For years, Bill Stahl
didn’t share much about his experiences in World War II.
“I don’t think I knew he
had been a prisoner of war at that time,” said Stahl’s wife of 52 years, Mary
Lou. “For years after we were married, he would not talk about it.”
The Junction City native’s family
members said it was only in the last 15 years he has opened up about his time
in the Army. Drafted after graduating from Junction City High School in 1943,
Stahl was assigned to Company K, 422nd Infantry Battalion, 106th Infantry Division,
toward the end of the war. On Dec. 10, 1944, his unit was on the front lines, defending
the free world from the Nazi Army.
That was six days before
the Battle of the Bulge, a surprise attack by the German forces that would
eventually claim the most American lives of any battle in the war.
“We were right in the middle
of it,” Stahl said at a meeting of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge
Northeast Kansas Chapter Jan. 14, 2012. “We lasted four days. That doesn’t seem
like a long time, but it was a long time then. We did the best we could.”
After four days of battle, during
which he was wounded in the hand and leg by shrapnel, the 19-year-old and two-thirds
of his battalion were captured and ordered to lay down arms – an order Stahl’s
family said he resents even now.
“He said the most …
humiliating thing he ever had to do was surrender,” Mary Lou said. “It still
bugs him to this day. But he said they were out of food, they were out of
ammunition, their feet were frozen.”
For Stahl, capture was as fraught
with danger as battle. While being transported to Stalag IV-B – one of the
largest POW camps in Germany during World War II – in boxcars that should have
been marked as containing POW, allied troops attacked the train Stahl was on,
resulting in several deaths.
Stahl’s loved ones said he was
treated especially poorly by the Germans because of his German last name.
“It was just a few months that
he was a POW, and he lost about 50 pounds,” Mary Lou said. “One of the Germans broke
his nose with the butt of his gun. They told him he was fighting his own
assigned to work in a paper mill, continued to fight the Nazis in whatever way
“We were trained that if
this ever did happen to you, you did everything you could to pester the dickens
out of them and foul it up,” Stahl said in an earlier interview. “So the
machinery was constantly broken, the lights would go off, things like that.”
Stahl spent about four months
as a POW.
“They had heard rumblings that
the Americans and Russians were about to take over, and they were told over and
over that they would all be killed before they would let that happen,” said
Stahl’s daughter, Marsha Mechtley, who added the prisoners were repeatedly
marched into the prison’s yard by German guards, who acted as if they would
shoot the prisoners. “And then, they started marching them.”
The POWs were then forced
to march away from the prison for days. On the third day, the prisoners awoke to
find their guards had fled in the night.
“They knew then that the Americans
were close behind,” Mary Lou said. “They think the only reason they didn’t line
them up and shoot them was because they were afraid the Americans would catch them
and do the same thing to them.”
After the war, Stahl went
to law school at Washburn University, Topeka, Kansas, on the G.I. Bill.
“It was a wonderful thing for
the Soldiers,” Mary Lou said about the G.I. Bill. “A lot of them were able to
go to college that wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.”
Following college, Stahl returned
to Junction City to open a private law practice. He still lives there today.