Calvin Walker 86, of Mountain Home
reflects on his experiences with the Army’s 635th Tank Destroyer Battalion during World War II./Kevin Pieper/The Baxter Bulletin.
A brand of brotherhood and loyalty instilled in many U.S. World War II veterans lives aloud in Calvin Walker, 86, a native son of Baxter County.
Calvin Walker may be the only American GI to have gone deer hunting between firefights and come back to his outfit with a Nazi prisoner instead. That was the Battle of Hürtgen Forest sometime in the fall of 1944 with Company A of Army’s 635th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
“We had seen a some deer run through that part of the woods and I went to see if I could get one,” Calvin Walker said during an interview at his Mountain Home residence Friday. “We were sick of those rations and those guys from the big cities didn’t know how to get red meat or what to do with it.
“I didn’t see a deer when I got into the woods, but a saw a man running from me. I shot and yelled, ‘Hergekommen! Halt! Hergekommen! Halt! (Come here! Stop! in English.)
“I knew just a few German words.”
“Then he ran from tree to tree.
“I could see just a little bit of him sticking out that the tree didn’t hide and I made the bark fly all around him.”
“I shouted again and he came out with his hands up.”
Calvin Walker said the man was a German soldier, who said he had been separated from his outfit and donned civilian clothes to avoid being captured.
A comrade in an intelligence unit with the 635th, a Lt. Yockim, who spoke the German language fluently, interrogated the captive and determined he was probably telling the truth.
“When Yockim told him we thought he might be there in civilian clothes because he’s a spy and a war criminal, and we might just shoot him, the man’s face turned ash white,” Calvin Walker said.
The 19-year-old private first class who would later make buck sergeant and a platoon leader in Company A had wallowed out a place for himself in the hearts and minds of the elder, career Army men of Company A.
Onward march Calvin Walker
Weeks later on Dec. 16, 1944, the very day the German Army would mount a push into Belgium that would become The Battle of the Bulge, Calvin Walker would take himself out of the war by accident. The 635th that had dismounted and worked as infantry in the Hurtgen Forest had also improved the traditional foxhole to include bucket heaters, made of water pails and C-ration cans for a flue.
Calvin Walker was replacing a comrade in a foxhole and found the bucket heater cold.
“I stuffed a handful of pine needles and kindling in it. I never dreamed there would be any fire left in it because they weren’t big enough to make a fire to get you warm more than once.”
He doused the kindling with gasoline that found live coals from the previous fire and exploded. The fire left second and third degree burns on his hands and forearms and landed him in a field hospital in Belgium and later in the Grand Hotel in Paris that had been converted to a hospital.
When Calvin Walker was transferred back to Germany, around the first of February 1945, orders awaited him to report to Company B, the outfit that had produced a man to replace him with Company A after he was burned.
“My captain, my lieutenant and staff sergeant all came and made a big argument for me to come back to Company A,” Calvin Walker said. “They said B Company could have their man back. They wanted me.”
The delegation prevailed.
Calvin Walker returned to Company A and found the group with tanks and equipment parked and troops billeted in and around a house within sight of the famous Siegfried Line of concrete fortifications that had barred the world from Germany. That section of the line was believed to be vacated at the time, Calvin Walker said.
The company shared guard duty around the place.
“I remember Sgt. Poor was shaving and using the glass in a door for a mirror and Sgt. Nicholson was upstairs reading a book when 88s opened up on us,” Calvin Walker said.
One projectile went through the house, taking out beams that separated its two levels along with way.
Calvin Walker said troops had come to recognize the variations of sounds that came from the fearsome 88 mm projectiles as they sailed through the air. A whir that rose to a crescendo was a miss, but the flat whir that day was on target and left no time to take cover.
“Sgt. Poor said, ‘Look . . .!
“The next word would have been ‘out’.”
Nicholson bounded down the tall stairwell in strides so long and fast he almost beat Calvin Walker to cover outside the house. Another man Calvin Walker recalls only as “Feldstien” was riddled and gushing blood from shrapnel wounds from the waste down. The projectile hit a few feet in front of him.
Days later the 635th would pull the hazardous duty of decoy in a massive drive of allied tanks and infantry that would breech the line sometime in March 1945.
All three companies in the 635th were to stage an attack on the line to draw German defenders away from the point that would be the breech. The 635th would cross the Rhine River in Germany at Nierstein on March 30.
A little more than a month later business would pick up for Calvin Walker and the 635th as regular German and SS troops seemed resigned they would lose the war and surrendered often to Americans without a fight.
But in a residential area outside Wels, Austria, on May 4, 1945, three days before Germany’s surrender, Calvin Walker would hear the weapons of 22 German SS officers chambered. He faced the group alone briefly, and he was not at all certain for a long minute or two that they were ready to surrender.
In nominating Calvin Walker for America’s Silver Star, the 71st Infantry Division’s Commander, Maj. Gen. Willard G. Wyman, wrote that Calvin Walker guarded a main road into Wels during the night of May 4 when he heard the approach of a column of vehicles he recognized by the sound of engines to be German.
Certain that the convoy would overrun his guard position, the general said Calvin Walker used the bright beam of a flashlight to blind the driver of the lead vehicle sending it careening onto a sidewalk where it stalled and blocked vehicles trailing it.
