Arnold Edward Debrick, was born at his family farm, 12 miles southeast of Paola, Kansas, on March 31st 1925. He grew up with one older Sister and a younger Brother.
“Being on a farm far from town, we didn’t get information on what was going so quick. So the crash, which happened in 1929, I was 4, but I remember the depression clear.
We had to do without a lot of things. My Parents would go in to Paola once a week and do their shopping. Taking eggs and cream in to sell it, then turn around and buy necessary groceries which was not very much. Mainly sugar and flour.
We did raise and butcher our hogs. We didn’t have much. It embarrassed me as a young kid, going into town we’d wear overalls, patch on patch. So it seemed like people living in town for some reason had more and dressed better. That was a regular occurrence when I was real little.
We visited cousins a lot. One of them, Elmer Flake, lived on the other side of the Marais des Cynge river, which was common talk back then “oh, they live on the other side of the river.” It explained where people were at. Elmer, I’ll be saying a word about him in a minute during my experiences in the service.
We were at home, and all we had was a radio. My Parents always listened to this religious program when they broke in to that and said Pearl Harbor had been bombed, and that was quite a shocked.
I was going to school in Paola the time Pearl was hit. They stopped running the school bus when I was a sophomore, so I had to miss a year since I had no way of getting there. Times were so tough my Parents couldn’t even afford to drive me to school and back twice a day.
So my Dad and a neighbor, a little bit later, they had a ton truck they gotten and built a box on it to make a school bus out of it. I drove that and picked the rest of the kids in our neighborhood to go to school.
Then in 44, two classmates of mine, got called in the draft. I wanted to go with them. I volunteered for the service. A group of us, not just us 3, but other guys that got drafted, got on a passenger train in Paola to FT. Leavonworth. Well, the two guys didn’t pass their physicals. But I did!
I went to Camp Hood, now Fort Hood training for US Army basic training. After all that, I was sent to Camp Kilmore in New Jersey to ship out. I ended up on the Queen Mary. Mary and Elizabeth were pleasure cruise ships that turned into troop ships. 15’000 troops on our ship.
We started out into the Atlantic to Europe. At some point they sighted a submarine. German submarines that were out trying to sink ships. They said “Don’t worry we can out run them”. They were about the only ships that could outrun submarines.
We ended up in Scotland, and they were in a hurry to get us where we needed to go. I didn’t know anything at anytime, I just followed orders. A troop plane took us to England through South Hampton. It was there we got on a LST, which hauled tanks and men. We spent all night on it through the English channel. It was one of the roughest water there is. Everyone was throwing up, seasick. We stood in vomit about nearly an inch thick (laughs).
We arrived in France very early in the morning, and after getting off the LST, there was a railroad with freight cars , they called them 40 and 8’s. France’s freight cars were smaller and they didn’t travel very fast. A group of us got on one for transportation and we went through the French Timberland.
We were all standing, crowded in there, I said to one fella I talked too “hey, let’s see if we can get on top of this.” which, he agreed with me, so he did. We both got up on top of that freight car, now they didn’t travel fast, maybe 30 miles an hour. We were playing like cowboys and Indians jumping from one car to another. Totally foolish. But we were kids!
He got one or two cars ahead of me, when he took a flip. I knew a wire caught him. I ducked immediately, and the wire went across the top my helmet. I looked out and thought “This was senseless”.
I assumed he was thrown into the timberland. This bothered me for a long time. 40 years. I told my wife “I’m the only one that knew what happened. We probably introduced our names but I don’t remember his, So I don’t know his family. No one else on the freight really knew him. His Parents probably never knew what happened.”
Then here’s were Elmer Flake comes in. Elmer invited us to lunch one day. We went, and Elmer, he had a friend there he took basic training with, and this guy sat across from me in the living room and said to me “Remember when we got on that freight car in France?”
I rolled out of the couch.”Was that you!?”. His name was Joe Pierce. He said the wire caught him across his face, and fell out of sight but he held on to the car and never went back to where I was.He was shaken up then. This I didn’t know. It blew my mind. The reason he associated me with Elmer was he remembered me saying I was from Paola when we meet, and Elmer, whom he took basic with, was from Paola. They were good pals that got back in touch later.
Getting back to the war, we landed in Bastogne, Belgium. That was the center of the Battle of the Bulge.
