Dr. Harold Lauer has been gone now for 17 years. Those who knew the Lima orthodontist simply called him “Dutch.” It was a nickname that fit him well.
Several years before his death I spent an afternoon interviewing him at his home on McClintock Lake in Shawnee Township. I had promised myself that one day I would meet Dutch after reading the letter he wrote in 1999 for The Lima News’ first Veterans Day section.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Lauer was one of the people responsible for turning in Gen. George Patton for slapping a hospitalized soldier during World War II. A public uproar followed, and the highly-touted general was put on the sidelines for a key portion of the war. It was controversial at the time as Patton was both a beloved and hated general, but always one that could track down and defeat the Nazis.
Lauer didn’t care who or what Patton was. All Dutch knew was that he wasn’t going to let a general’s ego bring embarrassment to Paul Bennett, a soldier from North Carolina who was like few others.
When I asked Lauer about it, he recalled the incident as if it happened yesterday.
“Paul Bennett was one of the bravest soldiers I’ve known,” Lauer said. “He was a short kid, 20 years old, who could run like a deer and negotiate mountain terrain like a goat. Bennett ran wire to the observation post, it was strapped on his back, and his endurance was beyond description. He often had to expose himself to the enemy. He would get shot at, sniped at, draw mortar fire.”
After such missions, Lauer said, Bennett would become so overcome with battle fatigue that he wouldn’t even know his name.
“Doctors would load him up with narcotics, he would sleep it off a couple of days, and then he would come back to normal,” Lauer said.
Three times Bennett was sent back into battle after such breakdowns before doctors finally said he should endure no more. The soldier was sent to 92nd General Hospital in Palermo, Italy, for treatment. Two days later, the incident with Patton occurred.
Patton was visiting the hospitalized soldiers. He came to Bennett’s bed and asked him where he was wounded. Bennett replied he wasn’t wounded. With that, Patton hovered over him, struck him with a backhand, and pulled out his pearl-handed revolver and said, “What’s wrong with you, you yellow-bellied son of a bitch? I’m going to shoot you right here.”
Lauer said when Bennett’s fellow soldiers heard he had been slapped by the commanding general, they were livid.
“It was the talk of everyone. You had to remember, this was the same Paul Bennett that had a baby child die at home while he was overseas. He could have gone home, but he chose not to leave his unit, even though it was a tremendous shock to him.”
Lauer then tried to file charges against Patton and was taken before Brigadier Gen. John Baer.
“Baer called me in and stood me at attention for nearly an hour. In front of an aide and two MPs, he berated me. Now understand, I’m from a farm, and farm laborers have choice words for milk cows that kick and horses that buck. I was called some new ones by Baer. He wanted me to react so I could be court-martialed. Thank God I kept my mouth shut.”
However, Lauer didn’t keep it shut for long.
On the way back to his unit, he noticed a Stars & Stripes tent with two GIs busy on their typewriters.
“Ten minutes after I was returned to my battery, I was in my jeep heading for the Stars & Stripes tent,” Lauer said. He told the military reporters about the incident. Doctors at the hospital where the soldier was struck also spoke out. The story was published, and as a result, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower stripped Patton of his command.
Throughout our interview that day, Lauer would break down in tears as he spoke of Bennett. Other times he would silently stare off into space with a somber look on his face. On at least three occasions, he would call Paul Bennett the bravest person under his command.
It was the admiration one soldier had for another. It also was about honor.
War creates heroes in unusual ways.
Like so many of his generation, Lauer grew up on a farm during the Depression; went off to fight in a war on the other side of the world; then came home to rebuild America.
His story, however, is also one unbridled leadership from a man who simply wanted justice for a common soldier.
I left Dr. Harold Lauer’s house that day knowing I had just spent three hours with a selfless American hero.
To this day, it was the most emotional interview I’ve experienced.
ROSES AND THORNS:
Rose: To Carolyn La Rue, co-owner of American Coin Laundry on Sharon Place in Lima. At age 79, she works seven days a week. She once tried to retire in 1998, but said it wasn’t for her.
Rose: To Brandon Weis, of Ottawa. He completed the triple crown of hiking in late October, a 10-month, 8,000-mile journey that included he Pacific Crest, Appalachian Trail and Continental Divide.
Rose: To Karen Chambers of Lima, whose idea was featured Sunday in the nationally syndicated comic strip “Pluggers.” She pointed out Pluggers get a little stir crazy this time of year making Christmas cookies.
Rose: To Lynell and Lee Cook of Elida. They will be celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary on Dec. 16.
Rose: In taking the oath of office as mayor of Lima, Sharetta Smith made it a point to praise other political trailblazers in Allen County’s history. Smith is the first woman and African-American to be the city’s chief executive.
Rose: It was an $80,000 day for the Lima Rotary Club’s amphitheater project as AEP Ohio donated $50,000, The Lima Ford Engine plant $20,000 and Premier Bank $10,000.
Thorn: To the owners and management of Maplewood Apartments in Lima, who refused to replace clothing of a tenant after raw sewage backed up into her closet.
Thorn: A recently terminated employee is believed to be responsible for calling in a bomb scare that forced an evacuation at PPG Control Services on Neubrecht Road.
Thorn: Delivery issues from the U.S. Postal Services has carriers running routes into the evening and some Lima residents going as many as five days without mail.
Thorn: The last eight days of November were deadly on area roads as five people died in four car accidents.
Thorn: Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center treated 104 people Tuesday who were suffering from the coronavirus, its highest patient census to date. The record-breaking number accounted for one-third of all patients that day.
PARTING SHOT: No person was ever honored for what he or she received. Honor is the reward for what one gave.
Jim Krumel is the editor of The Lima News. Contact him at 567-242-0391 or at The Lima News, 3515 Elida Road, Lima, Ohio 45807.