German infantry man returns to a devastated hometown
Ted Honseler’s memories of World War II, unlike those of most American soldiers, are not celebrated on Veterans Day, even though he also served his country and made enormous sacrifices. In February of 1944, when he was 16, Honseler was drafted by the German Army.
"If you don’t do it they put you on a wall and shoot you," he says in a thick German accent. Honseler, whose daughter lives in Park City, now resides in Midway, and for the most part keeps his memories to himself.
"Everyone wants to forget about the war It was a nightmare, the whole war."
the time Honseler entered the war, Germany was already losing. "It was a tough time because everything was done already. Because of the bombs, we had nothing."
Honseler’s hometown, Essen, headquarters for the Krupp steel factories that manufactured the infamous German submarines, tanks and U-boats, was one of the Allies’ primary targets. It was bombed repeatedly by American and Canadian fighters, until, according to Honseler, the city was leveled.
The teenager spent his first three months in the infantry stationed in Austria. His unit’s job was to shoot down American bombers. "We had canons to shoot up at the Americans but they flew too high. We couldn’t reach them anymore, so they put us against the Russians as they were advancing.
The battles between the Germans and the Russians on the Eastern Front along the Danube River were among the most devastating of the war. In that campaign, the Germans lost 670,000 men and hundreds of thousands were taken prisoner. "The Russians are very fierce they came in waves, they didn’t care how many dead they had."
Honseler still marvels that he emerged unscathed. "I didn’t have a scratch on my body."
In 1945, while Hitler was hiding out in his bunker, Honseler was taken prisoner and held in Salzburg, Austria, until Germany surrendered.
But his family’s ordeal was not over.
"In Essen there was no housing. I got lucky that there were some relatives who took us in we had nothing to eat and had to go to farmers and ask them to give us something. It was so bad, I cannot explain how bad it was."
Soon after the end of the war, Honseler, his wife and son left Germany and came to America to live with an uncle in Redondo Beach, Calif. He admits the adjustment was difficult, especially for his children.
"We had to tell them, ‘It was war. What could we do.’"
Hometown: Essen, Germany
Military service: Infantry for the German Army
Prisoner of war: Salzburg, Austria in 1945
Came to the U.S.: 1950
Family: Son born in Essen, two daughters born in California.
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