Martin Sylvester | Corporal, U.S. Army, U.S. 4th Infantry Division |Served in France, Germany, Belgium and England during WWII | Received the following medals for his service: Bronze Star, Prisoner of War Medal, Purple Heart and The French Legion of Honour Medal
Mr. Sylvester recalls the advancement of his division into Germany at the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, one of the longest stretches of combat the Americans ever fought in the in the history of the U.S. Military. He was captured by the Germans in Jan. of 1945 and became a prisoner of war until April of that same year. He then went onto serve in Battle of the Bulge.
“We landed on a beach and they dropped the front down and, but we just walked off in a couple of feet of water and walked to shore. The 4th infantry was actually the first to reach Paris. I remember the French people so happy to see us. The women came out, gave us big hugs, giving us bottles of wines and they were very excited about us being there.”
Mr. Sylvester’s infantry landed on Utah Beach on June 7th, 1944 during “D-day”. This was the second day of the four-month long battle against the Germans in Normandy, France.
He also served courageously in The Battle of the Bulge, which was a major German offensive campaign.
“We kept going and next thing we knew, we were at the Hürtgen forest and the Hürtgen forest will always stand out in my mind. I mean, that was brutal. Every place we stepped, there was either a land mine and we were getting caught. It was like we were zeroed in no matter where we went. They knew where we were. Germans knew where we were. I spoke to one person that said they were at Omaha beach which as you know was really brutal, and they thought the Hürtgen forest was worse than Omaha beach. We lost a lot of men. A lot of men. A few minutes after that, the Germans came out and they started running toward us, and there were a lot of them. And I really didn’t think I was gonna make it this time. We hear “Come out! Come out!” So we went out with our hands up and surrendered. He said “You can relax now. The war is over for you. Everything is fine.” I know when you’re captured you’re not supposed to tell them anything more than your name, rank and serial number. And the more he asked me, the more I said no, the more angry he got and he started to scream at me. I thought he was gonna shoot me. I figured I really have to get out of here and get away.”
Mr. Sylvester was a prisoner of war from January – April, 1945.
“So when we go around the curb, I notice that the guard is not in view. I duck into the shrub, bushes, wait ’til the whole column passed and then head back the other way. I had to take a chance so I was headed toward the town. Just then I guess I was making some noise. A woman appears at the landing on top of the steps and she says in German “Who are you?” So she says [speaks German] You know, “Are you Russian? Are you Polish?” So I said American. She says [gasps] “American.” And she takes me upstairs and she gets a bowl of food. It was potatoes and meat and she stops and gives it to me and she asks me if I wanted to take a shower. I had a little bit of German. They had a little bit of English. And then I found out the building I was in was a one room school house at the bottom. There were apartments on the top. And it was S.S. Headquarters. Because she said they left about 20 minutes before I got there. And then one day, she called me “Come quick! Come quick!” She looked out the window and there was an advanced patrol of Americans there. So I went down and I spoke to the Lieutenant and told him who I was and he assigned the chief to take me to the Battalion aid station. When I got back to the American lines I weighed eighty pounds. And I had Gangrene and I had Typhoid Fever. They put me on penicillin which saved my leg and then saved my life. The doctor told me “Another two weeks and you would have definitely lost your leg. A week after that, it would have been your life.”