Jean-Loup Gassend to Howard Hensleigh
I was able to meet up with Howard Hensleigh in Menlo park last week, and scanned some of his photos from the war. He asked me to send you these photos as well so that you can put them on the site.
Date: Vendredi 22 Août 2008, 21h06
I am very happy to have the items in my scrap/photo book scanned and permit your use of them in any way you see fit, including publication. There is a good possibility that Be might like to add some or all of them under my name on the website. If so I can give an account of the item accompany the item, if that is desired.
It was my pleasure to meet you and your brother and to find that it was so easy to confer with you about the Southern France part of WWII. You were on top of all the terms, geographically as well as those used in the life of a soldier. I trust you are well on your way back to Southern France and that it is as picturesque as we left it these many year ago.
From: Jean-Loup <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Aug 23, 2008 3:46 AM
Subject: Re :
Dear Mr Hensleigh
I have just arrived back in France. I scanned the photos of the German soldier; as well as some of the photos of you and the other men of the 517th. To scan the photos, took them out of their plastic sheet, and then put them back in. However; the pages are not all in the same order as at the start, but you said this wasn't a problem. For the photos of the German soldier from Peira Cava, I carefully lifted and partly unglued some of the pictures to see if his name was written behind, and indeed found what looks like his name on the back of one of his pictures. The pictures are all still glued exactly how they were, just that four of them can now be partially lifted up, so that the back of the picture can be examined. I hope this does not bother you that I did this without asking you permission; no difference is visible in your album, and no damage was inflicted as the glue was very fragile because it is so old. I considered that finding the soldier's name is very important as it may permit me to find some of his relatives. I hope you will agree with me.
It was a pleasure meeting you in person after talking with you on the phone. Right now I am very tired as I just days when I get myself organised here again. You should be seeing my brother again soon when he brings you back your photo album. Thank you again for showing it to me and letting me scan the photos.
Date: Dimanche 24 Août 2008, 4h27
Take it easy for a few days until your body recognizes what continent it is on.
I approve of all you have done as it may help get to the bottom of things. If you do reach any member of the soldier's family You might pass on that I said he was a brave man. When you get around to it you might send Ben and me the scanned photos, if convenient. It was a pleasure to meet you and your brother and I wish your family well.
Sincerely, Howard Hensleigh
When the 3rd Bn, less G Co., took Manhay as the first town retaken from the Germans in the Bulge, on 27 December 1944, under Ridgeway's Take at all costs order, we knocked out the SS commander's tracked command vehicle with a bazooka. I do not know whether we wounded him in the process, but we did not take him prisoner. When it got light I searched the vehicle and came up with the SS photographs including a couple of him, a mean looking bastard, and a young kid they had convinced he was an SS superman.
(click to enlarge)
The other German photographs on
another page are of the young German noncom who held up the surrender of the
German ambush troops out of Piera Cava. One bright fall morning of 1944, Lt.
Col. Paxton decided to take his command group (staff, Co. commanders, artillery
observer etc.) on a tactical walk out into no man's land where I patrolled three
or four times a week. I usually led patrols, but I decided the best part of
valor on this one was to bring up the rear with Woody Woodhull, artillery
observer. We went forth on a four foot wide hikers path which was a no no for me
and these guys made a lot of noise. At a critical juncture, Paxton halted the
group and allowed the two enlisted men to go on forward. They were mowed down
and the group went to the rear like a herd of turtles at full gallop. Woody and
I hit the dirt off the trail to asses the situation. Their machine guns were
firing right up the trail; the fire was above our heads and several tree
branches were cut off and fell on us. Woody turned to me and said, "Henze, it
looks like they have this path pretty well covered." There was nothing we could
do in the face of that fire and we were sure the two scouts were dead.
When we got back to the battalion, Paxton had rounded up Fuller's I Co. platoon to go back up the trail and attack the ambush. Later one of my friends told me that when he counted noses and found me gone, Paxton said, "It looks like Hensleigh has taken one chance too many." Apparently he did not miss Woody. I told Paxton that I thought it was a good idea for Woody and me to accompany Fuller's platoon. Paxton agreed. After we were out of sight on the trail I told Fuller we should cross over the ridge until we were past the ambush, then hit them from their rear. We did that and designated a sharp shooting sergeant to fire the first shot. When I was sure we had gone far enough, we re-crossed the ridge, put the platoon "as skirmishers" and started to close in. The Germans were all facing the other way eating lunch out of sardine cans etc. We got very close before the sergeant took his first shot. When the fire came from many angles all the Germans but one realized the gig was up. I yelled "handen hoch" (sp?) and all but one came up with his hands up. The noncom in the pictures kept firing his machine gun and the Germans hit the dirt. This happened three times. I told Woody to cover me and I would crawl forward to get the die hard. They had smokeless ammo and we didn't, so I had to get close enough to see the leaves of the bush vibrating. He was firing far over my head. I put a whole M-1 clip into the bush and this time the hands stayed up when I yelled. We had killed several of the ambush and took over twenty prisoners. I searched the noncom and found these pictures in his back pack.
(click to enlarge)
Along with the prisoners we shouldered all the German weapons and ammo and returned to our lines. The next couple of days I had all the men of the battalion familiarize themselves with the weapons, before we sent them back to regiment. Jean-Loup told me on his recent trip to Menlo Park that many of the "German" enlisted men may have been Poles who had been forced into the German army with noncoms who would shoot them if found wanting.
I would like to give you descriptions
of the other photos if you would like.
Words will never express our gratitude to you and Bob for keeping interest in the Combat Team alive.
My airborne best, Howard Hensleigh
received August 2008