120 Ridge Road
Interviewed August 27, 2001
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Jarnagin relates that he was both journalist and combat soldier who kept his company's journal, the 99th Infantry Division. He carried a pocket camera and also made sketches. After combat he became a correspondent for the Army. His photo combat diary includes interviews with General Gerd von Rundstedt who surrendered in the Ruhr Valley in April 1945 and General George Patton at Nuremberg during the summer of 1945.
Bill Jarnagin's World War II Photo Journal from the Battle of the Bulge to War Crimes Trials is at the Concord Free Public Library.
The period after the war I was a correspondent for the Army and covered the Nuremberg trial. The atmosphere was tense and we were all struck at the absolute evil things that the human mind could think of. The Germans made actual 35mm footage of their owns misdeeds to try to impress Himmler and Hitler. Things like shooting a Russian mother's children in front of her, then her husband, shipping her off in boxcars with other Russian women to work in the slave camps for Germany. There was 35mm coverage of events like that, and on and on of various torturous things. Not a trace of remorse. It was so bad that one of the four international judges almost lost his breakfast and had to excuse himself from the court. He was a hard criminal judge and relatively used to such things on a small person-to-person thing in shootups in the states, but here it was wholesale atrocities.
The city of Warsaw was absolutely bombed and rebombed and so on that it was a lumping grey powder where there used to be a huge number of Polish Jews. Hitler's planes did that. The USA bombed the heck out of Germany, but Germany had got to a bunch of countries including England. I don't think you'll find a German alive who won't say that they had it coming to them. They were guilty as sin and deserved to be punished in a severe manner.
Back to the tone of the war trials, it went on from as I recall December 20 for a week or two as an introductory thing, then Christmas vacation for a couple of weeks, then they resumed again.
The English spelling was Nuremberg, sort of an Anglo-Saxon copout. The pronunciation is Nurnberg and everybody over there calls it Nurnberg especially in Germany. This picture is of the war trials in 1946, and here is the chief prosecutor, Robert Jackson. I can't remember what I took because my camera got taken away from me by a Parisian con-man. I made the same scenes that Keith (a photo company) did, and I redrew some of those pictures from memory. Later when Time books came out with some of the same pictures, all those pictures were under the regulation of the Nuremberg war trials. G2, the counterintelligence of the Army, ran the security of it and I was in that section in the public relations office as a subgroup of that. We turned out a weekly newspaper called The Traveler and sent out a whole lot of dispatches to various papers on things including the war trials. There were enough documents to make a stack of 8 1/2" x 11" sheets some 30 feet tall and about that many more photos I would guess.
My impression of the Nurnberg trials was a real effort to bring to justice those who perpetrated crimes that were crimes against humanity. It set a precedent so that would be Napoleon copiers or would be Hitler copiers would have some precedent going against them so they couldn't get themselves out of it again so easily. These guys didn't either. Their defense attorneys were screaming "no precedence" or no basis for a trial without rules made in advance and they said we can't accept that as they've gone beyond the professionalism and procedures of normal courts.
Goring was amiable enough one-on-one. Here's a picture of me talking with him. This is a picture of the British guy who was in charge of the security of the war trials. He set down certain rules. He didn't want the Germans to make a surprise landing in the vicinity and rush in there with a bunch of assault weapons and try to rescue their top leaders. Most of them were very glad the top leaders were in there and were very glad they were going to get what was coming to them. I thought justice wasn't served or even close. They should have been tortured the same way they tortured the people who tried to revolt. They'd torture them and make it as painful a death as they could, over seven or eight days before they expired.
The USA did not get any atrocities as such. They were so called civilized trials and then the hangings. In contrast the Germans would torture whoever. This regime ran things with the civilian population through complete fear. There were about 2000 young tough hoods in the S.S. who would go out in a small group and eradicate even a high command officer's family if that particular officer even acted the slightest as if he were going to revolt against Hitler. Reprisals were very tough. Hitler didn't have a family that anybody could seize and hold him hostage for.
This whole thing started with Hitler's mother badmouthing her part-Jewish husband. As a young adult, Hitler thought Jews were no good. Then young Hitler tried to get into an art school that had some Jews on the board and he was refused. So he began to magnify those things and took off on a vengeance the world has never seen the likes of.
