Today marks Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945, or as it is most commonly referred to, V-E Day. To mark that milestone which brought an end to World War II on the European Continent, the Era is featuring a guest story by Nathan J. Muller of Smethport, PA, who describes his fathers experience with the 101st Airborne Division. Muller’s father’s unit celebrated V-E Day at Adolph Hitlers mountain retreat in Bavaria. How he and others got there was chronicled in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers.”
By Nathan J. Muller
On that day 68 years ago, the main streets of America and Europe erupted in euphoric celebration. Years of common sacrifice had finally ended. With a menace that threatened to cloak Europe in darkness utterly defeated, countless people on both sides of the Atlantic saw the promise of a normal life before them.
In Germany, some U.S. paratroopers marked the occasion with a unique celebration. Members of the 101st Airborne Division hoisted glasses of wine and champagne in the very place Hitler used for high level meetings his mountaintop retreat in the town of Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. The town was also the southern headquarters of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, commonly known as the Nazi Party, of which Hitler had been its leader.
My father, Adler Muller of Martinsburg, West Virginia, was among those who celebrated V-E Day in Hitler’s retreat, dubbed the „Eagle’s Nest.” How he and others got there was chronicled in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose.After participating in the Normandy Invasion, units of the 101st Airborne Division trekked through Europe, engaging enemy forces wherever they were found, notably in Bastogne, Belgium where Hitler’s last western offensive was turned back during the vicious Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944.
Months later, with the war finally winding down, the Allies recognized the need to take Berchtesgaden to prevent it from being used by diehard Nazis as a possible redoubt for guerilla operations. By that time, however, Hitler had already been discovered dead in a bunker in Berlin and German troops were surrendering en masse. Berchtesgaden was no longer a strategic objective. Instead, it became the ultimate trophy for Allied forces.
The 101st Airborne Division’s Company E was among the first American units to reach the Eagle’s Nest in a race that included Russian and French troops. If Berchtesgaden still held any spiritual significance for true believers across Germany, a lingering Allied presence there would go a long way toward crushing that spirit. Other Airborne units immediately joined Company E at Berchtesgaden. Among them was Company C, my father’s unit.
The troops went through the abandoned homes of Nazi officials and confiscated thousands of bottles of Europe’s best wines and champagnes. Varying accounts put Hermann Göring’s personal liquor stock at between 10,000 and 16,000 bottles. The parties thrown in and around the Nazi complex on V-E Day are still the stuff of legend. After that, many Allied units were rewarded with their own tour of Berchtesgaden. By then the town had been stripped of all moveable objects.
Any item with a Swastika was allowed to be taken, but this rule was loosely enforced, if at all. Troops took trays of silverware adorned with an Eagle and Swastika emblem bracketed with the initials A H. Gold trimmed white Nazi ceremonial flags, candelabra, linens, china, and crystal were among the other items found. There was so much booty that the occupying troops played cards using it as currency.
Some, like my father, crated their share for shipment back home. Over the years, he distributed a few items to family members, but retained the bulk of the collection.
When my father’s parish, St. Leo the Great in Inwood, West Virginia, finished building a new church, it had exceeded its budget. This left the church steeple without a crucifix. With the help of an intermediary, my father sought a suitable buyer for his collection so a cross could be purchased for the church.
Not any buyer would do, of course. The collection could not fall into the hands of a neo-Nazi group that might use it to inspire hateful acts. This would have tainted the cross and everything it stood for.
Eventually, a buyer was found who had a genuine interest in World War II history. The purchase put the crucifix on the steeple of St. Leo’s Church, an act that had so many levels of meaning. At the highest, it was a manifestation of pure evil turned into pure good.
My father was hospitalized in January 2013. On arriving at his bedside from Smethport, Pennsylvania, he reached to shake my hand. I asked how he was feeling. „I’m on my way out,” he said. He had been hospitalized on previous occasions, but this time was different. There was no going home and neither of us could pretend otherwise.
Wherever these Brothers may be, a grateful Nation salutes you and all World War II veterans for their sacrifices in achieving the hard-fought Victory in Europe that changed the course of history.
Pat’s latest NY Times Bestseller:
Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?
POLISH CLUB ONLINE, 2013.05.08