World War II enemies became friends
At 101 years of age, Quentin Fackler still remembers his dog tag number: 37047361. A resident of Van Vorhies Haus in Mt. Pleasant and hard of hearing, but still sharp, Fackler tells his story of World War II and the surprising and hope-filled message that came from it.
Fackler was drafted into the Army and placed in Field Artillery with the 26th Infantry Division, 3rd Army, called the “Yankee Division.” He considers his placement in Field Artillery (ergo the deafness) to be fortunate because it was the Infantry that really took the beating.
The Yankee Division entered France at Normandy following D-Day, so the heavy fighting was over. The Germans, hiding in hedge rows, took a heavy toll on Allied forces. The harbor at Normandy was blocked by blown up ships and airplanes, so they used landing craft for entry. From there it was the Battle of the Bulge, crossing the Rhine River; Nancy, France; Luxembourg; Corregidor; Bastogne and Czechoslovakia. Fackler emphasizes that he was no hero and darned lucky to get out alive. It was the infantry who were the real heroes. The Germans were much better prepared, equipped and trained for warfare.
In boot camp, trucks had been used for simulation, with the word “TANK” plastered on the side. Raw recruits were shipped to the front with hardly any training. They learned how to dig a fox hole real fast. It wasn’t unusual for a GI to be placed in a tank and expected to fire it without training.
In Luxembourg, Krauts with shotguns were dressed like GI’s, which was a dirty trick. The mud and muck was so thick, that French farmers with horses were recruited to pull the 105 millimeter howitzers out of the gump and goo. Some of the guys wound up wearing German boots that were far superior. One day a truck pulled into Fackler’s division and unloaded four-buckle overshoes — all size 14.
But the Allies prevailed. Following the war, he was discharged and came to Des Moines. Fackler started working for the Green Colonial Company that made coal furnaces. He became a salesman and was given SE Iowa as his territory.
Bernhard Andresen was a German soldier.
“No one wins in war,” he said in his memoir.
The Russians attacked, “in four waves, with the second and fourth unarmed. They would pick up the guns of their falling comrades.”
“On the whole, the Russian soldiers were dedicated and as we, very much brain washed to believe we would not take prisoners and as a result fought to the bitter end,” Andresen said.
Andresen was a tank driver. The Russian tanks were far superior to the German tanks. Consequently, Russian tanks were highly sought after. (The American Sherman Tank was the best of all!)
“A call came to us for volunteers to a tank unit which comprised old Russian captured tanks.” “The tanks, all freshly painted, now carried our emblem and proved to be a welcomed addition to the infantry.” “One problem surfaced at the outset with the Russian tanks, now in our hands and that was the stocking of parts. Only two ways were available, one was to salvage incapacitated tanks and the other was from tanks mired down and abandoned….these were located in no-man lands.”
In scavenging parts, “We had the misfortune to be shot at from both sides, enemy and own troops as well.”
“Civilians, mostly led by regular soldiers…were blowing up bridges and railroad tracks.” “Here we were introduced to a different kind of warfare….First of all, you do not recognize the enemy because he wears no uniform. During the day you see him as an old and fearful citizen and in the evening he becomes a knife and rifle wielding patriot.” “Fire is being received from a town. You attack and take it with those tanks….Now you secure your lines against the direction the enemy escaped, only to be attacked at night from the rear. It then became necessary to guard against all directions.” “I came to accept the lost war as the best thing for the rest of the world as well as for our country.”
Following the war, Bernhard and his family emigrated to the United States with the help of his minister brother and church members in Illinois. There was nothing much left in Germany. America was the land of opportunity. He farmed in Illinois and then in Iowa. Because of his war injuries and a farm accident, he gave up farming and bought a dry-cleaning business in Mt. Pleasant on the west side of the square — Ruby Cleaners. He, his wife and four daughters, lived above the store.
Fackler was a sharp dressing salesman. He took his suits to Ruby Cleaners to have them dry cleaned. As fate would have it or Divine Providence, there he met Andresen. They began talking. Lo-and-behold they discovered that not only had they been on opposite sides of the war, but they had also been in some of the same battles. They could have killed each other, but they were now standing in front of one another, conversing and enjoying life. They became fast friends.
Andresen and his family had moved out of the apartment above Ruby Cleaners and built a house on the southwest side of Mt. Pleasant. He invited Fackler to his home and introduced him to his family. They sat together in the outdoor swing and reminisced about their war experiences, life and the future.
Andresen passed away 10 years ago at the age of 81. Fackler still lives and gets around with the aid of a cane or walker. They both agreed, nothing good comes from war, but enemies can lay down their weapons and become friends.
Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526.