War Veteran Interview, Bert Watkins’ World War II Story: If you have been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifice they make to make our freedoms possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here on WallBuilders Live. Today, we are interviewing Bert Watkins.

Air Date: 06/18/2019

Guest: Bert Watkins

On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton


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Transcription note:  As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.

Faith And The Culture

RICK:

Welcome to the intersection of faith and the culture. This is WallBuilders Live! Where we’re talking about today’s hottest topics on policy, faith, and the culture, always doing that from a Biblical, historical, and Constitutional perspective.

We’re here with David Barton, America’s premier historian and the founder of WallBuilders. Also, Tim Barton, national speaker and President of WallBuilders, and my name is Rick Green, I’m a former Texas state legislator, national speaker, and author.

The Price of Freedom

Check us out at WallBuildersLive.com and WallBuilders.com. Those two websites have lots of great information. And, after today’s program, you’re certainly going to want to check out that CD that has other interviews with military veterans that we’ve done over the years; it is very inspiring and a great way to share with your young people in your life the sacrifice of previous generations and the price they paid for us to be able to be free today.

Freedom is not free. There truly is a price; and, part of that price for us, long term, is to be involved. The price of freedom is a turn of vigilance; but, it’s also the price that those before us paid.

And, I always love that Lincoln quote from the Gettysburg address about how the way we honor them as having “an increased devotion to the cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” Well, part of that “increased devotion” is getting educated; and, part of that education is listening to the stories of those that came before us.

David and Tim, we have an opportunity to hear from a military veteran today that, Tim, you had the chance to interview and spend time, with Mr. Bert Watkins.

We Must Hear Their Stories

TIM:

Yeah, actually, I got to read an article from a family member who had written about Mr. Watkins, telling some of this story. When we saw it, we thought Man, this is a really cool story. And, we wondered if he was even still alive, because so many World War II veterans are gone now; there’s very few that are still around.

So, when we read the article, we said, “Hey, let’s see if we can find if this guy is still around.” And, sure enough, he’s still around, is still really sharp and a phenomenal storyteller. We thought Okay, we need to record some of him telling his story, because it really is an amazing story of what he went through and even how God protected him in different ways.

So, it’s just really cool stuff. We wanted to share it with the audience.

RICK:

Okay, guys, we are going to take a quick break. When we come back, Tim Barton is going to be interviewing decorated World War II veteran, Bert Watkins. Stay with us; you don’t want to miss this.

You’re listening to WallBuilders Live!

Share a veteran’s story

We Want To Hear Your Vet Story

Rick:

Hey friends! If you have been listening to WallBuilders Live for very long at all, you know how much we respect our veterans and how appreciative we are of the sacrifices they make to make our freedoms possible. One of the ways that we love to honor those veterans is to tell their stories here on WallBuilders Live.  Once in awhile, we get an opportunity to interview veterans that have served on those front lines that have made incredible sacrifices have amazing stories that we want to share with the American people.

One of the very special things we get to do is interview World War II veterans. You’ve heard those interviews here on WallBuilders Live, from folks that were in the Band of Brothers, to folks like Edgar Harrell that survived the Indianapolis to so many other great stories you heard on WallBuilders Live.

You have friends and family that also served.  If you have World War II veterans in your family that you would like to have their story shared here on WallBuilders Live, please email us at [email protected]  Give us a brief summary of the story and we’ll set up an interview. Thanks so much for sharing here on WallBuilders Live!

Moment From American History

This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment from American history. Alexis De Tocqueville, a political official from France, traveled to the United States in 1831 and penned his observations in the now famous book, “Democracy In America.”

Being from France, what he found in America was completely unexpected to him. He reported, “Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention. And, the longer I stayed there the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom marching in opposite directions. But, in America I found that they were intimately united and that they reigned in common over the same country.”

Did Tocqueville recognized that it was Biblical Christianity and the morals it produced that made America great? For more information about Alexis Tocqueville and the positive influence of Christianity in early America go to WallBuilders.com.

Meet Bert Watkins

TIM:

Welcome back to WallBuilders Live! This is Tim Barden, and I am joined by a special guest for us on the program today, Bert Watkins, who is a World War II veteran. It is always unique to have a World War II veteran on the program and hear some of their story. Mr. Watkins, thank you so much for taking time to be with us today.

