Old soldier stories from WW II never die

The last time Glenn Fackler saw Walter Anstey, his company commander, it was aboard a hospital ship on their way back to the States at the close of World War II. They were both recovering from war wounds.

“Capt. Anstey was hobbling along on a cane and spotted me laying on a stretcher aboard ship,” Fackler said. “‘What are you doing here, Sergeant?’ he asked me. I told him and he said he was going to find out about moving me up to the officers’ quarters on the deck above.

“It was an English ship and the English were very strict about officers not fraternizing with enlisted men. That was the last time I saw him. He never returned,” Fackler recalled.

“It wasn’t until recently, when the sergeant began searching the internet for his company commander he came up with three “Walter Ansteys” on the net. One was in Venice, Fla. and two were in other places in the country.

Fackler contacted all three men. It turned out Walter Anstey in Venice was his man. At noon Thursday, the two old soldiers met again after 56 years for lunch at the Olive Garden restaurant in Murdock, Fla. Glenn brought his wife, Clara, and Walter had his wife, Doris, attended the gathering.

They talked about their war experiences more than half a century ago. They talked about their part in the six-day battle for St. Vith, Belgium, the key engagement during “The Battle of the Bulge.” This engagement ended the German offensive on the Western Front in Europe during the Second World War.

“Our outfit, Company A, 38th Armored Infantry Battalion led the 7th Armored Division into ‘The Battle of the Bulge,'” Anstey explained. “I’m proud of that.”

The Bulge was the largest land battle of WW II in which United States troops participated. There were 500,000 American soldiers, 55,000 British and 600,000 Germans.

Casualties in the battle amounted to 81,000 Americans, of which 19,000 were killed, 14,000 British troops of which 200 were killed; and 100,000 German soldiers killed, wounded or captured.

The 7th Armored Division was ordered into Belgium from France just before the battle. From the looks of things, the war was almost over, the Germans were whipped and withdrawing. At least, that’s what Capt. Anstey and the men of his company thought.

Their division set up its headquarters in St. Vith. It was a key rail center and crossroad for that part of Belgium. Things were quiet and nothing much was happening.

The weather was god-awful. Snow blanketed the area, the roads had been churned into a sea of mud by tanks, halftracks and artillery equipment they weren’t designed to handle. Getting around was almost impossible.

On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans attacked with two armies totaling 29 divisions. Allied forces in and around St. Vith and Bastogne were eventually overwhelmed by enemy infantry, artillery and armored that weren’t supposed to be there. But not without a monumental fight.

Attacking Nazi forces were working on a strict timetable they had to maintain to break through the Allied front. Hitler had decreed his soldiers would win this last major battle for the “Fatherland” or die trying. The Fuhrer was trying to turn “The Battle of the Bulge” into the decisive military engagement in Europe.

The German’s plan of attack called for taking St. Vith within 48 hours after their initial attack. For six days, American forces doggedly held the town until they were overwhelmed by enemy forces.

By then, it was too late for the Germans.

“We lost the Battle of St. Vith. We were thrown out,” Anstey said. “That’s why you do’t read too much about it. You read about Bastogne because we won that battle.

“It was total confusion, Anstey and Fackler and the other men of Company A had no idea what was going on except for right in their field of fire. They couldn’t imagine where all the well-equipped German soldiers were coming from.

At one point in the engagement, Anstey called division headquarters.

“I contacted 1st Sgt. Burns back at headquarters about 10 p.m. Everything had quieted down,” Anstey said. “The sergeant told me, ‘Captain, you better get out of there because St. Vith is burning and the Germans are coming your way.’

“That’s where Glenn, I and Gilmore (another member of his company) managed to get out after a while. The Germans had overrun our lines and there was mass confusion.

“We walked down a railroad track in a blizzard in the middle of the night to escape. The Germans fired at us with machine-guns a couple of times, but they couldn’t see us.”

“As we withdrew, we were holding hands,” Fackler said. “We couldn’t see but a few feet in froth of us because of the snow storm and the dark.

“Eventually myself and another guy took off across a snow covered field looking for our lies and ran into Sgt. Kenny. He told us we had to go the other way because we were heading toward the German lines. I said, ‘No, we had to go the way we were going.’

“The sergeant went his way and we went ours. We never heard from Sgt. Kenny again. Even today he is listed as ‘Missing in Action,'” Fackler said.

“By this time, the snow had stopped. A little further along we came up on one of our field artillery units. We stayed with them for three days,”he said.

The men of Company A regrouped and recaptured St. Vith from the enemy. It was exactly a month to the day from the time the American forces were run out of town by the Germans.

It was during this second engagement at St. Vith the captain was cut down by enemy fire.

“I was hit in the leg with shrapnel during the battle to retake St. Vith,” Anstey said. “A little while later, they dropped mortars on us and I was hit in the chest.”

Sgt. Fackler and a couple of his men had captured a couple of German soldiers when they spotted Anstey who had been wounded. They had the enemy soldiers carry the captain to safety at gun point.

Capt. Walter Anstey of Venice (left) shakes hands with Sgt. Glenn Fackler of Punta Gorda, Fla. during their first meeting in 56 years. The two old soldiers , who met for lunch at the Olive Garden in Murdock, were members of the 7th Armored Division that distinguished itself at St. Vith during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. Sun photo by Jonathan Fredin

Capt. Walter Anstey of Venice (left) shakes hands with Sgt. Glenn Fackler of Punta Gorda, Fla. during their first meeting in 56 years. The two old soldiers, who met for lunch at the Olive Garden in Murdock, were members of the 7th Armored Division that distinguished itself at St. Vith during the “Battle of the Bulge” in World War II. Sun photo by Jonathan Fredin

A few days later, on Jan. 28, 1945, “The Battle of the Bulge” was over. The Germans last offensive had been blunted. Never again would the enemy launch a major offensive in Europe.

