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Posted: 12/31/2003 3:19:47 AM EDT
December 29, 2003

Combat medic recalls ‘Battle of the Bulge’

By Don Moore
Charlotte (Fla.) Sun-Herald

NORTH PORT, Fla. — Combat Medic Sgt. Larry Earle was freezing his backside off in December, 59 years ago. He was hunkered down in a foxhole serving with the 2nd Infantry Division near Elsenborn, Belgium, when German panzer tank units charged through deep snow and bitter cold in the Ardennes Forest, overwhelming unsuspecting Allied forces just before Christmas in what would become the “Battle of the Bulge.”
Earle, now retired and living in Harbor Isles mobile home park in North Port, was a member of the 457th Medical Collecting Company. His unit was comprised of combat medics assigned to various American divisions fighting the Germans along the Western Front.

“We went where we were needed in the fighting in France, Belgium and eventually Germany,” said the 78-year-old former medic. He was looking at a map of the biggest battle involving U.S. forces during the Second World War in Western Europe. More than a million soldiers on both sides clashed for almost a month in the Germans’ last major offensive.

“It was the coldest weather ever recorded in this part of Europe that December in Belgium,” Earle recalled. “We couldn’t get out of our foxholes except to treat a wounded soldier. We’d crawl out through the snow and treat the soldier as best we could and crawl back in our foxhole.”

It was no better for the Germans because of the bitterly cold conditions they all endured. However, the weather worked to the advantages of the Third Reich troops. It concealed their initial advance through the forest and also kept the Allied air power from attacking the advancing enemy soldiers.

“The first soldier I treated during the Battle of the Bulge was a tough case. It was at night. You can’t see, so you did everything with your hands. A piece of shrapnel from an exploding shell had hit him in the gut. As I was examining the soldier, my hand went right through his body. There wasn’t much I could do for him,” Earle said.

“I stuck his rifle in the ground so the medics that followed behind us could find his body.”

The day before Gen. George Patton and his 3rd Army arrived with his tank divisions and mechanized infantry that turned the tide in favor of the Allies, Earle and his 2nd Division stumbled on an incident in the snow he’ll never forget. Called the “Malmedy Massacre,” what the medic and his outfit discovered near the Belgium community were 158 Allied combat medics who had been machine-gunned to death by German Storm Troopers a day earlier.

“We found the slaughtered medics in the deep snow near Malmedy,” he said. “By then, the Germans had captured a lot of American soldiers. They were in the process of taking this bunch of captured medics back to stockades farther behind the lines in trucks when they stopped. All the medics were forced to stand out in the snow as the SS soldiers gunned them down.

“A few survived by playing dead under the pile of their dead buddies,” Earle said. “The survivors let us know what had happened.

“From then on, we didn’t take any more German prisoners. We did the same thing to German prisoners they did to our medics. It was them or us,” he said.

When Patton arrived with his tanks, the weather started to improve. The Air Force began attacking German ground forces again en masse. It wasn’t long before the Germans were falling back toward “The Fatherland” by the thousands.

A short time later, Earle found himself in a Belgium spa being treated for frostbitten feet. They worked on his feet for two weeks and then he returned to the 2nd Division. His division was beginning to advance into Germany. He was appointed the medical director of a small hospital at Lehrte, Germany. His primary job as head of the hospital was to see that American medical supplies reached the German doctors practicing there.

Several months later, the war in Europe was over. Because Earle had more than the 85 points needed to return to the States — accumulated through action in the field — he was stateside by early 1946. Like millions of others, he was discharged from the Army and went on with his life.

Earle received the Bronze Star medal, inscribed “Sgt. Lawrence Earl” on the back, for heroism in battle. He also received the Combat Medic badge for serving as a front-line medic under fire, the American Campaign Medal, Europe-Africa-Middle East Medal and World War II Victory Medal.

More than half a century later, Earle decided to return to Belgium. He had located the family of Baron and Baroness Michel de Macar, whom he and five other medics stayed with one night shortly before the Battle of the Bulge.

“Half a dozen of us medics spent a warm night and got something good to eat at their home near Liege, Belgium in December 1944,” he said. “The next morning we continued on to the Ardennes and the Battle of the Bulge.”

Through a Battle of the Bulge organization he is a member of, Earle contacted Roger Hardy, a former member of the 5th Belgium Fusiliers, who helped him find the family he was looking for.