BERT WATKINS:

Very happy to be here.

TIM:

And so, if you don’t mind, we would love to hear details. Now, actually, in high school you signed up to be part of World War II. Would you take the story from there and let us know what happened?

Two Weeks of Training and Then…

BERT WATKINS:

Tim,I will. I was sent down to Georgia for two weeks training, infantry training, and sent home for a couple of days and then overseas.

TIM:

So, you’re going over with only two weeks training in the infantry, to go to the Battle of the Bulge. Was it a little shocking when you got over there? Did you feel like you were adequately prepared?

And, what happened once you got over to battle?

BERT WATKINS:

I really didn’t know any different. I was just an 18-year-old kid. And, when I was sent overseas, we left on New Year’s Day in 1944.

That’s when I was assigned to Patton’s Third Army in the 90th Division. We were sent from Le Havre, got on cattle cars, and {rode} a day or so across France into Luxembourg. And, that’s where I was assigned to the fighting army, with the 90th Division.

Then, immediately I was handed a BAR rifle, which I didn’t even know about, because I was never trained with it. It’s like an automatic machine gun, but you carry it. I carried it for three days and three nights.

The Battle of the Bulge

Of course, we were going up to the Bulge in Bastogne to eliminate the problem that–I think was the 82nd Airborne who were surrounded by the Germans, and we were going for, I think, about a week. And, very fortunately we did free them; so, they got they got out of there.

Then, of course, we came back to an area near Luxembourg and Metz, France, right on the German border. And, that’s where my war really started.

TIM:

Okay, now, correct me if I’m wrong; but, the BAR is a pretty heavy weapon as well. And, at the time, you weren’t a really big guy.

BERT WATKINS:

Extremely. I think I weighed about 120 pounds when I was assigned to this. In our company, I was really and truly the smallest guy in the company.

And, they gave me the BAR.

TIM:

Which is the biggest gun y’all had at the time, for the company.

Weighed Down

BERT WATKINS:

It’s the biggest gun in the squad, which is around 10–or, less than 15 men. So, I had this B-A-R and nine clips around my body, which were three pounds a piece, plus a gas mask, a blanket, then all our other gear and food. I was really weighted down; but, it seems to me, looking back, it didn’t bother me.

So, I must have been in good shape to do it.

TIM:

Well, and it seems like all that probably weighed as much as you did; but–

BERT WATKINS:

Yes.

TIM:

As you mentioned, you must have been in good shape. But, you said that after going up to help free the 82nd, you come back down; and, that’s when the war really starts for you. So, this is where, I think, our listeners and I myself would love to know.

So, what happened at that point for you that now the war is really starting?

BERT WATKINS:

I think probably in a day or so after we got back–we are in Germany now, right near Luxembourg, right down the German border of France. And, it was really the next morning. All of our attacks were very early before sunrise; that’s when we did attacks on an area.

The First Attack

So, on this first attack, I’ll never forget. It was sort of a mountainous area that was snow covered, of course; this was in January. There’s usually about three or four guys who go out every night before to find out what the terrain is going to be.

And, they came back and said that we are going to have to go over a little stream. So, we had to carry these little, eight-foot boats up this mountain pass–or, it was a hilly pass, not really mountainous–on ropes. We had to trudge those things up to the top of the mountain. Then, we’re were going to go down to the river bed.

Well, anyhow, we did and got halfway down the river bed. Then, we drew our–we are attacking the town across the way, across this river. There was a German town, and we were also in a little village.

But, halfway down this mountain-like hill, the first German attack that I was in {started.} And, it was, of course, about two or three o’clock in the morning. And, the German shells were something like our shells, especially on the machine guns.

Every fifth shot is a tracer. And, there were tracers ricocheting all over the area where we were at. Of course, we were notified to get down.

And, we all got down into the snow on the mountain. So, that is my first experience of someone being shot; because, the guy right next to me kind of winced and yelled a little. But, he was shot right through the hand.

