Otis Nickerson kept the beat-up old brown leather wallet all these years. Even though it was cut in half, it was his most cherished memento of World War II.
The 82-year-old resident of North Port, Fla.’s Holiday Park was a replacement soldier at the Battle of the Bulge in late December 1944. This was the defining battle on the Western Front in the Second World War.
“I was assigned to C-Company, 290th Regiment, 75th Infantry Division, 1st Army. We were trucked to Hotten, Belgium, in the middle of the battle ,” he recalled. “We arrived at the front the day after Christmas.”
At that point Allied forces were beginning to gain the upper hand in the biggest German offense American soldiers fought in during the war. Enemy forces still had considerable firepower, but they weren’t advancing any more.
“By Jan. 22, we had taken Kapelle, Belgium, about a mile from the German border. The next day our platoon was fighting through the (Ardennes) woods when we came to this house the Germans had been using,” he said. “We set the house on fire with our mortars. A dozen or 15 Germans ran out. Three of them got away into the woods with a machine-gun.”
His unit extinguished the house fire and stayed there the night. The next morning the platoon moved into the surrounding woods looking for the enemy. They found them in a hurry.
“I was to bring up the rear of the patrol with a radio when machine-gun bullets started going by me as we headed into the brush. Some people up front were hit by the machine-gun,” Nickerson said. “I was called on to take over a squad. My lieutenant told me to see if I could take my squad and work around behind the German machine-gun.
“I called for the point man in my squad to take off. Nobody moved, so I went by myself. I worked my way through the trees. After I got into the forest a ways, I could see the smoke from the machine gun when it cut loose.
“As I crouched behind a tree, I emptied a clip of bullets on the machine gun. That wasn’t too smart. The enemy could see where the firing was coming from. I didn’t hear the machine-gun shoot again.
“I was in the process of lading another clip of bullets in my gun, while hiding behind a tree about half as big as me and zing-go. A single bullet went through my left hand, cut the teeth off my comb, tore up my fountain pen in my left shirt pocket, went across my chest, cut my wallet in two in my right pocket and knocked me on my ass,” he said.
“‘I got it,’ I yelled to my platoon. ‘Where’d you get it?” came the reply. “‘In the hand and chest,’ I responded.
“As I sat behind a tree looking at my gloved hand, a platoon buddy crawled up to me in the snow. I pulled off my glove and my hand was bleeding. The German bullet had gone through my hand and then through my overcoat, two field jackets and hit my leather wallet. My chest wasn’t scratched by the bullet.
“My buddy gave me a sulfa tablet, but all the water in my canteen was frozen so I had to chew it up. He also put a bandage on my hand,” Nickerson said. “In the meantime, my lieutenant and first sergeant came up to take out the German machine gun. They both got hit. The lieutenant lost a right finger to a German bullet and the sergeant got hit in the arm and leg.”
When the two injured platoon leaders returned from their ill-fated mission their unit fell back and called in the artillery to silence the German machine-gun.
They eventually walked back to a road a few hundred yards away and were picked up by a Jeep and taken to an aid station where he received first aid. From there Nickerson went to a Belgium hospital and underwent surgery on his damaged hand. He was sent to a Hospital in England where his hand was operated on a second time. He spent the next couple of months recuperating from his wounds.
Shortly before V-E Day (Victory in Europe) he was assigned to limited duty at a German POW camp near Marseilles, France, where 50,000 German prisoners were penned up.
“That was the most interesting part of the whole war for me,” he said. “My first job was to escort a bunch of Russians by train to the Russian mission at Bonn, Germany. Some of them had collaborated with the Germans.”
These Russians were very somber by the time they reached the end of the line near Bonn. The Russian army shot collaborators on the spot. When the train taking the Russians to Bonn arrived, the Russian military took charge of them. That was the last Nickerson saw of any of them.
“On my next train trip, I was sent to a German slave labor camp south of Paris called Clemant-Ferrand that housed several hundred Czechoslovakian laborers who were in pretty good shape,” he said. “We were to take them to Prague, Czechoslovakia, but the Russians stopped us again at Plzen even though we had signed orders from Gen. Eisenhower to deliver them to Prague.
“Most of the slave laborers refused to go with the Russians. We turned them over to the Red Cross in Pizen,” Nickerson said.
“Before we left, a train pulled into the station next to us filled with 200 people who had been in German concentration camps. They were in godawful shape. We took them back with us to Holland and Belgium.”
By then the war was over. He had amassed more than 100 points, which allowed him to go home.
“I arrived back in the states in October 1945. I had served four years and 9 months, 33 months of that time was overseas,” he said.
