FARGO — It was the largest and bloodiest battle America fought in during World War II.
Nearly 90,000 U.S. troops were either wounded, killed or captured in the Battle of the Bulge.
One of those Prisoners of War is still alive — and he’s from the state of North Dakota.
KX News has the incredible story of Maurice Bonemeyer, the only known North Dakota POW still alive who fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
Two Purple Hearts, Two Bronze Stars, Three Battle Stars, a Combat Infantry Badge and a POW Medal.
It’s an impressive list for 94-year-old Army Corporal Maurice Bonemeyer, who calls himself the luckiest man on the planet.
His story begins over seven decades ago when a 19-year-old boy from Gackle decided to join the army.
“I had them draft me right away and I was sent to Camp Robert’s California taking infantry basic training,” said Bonemeyer.
Things got off to a bumpy start right away when a nearby ship also transporting troops from America was shot by a torpedo and burned as they were en route to Scotland.
“They said, everyone on the port side watch for a torpedo! Well geez, we went up and you could see behind us, I suppose it was a couple miles, a ship you could see, fire and smoke you know,” said Bonemeyer.
Bonemeyer would then find himself headed for the Western Front and the border of Germany, France and Luxembourg…what he and the rest of the Americans didn’t know was that a quarter of a million German troops were quietly on their way too.
“Our intelligence was very bad. An infantry division has about 15,000, and in my division, 80-percent were either killed or captured,” said Bonemeyer.
And when Germany launched their attack, the Americans, including Maurice were caught completely off guard. He told us the Germans came at them like cattle, running wild all over the place.
“They were these young S.S. kids, it was like they were crazy, they didn’t even wear helmets, just caps with skulls and crossbones. They were crazy, they were just, the weather wasn’t awful cold but there was snow on the ground, you never saw so much blood and bodies all around, it was unbelievable,” said Bonemeyer.
One cold December night, he and his buddy Al were hiding in a foxhole when several German patrol officers got within a whisper of them.
“And they stopped and they were talkin’, and here’s me and Al, six feet away from them. What could we do? Just hoping they didn’t hear us, but what could we do? That was scary,” said Bonemeyer.
Dec. 17, 1944 — At the age of 19, Bonemeyer would be taken prisoner. He and the rest of the prisoners would be lined up to be shot, when something extraordinary happened. A young German soldier stopped a fellow solider from shooting Bonemeyer and his buddies.
“This idiot, S.S. kid was on top of a machine gun on top of one of our tanks and he was just mowing the whole town, but he wouldn’t let him, but I know that’s what they had in mind. When they got enough of us there to just wipe us out,” said Bonemeyer.
He would spend his 20th birthday in a train-car, bound for a POW camp in Nuremberg. He still has his German issued POW dog-tags.
While there he was given numerous jobs. Some were easy, like milking cows. Others were dreadful, like digging graves for those who died.
“One thing I’ll never forget is they had us picking up the dead Germans, and they had a shed there, where we had to stack ’em up about four high along the wall of this shed outside, but we couldn’t touch dead American troops. Boy, there were dead all over. There was blood, blood and dead people all over,” said Bonemeyer.
His parents would be notified of his capture in early January. He would spend nearly five months as a POW, constantly dealing with bombing raids from the Americans and the Royal Air Force all around his camp.
“The Americans bombed during the day and the R-A-F bombed at night. Well, our prison camp in Nuremberg was on the outskirts, and one night the R-A-F came over and boy, you’ve never seen such a 4th of July. That sky was just blazing they bombed for I don’t know how many hours,” said Bonemeyer.
When Bonemeyer was finally freed, he had lost over 60 pounds. He would spend nearly two months in a French military hospital before returning home, being discharged and returning to school.
He would later become a dentist, opening an office in Fargo where he’d work for over 30 years.
He told us that going off to war allowed him to return to school under the G.I. Bill where he would meet his wife, Mary Jean.
“A nice little Italian girl from Wisconsin. What a wife. I’ve got the most, five of the most wonderful children in the world,” said Bonemeyer.
Bonemeyer still works out daily, walks around the neighborhood and does crossword puzzles. He said he’s most proud of his combat infantry badge, but the thing he most thankful for is his family.
“I am, without doubt, the richest man in the world, except for money, but I’ve got enough for groceries, and that’s the truth”, said Bonemeyer.