Through the kindness of a stranger in Germany, a bracelet he lost during WWII was returned to him, some 60 years after he lost it while fighting the Nazis. Our local newspaper The Villages Daily Sun published the bracelet story today:
It’s been more than 60 years since Heinz Jaffe was injured while fighting against the Nazis in World War II.
Now 88 and living in The Villages, Jaffe’s reminder of that time lies in the Purple Heart and two Bronze Star medals he keeps in their case and, of course, the memories that over time have refused to fade.
“Those memories are ingrained in me,” the Village of Mallory Square resident said. “I remember my war years. It was an experience that you just don’t forget.”
Recently, Jaffe was given back a tangible piece of that history: an ID bracelet he wore, and lost, while fighting in the war.
The gift came from a stranger some 6,000 miles away who spent years trying to return the simple bracelet to its owner.
“It’s an unbelievable story,” Jaffe said.
... a recent phone call from his sister-in-law in New Jersey brought back a wartime memory that Jaffe had long since dismissed.
One day out of the blue, Jaffe’s sister-in-law received a call from a Birgit Heuser in Germany, who was looking for the owner of an ID bracelet with the engraving “Heinz A. Jaffe 32915458.”
The stranger was then connected by phone with a shocked Jaffe, who gave her his address and anxiously waited to receive the bracelet which he believed he lost when he was injured crossing that river so many years ago.
“I definitely remember the bracelet,” he said. “I don’t remember having lost it but I do remember that bracelet.”
According to Heuser’s letter, from 1944 until the end of the war, her grandparents and their children were evacuated from their home in a village about six miles from where Jaffe fought and was eventually injured.
When Heuser’s family were able to return home, a 12-year-old boy who would grow up to be her father found several items from the war, according to the letter, including some clothes of American soldiers and two ID bracelets.
In the letter, Heuser writes that her parents tried several times to get more information about the owners of the items but to no avail. However, they never parted with their discoveries, choosing to keep them in a small basket.
Decades later, Heuser came across the historic items and decided to further investigate the names on the bracelet.
A couple of clicks of the mouse and she was able to locate Jaffe and mail him back his long-lost bracelet.
Although Jaffe cannot remember exactly where or from whom he received the bracelet, there was no denying his name and Army serial number etched in the bracelet which, other than a broken clasp, has remained perfectly intact.
All these years later, Jaffe said it’s hard to express what seeing the bracelet again means to him.
“It’s hard to explain, but it’s something from my past.” he said.
Jaffe said he is thankful to Heuser and her family for not only holding on to the bracelet for so long but for also taking the time to track him down and give him back a piece of his history.
My 2007 blog posting included an account written by Heinz for the D-Day Museum in New Orleans in 2001. The photo to the left was taken during his time in the US Army.
Heinz was born in Nuremberg, Germany in 1923 and Bar Mitzvah there in 1936, during the terrible rise of the Nazis. As a young teen, he was sent to the US where, several years later, Heinz earned his US citizenship as a soldier. He fought in WWII and survived a combat war injury. You can read the whole account here. Highlights follow:
... I was assigned to Company B, 12th Engineers Combat Battalion, 8th Infantry Division. After a short training period with my new outfit, we embarked on a Liberty ship for the beaches of Normandy. The trip took about a week and the weather was beautiful. We spent most of our time sunbathing on deck. We arrived at the beach on either July 4th or 5th. We climbed down the side of the ship on nets into landing crafts that took us close to shore and we had to wade the rest of the way. This was similar to the situation on D-day, except no one was shooting at us! We relieved the 82nd Airborne which had dropped behind the German lines the night of D-day. They had taken tremendous casualties and were pretty shell-shocked. I watched them deliberately run over bodies of Germans with their Jeeps. War will do this to people.Thanks to Birgit Heuser in Germany and congratulations to Heinz for providing yet another chapter in his life story!
While relieving the 82nd, I experienced my first artillery fire. I dove into the nearest hole and can still hear the laughter of the veterans as they told us it was outgoing mail, not incoming. One of our batteries had opened fire from right behind us! It didn't take us long to learn the difference!
Below are listed some of the war stories that I experienced and will never forget.
1. Gas Attack.
One night I was on guard duty about a half mile from where we were camped out for the night. In the middle of the night my partner and I heard people yelling off in the distance. The yelling got louder and nearer and we finally heard the word GAS! We had gas masks, but they were safely stored in our trucks in the camp area. We briefly discussed what to do and then decided to abandon our post and run for our masks. The run was all uphill and I ran out of breath about halfway there and decided gas or no gas, I couldn't run any further. It turned out the Germans had fired some phosgene shells which set off a gas alarm throughout the beachhead. No one ever said anything to us about leaving our post, which of course is a court martial offense.