Nickerson had originally joined Battery-G, 211th Coast Artillery of the Massachusetts National Guard in his home town of Nantucket shortly after graduating from Nantucket High School in 1940 at 17. He lied about his age.
He enlisted for a year and was discharged in October 1941, two months before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. In March 1942, he re-enlisted and wound up in Oran, Tunisia, in January 1943, a couple of months after the Allies invaded North Africa.
“I was in the headquarters unit of the 67th Coast Artillery, an anti-aircraft battalion assigned to the 5th Army. By then I was a staff sergeant because of my previous time in the service before the war. My outfit manned 40- and 90-millimeter anti-aircraft guns in an old French fort overlooking the harbor at Oran.”
From there, Nickerson and his anti-aircraft battalion were involved in the Invasion of Italy. His unit landed at Salerno, Italy, a week after the Allied invasion. A short time later, his outfit was disbanded. He became an infantryman after some training. He was sent to the replacement depot in Naples, Italy.
From there, Nickerson went to Compiegne, France, where the 1918 Armistice was signed in a railroad car, ending WWI. He was a replacement soldier attached to C-Company, 290th Regiment, 75th Division, of Gen. Courtney Hodges’ 1st Army. It was long before C-Company moved into the line at Hotten, Belgium, to confront the the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge .
After the war, he and his wife, Florence, were married in 1948. For the next 15 years, he held a variety of jobs in the Nantucket area. In 1960, he went to work as a Linotype operator for The Cape Cod Times, a position he held with the daily paper for 27 years, until he retired and he and his wife moved to North Port in 1987.
He served in the European, African and Eastern Theater Campaigns.
Name: Otis Stanworth Nickerson
D.O.B: 4 Jan 1923
D.O.D.: 28 Dec 2013
Hometown: Nantucket Island
Entered Service: Oct 1940
Discharged: Oct 1945
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: C-Company, 290th Regiment, 75th Infantry Division, 1st Army
Commendations: Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, ETO Campaign Ribbon with six battle stars for six major battles, WW II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Medal and one beat up old wallet.
Battles/Campaigns: Battle of the Bulge
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Feb. 7, 2005 and is republished with permission.
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Posted Jan. 5, 2014 at 2:00 AM
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Otis Stanworth Nickerson, age 90, died on Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013, in Port Charlotte, Fla.
Mr. Nickerson was born on Nantucket and graduated from Nantucket High School in 1940. He was president of his class in 1938 and 1939 and editor of the school newspaper in 1939 and 1940.
Mr. Nickerson was very proud of his service to his country in World War II. He joined the U.S. Army in October 1940 and served until October 1945. He attained the rank of staff sergeant and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge while leading his infantry squad in an attack on a machine-gun on Jan. 22, 1945. He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, ETO Campaign Ribbon with six battle stars.
Mr. Nickerson was active in the IOOF, serving as Noble Grand of Nantucket Lodge, # 66 in 1951, and a Secretary and Financial Secretary of Cape Cod Lodge, # 132, for many years. He was also a Past Chief Patriarch of the Encampment branch of the order in both lodges. He also served as a district deputy grand master for many years in both branches.
He also was a 50-year member of Union Lodge F. & A.M., and the Congregational Church of Nantucket. He was the oldest Past Commander of Sidney and Robert Henderson Post 8608 of the VFW in Nantucket and a life member of the DAV Post No. 96 in Hyannis and VFW Post 8203 in North Port, Fla.
He was a printer and employed at the Cape Cod Times for 27 years, retiring in 1987. He resided in North Port, Fla., from then on, returning to the Cape in the summer. He was also a patrolman on the Nantucket Police Department and a spare dispatcher at the Barnstable County Sheriff’s Department in the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Mr. Nickerson was an avid golfer and was a member of Bass River Golf Club. He was 2nd Flight Champion of Lake Venice (FL) Golf Club in 1997 and runner-up the following year, and had had three holes-in-one in his career, all on the Cape.
He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Florence A. (Burdick) of North Port and South Yarmouth; three sons, David S. of North Port, Gary N. of South Yarmouth, and Scott W. of West Yarmouth; four grandchildren; two stepsisters, Arlene Gibbs of Nantucket and Barbara Brasby of Haxtun, Colo.; a sister-in-law, Sybil Nickerson of Nantucket; and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by two brothers, Willard H. Nickerson of Danvers, Mass., and Edwin S. Nickerson of Nantucket. He was the son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Willard E. Nickerson of Nantucket.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete, but his remains will be interred in the Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne.
Memorial donations may be made to Tidewell Hospice Inc., 5955 Rand Blvd., Sarasota, FL 34238.
Farley Funeral Home in North Port is handling the arrangements. To send condolences, please visit http://www.farleyfuneralhome.com.