For me, one of the biggest thrills of writing for my hometown newspaper is hearing from readers, generally via email. While most reactions come from Lima and her surrounding communities, there are those times when through the wonders of the Internet, I’ll hear from someone far from our little postage stamp of real estate.
I recall my thrill when, four years ago, after having written a column on retiring NBA official Dick Bavetta, regarded as the Cal Ripken Jr. of referees and the holder of the all-time record for consecutive games officiated at 2,635, I was thrilled to receive an email from Bavetta himself, who picked my column up online down in Ocala, Florida.
Well, after my recently wrapped series of columns on my trip to Germany last March, with the last of the four about my visit to the former site of the Dachau Concentration Camp less than 20 miles from Munich, I heard from someone far less famous than any sports figure like Ripken or Bavetta but someone who should be held in the highest esteem when it comes time to call the roll for patriotism and humanitarianism.
The short email reads as follows:
Dear John Grindrod,
I appreciated your Dachau article which I found on the Internet. Your comments about Buchenwald and Weimar were very appropriate. Dauchau women now have their babies delivered in Munich so “Dauchau” won’t appear on the birth certificate. My World War II unit helped liberate Dauchau. See “Company C at Dauchau” attached.
For those who missed my column and my point about Buchenwald and Weimar in the column, I talked about my visit to Weimar on the same trip, where I saw no traces of any inherited sense of shame nor heard of such from our guide despite the fact that the terrible concentration camp of Buchenwald was even closer to Weimar than Dauchau’s camp was to the city of Dauchau. And, of course, that’s because the name of the camp wasn’t Weimar.
As for the attachment, it was a three-part memoir written by Dan himself about the days leading up to his company’s assisting in the camp’s liberation and that of Dauchau’s satellite camp at Allach a few miles away.
As I read the document and took notes, realizing even then I would want to tell you about Dan’s service to America back when he was 20 years old, I thought about how much pride he must feel to have lived so long (93) secure in the knowledge that he’d played a role in something so meaningful and so well, now residing in Fairfield, California, with his wife Norma, after a successful career in insurance and enjoying his wife, three children and seven grandchildren.
In doing my own internet searches, I found Dan’s considerable military credentials, initially a Browning Automatic Rifle gunner in K Company in France in the fall of 1944 when his company helped liberate Strasbourg. Following a promotion to staff sergeant, Dan assisted in his company’s resistance in Hitler’s final offensive of the war, Operation Nordwind.
Dan was later wounded in the Siegfried Line, the 390-mile-long German line of defense named by the Allies; returned from the hospital to fight in the Battle of Nuremberg in April of 1945; and then crossed the Danube as the soldiers of C Company made their way toward Munich and, unbeknownst to them at the time, to assist in the liberation of 31,432 prisoners at Dauchau, 2,907 of whom were French, and another 9,000 at the sub-camp in Allach.
Daugherty’s three World War II campaigns in France and Germany earned him the Combat Infantry Badge, a Bronze Star and Purple Heart and, in the summer of 2017, a long overdue Legion of Honor, the highest award France bestows for meritorious service.
Armed not only with his weapon but also with two cameras, Dan was able to supplement his account written years later with many photos, ones he meticulously researched, so he was able to provide the names and serial numbers of all who took part in the operation in the captions.
In Dan’s document on the days leading up to the camps’ liberations, thanks to his recall and talent as a chronicler, I could sense his anxiety from so very long ago when, in crossing the Danube, the amphibious six-wheeled truck called by soldiers a Duck, had its motor conk out, causing the boat to be carried by the river’s swift currents deeper into possible hostile territory before an engineer finally got the boat’s engine restarted and Dan and his mates could exhale.
And, I could feel the ground beneath Dan and his fellow soldiers as they slept in the woods near Munich the night before they were told at morning rations by their commanding officer that they had special orders to free a nearby concentration camp called Dachau, a place, according to Dan, that neither he nor any of his fellow soldiers, almost all of whom were in the 18- to 20-year-old range, had ever heard of. To me, that was not surprising given the single-minded focus I imagine a band of impossibly young infantry warriors must have possessed, consumed with what may be lying in wait right in front of them just over the next ridge.
And, that’s where I’ll have to leave you this week. Please join me next week for the rest of C Company’s story, which, of course, is inclusive of the story of a true American hero, Dan P. Dougherty, whose dog tag carried the number 17144035.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.