On September 23, 2015, Friendswood author Paul Hoesl shared insights from his WW2 book Amazing Journey: One Man's Adventure from Nazi Germany to America. Hoesl's book chronicles the life of Walter Zehl, who was born in Germany in 1925 and was thrust into the teeth of a global, winner take all conflict. Walter's story provides a rare, firsthand glimpse into a German soldier's life during World War II.
We are all familiar with America’s participation in World War II: Pearl Harbor, Normandy invasion, the war in the Pacific, etc. Much of Walter’s combat experience was on the eastern front with Russia. He fought in Hitler’s army, escaped death on numerous occasions, and lived to experience the sting of being on the losing side of a world war.
This autobiographical narrative is much more than a war story. It describes Walter's early life in pre-war Germany and tells of his daring escape over the border to West Germany, immigration to America and his struggles in pursuit of the American Dream.
The WW2 book’s appendix serves as a how-to guide for anyone seeking to capture their own family story. With the World War II generation fading quickly, the author hopes to inspire others capture their family narratives before they are gone.
Watch the entire hour long presentation including a Q&A session with Walter Zehl.
Excerpt from World War 2 book AMAZING JOURNEY: One Man’s Adventure from Nazi Germany to America.
WOUNDED IN BATTLE
Several others from Walter’s unit were also killed in the exchange. In the midst of the chaos, one young German soldier stood up in the live fire waving a white handkerchief in an attempt to surrender. Instead of ceasing their fire, the British soldiers just kept on shooting back and forth from one target to the next across the battlefield. When the firing focused back on Walter, a bullet hit him with a thud. It felt as though he had been hit with a hammer blow. Pow! The fifty-caliber round was so powerful that it had gone completely through both thighs and exited his body. Soon after Walter was hit, the firing stopped, as the British had emptied all their rounds.
Walter was scared that he was going to die. Thoughts of never seeing his parents or sister again overwhelmed him. He just put his nose deep in the dirt and prayed to come out of this nightmare alive. After the shooting stopped, one of the Tommies said, “Let’s go. You want to go to Berlin? (an obvious jab at the defeated German captives).
When Walter got up to walk, mostly fueled by adrenaline, he made it about ten feet toward the British soldiers before his legs gave way and he collapsed. His legs were bleeding profusely from the four open wounds. He had left everything behind, including his machine gun and helmet. A truck soon arrived and two soldiers picked him up and laid him down near two Tommies drinking tea. One felt sorry for Walter because he looked so young. He gave him some tea from his cup. He held it down for him to take a drink. Walter took a few sips of tea, smiled, and said, “Danke” (thank you) since he did not speak English at the time.
It was a surreal experience for Walter to be in the throes of a firefight one minute and to be having a civilized cup of tea the next. The unit that captured Walter was part of the British Fiftieth (Northumbrian) Infantry Division. The two Ts in their insignia represented the boundaries of its recruitment area between the northern England rivers Tyne and Tees. The Fiftieth was a war-hardened division who fought in North African campaign, Operation Overlord, and Operation Market Garden, sustaining twenty-one thousand casualties during the war.
The Fiftieth Infantry Division employed a fleet of armored fighting vehicles (AFVs) equipped with water cooled Vickers fifty-caliber machine guns mounted on their roofs. The Vickers machine gun typically required a six- to eight-man team to operate and was well-known for its reliability. By combining the mobility and carrying capacity of the armored vehicle with the devastating firepower of the gun, the British created an extremely effective fighting platform. In stark contrast to the trench warfare of World War I, World War II was a war of mobility and required innovative uses of available technology to be successful. The British would locate new targets during the day and then reposition their vehicles under the cover of darkness to surprise, confuse, and overwhelm their enemy. The British worked this method of operation to perfection in destroying Walter’s unit.
You can purchase a copy of Paul Hoesl's WW2 book Amazing Journey from Amazon.com in either paperback or Kindle format by clicking below.
Read related articles: Sharing Your Family Story
Genealogy Quick Start Guide for Beginners
Applying the Genealogy Proof Standard to your Research
Google Genealogy Research Toolbox
Researching Ancestors through Military Records
Using the National Archives (NARA) for Genealogy Research
Using U.S. Census Records
Canadian Genealogy Research using the Internet
Genealogy Source Citations Made Easy
Listening to Genealogy Podcasts Made Easy
Using Cyndi’s List for Genealogy Research