© The Boston Globe 2001. Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II
PART V: VENGEANCE AT DACHAU
by Thomas Farragher / Globe Staff / July 2, 2001
Page 8 of 9
Continued from page 7
An Army judge advocate general said Whitaker's findings were sufficient to support charges of murder against Walsh, Bushyhead, and Pruitt, who had finished off the four Germans chased into the boxcar. A separate courtmartial for murder was recommended for Henry J. Wells, who allegedly shot and killed several Germans later that day after they had been taken prisoner from one of Dachau's guard towers.
But as those black-and-white murder charges wound their way up the chain of the US Army command, superior officers saw the subtler shades of gray that only foot soldiers could fully discern.
Lieutenant General Wade H. Haislip, Seventh Army commander, criticized Whitaker for failing to take into account ''the horrors and shock of Dachau on combat troops already fatigued with more than 30 days continuous combat action.''
Sparks said that by the time he was summoned to headquarters to account for the actions of his men at Dachau, the control of the 45th Division had been transferred to the Third Army, led by Patton.
''General Patton was appointed military governor of Bavaria and had set up headquarters in Augsburg,'' Sparks said in the Globe interview. ''I walked into his office and saluted and introduced myself. Patton said, 'Didn't you serve under me in Africa and Sicily? Well, you have a damn fine record.' '' Sparks said that when he began to explain what happened in the coal yard, Patton instantly waved him off.
''He said, 'That won't be necessary. I've investigated these goddamn charges, and they're a bunch of crap.' I saluted and left, and I never heard anything more about it.''
Sparks's version of his meeting with Patton is disputed by some researchers, but it is supported by Lieutenant General Kenneth Wickham, the 45th Division's chief of staff, who now lives in Los Altos, Calif.
In any event, when the Eisenhower investigation into the American treatment of German POWs was completed at the end of 1945, Colonel Charles L. Decker, an acting deputy judge advocate, said officials doubted that convictions could ever be obtained.
''It appears that there was a violation of the letter of international law, in that the SS guards seem to have been shot without trial,'' Decker wrote. ''But in the light of the conditions which greeted the eyes of the first combat troops to reach Dachau, it is not believed that justice or equity demand that the difficult and perhaps impossible task of fixing individual responsibility now be undertaken.''
Or, as Lieutenant Harold T. Moyer, one of Sparks's men who witnessed the coal yard gunfire, would put it at the inquiry:
''I believe every man in the outfit who saw those boxcars prior to the entrance to Dachau felt, and was justified, in meting out death as a punishment to the Germans who were responsible.''
War's end and beyond
The war over, the charges dismissed, Lee, Sparks, Walsh, and the men who marched with them returned home to the loving embrace of their families and to perpetual salutes from a grateful nation. They entered college, began new careers, married, and helped father the demographic colossus that became known as the Baby Boom.
But they could never forget the coal yard at Dachau.
For Hank Mills, the man who found himself searching for his mother's touch during his darkest hours at Dachau, the images of that day would lead to a breakdown in 1953.
''I was an electric lineman. That's a hell of a job to have when you're having a nervous breakdown,'' said Mills, of Altoona, Pa., in the 1990 documentary. ''I'm OK now. I've always been OK for a long time.''
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