While the war was still on and as we kept moving closer and closer to Berlin or wherever, we weren't going to sleep out in the fields and the mud when we were the conquering elements, so I studied military German handbooks the Army issued us and they sent me out to negotiate or command sleeping quarters and so on for the US troops. I'd pick out the nicer, unbombed places for us to stay, and one of them happened to be a high German officer's residence and his wife or frau dressed me down in British English and called me an American alley cat. I didn't know what she meant by that. Later I began to realize oh, she thinks she's a bluebood Aryan but she's got the same percentage of eight genes that you and I have and anybody else. That kind of thinking was part of a certain segment of the population. They were brainwashed by the Hitler gang. I got the same dosage from a young housefrau in Dusseldorf. The same propaganda but I got it only twice. The men wouldn't utter a word of that because they knew better and also there was the fear factor on their side. We had about ten times more men and material and armaments. There wasn't any way they could beat us, so they knew that. This was when the war was coming to an end in Germany.
I got to be the correspondent after VE day, May 8. I got called up to regimental headquarters and the company commander said, "Jarnagin, regimental has something very big for you and go see what they want." He knew. They were going to promote me to be in the public relations writing office and to be the sports editor of the division paper and cover the war trials and send out dispatches on that. I was very lucky to be there. Walter Cronkite was there. One woman who Cronkite insisted on sitting next was married to one of the other officers, but Patton had said no women at the war trials because we didn't have facilities for separate quarters. This officer's wife was from England and I doubt that Cronkite did anything anyway because come evening she would go to her officer husband and so on. Cronkite was a social person. He liked to talk. Andy Rooney was there also. He didn't like Patton because Patton sloughed him off as a damn civilian in a quartermaster uniform and no civilian deserved to wear U.S. Army clothing in any way.
I interviewed Patton twice. This is a picture of it. He's snarling not at me but at the AP photographer who was originally focusing only on him and I began to ask him some good questions that he liked and snarled out of the corner of his mouth, "You don't care who you have your picture made with, do you?" It turned out he was plenty sharp and all this bravado crap that he threw out against the Germans and so on was psychological warfare. He wanted to intimidate and he had ten times their weapons. He had already been to Aachen on September 15, 1944 and was run off from his supplies and gasoline and food, etc. So he took the city of Aachen way ahead of schedule. It's on the German/Belgian line up the international highway. He made a deal with the Germans to declare Aachen an open city with no military action by either side, no more bombing of it, no more artillery. If you wanted in, you just go in.
There is a picture of my souvenir from the WWII Bulge. I got that shin beat up by artillery. The Germans sent in 105 shells and hit right in the sagebrush here and blew my folded tent up in the sky, blew off the corner of a twice-folded tent half. I remember the first thing I saw after the hit was this thing floating down blackened and tethered. Anyway the shell ricocheted, and I got hit in the shin pretty bad and the forearm here and the back of the hand. This was December 22, 1944. The Germans were back in the woods with their field glasses watching us.
We both jumped off of one another at 3:00 in the morning on December 15 in Belgium. The Germans were in Germany right across the street from where we were in Belgium. At 3:00 in the morning we both start throwing stuff at each other. Then a column of tanks came moving at our infantrymen but what could they do with a column of tanks, so we were up on Rath Hill looking at it but the tanks couldn't come up that steep hill. They came around the hill and they went right through the 106th infantry division and it capitulated but we didn't. We had to sort of fall back and plug in some places and rejoin where they used to be with the other guys spreading us out. So part of it was to withdraw to the northern Elsenborn plains where we had a good view of what was coming at us. They couldn't surprise us across that gap, but they could still throw artillery. We took turns digging a foxhole and you could hear the 150 mm jobs coming in, a little slower but bigger on the burst. You had a split second warning and you had time to dive into a foxhole but not run and dive before the blast could get you. The shell was aimed at us digging this new hole. They were watching us through field glasses. I got beneath most of the shell burst but not all of it. The Germans made seven attacks on us in the Elsenborn plains and we warded off all of them. We had to get to good roads leading to Brussels and try to get on up north to our supplies. Patton had a good bit to do with the strategy of the Battle of Bulge but he wanted to spearhead and bring along supplies and drop off blank protection and just go right to Berlin but Eisenhower said, the supplies are too slow. There's no way to move all that stuff from the docks and keep up with you. It will have to go broadfront. We can't run the risk of that spearhead attack. I think Eisenhower was right on that one.