Many things, terrible things of the war has been erased from my mind, but I’ll tell you some of the unusual things, some which I told you already. More things took place and some of it was my fault.
The Germans tried to take that town up and the 101st Airborne was trapped in there and couldn’t do anything about it just before we got there (the Armored Army Divisions). The Germans offered the 101st Airborne to surrender, and General McAuliffe sent them a note saying “NUTS”. They kept fighting.
I was in the 6th armored divisions. There’s a number of armored divisions, but we were all in the Third Army under General Patton.
This was all part of the Battle of the Bulge. It was at night when we got there at Bastongne, it was dark, but the town was getting shelled real heavy.
A dozen of us were in a truck. We jumped out before the truck got out of there fast as he could. A group of us went into this shelled out building . There was one fella in our group that knew what we were suppose to do. When we got in the building, I relived myself. I walked outside for a bit, went back in and there was not a soul there. I didn’t know what to do. I grabbed my rifle and I said “Lord, I’ll do the best I can. The rest is up to you”.
I walked out in the street which was cluttered, it had been bombed so bad. I saw this truck coming around dodging ruins. Behind this truck was a fella sitting there in the back. He saw me, reached out his arm and pulled me in the truck. Thanks to him.
He asked “Where you going?”. I said “I don’t know. Where are you going?”. “I’m going out to the edge of town to the Ardennes forest to the 9th Armour division.” I said “Well, That’s where I’m going then”. I never found out where I really was suppose to go.
It was still the middle of the night when we got to the edge, the Sargent never asked me a question, he just said “hey, you better get in that fox hole quick and don’t even light a cigarette, we are being shelled real heavily. Any light will draw their attention”. That’s what I did.
The next morning, we went to the countryside of Luxembourg, taking some ground. I was the youngest of the group so I depended on any fella older than me. We’d go into houses to see if there was any German’s in the house. Of course Luxemburg and Belgium were on our side, they were just take over by the German’s.
We went in this one house and there was a family in there. They were standing two steps up the stairs, looking at us. They were very scared. The older fella did the talking and ask if there was any Bosh (German’s) in the basement? “No no!”.
We checked the basement anyway and they were German soldiers there. This made the fella really upset. He said to me “Those people lied to us. We could have had our heads blown off”.
We took the Germans prisoners and went up to the main level and the fella said ” I’m going to shoot them. They lied to us”. I responded “They were scared. Germans are listening here, they did not know what to do.” He gave in, fortunately.
So we gave the prisoners to the company head and they take them to somewhere.
We went on further. All kind of things happened, some of which I said earlier I erased from my mind.
I recall one situation: Bunch of the time we were in a pine forest. Tall pines. It’s good in one way but bad in another. If you dig a foxhole, you always have a danger if those shells hits those trees, fragments of the shell would always hit you. A lot of our guys got killed that way.
One thing I remember most was the snow was sometime knee deep, and so terribly cold. Below zero. I found out later it was one of the coldest winters on record.
We had tank battalions like infantry battalions. We got in an open spot, kind of an uphill. The Tanks was there on the snow. Several of us were ordered to get behind the tanks, heading into another town. The Tank was uphill in an open spot. Me and a couple guys sat behind it, then the Tank started firing back and forth. They were running zig zag. The Germans were firing back and the fire power got so hard, that they we had to retreat. They told us to get off the Tank and run back and the only place we could run since the snow was so deep was the Tank tracks. “Run back as hard as you can.”
I was running on the track and I looked over 30 yards from me, a fella like me running on the tracks of the Tank he was behind, he fell down. The Tank couldn’t see him they were backing up behind him so fast. That was an instance where a lot of our own people were killed in accidents or wrong firing.
The way we take a town, we had the artillery behind us, firing ahead of us into the town. We always thought “Hope they don’t mess up and hit us!”
I had my life saved several times. This one house I took was empty, and there was this high legged stove I crawled under looking for some secret floor entrance if there was one. Well the town was being shelled heavily. As I went under the stove, about that time a shell hit the house and took the whole side of that house. If I hadn’t been under that stove I’d been a goner.
