A Christmas Story from WWII Written By My Dad

Joseph Richard Pahle, 1st Lt. 17th Airborne, 513th

Joseph Richard Pahle, 1st Lt., 513 Parachute Inf., 17th Airborne Div. Silver Star, 2 Bronze Stars, Purple Heart

By: Joe R. Pahle (written in December 1995)

It was Christmas Day, fifty years ago, during the Battle of the Bulge, in the tiny hamlet of Flamierge, Belgium, several kilometers down the road from Bastogne.  The worst of the fighting was over and there were only about a dozen of us left from a platoon of fifty, and we were assigned the chore of gathering up the friendly and enemy dead into separate piles beside the town’s only church, which had been largely destroyed during the fighting. There were gaping shell holes in the roof.  The stained glass windows were all shattered and the statues of the saints were little more than rubble on the floor.  The pews were mostly gone, having been used for firewood in an effort to keep warm during the bitter cold.

With our gruesome task completed, we decided to explore the church, climbing into the organ loft, we discovered the old manual organ virtually in tact. I don’t remember his name, but he was a private in the first squad who persuaded a buddy to pump the organ while he stroked the keys and tread the pedals, filling that cold winter air with strains of “Silent Night”.

As if by magic, seemingly everyone dropped what he was doing and migrated toward this little church.  The citizens of Flamierge who had survived the fighting came out of hiding and cautiously approached their church, waiting outside to be invited in.

With troopers taking turns pumping the organ, our organist played one Christmas carol after another as best he could while the town people and an array of battle-hardened paratroopers cried their eyes out on this white Christmas in a little town that was home to some but far from home to the rest of us.

A Tribute to My Dad on Veteran’s Day

1st Lt. 17th Airborne, 513th

1st Lt. Joseph Richard Pahle, 17th Airborne, 513th

The older I get the more I look back on the people in my life and the many ways they’ve influenced me to be the person I am.

Today’s post, in honor of Veteran’s Day, I’m reflecting on how my dad influenced me.  I believe the challenges he faced in the military have had a profound effect on my life’s path, my sibling’s, our children’s, and undoubtedly on generations to come.

My dad grew up in Ohio, graduated Ohio University, and served in the US Army as a First Lieutenant in the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 17th Airborne during WWII.   His first combat experience was The Battle of the Bulge. General Patton ordered the 17th Airborne to seize the town of Flamierge where they would encounter brutal resistance from the Germans and sustain heavy casualties, many of whom were my dad’s closest friends.  Even after losing about half their platoon, his unit gallantly achieved their objectives.

My dad rarely talked about the war.  I knew he hated cold weather and I imagine it had much to do with the bitter cold he encountered during the Battle of the Bulge.  I cannot begin to imagine how he must have felt having lost so many of his friends and fellow soldiers in such brutal circumstances, but what he endured after the Battle of the Bulge turned out to be much worse.

It was during Operation Varsity and the Allied Invasion of Germany, during the last full scale airborne drop of the war that my father’s plane missed its drop zone.  The 513th jumped into enemy territory in a heavily fortified German town and began conducting frontal assaults on German positions.

During this fighting, a private first class seeing his unit’s exposed position and acting on instinct he, my dad and a few fellow paratroopers ran in a wild rush toward the enemy positions. Just short they were riddled with machine gun fire. The PFC, Stuart Styker, fell dead.  My dad was shot in the head, yet the remainder of his platoon overtook the enemy position capturing two hundred Germans and freeing 3 American bomber pilots. For this heroic action Pfc Stryker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor and my dad received the Silver Star.

From the stories I’ve heard from my mom, my dad spent the next six months in a hospital in Paris, France, then after returning to the US, underwent seven brain surgeries. Early on, his doctors feared he would be a vegetable.  They never expected him to live a normal life yet my dad endured.

This is all part of his life that I cannot begin to comprehend, but I do know that my dad’s faith, work ethic, positive attitude, and a determined heart are what brought him through it and were the foundation of what surprised many and became an outstanding life.

He went on to marry my mom, have six kids, ten grandkids, and support a family with a successful career that included owning his own advertising agency.  In 1999, my dad was diagnosed with a Glioblastoma brain tumor in the very spot were shrapnel remained from his war injury some 50 years earlier. I will never ever forget how my dad reacted to hearing his tumor was inoperable and learn he had just a few months to live.  He wasn’t sad or worried. He didn’t pity himself. He was at peace and he looked me square in the eye and said, “I’ve had a good life.”

I can’t put into words what a gift that was.   My dad was very spiritual and close to God.  How could he not have been having been through so much in the war to end up living a long, blessed life.  I’m so grateful for the example he set.  He worked hard his whole life.  He never gave up.  He always smiled and laughed and was so deeply humble.   I know his spirit lives on in me and in everyone in my family.

Thanks, Dad.  I love you.

513th H Company 17th Airborne WWII

France, early 1945, after the Battle of the Bulge and before the Rhine River jump.
L to R, Marshal Wolpher, Charles Martin, Joe Pahle, Robert Hammerquist, Robert Mayer