After the war I interviewed General von Rundstedt. He was not on trial himself because Hitler had fired him two or three times and kept calling him back. The very last time he fired him was for surrendering himself and his headquarters and some 40,000 remnant German troops at the end of the Ruhr valley because he had said we had chased him from town to town and won every battle against him and they had nowhere else to go except into some other river, so it was about time to give up. The last battle was at a military garrison and we won that one, and they decided then they had had it. Hitler found out about that and sent out four S.S. guys to bring von Rundstedt in for discussion with Hitler. Von Rundstedt knew what that would bring so he refused. He had the numbers on these four S.S. men and he said you're surrendering with us. So all those surrendering are standing there as well as these four S.S. guys, and one of them takes out a pack of American cigarettes that he probably got off a soldier. He smugly lights it up. They are supposed to be standing at attention. It just riled the hell of me, and I went up and knocked that thing out of his mouth, stared him right in the face, and just stared him down until he looked away in submission.
They had a canteen break and where von Rundstedt went he attracted a crowd too because he was the head of the counteroffensive thing. He reported directly to Hitler. He was at the war trials simply to try to say to the court that he thought the generals were just obeying Hitler's orders but he couldn't say it convincingly. Nobody believed him. You followed Hitler's orders or your family would be wiped out. He knew Hitler would kill him if he dared go back. The reason we got on so well at the war trials is that we had met the day they were to surrender 40,000 men and I made them push the command car up the hill and he remembered that. Generally my interview with him was about the war tactic. He was actually a professional military man. He appreciated us so called soft touch, USA mongrels. He said you outshot us all the way from Remagen Bridge to the Ruhr Valley. He recognized that he surrendered by choice because we beat him up and chased him all the way across northwestern Germany.
The S.S. were generally young criminal types, more ape men than the regular Nazis. They pledged personal security to Adolph Hitler even if it meant their lives. Von Rundstedt was more the professional military man. He was one of the few that had been in World War I. He saw the handwriting on the wall. So did others, but again the protection of the family was more important, so they didn't organize very much. When Hitler got part of a bomb himself, he had Gerd von Rundsted as committee chairman find out who the closest top 100 were to that bombing. On that list may have been whoever rubbed von Rundstedt wrong.
By the time we were at Dachau, we were so used to seeing death after the first time I saw it after the German Panzers hit our G company pretty heavily, and we were called in to help the medics. I saw these bloody horrible wounds and I almost fainted. This seasoned medic said here hold this gauze on this wound just like this so I can take another one. Get with it and start doing things. Nearly every day somebody would be killed or wounded, people you knew. It was so shocking at first but negative adaptation, you get to where you do what you can and sometimes it's too late to do anything. But what I saw at Dachau surpassed everything. Here was wholesale annihilation of nearly all Jews, of Hitler's personal psychoses. There were 105 organized death camps in Germany. Plus the saturation bombing and resaturation in Warsaw. Hitler was just absolutely a lunatic, very psychotic to kill as many people as he could because his own little ego had been trampled on, he thought, so kill the world.
Another picture was the S.S. guard at Dachau that had been killed. Some of the guys in the Rainbow division as well as the 99th, so utterly ticked off at Germany for doing such a thing, dispatched some of the guards who had been doing it. Ditto some of the people they had been doing that to. They literally took the rifles away from the U.S. troops and did the shooting themselves.
I was 21 at the time. I never shot anyone. My good mother who is a minister's daughter and my father and my teachers and preachers got to me before the Army got to me. I was brought up "thou shalt not kill" and I knew I couldn't shoot anyone one-on-one but I knew Hitler had to be stopped because he was killing the world. He would have won without us. I boned up on military German and tried to talk the Germans into surrendering when I could get close enough to them to talk. I still remember the phrase I had learned to do that, "Give up, surrender, come on the war's over. We won't shoot you." And I would tell them "come and get some good American food." I still remember one of them saying in German, "Herman Goring was a big well-fed German fellow who met a good meal."
Jarnagin in his journal describes Goering, the second highest Nazi and head of the Luftwaffe, who wore red polished finger and toe nails. "Beneath his smile was a cunning intelligence and quick temper."