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My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs

Article about: ironically this is also my great grandfather

  1. #1

    Default My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs

    I finally found it! I've been looking for years to find out about him! I knew he was a war hero but this is amazing! I looked up his name and so on. He was in the 101st airborne and jumped on d-day only to be captured by the Germans then escaped.He later rejoined his unit and liberated a concentration camp after several firefights: Content

  2. #2

    Default Re: My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs

    That is really great!

    Cheers, Ade.
    Had good advice? Saved money? Why not become a Gold Club Member, just hit the green "Join WRF Club" tab at the top of the page and help support the forum!

  3. #3

    Default Re: My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs

    Must make you very proud!
    Always looking for Belgian Congo stuff!

  4. #4

    Default Re: My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs

    YES! It does! I only wish I had been closer to him before he passed. It also didnt help that I lived in CA and him in PA, straight across the US! but I did visit a couple times when I was about 6 and 8 years old. He would take me to the local flea market in Pennsylvania. I'll post pics of him and I in the near future when I can access them. Thanks guys,! It is def worth reading that link I posted, too. Even if he wasnt related to you.

  5. #5

    Default Re: My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs

    Wow! That's a hell of a good memoir, thanks for putting it up Deano!!

    Regards, Ned.
    'I do not think we can hope for any better thing now.
    We shall stick it out to the end, but we are getting weaker of course, and the end cannot be far.
    It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more. R. SCOTT.
    Last Entry - For God's sake look after our people.'

    In memory of Capt. Robert Falcon Scott, Edward Wilson, Henry Bowers, Lawrence Oates and Edgar Evans. South Pole Expedition, 30th March 1912.

  6. #6

    Default Re: My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs

    In another thread here, you mentioned, that his chute got tangled in a plane when he exited low over the ground at some point and that he was hid by French people, in whose house he sat at the table with German officers and overheard their plans which he then reported back. That sounds very interesting. Could you tell us more and how that ties in with the above wartime experiences, which I read with great interest BTW.
    From the link above, it sounds like he had several lucky escapes and was certainly a man with initiative.

  7. #7

    Default Re: My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs

    Quote by Scout View Post
    In another thread here, you mentioned, that his chute got tangled in a plane when he exited low over the ground at some point and that he was hid by French people, in whose house he sat at the table with German officers and overheard their plans which he then reported back. That sounds very interesting. Could you tell us more and how that ties in with the above wartime experiences, which I read with great interest BTW.
    From the link above, it sounds like he had several lucky escapes and was certainly a man with initiative.
    Yes, if you read all eight pages of the link I posted you'd see he did all these things.Also keep in mind I just read this for the first time in it's entirety and the part about him eating with the Germans and radioing back was only second hand info from my Aunt that she told me ten or more years ago.. The french family pretended he was their deaf and mute family injured from a bomb blast during the war sometime. He would spend several weeks around the Germans without them knowing he was American. He says the french underground gave him false french ID.
    Here's the story:

    .."In all, it weighed around 110-150 pounds. That was just the weight of the bag when it was loaded, and it was the following items: 3 boxes of machine gun ammo (each box had 250 rounds in it), 6 hand grenades (they would later come in handy), my back pack or small bag --it had all my toilet
    equipment in it and change of underwear, 35 packs of cigarettes, 100 sticks of chewing gum that my mother had sent me, and 12 candy bars.

    On top of the bag, I had a knife that looked like a banana knife. It was called a machete, to be used to cut telephone lines or any other thing that could delay the enemy. Also on top of the bag, I had a land mine for tanks or trucks, plus 10 clips of rifle ammo.

    I had a knife strapped on my leg, a belt full of ammo, which held 9 clips. As to clothing, I had on my jump suit with all the pockets filled with K-rations and hand grenades. I had long underwear plus my dress uniform on because it was damp and chilly.

