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Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

Article about: we loose so much when the elder generation go,I wish I had paid more to my father.

  1. #1

    Default Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

    Hi guys,

    Back in 2011 I took part on the D-Day reenactment in Conneaut, Ohio. At the end of it, when I got to the top of the bluff, a woman with an elderly man in a wheelchair approached me. The man in the wheelchair couldn't speak, but I shook his hand and he smiled as the woman, his daughter, handed me a small packet entitled 'WWII- Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler.' As it turns out, the woman had typed this all up back when her father was able to speak, and they both felt that they ought to make a copy to give to a reenactor at the event. I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. They couldn't stay long, so they left soon afterward. I have tried to no avail to locate Mr. Fiddler and his daughter since then, but a new lead has sprung, so I have decided to type out the entire document for all of you to read. (I asked the woman if I could reproduce the document for my friends, and she told me that it was not only absolutely fine but very much encouraged.)

    Mr. Fiddler is from my town (Erie, PA), and he served as a paratrooper in the 17th Airborne Division, taking part in both the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Varsity. His stories are short, and I have not edited them. Enjoy!

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------

    WWII
    By Willard L. Fiddler
    Staff Sergeant

    In the early days of my military experience, I had left my senior class at Strong Vincent High School in Erie, Pa and volunteered to go into the draft early. I turned 18 in March of 1943 and went in shortly thereafter. Normally, you couldn’t be drafted into Airborne Divisions (Paratroops and Gliders) but they did take those I went with and put us in the 17th Airborne Division in Camp McCall, NC. Later we set up a jump school so we could all be qualified to jump as paratroops, and we were paid extra for jumping hazards. I seem to remember that they took our monthly pay from $21 to $71. Wow!

    Battle of the Bulge
    December 1944

    At the start of the Battle of the Bulge, my Division was stationed in England. The Germans, in a desperate attempt to win, put together a new attack on some of our allies’ lines. They hit our lines in an area near Bastogne, Belgium, creating a bulge.

    Their surprise attacks pinned down some of our troops, including the 101st Airborne Division. That’s the division to which a German general called the commanding general of the 101st to surrender, and the American general’s key response was- “NUTS”.

    Our 17th Airborne division was picked to rescue the 101st. We were flown from England to France. As we landed, we laid on the grass along the runway. Seeing the lights of other planes coming in reminded us that it was Christmas Eve.

    We were trucked up to the Bastogne area to join the battle of rescuing the 101st. Our first action had us go over a big field to a wooded area. As we got to the woods, the enemy knew we were there. They opened fire upon us with their dreaded 88mm artillery. The sound of the incoming shells was extremely scary. We quickly dug slit trenches in the ground. They were just wide enough to allow us to dive in and be just below ground level. One of my buddies and I made ours side by side.

    Soon after we learned the shells were all exploding right above us, hence my buddy was hit by shrapnel from above. His injuries were serious enough that he was eventually flown back to the states for hospital care- end of the war for Al.

    Final Role- Courtesy to our Dead
    “The Will to Live”

    Three days after our first day’s battle, our duty was to return and retrieve our dead soldiers. I was assigned to take one of our flatbed trucks (6 ft. x 6 ft.) and 3 troops and return to the battlefield where so many of our troops were killed. So we picked up the bodies and loaded them into the truck to take them back for a proper burial. This experience gave me the awareness of the will to live.

    While picking up our dead, we heard a voice hollering, “Help me!” We found the soldier and all that was left of him was his torso, from his waist to his head! He was alive enough that he could still cry for help and wanted to live. We picked him up carefully and took him back to our rear area. He was taken to a group of our medics, so I expect he was allowed to die in peace, and received an honorable burial.

    Ultimately, the enemy lost their bulge attempt, so we continued our race to beat the Russians into Berlin.

    Crossing the Rhine to race the Russians into Berlin
    March 1945

    Our glider regiment was stationed in France when it was decided to “GO.” We became the longest double tow of gliders ever attempted. As we were flying over the peaceful French countryside, we would occasionally see a glider cut loose and go down or land in neutral area. Our glider pilots were washed out of the air force, so all they had to do to release the tow was to push a handle.

    Gliders were built of steel tubing wrapped with building tar paper. Hence, there was no amount of protection from the exploding shell which was shot as we passed over. I was the only one in our glider that had a piece of exploding shell hit me in the leg. (Be nice to me and I’ll show you the scars on my muscular leg.) Our belt of equipment always contained a pouch of medication and bandage wrap, so it worked for me!