I didn’t have much sense. I was a kid. I never even wrote letters back home. Juts because I never really got any mail. They forget to give it to me, so I never really just did it myslef. A Red Cross man came up to me since my Mom went to to the Red Cross in Paola to see if there was any information about me. So the Red Cross man at the camp I was in was informed to check on me. He asked “Are you writing home?” i said “No I haven’t gotten any mail”?. He said “That’s not a good excuse”. I found out I had 112 letters in one bunch. So I wrote home.
After fighting in Belgium and Luxembourg, We were back in France, pushing the Germans back. I was in mortar squad for awhile. I carried the mortar which was very heavy. We walked all night in a mountains area. As we got along, there was dead soldiers everywhere. You’d just get callous to that stuff. Some guys sat on a dead German eating rations. That’s how used you get to it.
Before daylight, we got 500 yards of the “Our River”. River crossings is terrible. German’s can pick you off like ducks. When we got there they said “Pair up and dig fox holes as quick as you can. We are going to get shelled”. I was so tired after carrying that mortar all night, I said to my partner “To heck with that.”He replied ” you have to.” So he dug in and I have to say he saved my life.
When I sat down I was done for. So he got the hole dug and dragged me in it, before we got shelled real heavy. He saved me and I never got his name. I hate that.
The next morning we had time to dig our own holes. There was still a lot of snow on the ground. The way I dug my foxhole was a small hole to start with and trench down underneath and the hole was the only opening. When I got down in that fox hole I thought “this has to be the Hilton Hotel.” I was in this different world. I couldn’t see anything. you’ve been out in combat so much to escape it like that for a bit was extraordinary.
We waited for the artillery to come and shell the German’s across the river, before we’d cross it. We stood guard that night, me and another fella. After you out there so long you begin to see and imagine things. The other fella said “here comes a German”. We called artillery, turned out it was stumped riddled with post mortar. That’s the way you get when you are so involved.
We finally got instructions to take a path through the river. Now a fella with me, he was from Alabama, A truck ran over his foot. I helped him back to the first aid was.
Then it came time to cross the river, under fire. And fortunately, I made it without much of an incident but I don’t know about the rest of them.
Then we immediately came across pill boxes. Concrete pill boxes. They had a narrow slot where they stick out machine guns to mow down anyone approaching. We had a tough time taking this pill box. It was decided that If we can put enough fire power shooting into those slots, to keep from doing all they could and get our men to put TNT around it. Which they did. They set that off and it killed some. The survivors became so dazed,they’d come out and we take them prisoner.
Then the German fire power got hot on us again. So we took the pill box. We were trapped in there. A half dozen of us. I don’t know how long but it was length of time. One of our Tanks from our Tank Battalion was knocked over 100 yards away. We knew Tanks carried D-bars. Chocolate bars with energy. One guy said ” I’m gonna crawl down and see if I can get something”. Fortunately he made it. Crawled all the way to the tank, brought back D-bars so we had something to eat. Course the rest of our company was able to quite the German’s down and we got out.
At this point we are in Germany, we stopped at this point at this open spot and this Lieutenant said “You dig in here, and you watch. Be on guard, Germans are over the hills so make sure they don’t come surprise us.” I regret this but it happened, I was so tired, I fell asleep. I felt something, I woke up, there was a rifle barrel aiming at my head. I looked up, it was the Lieutenant. Boy, was he upset. He told me right away “If I was German I’d blow you away”.
Now if you sleep on duty while war is on, it’s the death penalty. But he was very thoughtful and knew the problems. But he said “Never do that again.” That was a wake up call.
Now later we come across this barn and I decided to take my boots off and lay in the hay for a bit. This guy comes up, looks at my feet and said my feet were black. They were froze. I had trenchfoot set in.
I got in an ambulance and I remembered one of our Sargent went back to England since his toe went black and they had to amputate it.
I got into a general hospital in France into an amputation ward. That’s all they do. Amputate feet. They put me in a room with several other guys. Doctor said there was nothing they could do but lye me on the bed, elevate my feet above my heart, to see if we get circulation. He said “If we can’t get that back, getting green sets in, it goes right up your legs and kill you. So we’ll watch the green and amputate before it gets to you.”
The Doctor came back often to watch me. I’ll never forgot seeing one of the guys in my room coming back with both feet amputated.
Now track was my favorite spot in school and I love to dance. I couldn’t accept losing my feet. There was one thing I could do, Pray. Believe me, I did. All day, every day. I was in there for a month and the doctor came in one day and said “you gained much of you’re circulation back, but you have lost some of it, permanently. You’ll never get it all back, but you got enough back, so we’ll send you back on the front lines again.”