    We went out to the planes about 8:00 P.M. and laid around and smoked and talked. When we jumped, it was 1:14 A.M. in the morning. Thank God with a bag strapped on my leg, I was the 3rd man out the door, because our plane was hit and a wing was on fire.

    We were so low that when my chute opened, I swung twice and hit the ground. I know that all the men didn't get out. If they did, they were too low and their chutes never had time to open.

    When my chute opened, it opened with a jerk and the bag that I had strapped on my leg took off and I never did find it. After landing, I crawled out of the field to the edge of the road and used my cricket. Every man was given a cricket to make
    contact with each other after landing, that way the Germans
    didn't know what was going on until we hit them.

    When I cricketed, I got an answer from across the road, and a Mexican boy came over to me. He asked me where I landed, and I pointed over my shoulder, and he said, "Jesus, how lucky can you get." I turned and looked where he pointed, and there on the fence was a big sign -- ACHTUNG MEINEN. I had landed right in the middle of that field, took off my helmet and threw it away because I couldn't hear anything with it on, and I crawled out of there without setting a mine off.

    About 20 minutes later, we met Bill Hayes, and the 3 of us set out Kraut hunting. About a half an hour later, while we were
    lying in a gully figuring which way to go to meet up with our
    company, we heard some noise and about 8 or 10 Krauts came
    running towards our gully. When they got to the gully, they
    split up and ran up both sides. We had pulled the pins on our
    grenades, so we just waited until they got pretty well past us,
    then we threw the grenades and took off in the other direction.

    I know we got a few of them, because of all the screaming and
    hollering. A little later, while walking across the field, someone
    hollered, "Halt!" I was in the lead, so I pumped a few shots in
    the direction from where the yell came from, and we 3 hit the
    swampy ditch that we were walking along the side of. We got out of there and kept moving.

    Whenever we'd come across any wires, we'd cut them. If it would have been daylight, the Germans could have followed us very easy just by following the cut lines. We had a few more running fire fights until daybreak, and then we spotted a farm house. A few French kids came out from the house to the barnyard where they had seen us and brought us some bread
    and wine. We didn't know French and they didn't know English,
    but they saw the American flags that some of the guys had sewn on their jackets, and they knew who we were.

    We got out our maps and they pointed where we were and which direction would be best, but we didn't trust them, and we went another way, but we soon realized that we should have listened. We got out in the middle of a field, and a shot went by my ear. I said to Hayes and Sanchez, "Let's keep going and see if we can spot the guy."
    Last edited by Dean; 04-26-2012 at 12:21 PM.

  8. #8

    Default Re: My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs


    When the second shot rang out, we hit the ditch filled with swamp water. We spotted from where the shots had come from, so we returned the fire. After a few shots, we find out it's another trooper. Well, the 4 of us started out of there, and we ran into what looked like the whole German army in front of us.

    Between the four of us and the Germans, we had quite a battle till we ran out of ammunition, and the Mexican boy got hit 3 times.

    A fleet of Allied aircraft flies overhead as paratroopers of the Allied Airborne Command float groundward in the invasion of the Netherlands, still another step towards the liberation of Europe. (National Archives)
    Well, we were then taken prisoner and they stripped us of everything. They took us to a farmhouse where we saw some other wounded paratroopers and some of our boys hanging in trees still in their chutes with their privates cut off. That was the final straw.

    We had our minds made up then that if we got out of there, there would be no prisoners taken by us nowhere. From there, they walked us about 3 miles to a small village, and threw
    us into a pig pen with a couple of pigs.

    The pigs looked at us and went over in a corner and lay down. I don't blame them. I guess we did look a little rough. We had our hair cut like an Indian, and real short, had stove-black all over our faces and we stank worse than the pigs from being in all that swamp water.

    We stayed there about 2 hours, then they walked us to St. Lo, where I met Joe Dolo and Chuck Cunningham. They held us in a big barn next to a very large cathedral or a church. That night, St. Lo was bombed, and I thought that was the end of about six or eight hundred prisoners. The next morning when the Germans took us out of the barn, we looked around and
    everything was flattened except the church and the barn where we had been held.

