World War II Vet Cited as Hero Four Times, But Never Wounded
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2004 Not only is Walter R. Bieder, 83, a true American hero, he's one of the luckiest men alive.
World War II D-Day veteran Walter R. Bieder, 83, poses with framed
copies of his two Silver Star Medals (top left), two Bronze Star Medals (top right)
for gallantry in combat, and other badges and medals. Photo by Rudi
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A combatant in several hard-fought, bloody battles of World War II, Bieder earned two Silver Star Medals and two Bronze Star Medals for heroism without even getting a scratch.
"God was looking out for me," said Bieder, a retired Parma, Ohio, police officer who now lives in Woodbridge, Va.
An Army private first class when he hit Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Bieder was later decorated with the Silver Star Medal "for gallantry in action in the vicinity of Colleville-sur Mer in Normandy, France," according to the award citation.
The citation states, "Acting solely on his own initiative, Sergeant Bieder crossed a dense minefield under heavy fire and captured a number of enemy snipers. After delivering his captives to the command post, he rejoined his section and led a successful assault on the well-fortified machine gun placement."
Bieder recalls slipping a hand grenade onto the launcher of his M1 rifle and firing the grenade at a machine gun nest. "It went right in front of them," said Bieder, who later turned down a battlefield commission to lieutenant because he would have had to leave his unit. "So I quickly put another one on, brought her up a little bit, and boom -- I got him."
About three weeks later, he was cited for gallantry in combat the second time. This time he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with V device for valor during ground combat in Belgium in September 1944. He was recommended for a second Bronze Star on New Year's Day 1945 for valor in action near Czechoslovakia. But, it was more than 20 years before he was presented his second Bronze Star Medal because of a paperwork mixup. It was mailed to him in January 1964.
Bieder earned his second Silver Star, the nation's third highest decoration for valor, while serving with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. He was cited for gallantry in action in the vicinity of Weisweiler, Germany, on Nov. 26, 1944, when his company was "impeded by intense enemy fire from numerous camp placements concealed in the thick of foliage of the Hurtgen Forest."
The Battle of Hurtgen Forest was fought from September 1944 to February 1945 south and east of Aachen, Germany.
The decoration's citation states in part, "Sergeant Bieder fearlessly exposed himself to a barrage of enemy fire. He reorganized his men and bravely landed a successful attack against the foe."
Bieder started his trek across the battlefields of World War II when he joined the Army's 1st Infantry Division when the unit was bivouacked outside of Oran, Africa. On July 10, 1943, he fought in the invasion of Sicily. "It took us more than a month to capture Sicily," he noted. "Then we bivouacked outside of a town called Licata, Sicily, where we stayed until the war ended in Sicily in August."
In early November 1943, the unit sailed from Sicily to England to prepare for the D- Day Invasion.
"All hell broke loose when we hit Omaha Beach," Bieder noted. "The tide was out, so we had a long beach to cross with a lot of obstacles, including land mines. Only four guys from one of our landing craft got out of the landing craft alive.
"When they dropped the ramp of the landing craft, the Germans cross-fired right into it," Bieder said. "Four guys jumped off the rear of the landing craft; that's how they got out alive. When we stepped off the landing craft, we went down in the water up to your neck. And we lost a lot of equipment there due to that.
"When we got on the beach the water was red with blood and bodies all over the beach," he continued. His unit fought its way inland until being pinned down in a hedgerow by the Germans. "We couldn't move and our radio communications was cut off so we couldn't communicate with our company commander," he said. "Then we started getting hit by friendly fire because the Navy didn't know we were out that far."
Under the cover of darkness, the unit made it back to its company area. "There wasn't many of us left," Bieder noted.
Bieder said he'd never forget the tears flowing down his company commander's face on D-Day night. "He cried because he said they lied to us," Bieder said. "The beach was supposed to be full of bomb craters, and we were counting on them being there, but there were not any around to use as foxholes."
According to Bieder, his commander cried because there were only 60 men left out of a reinforced company of more than 200 troops. "We were so battered that we couldn't even take our first objective," the combat hero said, adding that all the unit's tanks had sunk in the surf "the guys and all."
Reinforcements and equipment arrived in about a week to kick off the push through France. The Army Air Corps paved the way through France with wave after wave of bombers.
"It was quite a site to see -- the sky was black with bombers," Bieder said. "They just kept coming over and dropping bombs out in front of us -- just dropping for two hours! After that, we started our push through France.
"Some of the people and some of the Germans who survived, were running around like they were wild," he continued. "I mean, the percussion of all them bombs and everything. There were dead cattle all over the place."
Bieder said he doubts anyone who claims he wasn't scared on D-Day. "Nobody can tell me they wasn't scared," he said. "The worst part is when you're waiting to go into combat. After the fighting started, it was just a little different. But the initial waiting, waiting. That gets you. I was scared, and I'm not ashamed to admit it."
His unit bypassed Paris and went to Belgium, but some of them went to Paris after the city was liberated for a bit of rest and recuperation shortly before the Battle of the Bulge, which was fought from Dec. 16, 1944 through Jan. 25, 1945.
Military historians called it "the coldest, snowiest weather in memory in the Ardennes Forest on the German/Belgium border." More than a million men, 500,000 Germans, 600,000 Americans and 55,000 British fought in the battle. There were more than 100,000 German casualties, killed, wounded or captured; 81,000 American casualties, including 23,554 captured and 19,000 killed; and 1,400 British casualties, of which 200 were killed.
That was another fierce battle Bieder survived unscathed.
"That was one of the worst winters in Europe's history," the he noted. "Believe me, the Lord was watching over me. At one point, it was so cold and my (olive drab) overcoat was so frozen that when I slipped out of it, the damn thing stood up by itself!"
Bieder recalled the night he and four other soldiers crawled to the edge of a pillbox where they heard German voices. "I hollered out in German to come out, surrender, or I'm going to kill all of you," said Bieder, whose grandmother taught him to speak German. "Fourteen of them come out of there.
"I felt so sorry for an older German who grabbed me and pleaded with me not shoot him," he said. "I told him I wasn't going to shoot him. We marched them back to our areas and sent them to a (prisoner-of-war) compound."
Bieder said he went through "hell" during the war, but one of his unforgettable memories was Thanksgiving dinner in 1944.
"I'll never forget Thanksgiving in '44," he said. "They said all the troops were going to have turkey for Thanksgiving. We did get turkey -- cold turkey sandwiches with cold coffee! It was a cold rainy day, and we were sitting in foxholes with water up around your waist. But boy, damn it, it tasted good!"
When he was discharged from the Army, Bieder became the manager of a movie theater where he had worked before going to war. He later became a policeman in Parma, Ohio, and retired in 1969. He met his late wife, Eleanor, at the theater, and they were married on Oct. 7, 1948. She had four children before their marriage and the couple had seven more children together.
Reflecting over the affect of his combat experiences on his life, Bieder said, "I had a little rough time sometimes. My mother said shortly after I was home, I used wake her up hollering and screaming, 'Watch out! Get that!'"
After the nightmares subsided, Bieder was closemouthed about his wartime experiences. "I just didn't talk about it," said Bieder, a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7916 in Occoquan, Va. "A lot of people would ask me questions, and I'd just say, 'I don't want to talk about it.' The only time I ever talked was if I knew it was somebody that understood.
"I never even said much to my kids about it," said the father of six girls and five boys.
Bieder said there's now a book out about his platoon's exploits called "Until the Victory is Won," written by David Allender.