The baron and baroness were dead, but their oldest child, Madame Yves Grisard de la Rochette, now a baroness herself, was found. She and her husband live in Chaudfontaine, Belgium. Earle made contact with her, and they began corresponding.

Unbeknownst to Earl, his daughter, Susan Plante, who lives in Bethlehem, Pa., and his granddaughter, Megan Peterson of Hightstown, N.J., made arrangements earlier this year for the three of them to fly to Belgium and meet the baroness and her family. From April 20-26 they took their sentimental European journey together.

“When we arrived at the baroness’ home, she and her husband were waiting on the steps for us,” Earle said. “It was a very emotional but beautiful moment for me. All of us had tears in our eyes. Their whole family was waiting inside for us.”

He hadn’t seen the baroness since she was a teenage girl and he was in his early 20s.

“The Belgians treat all Americans as if they were liberators. They thank us for saving them from the Germans. They treated me like I was King Tut.”

After a round of dinners, the baroness and her entourage were off to tour the battlefields with Earle, his daughter and granddaughter. They made all the stops where the old soldier had saved the lives of many fellow 2nd Infantry Division soldiers during the heat of battle.

As the former Army medic sat at his kitchen table recalling the long-ago war, he said, “I did nothing more than any medic would do. I don’t want you to write that I was a hero. I wasn’t. I just did the best I could.”
Link Posted: 12/31/2003 3:40:37 AM EDT

God bless SGT Earle, and the millions like him, who carried this country on his back through its' darkest hours.
Link Posted: 12/31/2003 5:55:25 AM EDT
“From then on, we didn’t take any more German prisoners. We did the same thing to German prisoners they did to our medics. It was them or us,” he said.


I have heard of the American soldier's resolve to stand and fight getting stiffer after reports of the Malmedy incident spread through the ranks, but I have never heard of our soldiers executing German prisoners.  I'm sure there are exceptions to this: guards at concentration camps, the Lt. Spiers incident in BOB, ect, but I have never heard of the US killing bonafide prisoners as even a small unit's policy.

Just a comment - that's all.

I thank Larry Earle and men like him.

Link Posted: 12/31/2003 6:30:04 AM EDT
I HAVE heard of US troops refusing to take prisoners as a small unit policy, first hand from a gentleman who served in the 1st Infantry Division in the European theater.

Whenever I interact with somebody from the appropriate age range, I always make it a point to ask were they in the war and if so, what they did. One guy I met told me all about his experiences in the war. We talked for about 20 minutes or so.

At one point I asked him if he ever fought any SS troops. His face got serious. He referred to the SS troops as the guys "with lightning on their collars". SS troops all wore SS runes on their collars which do in fact resemble two bolts of lightning. Anyway...

At one point he said "Yeah, those guys with lightning on their collars...we killed them all. We didn't take them prisoner. We killed them." He wasn't bullshitting, believe me. It was a different time with different rules. We did it just like they did.
Link Posted: 12/31/2003 6:33:32 AM EDT
He didn't say that they killed German prisoners. He said that they didn't take any more prisoners. In other words, Germans no longer had the option to raise the white flag and surrender.
Link Posted: 12/31/2003 6:58:04 AM EDT
Most of Europe played by different rules than the US.

When an enemy offered to surrender, the victor could accept or decline that surrender. If the surrender was accepted the safety and security of the prisoners was the responsibility of the troops that they surrendered to.

Treatment was not nice. Germans and Russians both did things, public displays of prisoners etc, to degrade enemy surrenderees. Food, and medical care were provided, but were never in proper quantity.

The US played by slightly different rules. Surrenders were to be accepted. Food and medical treatment were to be good quality, and in sufficent qunatities.

We all know the Japanese had much different rules.

The SS believed they could accept or decline surrenders. Any prisoners taken could be killed at any time, for any reason, or for no reason. Prisoners would be killed if they slowed up a unit, or the unit needed the "guards" for other tasks.  
Link Posted: 12/31/2003 7:56:19 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 12/31/2003 7:56:37 AM EDT by stator]
This does not jive with what Stephen Ambrose had documented in his books.
Link Posted: 12/31/2003 9:06:47 AM EDT
"We did the same thing to German prisoners they did to our medics."

I was referring to this quote.

This implies that the Germans had already surrendered and were in fact, prisoners.

I've also never heard that the men killed at Malmedy were medics or even primarily medics.  Is this true?
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