    The Germans then marched us about 10 miles to a monastery of some kind. By this time, we were getting pretty hungry. The Germans were also short of food, so they shot and butchered a few horses.

    As a manner of getting to see one another, we got together
    in groups and there were 11 men from B-Company there. The
    Germans also gave us some hot water and some leaves of some kind and told us it was soup. We were marched out of there, and went to a town called Allenson, and it was a regular prisoner of war camp.

    The commander of the camp had us fall out and told us he was putting us to work. There would be 10 men to a group with one guard. If one man either escapes or tries to escape, the other 9 would be shot. Our group got lucky. We got an old man for a guard that had been in World War I and he loved his booze. We also had a Company B man that was from Hamburg, Pennsylvania that spoke Pennsylvania Dutch, so he and the old man could make out what each other was saying in German.

    The old man told us to watch for any German officers or staff cars while he went looking for whatever he could find in the bombed out houses. We knew he was going looking for booze, so we waited till he got out of sight, then we went looking also.

    Some of the guys looked for vegetables in the gardens in the backyards of the bombed out houses, and some of us went looking for other things. We found a wine cellar, so we took off our jump jackets and snapped the sleeves shut. We then put 2 bottles in each sleeve and turned the jackets inside out and slung them over our shoulder like we were hot after digging for the unexploded bombs and just took them off to cool off.

    When we got back to camp, we made a big pot of stew out of
    what the other guys had found, and after eating, we all got
    drunk on the wine. Man, was that camp commander mad. He
    wouldn't let us go out of camp on any more details. It didn't
    make us mad because some of the guards were trigger happy, and you never knew when one of them might shoot you.

    Next, the Germans took us to another prison camp. It was
    outside a town called Chartres. In that prison camp, there were
    around 2,000 South Africans or French Moroccans. Man, were they dirty people. They were very friendly people though. They were getting Red Cross packages and they slipped a few things out through a drain pipe to us.

    We left there and went into Paris to be loaded onto a train. On the way to the train, there were about 2 dozen civilians that
    were on the German's side, and they kicked and spit on us.
    jumped out of line to punch one and the German guard pricked me in the butt with his bayonet. It didn't draw blood but I knew it was there.

    They loaded us in boxcars called 40 and 8's. Now I know why
    they were called that. They put 40 of us to a car, threw in about a dozen loaves of bread and some sausage. They told us it
    had to last us 3 days. By this time, I was getting pretty well
    peeved off, so I started talking to 2 French parachutists about

    The first night, the train pulled outside of Paris and stopped. They placed guards around and we stayed there all night. That night, the guards got drunk and really raised the devil.

  9. #9

    Default Re: My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs

    The next day was the last of June. The train moved out
    and we rode all day and into the evening. About 10:00 that
    evening, some of the guys started jumping off a train. The
    window had barbed wire on it, but one of the Frenchmen had a little tiny hacksaw sewed in his jacket, and we used it to cut
    the barbed wire. When the 2 Frenchmen and I got ready to leave, Chuck Cunningham decided he was going to come with us.

    We waited until about 10 or 15 guys left the train, and then we started. The first one out was a French Sergeant. Next one was Chuck, then the other Frenchman, and then last, but not least, was the old Lardie, across the butt, that is. I went last because I had the largest butt and had a hard time getting out the window.

    After getting out and hanging on the side of the car, I looked up to see if anyone else was following me, and against the skyline, I saw a machine gun covering the window, but no one was on it. All the guards were in the last car. I guess they thought we were too scared to try to escape. By now, it was about 2:00 A.M. in the morning, and the train was going about 25 or 30 miles an hour.

