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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Thomas Farragher / Globe Staff / July 2, 2001

Page 6 of 9

Continued from page 5

''I was there when they took [the Germans] behind the wall, but didn't have the nerve to see what was going on,'' Competielle testified at the inquiry. ''There was so much excitement that everybody was shouting so you could not tell who the order [to separate the SS men] came from. And all I do know was they separated the SS troops from other prisoners.''

But Competielle knew the Americans' intentions. ''The word just got around that they were going to shoot all the SS'ers,'' he said. ''I figured that is why they were taking them behind the wall. Then I heard somebody ask: Where is a machine gun?''

At that moment Sparks, the battalion commander, said he considered his German captives under guard and secure.

''There was nothing really going on at that time,'' he said in the recent interview. ''It looked like everything was under control, and then I heard some firing off in the vicinity of the concentration camp.''

The gunfire in the near distance, last remnants of resistance from the rapidly retreating and uncaptured German guards, distracted Sparks. He left the coal yard to investigate.

But Sparks's men remained. Lee stood guard with his rifle.

Lieutenant Drain, as ordered, set up his machine gun. Then, he said, he turned and walked away.

Corporal Martin J. Sedler stood next to the gun, and Private William C. Curtin took aim at the Germans, according to testimony at the inquiry.

Lieutenant Walsh was in command.

''He said he was going to shoot the machine gun, and lined up [rifle] men, and called for a few Tommy gunners,'' Curtin testified of Walsh.

Curtin said as he fed the belt into the machine gun, the SS prisoners, by now apparently certain of their captors' intentions, began to move toward the Americans.

''[Walsh] cut loose with his pistol and said, 'Let them have it,''' said Curtin, telling investigators that he fired 30 to 50 rounds in three long bursts.

Lee said he fired only once before his gun jammed. ''Somebody hollered, 'Fire!' and about three rifles and a machine gun started shooting, and my BAR [Browning automatic rifle],'' Lee testified.

Bushyhead, Walsh's executive officer, testified that he believed that he, too, had joined in the firing.

''It was probably no more than 10 seconds, but it seemed like much longer,'' Karl O. Mann, Sparks's interpreter, who witnessed the shooting, said in an interview. ''They fired from left to right and right to left and so on. It wasn't very long, but it was long enough to inflict damage.''

Sparks, alarmed by the sudden machine-gun burst, raced back to the coal yard, firing his pistol in the air and furiously signaling with his left hand for his men to stop shooting.

''Some young private was on the machine gun, and I kicked him and knocked him forward,'' Sparks recalled in the interview. ''I then dragged him by the collar -- he was a small man -- and he was crying. He said, 'They were trying to get away.' They weren't trying to get away at all. And then everything was very quiet.''

The Germans lay crumpled at the base of the stucco wall. At first, it seemed scores had been killed in the gunfire. When the Americans ordered survivors to stand, however, they said many did.

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