The tiny black and white picture was only 1 1/4-by-2-inches and yellowed with age. The images of a group of World War II soldiers standing around a pile of burnt rubble staring at human remains were sharp but small.
On the flip side of the photograph Eddy Edwards of Port Charlotte, Fla. had written almost 60 years ago, “Gen. Eisenhower and Gen. Patton reviewing the remains of many murdered, Dachau Germany 1945.” He shot the picture, printed it himself and sent it home to his wife in New Jersey. It was one of 300 personal pictures the young soldier took as a member of the Air Force’s 225th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Search Light Battalion during World War II.
When the photograph was reproduced and enlarged at the Sun, Gen. George Patton, commander of the 3rd Army in Europe, could be seen standing with his hands behind his back wearing riding pants and boots looking at the charred bones in front of him. Several soldiers to his right stood Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme allied commander, with his hands on his hips and to his left stood a soldier wearing a helmet with stars on it is Gen. Omar Bradley, commander of the 12th Army Group, Europe.
This photograph was taken at the end of the war when the 89-year-old local man and his Army Air Corps unit was stationed at the Luftwaffe base near Munich, Germany. The concentration camp was about five miles out of town.
“We went over to see Dachau while stationed in Munich,” he said recently. “While we were there, Gen. Eisenhower and Gen. Patton showed up. We heard them talking about how terrible Dachau was.”
Apparently Edwards didn’t realize Gen. Bradley was there with the other generals, too.
“I couldn’t believe Dachau,” he recalled six decades later. “When I got home and told my mother about it she said, ‘They couldn’t do that to people.’ She didn’t believe it happened.
“But it’s true, I saw it all. When I opened the door of one of the ovens there were still bodies in it that hadn’t burned.”
Just by happenstance Edwards was attached to the 225th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Search Light unit in the U.S. before he went to war. While crossing the Atlantic on the Queen Mary to Scotland in 1943 they discovered he was born in England and knew English currency. So they made him one of two people who ran a PX for the battalion.
He arrived on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France six days after D-Day, June 6, 1944. Edwards spent much of his time in the service driving around Europe in a trailer truck collecting items for the unit’s commissary. He logged 30,000 miles behind the wheel of a truck picking up supplies.
He also had access to a darkroom. Every few days he would send his wife a handful of war pictures from the front with notes on the flip side of each shot. By the time he reached Munich, Germany, at war’s end almost a year later, she had a scrapbook of about 300 photographs of the European war.
While on Omaha Beach Edwards and his outfit were watching a work detail of German POWs digging graves for American soldiers. He picks up the story from there.
“The Germans had killed so many of our men that they were still burying them a week later, about the time we landed,” he recalled. “They buried them on the hill overlooking the beach.
“We were standing there watching the Germans dig holes for our soldiers. One of these POWs had just finished digging a hole and putting one of our men in it. Then he spit on him.
“One of our guys saw him spit and opened up on a dozen or 15 of these prisoners with his tommy gun. Three of them were killed on the spot and a dozen or so more were injured. I’ll never forget that.”
From the beach they made it to St. Lo, France then Edwards’ unit advanced to the Cherbourg Peninsula.
“We went to Cherbourg to light up the port so some of the Navy’s ships could come into the harbor,” he said. “We only stayed there about three days, but we lit up the harbor and the whole coast with our searchlights so the troop transports could get in.”
The aircraft lights they used produced 800 million candle power. They often confused the enemy when turned on them. When requested by the Army, Edwards and his unit would turn the lights on German-held bridges at night to blind the enemy while American forces ran across the spans and captured them.
He tells the story of being in a wire-string detail along a road somewhere in Europe when Gen. Patton drove by.
“A couple of our men were up on telephone poles fixing wires when Patton came along in his jeep. They had used their helmets to put their tools in while they worked.
“When the general saw they weren’t wearing their helmets he shouted at them to put their helmets on. One of our fellows said to him, ‘I’m sorry general, my helmet’s full of tools and I can’t put it on.’ Patton replied, ‘Dump your tools and put it on!’ the general demanded.
“‘Look Gen. Patton, we’re in the Air Force so don’t give me any of this s…,’ the G.I. replied. The general turned around and drove off.”
Edwards and his unit were at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 at the Ardennes Forest along the Belgium border where the major German offensive took place.
“We were running radar and search lights at the Bulge for three days. We thought we were going to light up areas where the Germans were so our bombers could come in and bomb them,” he said. “But it didn’t work out because of the snow and bad weather.”
A picture in his WW II scrapbook shows a pile of junk German airplanes sitting in a field. On the reverse side in blue ink it notes: “A German scrap pile. Note the jet plane on the bottom. Munich, Germany, August 1945.”
The “jet plane” was a Messerschmitt 262 “Swallow,” the first operational turbojet fighter to make it into production during the war. Piled on top of the jet were the remains of what appears to be an ME-109 German propeller-driven fighter.
The war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945 and Edwards and his buddies became tourists. They checked out a number of the “tourist attractions” in the neighborhood including Hitler’s Alps getaway. The massive stone building constructed on the side of a Bavarian mountaintop looks like a castle. On the flip side of the picture he took it notes: “The main entrance to ‘The Eagle’s Nest’ , Hitler’s hideout. Germany, July 1945.”
A short time later Edwards’ unit was aboard a ship headed for China. The war in the Pacific was still raging.
“We reached the Suez Canal when it was announced that Japan had surrendered. We turned around and came back to the States,” he said. “World War II was over.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, July 4, 2004 and is republished with permission.
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