    It seemed a little too fast, but it was either jump and try to escape, or have more things happen, later than I knew then. We jumped off the train in the same order that we came out the window. We had waited till we went through the town to see what town it was, and then find it on one of the escape maps that one of the Frenchmen had.

    It was a town called Sedan on the French and Belgium border. We were moving faster than I thought, and when I hit the ground, I didn't have time to go into a forward roll like we were trained to do, and I hit a rock about the size of my fist, and loosened about half of my upper teeth. We lay still until the train went by, and then we all ran about 50 yards from the railroad tracks and then we all took a good you-know-what.

    Parachutes open overhead as waves of paratroops land in Holland during operations by the 1st Allied Airborne Army. (National Archives)
    You see, we had no place to go in a boxcar, except when one guy would take off his jump jacket, and everyone that had to go at that time would go in the jacket, and then we would throw it out the window.

    We then ran across the railroad tracks and started walking south. This one Frenchman had an escape kit sewn in the lining of his jump suit, just for an emergency such as we were now going through.

    He had a real small hacksaw, which we used to get out of the boxcar, a compass about the size of your thumbnail, and a silk map that showed every town, village, road, and cow path in France. It was printed on good cloth and it was the most detailed map I had ever seen.

    We used the map and compass to walk from Sedan to just outside of Rheims. I guess it was close to a hundred miles -- at least it seemed that far to me.

    We would walk all night, and then hide in the woods and sleep all day. Whenever we'd catch a farmer out in the field, working, we'd ask him for something to eat. You see, in France, the farms were in small villages, and it was like a spider web. Each farmer worked his farm out of the village. It seemed like almost all the villages had some Germans in it, so we couldn't take a chance on going into the villages looking for food.

    Finally, one day we met a couple of woodcutters out gathering
    wood. When we asked them for food, they said they would bring some out the next trip. When they came back, they had a baker with them, and we found out that they were some of the French underground. They brought some cherry pies, 2 pots of hot soup, some bread coupons and some clothing, which turned out too be to small for Chuck and me.

    It seems that Frenchmen are smaller or shorter than most Americans, or maybe Chuck and I were just too big. I don't know which, but the clothes didn't fit. The Frenchmen then told us there would be another man coming out tonight to take us to another place to sleep. When he came, we went back 4 or 5 miles from the way we had just come. He said it would be safer to sleep here tonight than where we were, then tomorrow we would get some clothes to fit us, and some more hot food, and the chief of the underground would come.

    He came the next morning, and he brought some clothes which fit Chuck and I, then he told us we were going to another place. That night, we moved again. We were all carrying a bag full of shoes that we later found out was black market stuff. We walked into a village and into an old shoemaker's shop. It didn't look like it was used too much, and Chuck and I didn't like the looks of it, but it turned out OK.

    We stayed there for about 8 or 9 days. Every day, the French people brought 2 baskets of food, all heated and ready to eat. Well, naturally the people of the village began to talk. They were wondering who was eating all the food since there was only supposed to be 2 people in the shop, the chief of the underground and the woman that did his book keeping and housework.

    Monday, two French policemen came, and we thought it was all over, but it turns out that they were French underground too. It was starting to look like everyone was in the underground. Finally, Chuck and I decided it was about time we got out of there and headed south to Switzerland.

  10. #10

    Default Re: My G-Granndpa Bill Oatman,war hero's memoirs

    That night, we got together all we could, and we got the one
    French parachutist that could talk English to write slips of
    paper for us, one side in English and the same on the other side in French, like "Do you have something to eat?" or "Which way is it to Switzerland?" or "Can I have a glass of wine?" Whatever we could think of at the time that we might ask someone.

    We left about midnight. One of the men from the underground
    went along to show us our first leg of our trip. Seems like
    almost all of the French underground were carrying American Army .45's. At daybreak, we stopped, and he said he had to get back, so we said "so long" and we started out again.