    Gliders were a new method of getting troops into action. So now we had to learn the new techniques for gliding. Gliders were pulled by a nylon rope. Wow! You older women will realize why nylon hosiery was hard to buy at that time.

    While the gliders had wheels for takeoff, the wheels dropped off as soon as we were off the ground.

    In the early days there was no good way to stop the gliders during landing. One effort tried was, once on the ground, to aim the glider between the trees, so cracking off the wings brought the glider to an abrupt stop.

    We, of course, had maps to show which field we should land in. We were trained that if we landed in the field, to bust out of the glider and start firing our guns into the surrounding woods, so we did just that.

    As we jumped from our glider and began firing into the woods, we noticed a guy standing and waving a little flag. He happened to be a British airborne soldier! So together we all figured out that we landed in the wrong field! We were about five miles into enemy area than we should have been. Our two cowering pilots were hiding in a ditch.

    Once we got back with our main group of troops, we moved fast in crossing Germany to arrive in Berlin before the Russians.

    Throughout our time in Germany, we frequently questioned why they couldn’t have been on our side. Germany is a beautiful country and the people there were nice.

    I lived in an apartment house in Berlin and got to know the Russian who later became our enemy.

    I had enough points to return to the states, rather than stay, to parade down 5th Avenue with the 82nd Airborne Division. It was not only the end of the war, but the end of my great military experience.

    College under the GI bill was enough to propel me ahead in life.

    ----------------------------------------------------------

    Here is Mr. Fiddler's enlistment record: NARA - AAD - Display Full Records - Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938 - 1946 (Enlistment Records)

    I will keep this thread updated as I gather more info!

    Thanks,
    Mo

  2. #2
    ?

    Default Re: Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

    awesome thread. These kinds of stories are why we all collect, to preserve the history and stories of the great men and women who both fought and worked towards the war effort.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

    Thanks for taking the time to type that all out , Mo. I'm glad they thought to record it all before he couldn't speak. I guess maybe he saw the importance and knew his time to speak was limited. Any photos of him? And on a side note, i presume Strong Vincent high school named after Vincent, killed in Gettysburg, a place I frequent quite a bit.

  4. #4

    Default Re: Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

    Yes, Strong Vincent is right down the road from my house in Erie. He was born there, so there are a few places named after him. SV is the ghetto school of Erie, nowadays. lol

  5. #5

    Default Re: Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

    What a shame. I bet its so bad the veteran probably couldn't return there to visit his old school. My mother drives through the old row houses of Baltimore City, the ones that she knew as a child in tr post wat years, they used to be respectable middle class working homes with bright white marble steps and brick fronts. Now they are totally trashed, borded up and rotting. Ticks me off. Thanks HUD for ruining our cities, with the help of some others. Sorry. Didn't mean to get off track.

    Nice to hear a veterans story. There is a local vet I want to record his stories but schedule just hasn't permitted it.

  6. #6

    Default Re: Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

    Quote by helmetone View Post
    What a shame. I bet its so bad the veteran probably couldn't return there to visit his old school. My mother drives through the old row houses of Baltimore City, the ones that she knew as a child in tr post wat years, they used to be respectable middle class working homes with bright white marble steps and brick fronts. Now they are totally trashed, borded up and rotting. Ticks me off. Thanks HUD for ruining our cities, with the help of some others. Sorry. Didn't mean to get off track.

    Nice to hear a veterans story. There is a local vet I want to record his stories but schedule just hasn't permitted it.
    Pretty much all of Erie has turned into that, unfortunately. What was once a very beautiful and elegant city was ruined by the rise and fall of Great Lakes industrial 'Rust Belt' culture, and is now just a sad pile of overgrown houses, abandoned factories, and Kwik-Fills. It's like a mini Cleveland, which itself is like a mini Detroit. lol

  7. #7

    Default Re: Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

    That is a really great gift, Mo. I know you are thrilled to have been the
    one guy out there who received this letter. He needn't worry - his
    service and that of others won't be forgotten by our generations.

    I guess he just wanted to share his personal story with someone
    he knew would care. Perhaps he felt his daughter wasn't all that
    interested or doesn't understand the importance of what
    he went through.........
    Regards,


    Steve.

  8. #8

    Default Re: Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

    Thanks Mo. Always great to read of a Veterans service.

    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!

  9. #9

    Default Re: Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

    You're welcome, gentlemen. If I can get in contact with his family I should be able to find out more info.

  10. #10
    ?

    Default Re: Staff Sergeant Willard L. Fiddler, 17th Airborne Division

    Good thread.

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