Experiences in World War II
From Omaha Beach to the Malmédy Massacre
Howard E. Nixon
6 April 1923 - 29 December 2001
Webmaster Comments by Lynn E. Garn:
Howard Nixon was my uncle. When I was a boy growing up near Cadillac,
Michigan, in the early 1950's, my mother, Helen (Nixon) Garn, sometimes told my
brothers and me about the service and experiences of her three farm-boy
brothers in World War II. My Grandpa Nixon used to get up every morning and
listen intently to the radio for any hint of dangerous action in the Pacific,
where his son Harlan served near the end of the war, in Italy, where his son
William or Billy served, and in France and Germany where Howard served.
Invariably the story that caught my attention and interest the most was the one
about how Uncle Howard was almost captured and narrowly escaped being
machine-gunned along with a large group of American soldiers that an elite
group of German soldiers captured. I later learned that this event had a name,
the Malmedy Massacre or Malmédy Massacre.
I don't remember Uncle Howard talking about any of this except in the
most general terms. And as a child I never understood why. Years later at a
family reunion I was talking with Uncle Billy Nixon, who had served in Italy. I
happened to ask him if he had seen the movie, Saving Private Ryan. He
remarked that he hadn't but that he might go see it sometime. Then I asked if
Uncle Howard had seen it. Uncle Billy's comment was an emphatic, "No,
he'll never go see it. His nightmares would start up again." I'd always
known that these men of the "Greatest Generation" gave a lot for this
country's freedom. But it wasn't until I heard my Uncle Billy's response that I
really realized how some of them are still giving over fifty years later. Their
sacrifice is something for which we should all be thankful.
Although Uncle Howard seldom talked about his experiences, a few years
ago he found that he could write about them. As I searched in my own mind for a
context within which to understand the experiences of this farm boy who had
gone off to war, the only comparison I could come up with was the description
of the aging Civil War soldiers that appears in the Preface to Bruce Catton's
Civil War book, The Army of the Potomac: Mr. Lincoln's Army. In
describing the Civil War soldiers, Catton wrote:
As a small boy I had known a number of these men in their
old age; they were grave, dignified, and thoughtful, with long white beards and
a general air of being pillars of the community. They lived in rural Michigan
in the pre-automobile age, and for the most part they had never been fifty
miles from the farm or the dusty village streets; yet once, ages ago, they had
been everywhere and had seen everything, and nothing that happened to them
thereafter meant anything much.
Uncle Howard lived all of his life either on his parents' family farm
or at his residence within about a mile of his parents' farm in Cherry
Grove Twp., Wexford Co., Michigan. Of course he traveled a bit more than the
average Civil War soldier traveled. But he was grave, dignified, thoughtful, and
a pillar of the community. He'd probably have given his characteristic chuckle to
hear himself characterized that way. However, once years ago he went everywhere
and saw everything and nothing he did afterward compared with his World
War II experiences.
I know there are many "Uncle Howard's" who served in World War
II and still have not found the words or pen to express what they went through.
They deserve our respect and admiration every bit as much as the men who
eventually found a way to tell their stories. We who knew Uncle Howard are
especially fortunate that he found the words for his story before he died. In
a few places I have inserted comments or clarifications in square brackets
[like this]. I also added European spellings of the names of some town names to
aid Internet searches in finding matches. Other than these minor clarifications,
that story is his story as he wrote it.
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Mr. Lynn E. Garn, Ph. D.
12210 Redwood Ct.
Woodbridge, VA 22192-1611
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