Several months ago Dave Lehman and I had the privilege, and more importantly the honor, to spend some time bending an elbow with Clyde Waltz at the Zafar Grotto in South Williamsport. It was an opportunity to simply listen and learn from a member of the "Greatest Generation".
Clyde was shy talking about his World War II experience. Clyde was born September 4th, 1925 and was now 88 years old. His memory was almost as rusty as my interviewing skills. Yet some facts of the past remained crystal clear.
He started talking about his childhood days growing up on a farm in Hepburn Township where he attended the new Hepburn School. He was so shy that he would put his head on his desk and he ended up repeating first grade.
While in 11th grade he turned 18 and was soon drafted and when he was notified to report he was ready to go. He wanted to protect his country. He completed 13 weeks of basic training in Texas and then was sent to Camp Breckinrige, Kentucky. While on a 10 day leave he married the love of his life, Ruby E. Cowher.
He was assigned to the 75th Infantry Division as a member of a water-cooled machine gun crew. He was only 165 pounds at the time and his job was to carry the tripod and feed it ammo.
November 1944 he boarded a troop ship headed to Northampton, England and landed in France a month later in December. His squad was rushed to the front to take up defensive positions in the Arden Forrest where he soon found himself in a fierce fight that was to be called "The Battle of the Bulge". It was there that they underwent horrible artillery barrages that seemed to last forever. All they could do was hug the bottom of their foxholes.
On one of those attacks his gunner was struck in the neck with shrapnel and was bleeding to death. He spent the entire night with his hand on his buddy's neck trying to keep him alive. The next morning the medics showed up and took him away. That was the last he saw him and to this day he does not knowing if he survived or not.
They came pretty close once when they were temporarily overrun by German Panther Tanks. They were lucky they were not pushed back further by the Germans but Allied artillery kept them in check.
They lacked air support due to the fog, but as soon as it lifted he remembers sitting in a fence row watching wave after wave of bombers fly over pushing the Germans back. They held the line at great cost. Most boys were hit at night by the artillery and his squad paid a heavy price, losing 7 men. Through all that battle he was not wounded.
They had no winter clothing, boots, or heavy overcoats. Clyde ended up with both feet severely frostbitten that caused him to be taken off the line. He was eventually sent to England for treatment. The doctors wanted to amputate both feet but Clyde pleaded with them to give it a little more time. That paid off and saved his feet. He spent 4 months in the hospital recovering before being sent back on the line.
He arrived in time to cross the Rhine on a plank walkway bridge built by British Engineers. When the war ended in August 1945 he was at some camera factory in Germany. When they said he had earned enough points to go home it did not take him long to get ready and on March 26, 1946 he headed home.
Clyde was promoted to "Buck Sergeant E-5, he earned the coveted "Combat Infantryman's Badge" and medals for his service in WWII. Ironically he was never awarded a purple heart for his frozen feet.
Once back in the states he did some farming, worked at Bethlehem Steel, drove school bus and eventually started a garbage route. He talked with a gleam in his eye of his family with an oldest son now a retired United States Marine. He spoke sadly of his wife's failing health.
His final and most telling comment says so much about the man and his generation. We were blessed with their courage and extreme sacrifice.
"When the war ended we helped ourselves we never asked for help I raised my sons to help themselves like my dad raised me".
A short time after we talked with Clyde he lost his wife of 69 years. I would see Clyde most days at the DuBoistown VFW where a friend of his would drive him there to "sign the daily book" and have a beer in the company of "Brothers".
On June 28th, Clyde Waltz passed away and our country and our community had to give a final salute to yet another "Silent Warrior". He will be missed, but his sacrifice will not soon be forgotten especially by his "Band of Brothers".
Gary L. Mayers
Submitted by Virtual Newsroom