By James BrabenecMay 30, 2019
FORT SILL, Okla., May 30, 2019 -- The 95th Infantry Division Legacy Association held its 70th reunion of "The Iron Men of Metz" here May 16-19, providing seven World War II Soldiers, their families, and friends an opportunity to reconnect and recall a significant time of their lives.
The seven men also gave significant service to the French people which earned them the French Legion of Honour. Ceo Bauer, Paul Klemmer, and Dr. Eldon Knuth received their recognition during a banquet May 19, at the Hilton Garden Inn in Lawton.
Frank Bever's medal is awaiting the signature of Emmanuel Macron, the president of the France, while Floyd Shaffer, an eighth member of the group, was to receive the medal in Lawton, but he died May 7.
The May 17 visit began at the Armed Forces Reserve Center, where the men viewed the 95th Infantry Division Memorial, which held a variety of newsclippings, photos, and other artifacts of the Battle of Metz, France, in November 1944, as well as tributes from the citizens of Metz to their liberators.
Retired Maj. Gen. James Archer, commanding general 95th Division (Institutional Training) and now president of the legacy association, welcomed the group. He said 20,000 Soldiers passed through the 95th during World War II and now a remnant of those men remain.
"The World War II vets here today are kind of the toughest of the tough that are still with us," said Archer, who added many served as privates but after the war went on to great things, such as earning completing advanced academic degrees.
Archer spoke of his own connection with the Allied Soldiers who fought across Western Europe to liberate the people from German occupation. He said his mother was Jewish and a Belgian citizen. Fortunately, she was also a Holocaust survivor.
"She, her sister, and her parents evaded pickup so I've always had a passion for the World War II guys," he said. "I probably wouldn't be here if these guys hadn't sacrificed what they did."
Doug Madden, son of Paul Madden, an Iron Man of Metz, led all in a prayer.
"Dear God, today we remember and honor all Soldiers of the 95th Division, and we particularly remember and honor those who laid down their lives for their country and our freedom. Whether weary or emboldened, or ready when you called them home, their sacrifices are too humbling for words. Loving God, bless them forever with your eternal peace. Ever remind we who remain to cherish their spirit, honor their commitment, and never forget the sacrifices they made."
To talk with these "Greatest Generation" vets was to reconnect with a dramatic moment in world history, and to catch a glimpse into the lives of those who defied death in a war that claimed millions of lives.
Interacting with a diorama that featured the Metz ravine and several of the forts that defended the town, Joe Januszkiewicz, 96, recalled in detail the fighting the 95th endured in bitter cold.
He served as a cannon crew member in C Company, 379th Infantry Regiment, and said, "I had it easy compared to the other guys."
Januszkiewicz said his gun was a small howitzer with a cut-off barrel of about 2 feet. It was dropped from airplanes to support paratrooper and infantry units.
After the war he continued to support the "other guys" meeting WW II veterans at high school reunions. He asked them to write to him and share their most memorable stories from the war. These he compiled into a book. "It was one of the best things I did in my life."
He added he continues to stay busy and is a frequent user of the internet. His next project is about servicemen who fought in D-Day.
Another WW II vet, Dr. Eldon Knuth, 94, looked through the memorial's displays with his wife, Margaret. He walked with difficulty due to the bitter cold of the fighting around Metz.
"We advanced on Fort Jeanne d'Arc and 30 of us made it, then the German lines closed up behind us," he said. "In retrospect I believe we were able to do what we intended to."
After silencing the largest of the city's strongholds the 30 Soldiers became isolated with minimal supplies.
"I didn't take off my shoes or dry my feet for five days, that got me a medical discharge and a lifelong friendship with swimming pools trying to maintain the circulation in my legs," he said.
Knuth went on to complete his Ph.D. in aeronautics. For a time he worked for companies that developed equipment for the U.S. space program. Knuth said he worked on rocket motors and heating problems for space vehicles. Following that, he returned to academia and put in 35 years as a professor at the University of California Los Angeles.
He spoke of the appreciation the French people have poured on the 95th Infantry Division.
"I guess it's because we were one division involved in the liberation, they've identified with us and invited us back to their city every five years for celebrations," he said.
"We've made personal friends with some of the citizens, two of which are here today," said Knuth of a family he has known and spent time with since 1994.
When Paul Klemmer arrived in Europe as a young Army private, he had the unenviable duty of clearing mines. Despite this task, his unit's 30-percent casualty rate was far less than other front line units.
In all he spent 140 days on the front lines with the first 100 without relief. He said the intense cold led many Soldiers to getting trench foot.
After the war, the Appleton, Wis., native completed a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Wisconsin. He went to work in the paper industry, got married, and raised three daughters. Still active, the 93-year-old said he hopes to make it to his 94th birthday, which occurs Aug. 23.
"I'm just happy to still be alive. I've always worked out and now walk about a mile every day and lift weights at the Y," he said.
He also exercises his brain doing volunteer work at a library near his home refurbishing computers.
Paul Madden carried an M1 rifle in World War II, though he was pulled from the line to serve as a platoon runner.
Fighting through Metz, Madden said nights were usually spent sleeping in the basement of an abandoned house in between guard shifts. He recalled one particular night sleeping in the remains of a house that had recently burned to the ground. They slept on ashes still warm from the fire.
"That was the warmest night that we ever slept during that December," he said.
After he was discharged, Madden went to college and got a degree in commerce. He then went to work doing oil and gas leasing.
"I really enjoyed what I did to earn a paycheck. It was a lot of fun as I got to meet a lot of different people," he said.
Madden grew up a storyteller and put that interest to use after he retired. He began trying to locate other WW II vets and found many who wouldn't talk about their war experiences. But, gradually through the letters they shared, Madden gathered many of the former GIs' accounts and got their permission to run them in a newsletter he sent out to veterans.
Once he received a letter from the son of a WW II vet thanking him for his newsletter. The son said his father never spoke of his war years, but after reading the newsletter, he began to open up and share some of his experiences with his children.
The veterans spoke highly of the people of Metz and their annual Liberation of Metz celebration that thanked members of the 95th Infantry Division.
Although Madden said he never felt like an iron man, he appreciated how the French people received members of the 95th. He returned for the 55th, 65th, and 70th anniversary celebrations.
"The French citizens, they go all out, their kids want to get your autograph, I think they must teach those kids as they're really wild about it," he said, "but all the French are very hospitable to us."