(Arnold cracks a big smile) I was so glad to hear that. It was a miracle for me.
Eventually, I got on a truck to where my company was at. When I caught up with them they were just going into Buchenwald. A concentration camp near Wiemar,Germany. I went through it with them. Some of the prisoners tried to find strength to lift of the guys in the air in celebration.
The war was nearly over then, and the Germans knew they were whipped. All the SS troops that were there at Buchenwald, they took the civilian clothes off the prisoners, and put them down under their uniform, and what they were going to do, soon they were taken over, They would take their uniform off so they could be take as civilians. Those SS guys, they were terrible. They were murderers!
We moved out of there, and near Poland when we received orders to wait for the Russians. This upset the ones in our company. “We’ve been through the worst of it, now we have to wait for the Russians!” The SS troops dreaded the Russians.
At some point we got a message that Hitler was dead. A lot of messages/news we got was not to accurate sometimes. I honestly didn’t believe it at all, until I later found out to be true.
Not long after that, the War was over! But there’d still be a few more incidents.
There were snipers in the hill. We were in Poland at this point, and our Sargent got shot in the lungs. The guys became really upset. The war was over and some of them are still shooting.
I can understand what happened with what I’m about to tell you, course I was upset about it as well. So again, me and this older guy in our company: He and I were suppose to gather weapons from civilians, getting back to Poland. They were coming in on foot, wagons, cows pulling wagons, bicycles.
Trusting no one. Fearing another murder.
Now these two boys on their bicycles, 10-12 years old, had their belongings stored in a box tied to their bicycle. We went through that, found a pistol. Well, our guys being upset over the shooting, the older guy, said “Come on boys. Let’s go over the hill”.
I knew what he was up to. Because they had a pistol, our guy got shot, he was gonna take them over the hill and shoot them.
By the time I caught up with him and the two boys are kneeling looking at him and he has his gun pointed at them and I said “hey, you can’t do that, that’s murder now. they are kids!” He was totally upset, I mean his mind was not working right, I can’t blame him because of the combat he went through, but that’s the way he was at that time. He wouldn’t give in, so I took my gun at his chest and said “If you pull that trigger I’ll use my gun.” I was trying to bluff him but I was getting worked up over it myself. I had him bluffed. He gave in. Then I said after tossing away the pistol “Boy’s, you get out as quick as you can.” I always wished I could find those boys someplace. See how they are.
After awhile I was transferred into the MP’s. One of my first jobs , there was a German camp the US took over that was not far from Frankfurt. This camp they kept German officers to Interrogate them and sent them to the Numberg trials. One of my first duties, was to sit in a room not much bigger then this room we are in, and they told me ” This is a high official German officer who is a criminal.” I had instructions to leave my M-I on my lap and not even talk to him. He just sat across from me like that, keep an eye on him. He didn’t do anything and I didn’t talk to him. That man was Herman Goering. Hitler’s right man at one time. He was across from me for a short time. He committed suicide with a cyanide pill before one of his trials. he did not want to be hanged by the allies. Many speculated that his wife visited him and kissed him and that’s perhaps how he got a hold of the pill.
Herman Goering. The man that Arnold guarded for a short time. Herman would commit suicide via cyanide pill before being sentenced to hang.
One light story I’ll share, now I go into all sorts of trouble for my orneriness, that’s my spirit (Laughs) Now while combat was on, Officers didn’t want you to salute them not to draw attention, since German’s shoot the officers first. This Colonel, I met him in a narrow path, I walked by, didn’t salute him, War was then, so he said “Soldier, don’t you salute officers?” “Yes sir.” I said. “Why didn’t you salute me”. “I didn’t see ya.” Boy, he stood there and chewed me out! Now generally when you get chewed out, which happened to me a lot, you salute and say “Yes sir.” and go on. Well, then I forgot to salute again. He chewed me out, shook his head and said “He’s a bad one.” “Yes sir!” I said. (Laughs) .”
Arnold served two years from 1944-46 for the US Army. He was awarded the Bronze medal and French Legion of Honor, The highest distinction earned in France. He returned home in Paola in 1946, married his wife Lorrine several years later, raised 4 children, and started his own successful company, Debrick Truck Line.