Escape from Malmedy MassacrePublished 10:08pm Wednesday, November 9, 2011
BUCHANAN — Whether it was to an answer to his desperate prayers or just plain luck, Ted Paluch knows he was fortunate to escape Dec. 17, 1944 alive.
Paluch, a survivor of the Malmedy Massacre during World War II, spoke to reporters about the experience Wednesday. He is the featured speaker for several area Veterans Day events this week. He will speak 7 p.m. today at Buchanan High School and 11 a.m. Friday at the Buchanan American Legion.
Paluch, 88, recalls the massacre, which took place during the Battle of the Bulge, with razor sharp memory.
His unit, the 285th field artillery observation battalion, was on the move, transferring from the First Army to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. When the soldiers were surrounded by German forces near the town of Malmedy in Belgium, they had no choice but to surrender.
What followed was the killing of 84 U.S. soldiers. Paluch is one of about 20 estimated at the time to have survived the massacre.
Each of the American soldiers were searched by SS officers before the killings.
“The one who searched me was dressed in black. One lapel was two strips of lightning and on the other one was a cross bones and skull,” Paluch said. “They took my watch, cigarettes. Anything of value they took.”
When German tanks began to fire at the crowd of American soldiers, Paluch was lucky to only suffer a hand wound.
“One of the reasons I got out was I was up front in the corner. And when the tank came around, naturally they shot in the center of the group,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t get hit bad.”
Paluch, 22 at the time, would then play dead, as German soldiers shot at anyone who showed signs of life.
“Anyone that was moaning they shot right there,” he said.
Paluch’s mind was racing, but he wasn’t scared.
“A lot of people ask me if I was scared. You’re not scared there. It’s when you get out and realize what happened, that’s when you get scared,” he said. “You’re praying and wondering how the hell to get out of there.”
When one of the U.S. officers yelled, “let’s go,” Paluch took off.
He escaped death again when an SS officer was shooting at him and missed.
“There was a hedgerow and I dove into that,” he said. “He could have shot me in the back.”
He again avoided his demise when in retreat he decided to stay outside a home while several of his fellow soldiers went into the residence. German soldiers set the house ablaze, shooting all who ran out. Paluch again feigned death and escaped alive.
The Malmedy Massacre gained more notoriety when a trial for the war crimes was disputed.
Paluch said he holds no animosity toward the Germans.
“Hey, you’re a soldier. You get your orders,” he said.
Paluch, who was born in Philadelphia and lives there today, was discharged New Year’s Day 1946.
He worked as a shipping clerk and retired as a traffic manager. Today he does regular speaking engagements.
He traveled back to Belgium in 1976 and 1996, and cut the ribbon for the opening of a museum near Malmedy.