By Major Van Harl USAF Ret
Wisconsin --(Ammoland.com)- My uncle Dale Brown was a carpenter in the very small Iowa town of Kingston.
He went into the Army in 1943. When he came back after Germany surrendered, according to my mother (his sister) and my aunt, Dale was never the same person.
He chain-smoked which contributed to his death by heart attack at age 58. He mentioned something about a German concentration camp but gave no details. Dale left all his Army uniforms at his sister’s home after he got back and never reclaimed them. My aunt gave the uniforms to my sister and Dale’s story was forgotten.
I tried doing some research online about Uncle Dale and got nowhere. This past Christmas my sister was in town and I asked her to bring Dales Army “Ike” jacket with all the patches on it for me to figure out what unit he was in.
With the jacket in front of me I was able to determine he was in the 102nd Infantry Division, called the Ozarks. He had an old pre-WW I Coast Artillery Corps collar device which was warn by anti-aircraft units.
Dale was in the 548th Antiaircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion. He manned a quad-barreled .50 caliber machine gun system that was assigned to an artillery unit. His job was to shoot at German fighter aircraft as they dove straight down at him trying to destroy the ground artillery firing next to him.
The German pilots got so close sometimes Dale could see their faces just before he splashed their aircraft smack into the countryside.
When German troops tried to attack the artillery on the ground Dale lowered his .50 calibers to ground level and took the enemy on face-to-face. The Germans worked hard to try and kill Technical Sergeant Dale Brown, especially after his unit entered German soil. The winter of 1944-45 was record cold and made combat life all that much more dangerous. In the famous WWII picture of US Army troops shaking hands with Russian troops at the Elbe River, 48 miles east of Berlin, it was the 102nd Infantry that made that first contact with the Russians, sealing the fate of Germany.
However, between the Rhine River and the Elbe River, Dale Brown and many other young American Soldiers lives were shocked and changed. The Holocaust of WWII is usually remembered as the death of over 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis. There was however 6 million more people murdered by the Germans. Every country the Germans occupied they rounded up Nationals of those countries and shipped them off as slave labor. In the countries that sided with Germany, they used this opportunity of war to get rid of the “undesirables” in their country.
The Vichy French government under German occupation was very good at helping deport French Jews, communists, Gypsies, and other political prisoners to Germany as slave labor. In the spring of 1945 the Russians were crushing everything in their path to Berlin and the Americans were finishing up the German military in the western part of that country.
Prisoners were on the move in order to keep them out of the hands of the Allies. The second week of April 1945 found approximately 2000 slave laborers headed to the town of Gardelegen on foot because the trains were being systematically destroyed by US war planes. Some prisoners escaped into the woods. Many were murdered on the roads as they fell in exhaustion.
A final 1016 prisoners were stuffed inside a brick barn full of gasoline soaked straw and on 13 April the German SS soldiers and the local good citizens of Gardelegen set fire to the barn. Those who did not die from the fire were shot or died as grenades were thrown into the barn.
The citizens of Gardelegen jokingly called it “hunting zebras” because of the black & white striped uniforms the prisoners wore. Soldiers of the 102nd Infantry and specifically men from the 548th Antiaircraft Artillery found the barn and the dead. Uncle Dale was there. Only a handful of the dead were Jews. There was even the body of a uniformed American soldier burned to death in that barn.
The locals were forced to bury the dead and under Russian occupation forced to build a memorial. The Massacre at Gardelegen, Uncle Dale was there and at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
I know East Germany suffered greatly under Russian occupation, I am not sure West Germany suffered enough. It was not just the Nazis, Hitler or the German military and government, it was the German people. Many of them got away with murder.
Two things to remember: be grateful this coming 11 Nov 2012 / Veterans Day, that you have men & women who will stand in harms way to defend you and your Nation and that you have a 2nd Amendment right (the only nations that does) to own and use arms to defend yourself against external evil and internal evil.
Armed citizens do not get pushed into a barn and burned alive—not without a fight.
Major Van Harl USAF Ret.
About Major Van Harl USAF Ret.:
Major Van E. Harl USAF Ret. , is a career Police Officer in the U.S. Air Force was born in Burlington, Iowa, USA, in 1955. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Now retired, these days he enjoys camping, traveling, volunteering with the Girl Scouts and writing. email@example.com