News of a 500-pound Allied bomb discovered and disarmed near Vossenack, Germany in September brought back memories for a Superior man who grew up near there during World War II.
Born April 6, 1939, almost five months before the German invasion of Poland, Karl Heinz Winterscheidt — better known by his middle name — of East End was born in Herzogenrath, near Aachen, Germany.
According to the Sept. 19 report in the Aachener Nachrichten, 50 buildings were evacuated so the bomb discovered in a field nearly 5 feet underground could be disarmed. A farmer who had found metal shards previously while plowing asked bomb-clearing experts to examine the field.
“Seventy-plus years later, this still exists. It’s a danger,” Winterscheidt said of the bomb found in a village about 17 miles from where he grew up near the German border with Belgium during World War II.
“I was born literally at the edge of the Battle of the Bulge … That’s how it was — bombing, shooting, machine guns,” Winterscheidt said. He was 5 years old when German forces launched the last major offensive on the western front Dec. 16, 1944.
“I still have that in the head. I will not lose this … even if I try," he said.
Now 80, remembers what life was like growing up in Germany at a time when then Adolf Hitler hoped to build an empire by invading neighboring European countries.
“We as kids found all kinds of ammunition,” Winterscheidt said. “We found explosives, guns. That was our life. We did not know anything else.”
“We went to a bombed-out school. There were no windows. There were benches and this is where we learned writing.”
In some cases, he said, the kids never made it home after discovering the munitions.
It was a time of maximum discipline, when even in kindergarten, children learned to goose-step march, like the soldiers of the Third Reich, Winterscheidt said. He said if he had been 10 years older at the time of the war, he would have been forced to become a “Hitler-Jugend,” a youth organization of the Nazi Party in Germany. From 1933 to 1945, it was a partial paramilitary organization and the only official boys youth organization for males age 14-18.
His own father didn’t escape the war, Winterscheidt said.
“My dad was a soldier, so in my expression he was one of them little peons,” Winterscheidt said. “He had to go. He was sent to Stalingrad. Ja, Papa didn’t come home.”
He remembered standing in front of a school when a mailman delivered the news to his mother — a notification he still keeps — and his mother screaming when she learned her husband had been killed.
“Kids don’t understand until it sinks in,” Winterscheidt said. “That does not happen the same moment. That sinking in, that takes a while. Papa does not come back.”
As a child, he learned the hardship of war.
“I remember situations where the Allieds came in with tanks and with other vehicles and the shooting and airplanes coming, and the sirens went off 2 o’clock in the night, 3 o’clock in the night, pitch dark, fliegel-alarms … attacks by aircraft,” Winterscheidt said. “The siren turns on, then we had to run to the bunkers. The bunker wasn’t direct on the side of our house. The bunker was in a field somewhere to stay alive.”
But it was then, that he learned enough about Americans that would guide his decision to emigrate from Germany to the United States in 1976, and serve the people in his new country as a volunteer in search and rescue with the U.S. Air Force auxiliary, or Civil Air Patrol.
“The Germans were moving away,” Winterscheidt said. “We, families, kids were there, and the ‘Amees’ — we called them ‘Amees’ or ‘the Allied.’ The majority were Americans … They had given us food.”
He remembered American soldiers carrying their rations in a pack that hung on their leg and sharing what they could with the wide-eyed German children who had nothing to eat.
“We went to a bombed-out school,” Winterscheidt said. “There were no windows. There were benches and this is where we learned writing.”
And after the war, when children in Germany used bomb craters for swimming pools during the rainy season, cobbled together tireless bikes from the parts of many and worked in farm fields for a bit of food, it was the Americans that again provided food.
“Houses were destroyed … and we had to help ourselves,” he said. “No. 1, you could not go buy food. Buy with what? There was no money … then we got those care packages. That was the American Marshall Plan … there was a lot of stuff to eat, some we didn’t know existed.”
Winterscheidt described the banana he had seen for the first time in one of those packages that arrived as result of the American aid to help with European recovery after the war.
The United States gave more than $12 billion in economic assistance to help rebuild Western European economies over four years, starting in 1948.
Winterscheidt said he still carries the scars of his childhood — a bit of encapsulated steel in his chest, shrapnel discovered many years after the war, and the memory of being rushed to a field hospital as a child to close a gash near his jawline on his neck after injuring himself while racing into a bunker.
“I am a World War II survivor,” Winterscheidt said.
Legacy of WWII bombs linger
Between 1940 and 1945, Allied bombers dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs on Europe. About half of that ordnance fell on German targets, eradicating Nazi war infrastructure.
But some of those bombs remain in the German landscape and remain a threat today:
- About 4,500 residents of Berlin were evacuated in Regensburg, Germany in April while experts detonated a 550-pound bomb that shattered windows in several surrounding buildings, according to the Associated Press.
- According to the Washington Post, no one was injured in June when an Allied bomb exploded on farmland in Ahlbach, Germany, leaving a 33-foot wide gouge in a barley field. The unexpected explosion, triggered by a deteriorating detonator, led some residents to speculate it was an earthquake, the Post and German news sources reported.
- A 220-pound bomb from World War II was unearthed at a construction site in the Berlin’s Alexanderplatz, one of the German capitol’s busiest areas, according to a German news organization, Deutsche Welle. Experts estimate about 3,000 bombs remain in the subsoil in Berlin, the organization reported.
Germany isn’t the only European country where undetonated WWII bombs are still being found.
According to the BBC, the London City Airport was closed and families were evacuated in February 2018 until an 1,100-pound bomb found in the Thames could be detonated in the water. That year, 14 unexploded bombs were uncovered in Romania and 10,000 people were evacuated in Rennes, France, because of bombs dropped during World War II, according to a variety of news sources.
Unexploded World War II-era bombs have also been discovered in Hong Kong, Sydney harbor in Australia, Singapore and at the Kremlin in Moscow in recent years.