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Honoring A Veteran of the Battle of the Bulge – My Father, Pvt Julius Mischel

Private Julie Mischel
Private Julius Mischel

We shall always remember–we shall never forget:

My late father, Julius Mischel, was a combat veteran of WWII. In a few days we will be commemorating what would have been his 96th birthday.  The son of Polish immigrants who arrived in America at the end of WWI, he was born in New York City on February 1, 1926.

At age 18, he was drafted into the army, having graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in the early Spring of 1944. His well-known unit, the 311th ‘Timberwolves’ Infantry Battalion of the 78th ‘Lightning’ Division, participated in the intense fighting of the Hurtgen Forest and then the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium and Germany during the period of November 1944 -January 1945. Landing in LeHavre, France in November, 1944, he was part of a large contingent of infantry soldiers sent to reinforce US forces following the D-Day invasion. Qualified as a sharpshooter during his training, he became an antitank gunner armed with a bazooka rocket launcher.

Although he died when I was only 17, and my siblings were even younger, we were rather well-acquainted with the fact that my father had been in combat in the Hurtgen Forest in December 1944 and had been wounded by the explosion of a land mine.

My father’s wounds during the fighting along the Belgian-German battlefront occurred under somewhat unusual circumstances. In the midst of the battle, the soldier, who was teamed with him to load his bazooka with anti-tank rockets, fell ill with what appeared to be an appendicitis attack. He was in pain and my father ended up carrying the soldier through deep snow to a field hospital where he handed him off to a medical officer inside a tent. The sick young soldier became quite upset when he realized he had lost his helmet in the snow somewhere in the forest. The helmet contained precious photos of his family inside its liner. My father offered to go back to try and retrieve the helmet. As he took a shortcut through some woods to get to where he believed the helmet was, he hit a trip wire that triggered a land mine. My father was thrown by the explosion and lay in a foxhole for an extended period. He was eventually evacuated out of the area, suffering from the trauma of the explosion as well as having a serious case of ‘trench foot’. This well-documented medical condition results from prolonged exposure to cold and wet conditions and was quite common among the soldiers who fought on the snow-covered battlefields of Europe.  It causes swelling, pain, and sensory disturbances in the feet and leads to damage to the blood vessels, nerves, skin, and muscle. In my father’s case, the permanent damage resulted in a classification through the Veteran’s Administration that provided him with monthly disability checks until his death in June 1969 at the young age of 43. His physician verbally reported to our family that there was a fairly good chance that the circulatory damage to his legs and feet caused by his wounds and the trench foot were contributing factors in his early death.

It is a very well documented fact that the forests along the Siegfried Line were heavily mined. My father often spoke to us about the fact that he was injured in this way, but that the battlefield report for his company, prepared by the commanding officer, was lost and therefore never officially filed. Although he was the recipient of a number of military commendations, including the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Bronze Battle Star, sadly it was as a result of the loss of the specific battlefield report that he was denied the award of the Purple Heart.

He was initially evacuated to Verviers in Belgium and then to Paris before the end of December 1944. According to my father’s account, the hospital personnel were considering amputation of his feet, but he would not allow it, deciding to take his chances. As a child growing up, and into my teens, it was understood that my father’s resulting permanent medical condition would not allow him to interact with his sons whenever it came to running and participating in sports with us.

Remarkably, years later the details of his combat experience were confirmed to me in a most improbable way. On the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, in June 1994, I was attending a business conference in Boston. At the end of the day’s conference sessions, I went out for a drink with a former work colleague of mine. We were watching a TV on the wall, saw a memorial ceremony at Normandy Beach and got to talking about our fathers’ service in World War II. It turned out both were in the Battle of the Bulge and I started telling him the story of how my father was wounded.

My friend looked at me as I was describing this and with a smile on his face began completing my sentences describing what had occurred. For you see, he knew this story as well because his father had been the medical officer inside the tent who treated the soldier with appendicitis! However, for 50 years there had been two different endings to the story. In his father’s version, he told of how amazed he was to have a soldier arrive carrying another soldier on his back in deep snow, during a major battle, in order to be treated for appendicitis. The end of the story for my friend’s father was that this poor soldier never returned with the helmet and was presumed killed in the fighting. The real story, as I described the ending, was that my father was wounded when he hit the trip wire that triggered the land mine.

Among the original documents that I have attesting to his military service, there is a direct reference in his 1945 discharge papers citing “No Record Available” with regard to Wounds Received In Action. His Separation Record states the following: “Anti-Tank Gun Crewman: As member of a 57 MM anti-tank gun crew, operated an M-1 rocket launcher in action against the enemy.” About two years after the war ended, on May 8, 1947, the War Department concluded that “Since the records do not show that you were wounded or injured in action against the enemy, your request for the award of the Purple Heart cannot be approved.” Nevertheless, the Veterans Administration, in a letter dated September 29, 1945, had classified him as 40% disabled upon his discharge.

As was typical of so many of the returning veterans of the war, my dad did not speak very often about what he encountered during his military service. Growing up in the 1960s, his curious sons needed to prompt him to get him to speak about what had happened to him in combat. Clearly though, his military experiences left a deep mark on him. So many years later, he was still bothered by his combat experiences and by the injustice of not having his combat injury acknowledged.

What he was open to speaking about was the antisemitism and racism he encountered as a Jewish soldier on board the troop carrier ship that he sailed to Europe on with his division. On the one hand, my father deeply loved his country. We grew up always flying the American flag from our window, we marched in parades on various U.S. holidays and belonging to the Boy Scouts of America was mandatory to help fashion us into self-reliant, patriotic, solid citizens who learned and cherished the ideals of America. On the other hand, he understood the imperfections of his country and recounted these personal experiences as examples to us, with the understanding that these types of issues needed to be confronted and never tolerated.

There were two specific instances that have always remained with me. He remembered Jewish soldiers being singled out by their comrades on board the ship seeking to see their devilish horns and pulling down their pants to see if they had tails. He told us he slept with his bayonet unsheathed beneath his pillow during the duration of the voyage for this reason. He also recounted how he saw black soldiers who were forced to jump from one deck of the ship to the one below in order to break the soldier’s legs.

My father was an honorable and patriotic American who loved and served his country, along with so many others, at a critical time in its history. Following his military service, he attended college and eventually joined the U.S. Internal Revenue Service as a field agent. As a federal agent, he continued to serve his country, often working undercover on cases involved with combatting organized crime.

I feel that the following quote from the book The Greatest Generation, written by Tom Brokaw, describes perfectly the WWII veterans and truly personifies my father:

“I realized that they had been all around me as I was growing up and that I had failed to appreciate what they had been through and what they had accomplished…. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest…They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor and faith…. I think this is the greatest generation any society has ever produced. “

For this reason, our family has documented and requested posthumous consideration of the award of the Purple Heart medal on two occasions in recent years. Although unsuccessful to date, we intend to honor our father by continuing to seek the award of this important military decoration to him.

About the Author
Howie Mischel is a veteran of the U.S. public finance industry. In a career spanning more than three decades he held managerial positions at several major financial institutions in New York and Boston. Following aliyah from New York in 2009, during the past decade he worked as an aliyah advisor at Nefesh B’Nefesh and with several start-up companies. He is a graduate of Harvard University with a masters degree in city planning. Today he lives with his wife Terry in Modiin, has four married children and is the proud grandfather of twenty.
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