January 18, 2022

Vet recalls heat of battle

Bob Ellis/staff photographer

Arthur Alexander, 92, of Cuyler, tells the story of fighting with the 234th Combat Engineer battalion in the Army during the Battle of the Bulge in World War ll. Alexander only recently discovered through an MRI that he still has a bullet fragment in his neck.

CUYLER — Some veterans are a bit reluctant to talk about their experiences in the military. Army veteran Arthur Alexander is not one of those people, recalling in a recent interview, ahead of Veterans Day today, the sacrifices made by him and others who served their country.

Alexander, 92, served in the 234th Combat Engineers Battalion during World War II, and was more than eager to talk about what it was like to fight for America and the Allied Forces in the Battle of the Bulge.

“A combat engineer is used for anything,” he said. “Infantry …, you may have to build bridges, you may have to build a road. You have to do all that stuff.”

Alexander recalled one night when he was ordered to go with the 213th Cavalry Regiment to blow up a nearby bridge over the Ruhr River in Germany to prevent German soldiers from crossing.

“We got going up in there and pretty soon the machine guns opened up,” Alexander said. “We all hit the dirt. I laid there, my head turned a little bit and I see this bullet go right by my face.”

The bullet would wind up striking one of his fellow soldiers in the foot, but he would learn decades later, he did not come away from that confrontation unscathed.

Vicki Barton, Alexander’s daughter, said a few months ago she took her father to the doctor to seek treatment for a headache, at which point they decided to order an MRI.

At first, the image looked ordinary, until the physician pointed to a small white dot. That was part of the bullet that whizzed by Alexander’s face all those decades ago during the winter of 1944-45.

“At first they thought he had lead poisoning,” she said. “He (Alexander) said, ‘Well I know where I got that from! I know exactly what I was doing.”

Alexander said between the adrenaline pumping through his body and being covered in mud, he did not notice how long he had been taking cover, let alone that part of a bullet had pierced his skin.

“When the firing quit, I didn’t know how long I’d been there,” he said. “So when I looked up, I’m there all alone, by my lonesome. Now I’ve got to go back and find my outfit!”

Heading west, he came to a fence in a field and a large pile of hay next it. As he go closer he noticed two soldiers walking toward him. The problem was he couldn’t tell if they were Germans or Americans.

“I don’t know who they are,” he said. “So I … backed into the hay so they couldn’t see me but I could see them. I waited until the two soldiers got to the other side of the hay and I said, ‘Hold it!’”

Alexander had gotten the jump on the soldiers who turned out to be a couple of American medics heading back to base, he said. He joined them and a few moments later the group came upon some more soldiers.

This time, there was no doubt they were the enemy.

“Shots come from (somewhere),” he said. “We couldn’t see nobody. We went over and hit the grass. Again. I hear the two over there talking. One said to the other … ‘I think we should give up.’”

One of the medics pulled out a handkerchief and waved it in surrender as the group moved further up the road, still clueless as to where the shots were coming from.

“We got down to another road,” Alexander said. “A young German soldier came out into the field, trying to rush us. Bang! He stepped on a mine. Blew him up, so I figured I had time to get away.”

Alexander said he tried to convince the medics to flee with him, but they were worried about meeting the same fate as the German, so he made the heart-wrenching decision to leave without them, running back the direction they came.

“There’s an American Jeep and he was waiting for me,” he said. “So I got in .. and they brought me back. I don’t even think they asked me any questions.”

Barton said to this day, her father still wonders if those two medics survived that encounter, and considers herself lucky that her father survived it himself.

“How many people can actually say a bullet hit you … and you’re still here for it,” she said. “I think he had an angel that day.”

She added hearing her father’s stories not only reminds her how grateful she is to still have her father, but it reminds her of the sacrifices all American veterans make to protect and serve our country.

“I don’t think people really know what these people go through in war,” she said. “They should not be forgotten.”