Many Veterans of Vietnam had fathers or other relatives who served in the military during World War II. These Veterans are not easy to find, but many still have experiences to share with us.
My father was a Ranger medic in WW II. He was ahead Allied advances during the last days of the War in Europe as they pushed the Germans back to Berlin. His unit happened to enter a German Concentration Camp called Flossenberg. It was what you might expect and displayed the worst that the Germans did to innocent people. I lost my father 1-Ĺ years ago to lung cancer. We believe he eventually contracted cancer because of the chemicals they used to de-lice and clean up the poor people he found in and around the camp. He was 89 years old.
I am fortunate though to have received a letter from a local gentleman who is a WW II Veteran. He has a story to tell that I thought important to pass on to you.
His name is Tony Villegas. He served in the Air Force as a mechanic working on Allied fighter aircraft. At the time of this story, his unit had been moved out of harms way in North Africa because the Germans were moving dangerously close to Allied air fields. He and his comrades ended up in Algeria.
It was the winter of 1943, and contrary to what you might think, it gets cold in North Africa. It even snows. His unit was encamped just south of Constantine, Algeria. They were on a high plateau that was barren of any vegetation. There was an Algerian village nearby, but no inhabitants were seen nearby the village.
Some of the men were reporting the disappearance of blankets, but the disappearances became more of a concern when barrage bags also began to show up missing. Life was miserable enough in Algeria but it became harder when items began go missing.
A few of the men began to notice a couple of unrecognized people hanging around the encampment. When spotted these people scurried away, but the men noticed their solid white clothing which identified them as locals.
They complained to their officer in charge. He, in turn, complained to the French authorities (at the time of this story Algeria was under French rule). A French officer was dispatched to their camp to look into this situation. He was not a pleasant man, carrying a pistol and a long horse whip, even though there werenít any horses where they were. He was extremely rude and demanding, not someone you could call a friend.
The French officer chose 10 Americans to go with him on a mission to sort the problem out. The men were joking about the whip the officer was carrying, because it looked like he was ready to lash mules even though there were none in sight.
As they approached a village the blowing sand from their truck must have alerted people in the village because, when they got to the village, it seemed to be deserted.
An elderly man with two young boys suddenly appeared. The French officer questioned them for a few moments before he told the American detail to begin probing the grounds with steel rods for the items that had been taken.
Then they came upon a much larger adobe building with no windows, having just one door that was locked. The elderly man refused to let the American detail inside and argued with the French officer about this situation. Finally the French officer prevailed, probably through threats, and they were allowed access. Without windows the inside of the building was very dark and the men had trouble adjusting their eyes to the change in light. As their eyes began to adjust they saw what appeared to be a large group of women crouched against the walls of the building as if they were afraid that they were going to be beaten or killed. The Americans also noticed that all the women were nude. They saw that some had tiny babies they were protecting from the men. These women acted as if they were prisoners who were tortured or subjected to other mistreatment. It was a tough site to see.
The French officer acted as if he wasnít surprised to find such a situation. He immediately ordered the women out of the building. It was now that the men learned why he carried the horse whip. He obviously felt they werenít moving fast enough and used the whip to hurry them up. The scene was hard to endure. He showed absolutely no compassion to their plight or the conditions in which they were kept.
When the women were out, the Americans began to search the inside of the building for their items. It was no surprise when they began to find items buried and they soon recovered all their stuff.
The treatment of these people was deplorable to the American detail. It was pretty obvious, given the condition of these women that they had nothing to do with the disappearance of the equipment, yet they were handled like animals by both the elderly Algerian man and the French officer.
The French officer went about his business focusing entirely on his dealings with the elderly man. He demanded the surrender of the people who had stolen the equipment. Soon, the elderly Algerian man sent the two boys away. They reappeared with two young men who where accused of committing the thefts. They were handed over to the French officer without comment. They were assumed to be guilty of the crime without any clear evidence that they did it.
The young men were lashed to the railings of the truck so that they were standing in the middle of the truck bed. It was very difficult for the men to remain standing as the truck moved out. While they were calm and quiet before the truck began moving, once they were outside shouting distance of the village they became very belligerent. They were crazy with rage and began spitting on the men the men followed with kicking and screaming. They appeared to hate the Americans. To the Americans this day was a life changing experience. They believed the two men turned over to them were scapegoats meant to close the case without actually confronting those actually guilty of the thefts.
Once back at the American encampment the French officer took custody of the two young men. He whisked them away quickly. Only God knows what eventually happened to these men, but chances are it wasnít pleasant.
This is an example of experiencing the horrors of war different from what is experienced in the actual conflict.
I would personally like to thank Mr. Villegas for allowing us to tell his story. Itís important that we are able to read different types of stories.