Like so many in our World War II generation, Russel Albrecht answered the call of duty in 1944 and proudly served our nation overseas. Only in his later years did this humble hero share his remarkable stories with his daughter, Faye Berger. Finding Foxholes is a one-of-a-kind book, born from a father’s recollections and a daughter’s admiration.
Senator Bob Dole, WWII Veteran
I have had the honor of interviewing scores of World War II combat veterans. To a man, they say they did nothing special, just ‘did their bit.’ Russel Albrecht was one of them. In Finding Foxholes, Faye Berger pays heartfelt tribute to her father, a humble, dedicated and very brave man. He was in the thick of it ‘at the point of the spear.’ He was much older than his fellow grunts and that makes his story all the more compelling. Faye Berger has written an important and memorable story of ordinary men doing extraordinary things.
Stan Turner, Radio Show Host and Broadcast Journalist
In September 1944 Private Russell Albrecht left America to join the European war. He travelled on the liner Queen Mary, considered fast enough to evade the U-boats. He was extremely surprised to find himself called to meet the captain of the ship and even more surprised that he had been assigned “special duties”:
Me of all people – about probably the oldest one of our bunch and small, I mean not a great big guy. We were given a carbine and told that every morning from 8:00 to 10:00 we guard the promenade deck. That’s the big deck that runs all the way around the ship. There are dozens and dozens of doors going on to it.
Well, they were all locked except the main door, big doors there. They couldn’t lock those because something happened to the ship, you know, nobody could get ojj‘. So I was on the starboard, and the other guy was on the port side.
The captain said, “Churchill and his wife and daughter and his royal guards will take their morning walk from 8:00 to 10:00, and you guard that entry onto the promenade deck. Nobody, no matter how much brass he has got on his shoulder, goes out there, no matter who, because,” he said, “I am captain of the boat and nobody has anything to say but me!”
Well, that sounded kind of good, you know, being just a plain private. So we took our positions that next morning at eight o’clock. We waited a while, and pretty soon here come Churchill and his wife and daughter and royal guards. They took a morning walk, and it took them about two hours. They would mess around going around on that walk. Then the second morning they stopped, and he came over to me and wanted to know where I was from and some of that stuff and then moved on.
And, of course, all this time there was a lot of oﬂicers on board from different units, and they all wanted to get out on there and meet Churchill. But of course we couldn’t let them out. That was kind of fun when a guy came with a bunch of stars on, and we said, “I’m sorry, sir; but you can’t go out there.”
Why in the world they picked me, I’ll never know, but they did. On the fourth day Churchill stopped again, and I met his wife and his daughter; and he talked a little more about my being married and the kids. His wife and daughter didn’t say anything—they were just standing there listening, but Churchill seemed nice.
He had that big long cigar like you always see him with and that voice that he had. Seemed interested, and he said, “Don’t forget that the British also have troops over there.” In other words, we shouldn’t think we’re doing the whole thing. He made that plain.
Just five days after landing in Scotland Albrecht was in France, arriving via Omaha beach. It was only here that he was assigned to a regiment, because his whole shipload of men were ‘replacements’ – filling the holes in units that were already in action and suffering casualties. From that point point on Albrecht was to find himself in a series of foxholes.
December 1944 found Albrecht and his comrades in the 120th Regiment rushed to the front to stiffen the line during the Battle of the Bulge. Soon he was in another foxhole, this time in frozen ground outside Malmedy, within sight of the German lines:
Then on the twenty-third, the Germans evidently decided it would be a good time to counterattack. That’s the reason we were out on that bare hill because there were no trees right there, and the Germans were going to come up with tanks, that’s where they’d have to come up. Otherwise they’d have to use the high- ways, and they knew those would be mined. It would be no use trying that.
They came up the hill during the night, probably about 1:30. We heard this tank start up, and we listened – you could tell they were coming closer. We couldn’t see them. It was too dark. They got closer and closer and ﬁnally, why, the lead tank – it was a big one too – he was just about up to us.
We were lying in the hole, and I had the phone and was hollering for artillery. I said, “Shell number nine. Shell number nine, and hurry up!” The artillery would draw a map, and they would make squares and number them, and I knew our number was nine where we were. Well, then they called back quick and said, “Say, we can’t shell number nine. That’s where you are!” I said, “That’s where they are too – just let ‘er come and get going! ”
Boy, they started putting artillery in there – I’ll tell you, it was comin’! All we had to do was lie there and hope we didn’t get a direct hit. Then the lead tank decided that wasn’t the best idea to go up that hill, so he turned around with the rest of them, and they went back down the hill. We would call in and tell them to keep lengthening the artillery ﬁre another one hundred yards farther; or so, just by sound. When the shell would explode, we’d get a little glimpse of where they were. Then in the morning when it got light, we saw that one tank and one halftrack were knocked out!
You can find out more about the book at Faye Berger.