“Of the 200 men in our company that went into ‘The Battle of the Bulge,’ only 23 made it out alive at the end of the battle,” Fackler said. “We’re two of those 23.

“After the war, one of our commanding generals wrote a letter to the Detroit News,” Fackler said. “He wrote: ‘It was the 7th Armored Division’s stand at St. Vith for six days and six nights, the 99th Infantry Division on the north flank and the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne that saved the day.'”

“After the war, the German commander at ‘The Battle of the Bulge’ said his troops could’ve bypassed Bastogne because it was of no military value. He added, St. Vith, where we were, they had to capture within 48 hours. We held at St. Vith and completely upset their timetable,” Anstey said.

Fackler would continue on after “The Bulge” to fight his way across the Rhine River into Germany. At Freedburg in April ’45, he would receive his million dollar wound–his ticket home.

“I made a mad dash for a house and made it, but the Germans opened up on my gunner with 20-millimeter ground fire,” he said. “He went down and I went back to help him.

“Then they opened up on me. I had just liberated a German officer’s wristwatch a couple of days before. A 20-millimeter round hit my liberated watch and it exploded. I got hit with shrapnel in my face, chest an wrist,” Fackler said.

He was airlifted from central Germany to Paris and from there to England for medical treatment. Eventually he made it back to a V.A. hospital in Battle Creek, Mich., where he spent five months recovering from his war wounds.

It took Anstey a year to completely recover from his wounds. Eventually he was released from Water Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. just before New Year’s 1946.

As the two couples sat around a tablet at the Olive Garden, Clara, Glenn’s wife, raise her wine glass in toast.

“Here’s to all of us,” she said.

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Friday, March 30, 2001 and is republished with permission.

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Charlotte Sun (Port Charlotte, FL) – Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009 A memorial service for Glenn Fackler of Punta Gorda, an old soldier who played an important role in the Battle of the Bulge — the largest engagement on the Western Front during World War II — will be held today. He died Aug. 21 at age 92.

The memorial service is scheduled for 4 p.m. today at Friendship United Methodist Church, 12275 Paramount Drive, Punta Gorda.

Fackler was a staff sergeant in A-Company, 38th Armored Infantry Battalion, 7th Armored Division of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. In mid December 1944 his unit helped stop the unexpected German advance at St. Vith, Belgium and denied the enemy victory during its last major ground offensive in the west during the war.

Soldiers of the 38th were ordered to hold St. Vith at all costs. The town was a key railhead that if captured, would allow the German’s to divide American and British forces and possibly defeat the Allies.

Writing about his part in the massive battle, he noted half a lifetime later, “With sheer guts and combat experience we stopped them cold for six days and nights until the night of Dec. 23rd when a huge force of two divisions from the 18th Volksgrenadiers attacked us in the dead of night.

“I had the second section of Staff Sgt. Alpino’s machine gun squad and Pfc. Peter Andrelawitch was in charge of the 1st squad. That night was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of you when I heard a huge force coming toward us. I waited for Pete’s guns to start firing, but they didn’t.

“When I felt the Germans were only 100 yards from us, I opened up with my .30-caliber machine gun, followed at once by Pete on the other machine gun. We crisscrossed the whole field out in front of us with 2,400 rounds of ammunition. “Our attack was followed by dead silence, or I should say the silence of the dead as the after action report of the incident stated. The field was littered with German troops. We must have gotten every one of them.

“Shortly after the war there was a meeting in Washington, D.C., between our Division Commander, Gen. Robert W. Hasbrouck, and the German general commanding the Bulge, Gen. Hasso-Eccard Frelherer Manteuffel. He told Gen. Hasbrouck, ‘We could have bypassed Bastogne at any time, as it had no military value, but St. Vith, where we had been ordered to hold for 48 hours and held it for six days and nights, they had to have or the bulge was lost.’

The Germans needed the railhead at St. Vith to transport their supplies on to Antwerp, Belgium and divide the American and British forces. “The units of our division involved in the stand at St. Vith were awarded The Presidential Unit Citation, witch included my 38th Armored Infantry Battalion,” Fackler concluded.

He was one of the 800,000 Allied soldiers who took part in the battle around St. Vith and Bastogne survived what would be called “The Battle of the Bulge.” Some 500,000 German soldiers, who took the offensive initially, were finally outgunned by American’s overwhelming firepower. Allied forces lost 19,250 soldiers killed and 89,740 wounded. German losses of killed, wounded and captured totaled 91,000 in this one battle.

Fackler kept on fighting until a month before V-E (Victory in Europe) Day, when he was struck in the wrist by a 20 mm round on April 10, 1945. The round hit the wristwatch he was wearing.

The doctor who operated on him said the watch is what saved his left hand. It took him six months to recover from his wounds. Fackler’s military commendations included the Purple Heart, Silver Star, Bronze Star with “V” for Valor, the Presidential Unit Citation for the part his unit played at St. Vith, and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Fackler and his wife, Dorothy, moved to Punta Gorda 13 years ago from Farmington Hills, Mich. She died after 52 years of marriage.

Fackler is survived by two sons, Glenn Jr. and Ralph, his partner, Clara Robbinson; and a number of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.

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