Leroy E. Barnes | Sergeant, 2nd Infantry Division, 38th Infantry Regiment, Company F | Served in France, Germany and Belgium | Received the following medals for his service: Purple Heart; Bronze Star; Combat Infantry Badge; American Campaign Medal; European-African- Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
Mr. Barnes relates the compelling story of an interrogation of a surrendered German POW conducted by himself, his superior in command and a re-assigned Soviet Army intelligence officer. During the interrogation, Barnes intervenes to stop a war crime from being committed.
March, 1945: The 2nd Infantry Division reaches the Rhineland region of Germany.
“We were by that big fortress on top of the hill, and out of nowhere this German officer comes out, putting on gray kit gloves. But then he wanted to surrender to an officer. The guy says “I’m an officer.” He says [speaking German]. So we had to bring him to our lieutenant to surrender. Then he told us about people being in the secret tunnel that he just came out of. He said that they wanted to surrender but the S.S. wouldn’t allow them to do that. So he says “Go back and tell them that nobody will be harmed, to start coming out.” And they came out one or two at a time, and then they wanted the S.S. officer to come out. He wouldn’t come out. So they sent guys in to hold a few hand grenades, but then I heard a big explosion.”
Tensions rise as the Eastern and Western Fronts begin to close in on Germany. War crimes are not an uncommon occurrence.
“So then they told me that the hand grenades must have blew up a box of ammo or something because there was a lot of damage on the inside. We had to get the bodies out and everything out. Not I, but a group of guys. And that’s when I met this Russian who was interrogating prisoners. And I said to the lieutenant that was standing by, “What’s going on?” “He’s talking to him. He wants to know what’s going on inside this compound. The tunnel here.” And the guy wouldn’t talk so he takes out his little 25 caliber pistol, and he had a hammer sickle pin on his jacket. So he was really stiff Russian air force working for us in intelligence, you know. So he took it out, put it up to the guy’s – now, I didn’t think he was gonna shoot him. Then he did. Pulled the trigger, the bullet hit his nose, went out his, underneath his eye. And he did it the second time. The second time, I put my hand up and pushed the gun away so he wouldn’t shoot him anymore. And then he got very angry at me. The lieutenant started jumping on him and told him “Put the gun away. Shut up!” The guy went, never died. Both bullets hit his nose and went out, deflected one out underneath his eye, but a 25 caliber, not 20.”
Numerous cases were determined where POWs were shot under circumstances in which shooting was not necessary, but came only from bad will. – Soviet Order, January 1945
“Maybe the powder was wet, who knows? But, saved his life. No, it’s human rights. Why would you shoot somebody like that? I don’t believe in hurting anybody really. I tried not to. You know, it’s war, but why kill somebody because six months later it’s gonna be all over, or two years later, and who the hell’s gonna remember it? And what good is it gonna do? Nothing.”
Barnes served bravely in the following countries during WWII:
France, Belgium and Germany.
Barnes received the following medals for his service:
Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal