First Lieutenant Werner J Meier, from IPW (Interrogation of Prisoners of War Team) was probably the most respected senior officer in 501st Reg HQ. Meier really knew how to stimulate the morale by offering his liquor rations to the men, especially in Bastogne.
Every move he planned was very thought about and he went by the book only when it would save lives. He was a soldier’s soldier. According to John Primerano from New Hampshire, Meier always called the switchboard when they were short of phones but one day, he didn’t. Second Lieutenant Steve Puiszis, Meier’s assistant, walked up and ordered John to go out there and check if the Lt had disconnected or lost his phone because they could not reach him. When he asked who was going with him, Puiszis replied ” Nobody!”
Indignantly, Primerano glimpsed ammunition, supplies and communications equipment being loaded on trucks and everybody seemed to be preparing to leave. Without the intention to ignore a direct order and frustrated by the idea of being send out alone John muttered “Well, Jesus! Don’t forget me, don’t leave me behind.” Earlier, another section was decimated on the same road he was running, searching for the Lieutenant. Finally, after a one mile sprint, John found that the phone was gone. Realizing that he had risked his life for nothing, he got furious that he possibly also would miss the trucks.
On the way back, the outlines of four men emerged from the dark stretched woods, coming down the road toward him. “ Ducking down behind a tree, I swung my rifle from my shoulder and tried to lower my breath. Three of them were holding their hands over their heads, they were prisoners, escorted by a soldier from A Company. ‘Finally! I found somebody’, the paratrooper said, ‘You are going to have to take these guys back.’ ’Bull!’, I replied, ‘I just came here to check about a phone, I have a truck to catch.’ ’My company commander instructed me to hand these prisoners to the first American I’d see. I must get back on the double because A Co is in one hell of a fight. The sergeant here understands a bit of English’, he finished and then hurried back the same way he came.”
Primerano pointed his rifle at the prisoners and led them towards the trucks. When they reached the nearest junction, the Germans started to zero in on the crossroads with heavy artillery and mortars and forced the four bodies down to the snow covered road. John kept looking up holding his rifle pointed at the POW’s to make sure they didn’t escape. He then informed the sergeant that they were going to make a run for it and that the first one who stopped, would be shot.
“ I Said ‘Let’s go ..!’ and we ran like hell, but one of them stopped to pick up the mess kit that he just had dropped and I shouted that he was now going to get it. The sergeant translated while we continued. The trucks were just pulling out when we arrived and we bolted after them as fast as we could.” Directly upon them, a Panther tank was firing and the sunken road they were on was lower than the muzzle of the tank could depress. Shells were coming in overhead. “ We made it through the crossfire and had moved close enough to the trucks to make a running jump, to pull ourselves aboard. The Germans leapt onto the bed of the truck first. I couldn’t climb up while carrying a rifle, so I hurled it onto the truck. One of the prisoners caught it. Fortunately they were all so afraid of being killed by their own artillery fire, they just wanted to get out of there and so passed on my rifle to one of the other Americans aside of them. I was relieved to see he didn’t use it what is was built for.”
When they arrived in Bastogne, John turned in the prisoners and took off to find Lt Puiszis. “You were going to leave me there?” , John hollered at him. “All he did was shrug and then said ,’In all of the confusion I must have forgotten about you.’ I called him every name that crossed my mind. Officers should never forget about their men.”
Shortly after, Lt Meier was promoted Captain and won a pass home in February 1945. When reporting for duty again, three months later, Japan had surrendered. John Primerano injured himself by falling down face first while visiting the sunken road in 2012. This formerly unnamed track, a mile north-east of Bizory, is now baptized ‘Purple Heart Road.’
Source: John Primerano/ Cailin Casey/ Erwin Janssen