WWII Story of Sgt. Dee
The wallet that saved a life!
On Aug. 14, 1937, Elizabeth Dee gave her youngest son a leather wallet as a present on his 16th birthday; she never knew that wallet would save her son’s life in WWII.
Sgt. Dee told the story: I’d joined the 22nd Inf. of the 4th ID a few weeks before Christmas. We were in the Hürtgen forest of Germany during the Battle of the Bulge. There was lots of snow (Sgt. Dee likes to understate things) and so cold there’s just no way to describe the cold! (Mr. Dee said that it was so cold the soldiers had to take socks and other clothing off the dead to keep warm-those memories still haunt him).
If it wasn't the Germans trying to kill us it was the weather. I fought through the Bulge 'til mid-January ’45 when it was over. This is when the prisoners started turning themselves in – they were glad to be out of it. There were more of them than there were of us, the fighting was over and they were surrendering. Middle of Jan '45 – my outfit started to receive a lot of German prisoners – I had to search them – lined 'em up – they all had a wallet full of German money, which was worthless – I didn't have any money. There was nothing for them to buy – nowhere they could spend it. I traded them anything I could give them for their money. I ended up with so much of their money – my wallet was full and I couldn’t carry it in my back pocket, like normal, so I moved it to my shirt front pocket. We took artillery fire during the fighting of the Bulge and up until this time I had several close calls – yet was never hit.
We were moved to the city of Prüm, Germany, around Feb 14 1945 – we were told to set up a staging area at the edge of town. The enemy was waiting for us near late evening - they were dropping shells all around us – we had to set up a command post in a house - two medics in the basement. I was on guard duty – they dropped a shell real close – I was a little away from the house and hadn’t been hit – after those shells dropped I moved nearer the house to find some cover. I took one step into the house – I turned around and a shell landed right in front of me, and that’s when my lights went out. The fat leather wallet in my shirt pocket, now over my heart, caught the main hit of shrapnel. That wallet - full of German money that was useless, that my mother gave me years before - saved my life. I was unconscious and the medics helped save me by stopping the bleeding. When I came to, I was on the floor of a big building, maybe an airplane hangar – the whole floor from what I could see, the whole floor was covered with soldiers like myself - just full of soldiers like me. I wanted a drink of water – they wouldn't give it to me, but they did give me a shot of morphine. I hadn't had a shave or bath since I'd arrived. I must have been a sight! I don't know how long I was there or where it was – they kept me out. They loaded me into an ambulance and I remember I heard them say we were passing the Eiffel Tower, so we must have been near Paris at this time. When I woke up next – I woke up clean, shaved and in a clean bed with sheets. I don't know how long I was in France. I next remember waking up in the hospital in England and they handed me my belongings, including the wallet. It was full of American money - someone had changed all the German money for American! I felt blessed because there was enough money in my wallet to send $100 to my wife (which was a lot of money in 1945) and I kept the rest. My buddies in the hospital were the ones to point out the hole in my wallet and I realized that wallet saved my life! My right thigh was all bandaged up and they started to unwrap it. They rolled me outside for a long way to the operating room – that's when they sewed up my leg wound and put it in a cast. When the cast was removed, my doctor came around – asked “how you doing today soldier?” I said well, they just removed my cast but I can't move my knee. He went to the bottom of my bed, grabbed my right foot and gave it a heave – like a pistol shot – you could hear it – but after that I could bend my knee again. I can still see shrapnel in my thigh, my ankle and I’ve got a little in my face around my left eye.
Sgt. Dee was never able to tell his mom that she had saved his life with that birthday gift. When he was medically fit to be sent home his mother was terminally ill and as Sgt. Dee said “I was able to see my mom just before she passed, as I'd finally been released - she was a good mother. I didn't talk about the war – never showed them wounds – it was too soon – and people didn't want to know. I still have to live with it."