A Village Ablaze

About that time, the sky was almost daylight with fireworks. And, the guys ahead–well, it was probably in integrating with us–called back to our artillery. Then, a very, very short time, everything across the way, which was a little village, was ablaze; everything was on fire.

TIM:

Wow.

BERT WATKINS:

{Their} artillery had just completely inundated this little town, and it was strictly on fire. So, the sergeant said, “Everybody up,” and, “down.” So, we went down.

It was embarrassing. The individuals that went up and told, I guess, our lieutenants that stream was running, when it was completely frozen. We went across the stream, which was about a 20 or 30-foot stream; but it was no problem at all.

And, of course, we entered the town after the artillery stopped and took over. It was house-to-house fighting for an hour or so until we cleared that small country village. Then, it was under our control; and, that was my first real attack in the army.

TIM:

But, you didn’t need the boats, apparently, when you got to the–

BERT WATKINS:

We went all the way up that hill and down, and we did not need the boats at all. I’m sure the scouts were reprimanded.

Scouts

TIM:

I don’t know; maybe this was pretty common. But, I went on many {scouts} later, and we always went up until we heard the Germans or actually saw them. We didn’t want to be confronted with them, because there was only two or three of us, usually three on a forward scouting.

But, this happened pretty well before an attack. The night before, there was always a scouting mission that took off to find out what you were going to.

TIM:

Sure. Well, and the fact that the river was frozen does speak to how cold the conditions were during this time of year. And, I know that you had to experience it.

So, what was it like having to spend the nights out in that cold-kind-of weather?

Severe Conditions

BERT WATKINS:

That’s a very interesting question. And, my wife many years later, would sit with me, watching TV, and my toes were always moving. I guess it kind of aggravated her.

She would say, “Bert, would you please stop your feet from moving?” And, it was just automatic.

Undoubtedly, if I didn’t, my feet would have froze like many, many others that I was companions with, because we didn’t have the proper boot attire at that time. And, many soldiers lost their toes and their feet. Then, later in the war, I should mention, the army came out with what they called book packs.

And, it was a big improvement on our shoes there. I don’t know what they were; but, our feet–we never had that problem again. Of course, it was also got warmer; but, it was a big improvement.

TIM:

But, at that point, also, you didn’t really have shelter or have the fires adequate to stay warm.

BERT WATKINS:

Oh no.

TIM:

So, you just had to endure those conditions.

The Second Attack

BERT WATKINS:

Exactly right. You could build a fire during the day; but, just as it got dark, everything was blacked out, and there was no fire. So, you survived the best you could, especially in an attack.

Usually we attacked before daybreak. Well, I guess, fortunately for me, because I did all my fighting in Germany. In fact, I walked all the way across from Luxembourg, all the way to Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Later in the war, once we got the Germans on the run, we could stay in some type of shelter. So, that was always a big benefit. But, I always remember the second attack that I was in.

We were, again trying to cross a little stream, but that really didn’t affect us. But, we were pinned down. All these little German towns had a sort-of light tower and a church, which was right on the border.

So, I climbed up to the church tower, which they all had. And, there was a huge bell up there. There was about 10 or 15 men back in this village, our men, that were pinned down.

Firing From a Church Tower

They were really being machine-gunned. And, they were just down and could not an advanced fire at all. So, I got up there in this church tower.

Of course, I could see where they were pinned, because the Germans were on the other side. And, I had my BAR. At that time, I knew how to fire that thing, and I just completely continuously fired where they were pinned down.

And, when I was firing, of course, the Germans would stop firing until everything stopped. But, I guess I had enough sense to just–because I had fired every one of my clips and was out of ammo. So, I climbed down out of the church tower.

And, our forces, as I recall, chanced to get across the sort of stream into the village, and they were no longer pinned down. And, with our artillery and all, it was easy for us to go ahead and capture the town. Of course, the Germans left.

A Bronze Star

TIM:

Bert, if you don’t mind, I’m going to interrupt for a second, because I do want to point out to the listeners that this was a big deal, what you did; because, not only did you put yourself up in an elevated position–although, that could be good for you for the angles and keeping people pinned down–certainly, you were exposing yourself, number one. But, number two: you did help free all of your men that were pinned down. And, for your bravery and heroism of that moment, you did receive the Bronze Star in the future, because of what you did right there.

BERT WATKINS:

I was notified by the, I think a sergeant. The lieutenant was ahead of him. The sergeant was in charge.

He said, “Watkins, I’m putting you in for the Bronze Star. I notified the lieutenant–and, he’ll take care of it–for your bravery of what you did. You just saved 15 to 17 men’s lives by your heroic deeds;” and, that’s exactly what was done.

A Purple Heart

TIM:

Wow. And, Bert, I know we’re almost out of time. But, I also understand that you got a Purple Heart.

Do you mind telling us the story of your Purple Heart and what happened surrounding that?

BERT WATKINS:

It was April 30th, six days before the war was over. And, we had bathed in our helmets, shaved, and cut each other’s hair, because we haven’t done this for at least probably six weeks or, maybe–I don’t know–quite a long time. We really were sort of halfway celebrating, because we thought Well, boy, we’ve survived the war.

Well, the lieutenant or sergeant told me, “We got a little disturbance up here in the hills, and we have to go over there and clean it out.” So, we all went over, about a mile from where we were. The Germans–there was a machine-gun mess up there that was firing down.

We were right on the German, Czechoslovakian border. So, we were going to surround this machine-gun mess. And the sergeant took off over the hill and into the woods and yelled for his–i had the BAR.

And, that’s what he wanted, that automatic rifle. So, I took off, went across the road, and then all hell broke loose. The machine gun, evidently, the guys saw me.

The German Machine Gun

And, I went across the road, up the little hill, and I had about 20 feet to go into the woods. Well, at 20 foot, that’s where he hit me through my leg. And, my rifle went one way, as I remember, and I crawled into the woods and got behind the biggest tree that you could imagine, because he was the machine gun, the German was.

And that’s what; they were popping shells, branches were falling. And, it was just a complete mess.

TIM:

Wow.

BERT WATKINS:

But, very fortunately, I got through, {probably by} maybe crawling over. {Trying to stand up} my leg just kind of dangled.

I knew they had hit me; but, at the time, didn’t know where.

TIM:

Wow.

BERT WATKINS:

The sergeant yelled for the medic; and, he came through that same fire that I  did. It was very–God forbid–he did not get hit. And, he had to cut my pant leg off and my boot.

It was just a mess; but, he gave me a couple of shots.Both of them carried me all the way around on my rifle, from where we started. And, my army days were over.

Back to the States

TIM:

Wow. And, you made it back to the states and have lived many years past World War II now.

BERT WATKINS:

Well, I spent a couple days in France in just a makeshift hospital. Then, I spent about three months in England at an arms-and-legs hospital. And, the first July, I was on a hospital ship and went back to the states.

TIM:

Wow. Wow. Mr. Watkins, we are out of time; but, I want to say “thank you so much” for sharing your story. But, even more importantly–and, I know our listeners feel the same way–we are so grateful for your service and sacrifice.

Thankful for the Sacrifice

BERT WATKINS:

You are so kind. I know it’s kind of a garbled-up mess. It was during the was sort of garbled up over there too; so, I hope your listeners, at least in some way, can understand what really transpired, because it was not very nice. And, so many guys and girls suffered tremendously; I’m still grateful.

TIM:

Well, and we are we are grateful for you and for the sacrifice you made for our nation and, really, for the world. And, as Americans, we enjoy greater freedom than any nation, arguably, that’s ever existed. But, part of the reason we do, is because of people like you who have fought to make sure we can be a free nation.

So, on behalf of our listeners and myself, Mr. Watkins, thank you so much for your service and sacrifice.

BERT WATKINS:

You are so kind. And, I’m so happy for you. Thank you so much.

TIM:

Well, we’ll be right back on the program with David Barton and Rick Green. Hang out with us just for a few minutes.

Bring A Speaker To Your Area

Tim:

Hey, this is Tim Barton with WallBuilders.  And, as you’ve had the opportunity to listen to WallBuilders Live, you’ve probably heard a wealth of information about our nation, about our spiritual heritage, about the religious liberties, and about all the things that make America exceptional.

And, you might be thinking, “As incredible as this information is, I wish there was a way that I could get one of the WallBuilders guys to come to my area and share with my group.”