The Allied Armies broke out of the beachhead and most headed east toward Paris and Germany. The 8th Division however, headed west towards the Brittany Peninsula and the city of Brest. A major U- Boat base was located there and had to be neutralized to protect our ships in the Atlantic. One day at the outskirts of Brest we were called upon to remove a roadblock that was holding up the attack. It so happened that some of our troops had just liberated a wine warehouse. There was lots of wine around and we had our share of it. As we approached the roadblock, the Germans opened up with sniper and machine gun fire to keep us from removing it. Feeling pretty heroic, a few of us at a time ran to the roadblock and removed portions of it until the fire got too heavy. None of us were hit and we eventually removed the roadblock. We were rewarded with a Bronze Star for our heroism. In retrospect, I have no doubt our heroism came out of a bottle!
In late November of 1944 we had long since left the Brest area and driven across France to the main front. On the way we drove through Paris shortly after it was liberated and our platoon leader deliberately got us lost so we could see more of the city. The inhabitants of Paris welcomed us with flowers and wine, but we were forbidden to leave our trucks and so had no close encounters with the people.
One day we were in a village in Luxembourg when the Germans unleashed an artillery barrage on us. One of our sergeants yelled at me to jump into a jeep and move it to the back of a building for better protection. When I told him I could not drive, he could not believe that an American soldier could not drive a car! However, I had grown up in a city and my family didn't own a car and I had not learned to drive one.
Shortly after the Battle of the Bulge our platoon was called upon one evening to go to the front and try to get wounded soldiers out of a minefield they had entered during that day's attack. We got there after darkness had set in and could do nothing until daylight arrived. It was not possible to clear anti-personnel mines in the dark. All through the night we heard the soldiers calling for help and it was apparent that some didn't make it through the night. Listening to their cries for help all night and unable to do anything was a terrible experience. The next morning we went in and cleared paths to all the soldiers that survived and helped to get them out
5. The Enemy.
One night we were up front with the infantry and it was bitterly cold. I spent the night in a foxhole with nothing but my uniform and my topcoat. Waking up after a restless night, I had great difficulty straightening my legs because they seemed to be frozen. Fortunately, I managed to get the circulation going and they were all right.
Shortly after daylight we saw two German soldiers leave their fox hole and run toward their line several hundred yards away. Some of our guys opened fire upon them, but didn't hit them and they disappeared over a hill. These were the only German soldiers other then those wounded, dead, or captured that I saw during nine months of combat! I also never fired my gun during all that time.
6. Roadblock #2.
This next incident happened in January 1945 somewhere in Germany west of the Rhine River. We were called up to the front lines and asked to remove a roadblock. It consisted of one of our tanks that had been hit and was blocking a road needed for the next day's tank attack. Our plan was to use some dynamite and blast it off the road. We were told that the road was clear and there were no Germans around. The road was bordered by open fields except that a wooded area started on one side right about where the disabled tank was. We started down the road in broad daylight toward the tank. Just as we approached it a German machine gun opened up on us from the corner of the woods. Fortunately it missed all of us and we dove into the ditches on each side of the road. My first thought was I hoped the ditches weren't mined. My next concern was whether the machine gun could traverse along the ditch. We were lucky and safely made it back to our starting place. We were then told to try again after it got dark. We were also told that the machine gun nest would be eliminated. Based on what had happened earlier, I am not sure that was very reassuring to us!
After dark we started down the road again. I remember carrying a case of dynamite on my shoulder, but no rifle. I felt kind of naked! We got to the tank and my assignment together with another soldier was to go about fifty yards beyond the tank to remove some barbed wire that the Germans had stretched across the road. We carefully checked the wire for booby traps and started removing the wire when a loud explosion went off behind us. I first thought it was a mortar shell, but quickly realized I had not heard any shell coming in. We worked our way back to the tank and found that the guys placing the dynamite had set off a booby trap. Several members of our squad were wounded, including our platoon commander, Lt. Cohen. We managed to get all our wounded back to our lines and then went back down and blasted the tank off the road and removed the barbed wire. The Germans never bothered us that night, but it was a horrific experience nevertheless.
The next morning the tank attack started and almost immediately bogged down. I remember walking back to our trucks along the road lined with tanks with the rest of my squad and cursing at the men on the tanks for not going forward. I guess the experience of the night before left us less than understanding of their problems.
I, together with several others of my squad, received a Bronze Star for our efforts. This one I can say I deserved!
I never learned if our wounded comrades survived or not. In war, information is hard to come by.
7. My Last Battle.
In mid-February I found myself in the small town appropriately named Krauthausen. The town was divided by a river with all bridges across it destroyed. We were on the west bank of the river and the Germans on the east bank. The town was about 60 miles west of Aachen. The weather was cold and wet, but no snow.
An attack was planned and a night patrol was ordered to cross the river at night to learn something about the German positions. The river crossing was to be made by a small assault boat manned by three engineers and carrying a squad of infantry. This was the standard method for this type of operation.
I was not selected for this operation. The river current was very strong and the boat was swept downstream and never made it across. Fortunately, all occupants made it safely back to our side. The next night the operation was attempted again with the same result. The following night it was my turn to go.
I went with two of my buddies to the assembly area and met with a squad of infantry commanded by a 2nd Lieutenant. This time someone decided a small assault boat wouldn't do and they brought up an amphibious vehicle known as a Duck. It was operated by two African-American soldiers who had no idea that they were at the front and what they were being asked to do. One must remember the Army was not integrated in those days.