    We walked all that day without anything to drink, and by
    evening, we were getting pretty thirsty. Then we met a young guy out in the field. We asked him for something to eat and drink and the best way to Switzerland. He showed us on the maps the underground had given us just where we were, which way to go, and what villages to avoid because of Germans.

    He gave us his water and then jumped on his bicycle and went into the village to get us something to eat. He told us we were about 20 miles east of Rheims, so we decided we'd better look for a place to bed down for the night. At least we were on the right road.

    We found a field with stacks of what we thought was wheat, so we made a bed out of it and crawled in. The next morning, we scratched ourselves silly. It turned out to be oats, and Chuck and I learned our lesson that night. The Frenchman that we had met the day before had told us that the village in the direction which we were going had some German soldiers in it, so we decided to go around.

    We were getting a little braver now, so we were walking
    down a road through the woods. Chuck and I were talking, when all of the sudden, we looked up and there was a girl sitting under a tree either sewing or knitting. She had heard us talking
    English, and when she looked up at us, she had the largest eyes
    I'd seen in a long time.

    We saw that she knew we weren't French, and she wondered what nationality and who we were, so we decided to take a chance and ask for something to eat. While Chuck was
    hunting for the slip of paper to ask for something to eat, he
    dropped the paper asking if she knew a man that could show us the way to Switzerland.

    Actually, we didn't want to show her that one, but she picked it up before we could. She read it and said she did, and about that time, 2 more girls and a boy rode up on their bicycles. The boy spoke a little English, so we tried to tell him what had happened to us since D-Day. I don't think it all got through to him, but he said he knew a man in Rheims that would help us, but we'd have to sleep at his home that night, and tomorrow he would go and see the man.

    He says he'll go up to this house by the railroad track and stay for the rest of the day, and this evening we would go to his house. But it turned out we went to his house which was the one by the railroad track, and that evening about 10:30, he and the 2 girls came, and we started towards the girls' house through an orchard in the rear of their place, when all of a sudden a bugle started blowing.

    We asked what that was all about, and they said that was a curfew and everyone was supposed to be off the street by 11:00 P.M. Well, I said to Chuck, here's where I come in, so I'm going to head for Switzerland. But the French boy says, "Don't worry -- just follow me." When the door opened, we met the other girl and her mother and dad. The old man had about a dozen maps all over the table, and he starts to ask us all kinds of questions.

    Everything is in French, so Chuck and I just stood there and
    looked at one another. When things calmed down, we tried explaining to them what happened to us since D-Day. It was now about the 20th of July. After a good deal of talking, they brought us some tea. We asked them if they had some coffee instead. They thought we were Englishmen. We soon changed their minds about that.

    Then they told us a German sergeant slept there in the house. Well, I said, "This is where I come in," and I headed for the door, but they stopped me and said he's gone for now and they didn't know when he'd be back. He'd gone to Paris to fight in Normandy, so everything was OK.

    By now it was about 1:30 A.M., so we went to bed. That was
    the first civilian bed I'd been in since I'd come overseas about
    11 months ago. Now I'm in one all the time.

    The next morning about 10:30 A.M. the girls woke Chuck and
    me and served us chow in bed. I told Chuck, this must be a
    beautiful dream -- just don't wake me up. The young French boy came in and said he was going to Rheims, and I asked him how. He said he was going to ride on his bicycle. I asked him how far it was, and he said about 37 kilometers, or about 25 miles.

    After he left, I started taking notice of the one girl that had come down in the woods on the bike the day before. She kept eying me, and I said to myself, watch yourself, Bill, you're starting to get ideas. We all went downstairs, and when we looked out the window, we saw about a dozen or more soldiers pushing a cannon out of the shed.

    The family explained they pushed and pulled a cannon up by the railroad a few times a week and set it up to aim down the tracks. The family also explained that the Germans didn't use the truck parked in the shed because it didn't have any gas. We all laughed about that.

    continued on next page...
    Last edited by Dean; 04-26-2012 at 12:26 PM.

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