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Project WWII: Voices of the Greatest Generation

Soldier describes battle against Germans

by Dylan Welker

Paul Hill, U.S. Army veteran Paul Hill, U.S. Army veteran
Paul Hill, U.S. Army veteran, fought in the Battle
of the Bulge and other major battles in World War II.

Paul Hill served in the United States Third Army 12th Corps as a forward observer for the artillery. His unit served in the European theatre.

Hill took part in the Battle of Bulge and many other major battles where he came in close combat with German forces.

Hill came within a few steps of death several times. He refers to them as "close calls" as shrapnel was often falling and bullets were blazing by.

"We were in Southern France just before the Battle of the Bulge," Hill said. "We left Sunday morning with three meals, a K-Ration. We got out that night, and the medic could not even get up to where we were. One boy got shot, and he died that night because the medic could not get up to us. We slept in a U-shaped hole that night that was about two feet deep. When we got up that next morning there was about two inches of water in that hole."

Many of the men who fought across Europe during the winter of 1944 suffered severe frostbite, hunger and disease.

Hill and the men around him advanced forward. As the men tried to get into a nearby town, they took more fire from the Germans.

"My radio operator was sitting in front of me, a kid just 18 years old," he said. "He had the radio in front of him. Some shrapnel hit that radio and another hit his field jacket pocket."

The radio operator died that day.

"Later that night we were walking down some railroad tracks," Hill said. "It was so dark that you had to hold the man in front of you."

As they were walking, the soldier behind him was struck by shrapnel in the chest, and died the next day, never getting to receive the Silver Star he earned earlier in the war.

Hill described in great detail some of his experiences in Belgium and Luxemburg during December 1944 at the Battle of the Bulge.

He and his unit were moving through the countryside of Belgium when they came face-to-face with the Germans in some of the fiercest fighting seen in the European theatre.

Hill said as his unit was approaching a house, he stepped over a soldier who had been fatally wounded. He could see the soldier had taken a direct hit to his head. Hill said the soldier's brains were showing. Pulling into position, the men took shelter and prepared to defend themselves.

"We got behind a little house; soldiers out each way of us," Hill said. "We kept getting sniper fire from the other side of the house that we were at, we threw a hand grenade and that put a stop to that."

Hill fought through the Battle of the Bulge and across the Rhine River into Germany.

"I was over in Czechoslovakia the day the war ended," Hill said. "We were eating breakfast, and we were pretty close to the artillery. We got a report that the Germans were coming. We just packed up pretty quick; we did not even stop to eat our breakfast. We hiked about five miles and got into position again. Then word came down that the Germans were surrendering."

Hill said he liberated a prisoner-of-war camp shortly after the Germans surrendered. There were thousands of prisoners they liberated that day.

Hill and the other soldiers took the guns the Germans had left behind and came up with a large pile of them. The men were collecting them from around the camp and off the prisoners themselves.

Hill said he had to confront one of the prisoners who had armed himself after the Germans left the camp.

"This little boy, he was about 18 years old, he had been a prisoner of war," Hill said. "The Germans had knocked his teeth out. He spoke five different languages. He came up and said 'Lieutenant, are they supposed to have guns?' and I said, "No, they are not.'"

Hill followed the young soldier to a man who was carrying a gun. The soldier kept walking and Hill confronted the man whom the soldier had pointed out. He did have a gun, and Hill was able to take the weapon without incident.

Hill had two younger brothers in the service as well. One fought in the air above Europe, and one fought in the Pacific.

In 1941, the three brothers enlisted, Hill and his youngest brother went through basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

"My brother went in October, he volunteered, and he talked me into coming. We were side by side for over a year," Hill said.

The brothers were split up when the younger brother got shipped to the Pacific. Hill was shipped out two years later to the European theatre.

He saw some of the fiercest fighting in the war. He said he remembers one incident when he refused to fire on the Germans, claiming they were too close. He knew that by firing on them, they would be killed.

"We were on a ridge, and on the other side of the ridge you could hear the German's digging fox holes into the frozen ground," Hill said. "So you know we were pretty close together. I was ordered to lay artillery. I said no. The captain said 'You will put artillery fire there.' I said 'Do you realize how close we are?'"

The captain repeated the order one more time, and Hill had to fire his artillery. The enemy was less than 100 yards away.

"So I did it, and that put a stop to it," he said.

Hill rested his head on his hand and looked down solemnly, shaking his head. A moment of silent passed, his memories of the war are still vivid and haunting.

"It's no fun," Hill said.

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