We were briefed and started toward the river in the Duck. It was pitch black and raining. As we left the main road the Duck got stuck in the mud! I remember thinking, great, we don't have to go. However, someone had the foresight to bring an assault boat along and we were going to attempt the river crossing in a way it had failed two nights in a row.
The standard way to approach the river was for the squad leader to lead the way followed by one of the Engineers carrying some of the paddles. The infantry men would carry the boat and the other two Engineers would bring up the rear with the rest of the paddles. The Lieutenant started toward the river and I followed at about twenty yards as the lead Engineer. I could not see the Lieutenant ahead of me in the dark, but caught up with him near the river. He had encountered some barbed wire and was attempting to remove it. I asked him to let me do it because I was trained to do this, specifically to watch for booby traps. However, he told me he would do it and I turned around to stop the rest of the patrol from getting too close. Just as I turned away he set off a mine!
I was hit and fell to the ground. I did not feel any great pain, but had difficulty breathing. I heard the rest of the patrol drop the boat and hit the ground. I realized that the Lieutenant must have been hit also. Everything was quiet for a while, but I knew my buddies would come looking for me. I remember taking off my helmet and tried to make myself as comfortable as possible, but I still had difficulty breathing. Eventually my buddies reached the Lieutenant and me and started carrying us back to the road. They got hold of a jeep and we went off to the nearest aid station. I remember the Lieutenant lying next to me on the jeep, but I never knew how badly he was hurt or if he survived. I never even knew his name!
Upon arriving at the field hospital, I was operated upon immediately. I had never lost consciousness. I later learned the extend of my injuries. My right lung was punctured and collapsed. Several ribs were broken. My intestines and other organs were perforated, I had a deep flesh wound in my thigh, and the fingers on my right hand were injured. I am sure if I hadn't carried the paddles on my right shoulder and turned away just before the explosion, I might have had serious head injuries.
Luck was with me that night. The surgeon on duty, I believe his name was Major Satan, was a chest specialist from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. I remember as they cut my clothes off that the nurses were kidding me because my feet were so dirty. The fact that I hadn't taken off my shoes and socks for days and slept in a coal cellar for protection from shelling probably had something to do with that!
I am pretty sure that the mine the Lieutenant set off was one of ours. First of all we were on our side of the river and the barbed wire was probably placed by us. Also, I saw an X-ray of my chest taken before any of the shrapnel had been removed and a piece in my lung looked like the corner of an American personnel mine.
8. The Road Back.
I spent about a week in the field hospital. During that time a Red Cross worker wrote a letter for me to my parents as my hand was bandaged and I was unable to write. I had never told my parents that I was in combat and always wrote as if I was still in England! The only one who knew the truth was my brother, who was serving in the Pacific Theater. That letter arrived home before the official notification from the War Department arrived! I am sure it saved my parents from the shock of receiving a telegram from the War Department. When it did arrive they already knew its content.
I was transferred by ambulance from the field hospital to a hospital in Liege, Belgium. Two weeks after that I again was transferred by ambulance to Paris. Unfortunately, I was in no condition to enjoy that great city! After one week I was flown to England to a military hospital that specialized in treating chest injuries. That was my first airplane flight! It was a C-46, the military version of the DC-3. It was outfitted to carry stretchers and had nurses aboard. I still remember that the landing was as smooth as any I experienced since. The pilot must have been specially trained to land a plane full of wounded soldiers!
I went through several more operations at the hospital and by May was an ambulatory patient. I became friends with two soldiers from the 101ST Airborne and the Rangers. For some reason we started to march through the wards and hallways of the hospital singing A duck must be somebody's friend to the tune of The Stars and Stripes Forever at the top of our voices! I think it was to wake everyone up in the morning. I also had the distinction of being the only one in the ward who did not have a drain tube in his chest.
There was great enjoyment at the hospital when the war in Europe ended in May of 1945. Shortly thereafter I left for home on the hospital ship "George Washington", arriving in Hoboken, NJ in mid-June. Walking off the ship I was handed a container of milk by the USO. I hadn't tasted fresh milk since I left the USA and it tasted terrific.
We went from the dock to a hospital in Staten Island before being sent to convalescent centers throughout the U.S. Since I lived in Newark, NJ, I was allowed to go home the next day for a reunion with my parents. I remember going to a restaurant with them that night and being the only one being served a steak because I was a wounded veteran.
The next day I was moved to Camp Upton on Long Island where I continued to recuperate until I was discharged in November 1945. While there, an announcement was made one Sunday morning that a bus was going to the Polo Grounds in NY for those of us who wanted to watch the NY Giants play football. We had special seats set up right behind the Giant's bench. This started my interest in professional football and I am still a Giants fan.
The Post War Years
The return to civilian life was not difficult. I went back to school under the G.I. Bill of Rights and graduated with a BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1949. I married my wife Betty in 1954 and we have two children, Linda and Peter. They have blessed us with four grandchildren that we love to visit. We pile up a lot of air miles as they live in Connecticut and Seattle!...