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JC native thwarted Nazi efforts despite being POW

By J. Parker Roberts | 1ST INF. DIV. PUBLIC AFFAIRS | June 11, 2014

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 people.”

Nevertheless Stahl, assigned to work in a paper mill, continued to fight the Nazis in whatever way he could.

“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.

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