Whether it be a church, whether it be a Christian school, or public school, or some political event, or activity, if you’re interested in having a WallBuilders speaker come to your area, you can get on our website at www.WallBuilders.com and there’s a tab for scheduling. If you’ll click on that tab, you’ll notice there’s a list of information from speakers bio’s, to events that are already going on. And, there’s a section where you can request an event, to bring this information about who we are, where we came from, our religious liberties, and freedoms. Go to the WallBuilders website and Bring a speaker to your area.

RICK:

We’re back. Thanks for staying with us for WallBuilders Live! Very special thanks to decorated World War II veteran, Bert Watkins, for joining us today. And, Tim, thanks for doing the interview. Man, what an honor to get to do one.

A True Honor

TIM:

It absolutely is an honor; and, I think we say this every time after we talk to a veteran. It’s so neat to talk to guys who went through what they went through, the price that was paid of having to see so many of their friends pay the ultimate price with the sacrifice of their life. But, for these guys that have made it out, and even having to retell their story, sometimes that can be hard for them to have to relive some of those moments.

RICK:

Yes.

TIM:

But, very rewarding and refreshing for us to hear some of the story of what happened and some of the details of their life. And, I’ll tell you, what Bert went through, some of those details were pretty fascinating.

The Battle of the Bulge

DAVID:

I heard something in this interview I’ve never before heard at all. So, he goes; Bert goes to the Battle of the Bulge. That’s about a five-week battle that happens throughout December and the early part of January.

But, he gets stuck in the infantry while the battle is underway. He’s overseas, and his training as an infantry man is so short that they stick him on ships going over. And, he makes it there in time for the Battle of the Bulge.

It’s unbelievable. I mean, two weeks he had as training for an infantryman. They give him a gun. He’s never before handled in his life.

And, suddenly, he’s stuck right in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge with a BAR; which, Tim, as you pointed out, that’s a massive gun.

TIM:

It was a big gun.

RICK:

That was almost as big as he was.

TIM:

Then, even some of the humor involved, that if you’re dragging these little boats up a hill and then you get up only to realize Guys, it’s frozen; we don’t need the boats. Right? Like, on some level, you know you’ve got to be frustrated. I don’t know who the scout was; but, somebody getting beat or cussed tonight.

The Price that Was Paid

Right? Like, this is frustrating. But, hearing him give these details and, as he’s recalling some of what was going on in the fire they were under, sometimes I think we just forget that the price that people paid and especially what they had to go through.

DAVID:

Yes.

TIM:

You know, it’s easy for us sitting–

DAVID:

And, by the way, what they had to go through–Battle of the Bulge is where you had so many guys who had their toes and feet cut off from frostbite. And, the comment he made about how he was always a wiggling his toes and it annoyed his wife; yet, it was from trying to keep his feet from freezing. I thought Oh my gosh.

TIM:

Well, and the fact that she brings it up how many years into their marriage?

RICK:

That’s right.

World War II Story:  Bert Watkins

TIM:

“Why do you do this?” And, maybe–because, I thought Wow she probably didn’t even know the full depths of his story and why he would be doing that years into the marriage. It makes me think how easy it is for us, sitting behind a microphone talking about these things, and what those guys had to actually live to be able to ensure the freedom that we have, just makes me so much more grateful for our military and for our veterans. And, obviously, we’re so grateful for Mr. Watkins taking time to tell us his story.

RICK:

Well, like you said, Tim, we’ve said it on the program before. I mean, it’s incredible to watch a show like Band of Brothers to see and kind of get to know some of those guys that actually lived and went through it. But, to get to interview one that was there at the Battle of the Bulge that you see portrayed in Band of Brothers, and get to hear his story firsthand, it’s just too cool. And, I want our listeners to know they can get not only this one, but many other World War II interviews.

We’ve also interviewed guys from the Korean War, the Vietnam War; you name it. And, it’s all available at our website, WallBuildersLive.com, in the archives section. But then, we have a CD with a collection of guys from every branch.

It’s just a great way to share with your family. So, check that out. We’ll have a link today to make it easy at WallBuildersLive.com.

We sure appreciate you listening. You’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live!