He took that deal, but… but… he still got called up before finals, costing him to lose a year of college credit; and then, after a few months in radar training, the program was disbanded and he got shipped off to infantry training.
While he was frustrated about losing out on the radar program, it turned out to be one of those bullets he dodged, saying, “I was ticked off about it at the time, but if I stayed in radar repair I would have been dead a long time ago. The equipment wasn’t properly shielded and all the radar repairmen ended up dying of cancer.”
But it wasn’t long till Paul was dodging literal bullets. His Division, the 106th, was newly created and, lacking combat experience, was sent to what was thought to be a quiet part of the Siegfried Line, along the border of Belgium and Germany. The Nazis had other plans – they’d learned where the green troops were stationed and figured that would be a good spot to launch an offensive. In an article he wrote for the “Ex-POW Bulletin,” Paul describes the morning “all hell broke loose” as he awakened in the early morning in the farmhouse where he was billeted:
“’Screaming Meemies’ were whistling overhead, shells exploding all around. The house shook, the windows rattled. I was certain the very next shell would come through the wall and explode in our bedroom. I snatched my trousers and tried to put them on but for the life of me I could not get my legs into the openings. I threw them aside, jumped into my boots, grabbed my overcoat, helmet and rifle and raced for the bunker. I fought the first battle without trousers. If I had been captured then, the Germans would have caught me not only with my pants down but with no pants on at all.”
The American troops managed to hold off the first German assault and Paul managed to retrieve his pants and finish dressing. Then came the second assault. Again, the Americans held. Eventually, though, a mortar shell hit their ammunitions store and, deprived of that ammo, the Americans were ordered to evacuate and try to make it to the American line. Paul sprinted away, jumped into an armored car while bullets flew around him, and they took off… or tried to. They’d barely begun their getaway when they encountered a roadblock and, surrounded, were forced to surrender.
That evening, after being herded into a makeshift prison, a fellow soldier pointed to the pants Paul had struggled with hours before. They now sported fresh bullet holes. Running to the armored car, Paul had indeed dodged bullets.
The men eventually joined thousands of others at a massive prison camp, Stalag 11A in Germany. After months of confinement, Paul got the chance to be out in the countryside as part of a work team tasked with railroad repairs. From the flames and explosions, he was able to figure out that they were working very near the front lines. Paul and a fellow American named Carlton were able to slip away from their guards into the countryside and hide overnight. Paul wrote about what transpired the next morning, as they moved toward the front:
“Now came the scary time. I was wearing a German field jacket and a Serbian barracks cap. Carlton wore a French overcoat. As we approached a jeep full of soldiers we worried whether they would welcome us or shoot and ask later. We needn’t have worried. They thought we were the sorriest looking soldiers they’d ever seen and they drove us to the company mess.”
Paul was soon sent back to the States, arriving in time for his 20th birthday. Although he’d lost his scholarship and a year of college credit, the GI Bill came through for him and he got a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Chicago, then went to Purdue for an Engineering degree.