ship he was a medic in the 242nd Infantry Regiment. His unit made it to the war in Europe on Dec. 11, 1944, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge.
“We moved up to the front and were holding the line along the bottom of the Battle of the Bulge on the far side of the Rhine River. We were part of Gen. Alexander Patch’s 7th Army.
“We came up on the line on Christmas Day 1944. We could look across the river and see German soldiers climbing out of their pillboxes hanging up their laundry. They said, ‘If you don’t shoot at us we don’t shoot at you,'” the 96-year-old former medic recalled.
“The weather turned very, very cold. But I can tell you nothing about the Battle of the Bulge because there was no battle going on where we were,” Watson said.
“At that point I was the sick and wounded clerk. I took care of soldiers who were being sent to evacuation hospitals and were going home. Whatever happened to them I kept the recourse for possibly 100 wounded soldiers,” he explained.
“We were billeted in a house in a little town, I don’t remember where. Exactly at midnight ‘Big Bertha,’ the Germans’ giant railroad gun, would fire one shot at us,” Watson said. “One round landed just across the street from the house we were staying in and blew the other house to hell.
“I was in Hagenon, France on Jan. 15, 1945 where I got wounded. I was walking in the middle of the street and this jet plane swooped down on us and fired machine-gun bullets at us,” he said. “I asked someone what a jet plane was. I’d never heard of one at that time.
“I was in a Jeep when we came around the corner of a building in the middle of another little town we were in and immediately after we got around the corner a German 88 (artillery piece) opened up on us,” Watson said. “The first shell dropped right in front of us. I never traveled so fast backwards in a Jeep as I did that night.
“One time I was sent with some litter bearers to pick up a half dozen German prisoners that had been hit by white phosphorus. They were laying in a field outside a ball-baring factory,” he said.
“I picked up one end of the litter and tried to brush away what I thought were bees buzzing around my ear. At that moment someone yelled, ‘Get down! A German sniper is shooting at you.’
“I crouched down and we carried the injured German soldiers back to our lines.
“When we reached our lines there was an American soldier sitting on a piece of farm machinery with his legs crossed. One foot was dangling by a thread. It had almost been blown off by a mine.
“He said to me, ‘Look at my foot. I wonder if they’ll be able to fix that?
“He was suffering from shock. He wasn’t any pain yet. That was the last I saw of him as we went by.
“It was April 29, 1945 and we were on our way through the town of Dachau with the 42nd Infantry Division. Dachau Concentration Camp was near by. I was told by my top sergeant, ‘Don’t go over to the concentration camp or you’ll have nightmares because of what you see there for the rest of your life. I didn’t go,” Watson said.
“The next day we drove down through the middle of Munich during the middle of the night. We were in a convoy of trucks led by a lieutenant in a Jeep. A German on a bicycle was in front of the lieutenant’s Jeep leading the procession.
“By this time the war was just about over. We were chasing the Germans through Austria. We were living in villas, no more tents for us,” he said. “One day the chaplain stopped by and told me to hop in his Jeep. He didn’t tell me were we were going.
“We drove for about half an hour and reached Salzburg, Austria. From there we drove about 15 more minutes until we came to a dirt road up the mountain where we turned off. At the end of the road, I discovered, was Hitler’s house.”
The Fuhrer’s residence was called Berghof. It was located in the Bavarian Alps near Berchtesgaden.
“This house was down below his ‘Eagle’s Nest’ perched atop the mountain high above,” Watson said. “We couldn’t make it up there because his mountain hideout was snowed in.
“A giant plate glass window in the living room of his house down below had been shot out and the floor in the living room was badly burned. I looked around in the charred remains of the place and found a piece of burnt wood that was attached to a lock that still had a key in it.
“The end of the skeleton key was shaped like an SS lightening bolt insignia. I picked up the key and put it in my pocket.”
More than 65-years later he reached on the table beside him and picked up the old steel skeleton key with a brass plate attached. On the plate are two words in German: BAD ALTBAU. On the flip side of the key Watson scratched the date: May 7, 1945 – one day before the German’s officially surrendered to the Allies in Europe.
He saw Paris once before heading home to the United Sates.
“It was a beautiful city. I saw Notre Dame Cathedral and the Eiffel Tower, but they would only let you go up to the first level,” he said. “I sailed into Norfolk, Va. and made it home to Hartford, Conn. on Jan. 6, 1946.”
Watson spent 18 years after the war working as a salesman for Kendall Motor Oil Co. After that, he worked for Automotive Ware for another 18 yeas.
He retired at 73, but he and his wife, Margaret, didn’t move down to Rotonda, Fla. to live with his son, Peter, until June of last year. The couple has seven children, David, Peter, Richard, Elaine, Carolyn, Ruth and Janet.
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011 and is republished with permission.
Click here to view the Elmer E. Watson collection in the Veterans History Project.
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