Originally published Feb. 28, 2001, in Cavalcade: Honoring Our Military Heroes. Everett Dale died March 9, 2007.
It’s been more than 50 years since Everett Dale, 79, of Caldwell was captured by the Germans during the Battle of the Bulge, but Dale will never forget the 102 days he spent as a prisoner of war.
Like many young men of his generation, Dale answered the call to arms. He joined the Army a day before his 21st birthday. Dale spent his first year in the military in the Galapagos Islands manning the coast artillery. He then served in Panama for a while before being sent back to the states and retrained as an infantryman and sent to Europe in the summer of 1944.
In the winter of 1944, Dale was one of the thousands of Allied troops battling the Germans in the Ardennes Forest during the Battle of the Bulge.
“It was the coldest winter in history,” Dale recalled from his Caldwell home on a day when Canyon County was hit with an unexpected snowstorm.
Like so many U.S. troops, Dale said his platoon got caught up in the confusion of the battle and ended up surrounded by Germans.
Just days before his capture, Dale’s platoon was moving to take up a defensive position on the Rhine River, when things went awry.
The platoon stopped for a night in a village and soon found themselves surrounded by German troops.
“I woke up one morning with shouting going on,” Dale said. “They had slipped right up on us.”
Dale’s platoon didn’t surrender right away and was able to hold the Germans off for two days before surrendering.
During the two days of fighting, Dale, who was a sharpshooter, was set up in a church steeple with one other soldier. During the fighting Dale was hit with some shrapnel in the face. He said it bled a lot, but wasn’t serious.
After the soldiers surrendered, the danger didn’t end. As they came down from the steeple, Dale said the other soldier with him went first and was shot by a German soldier as he came down the stairs.
Dale’s life was spared, but he didn’t expect to live for long after being captured.
“They ran us up in front of a machine gun and I thought this was the last,” Dale said.
But instead of opening fire, the Germans instead took everything from the American troops, including wallets, cigarettes and anything they were carrying.
“They shut us up in a barn the first night,” Dale said. “The next day they marched us for three days and three nights with nothing to eat or drink.”
Dale said they later found out the reason the Germans caught them by surprise.
“We got ahead of the front lines and they surrounded us,” Dale said. In retrospect, Dale put much of the blame on the inexperience of his lieutenant.
“He was a ‘90-day wonder’ and didn’t know what he was doing,” Dale said.
After being captured, Dale said they were moved frequently to new camps as Allied artillery kept getting closer. Eventually they ended up at a larger camp, somewhere in Germany.
Life in the prison camps soon became the ultimate test of survival for the soldiers. Lack of food and no protection from the elements became just as dangerous as enemy bullets.
“We got two little taters and some rutabaga soup a day and that was it,” Dale said.
Because of the small amount of food provided by their captors, Dale and the other prisoners lost weight rapidly. He was 170 pounds when he was captured and dropped to 110 pounds during the four months in captivity.
Living conditions for the American prisoners were nearly unbearable, according to Dale. They were housed in barracks with no heat and holes in the walls and each soldier only got one thin blanket and the bunks had no mattresses, just boards.
LIBERATED BY BRITISH IN APRIL 1945
Each day the soldiers’ German captors would march them into the woods outside the camp to gather brush. That brush was then used to camouﬂage German guns.
Except for the lack of food and poor living conditions,’ Dale said his German captors didn’t abuse the soldiers.
Much of the reason was that the guards were mostly old men pressed into service because all the young soldiers were sent to fight.
Dale said there were also opportunities to escape when they were outside the camp gathering brush, but they had no idea where they were.
After Dale was captured, it took a few months for his family back in Iowa to be notified.
That period of not knowing was something Dale’s wife Della will never forget. Della and Dale were married in 1944 just before Dale was shipped to Europe.
“I spent a long, long time worrying about him,” Della said. “But I didn’t feel like he was dead.”
After Dale was captured, the Germans had him sign his name to a card that would be sent to his family telling them he was alive, but the only problem was that the card was in French.
The card eventually reached Della in Iowa, but no one in her town could translate French, so she had no idea what it meant. Eventually she found a pastor in a neighboring town that could read French and the card said Dale was safe.
Della finally received a letter from Dale, who was asking her to send food and tobacco.
“I tried to find ways to send food, but there wasn’t anything I could do,” Della said. “I started worrying about him starving to death.”
In April of 1945, Dale’s prison camp was finally liberated by British troops without a fight.
“As soon as the British came over the hill with tanks they (Germans) threw up their hands and gave up,” Dale said.
After his release, Dale and rest of the soldiers were sent back to England and had to stay in hospitals until they regained the weight they lost. Despite the difficulties, all of Dale’s comrades survived the ordeal.
Dale was sent back to the states after he recovered, and completed his tour by training troops. On Oct. 15, 1945, his 24th birthday, Dale was released from the Army.
“It was the best birthday present I’ve ever had,” Dale said.
Dale and his wife then moved to Idaho after hearing how great it was from an aunt and uncle. The couple settled in Notus, where they raised three sons.
For many years Dale operated a mill that steam rolled grain for cattle feeders. He also owned his own hay trucking business at one time. After retiring, he and Della moved into Caldwell.
About 10 years ago, Dale’s son urged him to put his memories into a handwritten journal.
Della said the experience was tough for her husband because of the memories it brought back. But now the journal is an important historical record for the family’s future generations.
Despite what he went through, Dale said the experience is one that younger generations should appreciate.
“A little dose of that and they would know what it takes to keep the country free,” he said.
Dale does his best to convey his experiences, but he’s the first to admit that it’s often hard to tell people the truth about war.
“You can’t tell people what its really like, if you did they wouldn’t believe you anyway,” Dale said. “You’d be surprised what people do to other people just because a commander or president says so.”