Walker and other members of the guard detail took the group prisoner.
But then and now the general needs help telling this capture story.
“I had been pacing around just to see what was around us before I heard the vehicles coming. I new they were Germans. I was about half a city block away from the others guys on duty with me,” Calvin Walker said. “The vehicles were moving fast.
“I had a brand new 6-volt light with me with a brand new battery. When the first truck topped the little rise in front of me I waited just a second or two and stepped out in the street with the beam right in driver’s face and started yelling: ‘Viele Amerikaner! Halt! Viele Amerikaner! Halt! (In English: Many Americans! Stop!)
The lead vehicle veered onto the sidewalk and stopped.
“I heard them chambering their guns.
“I kept yelling at them and they got out and put their weapons down. They all still had sidearms.
“By then the guys with me were coming, but there was a long while there that those German could have figured out it wasn’t many Americans,” Calvin Walker said. “It was just me.”
Calvin Walker was armed with a Thompson submachine gun.
Soon interrogator Yockim was on the job. Company A took command of a house nearby and created an inventory of the captives and everything they carried in their vehicles. Calvin Walker said items found included a large cache of American weapons and equipment that Yockim immediately linked to the Malmedy Massacre in which 84 American troops were captured, disarmed and gunned down on Dec. 17, 1944. At least one in the group turned and identified those there who were present during the massacre. The revelation in the presence of the old Company A veterans was too much for one tank driver.
“Cabbie (a New York City cab driver before the war) wanted to kill them and made them and us think he was going to,” Calvin Walker said.
“He went out to get his gun and was coming back in when we stopped him.
“Someone said, ‘We can’t do that, Cabbie,’” Calvin Walker recalls.
“I said, ‘You cut that out, Cabbie.’”
On the day before the big capture, Calvin Walker was eyewitness as Company A Staff Sgt. Workman took command of a German bomber that landed on an airstrip in Obernberg, Germany. The sergeant ran onto the field with a pistol firing into the fuselage as the pilot tried to take off. The plane stopped and Company A took custody of three captives and the plane.
In-between, there were many sights, sounds and smells of war that remain deeply etched in Calvin Walker‘s mind.
Calvin Walker saw the aftermath of the capture of a small German village where the mayor and his wife were found hanging by their necks in a closet, their feet barely clearing the floor. Company A men were told the couple believed they would be tortured to death if they fell into American hands.
Other villages greeted Americans joyfully without any appearance of fear.
He saw starving Germans on the roadway cutting rancid meat from a horse.
After the war he was given command of a prisoner of war camp near Regensberg where more than 5,000 German captives were held. He worked at that assignment until November 1945.
For all the war hazards that missed Calvin Walker, in the end Mother Nature had perhaps the clearest shot at him and hundreds of others onboard France’s Athos II en route for New York from LeHarve, France on Dec. 12, 1945.
The voyage was supposed to take 11 days but ended instead Jan. 14, 1946. The old ship was caught in a horrific storm off the coast of Newfoundland, swept back out to sea and carried to an Island in the Azores, off the coast of Spain.
The Athos II was condemned where it landed and the U.S.S. Enterprise retrieved survivors for the voyage back to New York.
Calvin Walker said everyone on the ship held on to any stationary item during 48 hours of constant thrashing in high seas and vicious winds.
“If you didn’t hold onto something you’d be thrown all over and injured,” Calvin Walker said. “The chaplain got a fractured skull, a soldier broke a leg and a nurse got her back broken.”
Calvin Walker and Marie Hickman were wed on May 4, 1946. He had nurtured the relationship during war with letters. The war-weary private remembered his girlfriend by the first name of “Eveyn” in his first two letters that actually found their way into the hands of Marie’s first cousin, Evelyn Hickman.
Baxter County Historian Mary Ann Messick, who had the letters when writing a biography of Calvin Walker in 1999, quoted frequently from the letters. She said Evelyn Hickman was thrilled to have the letters from the good-looking Calvin Walker.
On Feb. 18, Calvin Walker wrote:
“I had a birthday last month. I was 20. I’ll be so old by the time I get back, I’ll have to date the old maids.
“Marie, I hear you got a little sister. I sure do like to tease little children. Yes, and I have a little sis 8 months I have never seen.”
In the second letter he wrote: “I have been in the Army 2 years and five months and 18 months of it have been over here in the God forsaken country. Things have happened that I never dreamed of.”
The Mr and Mrs Calvin Walker have two grown sons, Dwayne and Gary, and several grandchildren and great grandchildren. Both sons served in the Army, Gary in the National Guard and Dwayne in the 11th Armored Cavalry that included a rough stint in Vietnam.
Editor’s note: This story is another installment in a series of stories featuring veterans of the Twin Lakes Area. The intent of the series is to honor the military men and women who served and to expand The Bulletin‘s capacity as a source of information on veterans for future generations. The series covers all aspects of service at home and abroad — from mail call to the mess hall to the battle front. To suggest veteran candidates for this series, e-mail the newsroom firstname.lastname@example.org or call (870) 508-8050.
Written By FRANK WALLIS
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Calvin Walker recalls WWII with 635th Tank Destroyers | Calvin Walker's Empower Network Blog