Buddy Taylor Experiences Battle of the Bulge, German Prison Camp
Bob Holeman conducted this series of interviews with local World War II veterans in 2011-12. Most of these 34 American heroes have passed away in the decade since).
Drive down Hwy 34 to Sardis Baptist Church. Turn east and wind down the road until you reach the point, as Shel Silverstein might have said, where the asphalt ends. That’s the Buddy Taylor Road.
That’s also where you’ll find another of Winn’s veterans. Dennis “Buddy” Taylor, 86, will tell you he served only two years in World War II but those two years will catch your attention. His only battle was the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium. There he became a prisoner of war. Although he was not wounded in the battle, the Purple Heart in a shadow box on his living room wall bears testimony to his suffering under four months of German captivity.
Taylor was born Aug. 2, 1925, second youngest of three sons and seven daughters of R.C. and Nettie Taylor (who coincidentally shared the same birthday). Apart from the farming and logging activities of virtually all families of the time, his father also drove a school bus for Atlanta High for 30 years.
He attended school at Atlanta. Although he was a physical young man, he said he “didn’t have much of a chance at sports in school. “If Daddy needed any help in farming or hauling logs, I did it. If he needed a mule driver, I was the one. In the summertime, he’d take the bed off his bus and haul logs. I went to school until the ninth grade and that was it.”
The war effort lost no time in reaching out to this rural American. “When I turned 18, they called me into the Army. On Oct. 27, 1943, I went to Fort Humbug in Shreveport. In November, I went to Camp Beauregard for two or three weeks of basic training. Then we went to Camp Fannin in Texas. That was the coldest place in the world. You could have icicles hanging on your body and dust blowing in your face. That was basic training, too.”
In fact, Taylor said by this stage in the war, he didn’t see much of any specialized training, just the basics of fighting and handling a rifle. “We went to Camp Chaffey in Arkansas. They didn’t teach you much of nothing. I fell out on a 25-mile hike one night. I made the 25 miles but I was laid up for two weeks. When I did get up, I couldn’t hardly put my feet on the floor.
Following a furlough to say goodbye to his family, Taylor headed to another Army camp in Indiana where once more he went through more basics of Army life: physical training and rifle practice. “Then they sent us to Boston where we boarded the Queen Elizabeth. We headed over there (England). But on the way, three German submarines approached. Our captain out-maneuvered them, turning the ship from side to side. We’d slide from one wall to the other and nearly capsized. But we made the crossing in only three days, leaving those subs behind.”
When the new troops arrived, there would be no more training, just waiting. “We stayed in England 30 days. Yeah, we went around in town a little but I wouldn’t call it sight-seeing. I wasn’t much for sight-seeing. I was assigned to the 23rd Battalion, 106th Division. We crossed the English Channel on LSTs and landed in France. We crossed through Germany to Belgium. That’s where I was in my first and only battle, the Battle of the Bulge.”
In the closing days of the war in Europe, Hitler was making a last-ditch effort to split the American and British forces in Belgium. The American advance through the thinly-spread and poorly-trained German defense had been so fast that supplies and manpower were unable to keep pace.
“We were all riflemen,” explained Taylor. “I had a bazooka on my shoulder, with four or five rounds. And I was carrying an M-1 with lots of ammunition. I was pretty well loaded down so I couldn’t do very much fighting. Sleeping? We didn’t have tents. We didn’t have time for tents. We dug foxholes in the ground and got into them. My rifle is still in the foxhole I dug.
“We got there on Dec. 14, 1944. We didn’t last three days. On the 19th we were captured. Our unit was exchanged for 10 of theirs. I didn’t shoot my bazooka or fire my rifle the whole time. I broke apart my rifle and threw it into the foxhole so the Germans wouldn’t get it. Some sergeant took my bazooka and I don’t know what happened to it.
“The Germans marched us for three days and nights. The third night, they loaded us into a railroad boxcar. The next day, the Americans bombed the railroad…they didn’t know we were there. From there, the Germans carried us to Halley, Germany, near the Czechoslovakian border where they put us to work in a factory making supplies for the German army. We made little strips of iron.”
Although the former prisoner of war said treatment of the Americans was not abusive, living conditions were Spartan, work was demanding and food was barely enough to keep the laborers alive. “They treated us OK. They only hit me once. But we slept in a little old place, about 20 of us. What little food we got was all right. A little potato, potato juice, Limburger cheese and bread that was so hard you could knock a hole in this lumber with it. You had to soak it to eat it. We got water to drink.”
At one point, Taylor said he “took a fever, 106.7 degrees. They brought in an English doctor. He later told me that for two weeks, all I would say was ‘uh-uh and nuh-uh.’ The doctor gave me some penicillin. There was another boy who was sick like me but he didn’t make it. I remember when they carried him out. There were 15 or 20 of us in that room and we couldn’t do nothing. When I finally came out of it, my right side was paralyzed. The English doctor told me, ‘We’re going to make you walk’ and he got under one shoulder while another soldier pushed my leg out to make it move. I can walk OK now but it took me a long time.”
In early April 1945, the Germans moved us to another place. That night, the Americans bombed Halley and tore it all up. I never will forget the morning of April 15, 1945. We were all shut in a building about three times the size of this house. This American boy kicks open the door and jumps in and says, ‘Is anybody here from Detroit?’ None of us was.”
Taylor had remained in captivity just four days short of four months. Conditions were so harsh that the 20-year-old who went in at 185 pounds came out at just 125 pounds. Oddly, he cannot recall the first meal he enjoyed back with the American troops. In fact, his stomach was so stressed from months of starvation that it could not initially handle standard foods. That would take some time.
The freed prisoner was flown to England where he stayed in a hospital until May. He then “crossed the water” on a B-52 passenger plane to Boston. Then to Memphis. Because of his circumstances, Taylor earned a 30-day leave to visit home. He boarded a train on the Rock Island Railroad and headed to Winn Parish, unannounced.
“When I got to town, nobody from my family was there. They didn’t know I was coming. But a neighbor, Bro. T.T. Edwards, had a feeling I’d be on that train and waited. He brought me home.” Taylor returned to Memphis and on Sept. 15, 1945, received an honorable discharge, with 100% disability due to the war.
“I was 20 when I got out. I had my birthday while I was up in Memphis. The doctor told me to go home and prop my feet up on the front porch. I didn’t have enough strength to pick up a horse’s saddle with my right arm. But I didn’t go to sitting on the porch.
“I began drawing $112 per month pension. I bought this 120 acres of land (near where he’d been born). I bought me a few cows. Daddy had the woods full of hogs. And I built this house, all at the same time. I got a contractor to build it in 11 days, far enough along that I could move in. Then I finished it myself over time.”
Taylor says that for a long time after the war, he didn’t do much of anything as he worked to regain strength in his right side. This he apparently accomplished through the therapy of work itself. Like his father, he did some farming and he began to haul pulpwood. “I hauled pulpwood for I don’t know how many years. I’d haul seven loads a day, with seven cords to the load. Then I’d come home and work on the house until midnight.” He finally retired in 1979 after his mother died. “It got to be where I couldn’t keep any good help.”
Not long after Taylor returned home and began to establish himself there, he met Annie Bell Ray. “She lived about five miles across the woods. We dated for two years.” On his birthday in 1949, they got married. They will have been together for 63 years this August 2.
The Taylors have three children, James Robert (Jimmy), Wanda Kay and Terry. They have six grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, with two more on the way.