The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 25, 2011

Not forgotten: Veteran’s WWII memories live on in memoirs

By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID — Ted Dilbeck smiled and shook hands when a reporter thanked him for his service.

“I had it, I wish I could remember more of it,” he apologized.

Dilbeck, 90, is a resident of Golden Oaks Nursing Home and suffering from dementia. But his war experiences were recorded about 10 years ago, and they tell a story a young man who grew to lead troops in a world war: Dilbeck was made a sergeant in a howitzer division during the Battle of the Bulge, one of the toughest fights of World War II.

Dilbeck joined the National Guard with his brother in 1940 because jobs were scarce, although his brother later received a medical discharge due to illness. The 189th Field Artillery Battalion was gaining strength, and its headquarters was in Enid, he said in written memoirs, which were completed about 10 years ago.

The soldiers of the 189th underwent training at Fort Sill. The howitzers they used were World War I vintage and had a range of about 10 miles; The newer models they later received could reach an additional 2 miles thanks to a longer barrel. Both fired a 155 mm projectile — about six inches in diameter — that weighed just under 100 pounds.

“The newer type was far better any way you wanted to measure them,” he said in his memoirs.

The National Guard originally was scheduled to be mobilized only once a year, but the attack on Pearl Harbor changed those plans; Dilbeck said when that occurred, he knew he was in for the duration of the war. A War Department directive stated two-thirds of the men were to be on post at all times, and furloughs were virtually nonexistent for the remainder of the war.

He eventually was promoted to sergeant and sent to Camp Bowie, Texas, where Dilbeck said he was too easygoing as a sergeant. He was transferred to Louisiana as part of a gasoline supply company, then to Texas, then back to Louisiana, then to Camp Maxey, Texas.

“I had learned a lesson about dealing with men, so I resolved that I was not going to make the same mistakes again,” he said.

In 1944, news came that U.S. troops were building up for an invasion, and Dilbeck suspected the war would be over before he got to Europe. He learned airborne artillery was seeking NCOs, and he applied.

Dilbeck passed the physical examination and was waiting for word when he learned his outfit was going to Europe. He used his first furlough in four years to travel to California, where his other and stepfather were working in a defense plant, then boarded a troop ship with about 4,000 others and sailed to Glasgow, Scotland, then on to London.

After a short stay, they continued to the port of Southampton and transferred to another troop transport for the trip across the English channel, arriving off the coast of Normandy during daylight.

Dilbeck arrived during D-Day, landing on Utah Beach in  an LST, but he said casualties at Omaha Beach were far worse.

He said there “was a tremendous amount of destruction” from the D-Day invasion, and his unit marched further into France and set up tents, living on K-rations. Dilbeck said the rations were not popular, but one could survive on them until a real meal was found.

Two months passed before the group’s howitzers arrived, so the soldiers spent their time packing supplies to be taken to the field. As they continued north, it became colder. On Jan. 13, they drove into a field and prepared the howitzers for firing with the temperature dropping below zero.

“In a matter of days, we left a warm climate and entered a bitter cold one,” Dilbeck said in his memoirs.

Three days later, the Battle of the Bulge began. The battle was fought during the winter months of 1944-45 and was the last major Nazi offensive against the Allies. It was a last attempt by Hitler to split the Allies in two and destroy their ability to supply themselves — and stop their drive toward Germany.

In his memoirs, Dilbeck recalls his men suddenly were surrounded by German forces. He said the Germans actually lit a bonfire on a hill near them. All three of their firing batteries sat with no contact with the forward elements or headquarters, so they had no instructions to fire or do anything else they needed to do. After sitting there the entire night, headquarters finally managed to make radio contact and found a plan to get them out of that pocket.

Dilbeck’s unit drove without lights through heavy darkness as 90 mm guns fired along the side of the road while they drove through to safety.

Some units were not as lucky: They had not been ordered to take their ammunition, but Dilbeck disobeyed orders and loaded ammunition in every place he could find.

They eventually moved into position to fire on a town called Houffalize, within firing range of Bastogne. The 101st was encircled at Bastogne, and Dilbeck’s unit, along with others, was set up to provide firepower to assist them. Cloudy conditions in the 10-below-zero weather made it impossible for aircraft to help.

“It was so cold that even our howitzer’s recoils were being damaged ... the seals were leaking due to too much firing with such low temperature,” he said in his memoirs.

Dilbeck, at that point in the 3rd Army, would continue with Gen. George Patton’s force for the rest of his tour of Europe. At 12:01 a.m. Dec. 25, an artillery barrage began that saw every artillery piece the unit had open fire. Dilbeck said the scene was hard to describe, but the sound was like  tremendous thunder and the ground shook beneath his feet.

By the next morning, Dilbeck said soldiers saw trucks hauling Germans back from the front in poor condition. Most were haggard, dirty and in shock, and he admits he felt sorry for them.

A few days later, the skies cleared. Cargo planes dropped supplies to the 101st Airborne Division, and P-47 fighters began attacking Hitler’s troops.

Dilbeck later was promoted to staff sergeant. A few months after that, with the war over, he returned to the United States. Five years and 10 months after he had left, Dilbeck finally returned to Enid.