By Nathan J. Muller
Editor’s Note from the Bradford Era newspaper in Bradford, PA: Today marks Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945, or as it is most commonly referred to, V-E Day. To mark that milestone which brought an end to World War II on the European Continent, The Era is featuring a guest story by Nathan J. Muller of Smethport, PA, who describes his father’s experience with the 101st Airborne Division. Muller’s father’s unit celebrated V-E Day at Adolph Hitler’s mountain retreat in Bavaria. How he and others got there was chronicled in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers.”
One minute after midnight on May 8, 1945 marked the day of victory for the Allied forces in World War II against Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich, a regime he boasted would last 1,000 years.
On that day 68 years ago, the main streets of America and Europe erupted in euphoric celebration. Years of common sacrifice had finally ended. With a menace that threatened to cloak Europe in darkness utterly defeated, countless people on both sides of the Atlantic saw the promise of a normal life before them.
In Germany, some U.S. paratroopers marked the occasion with a unique celebration. Members of the 101st Airborne Division hoisted glasses of wine and champagne in the very place Hitler used for high level meetings at his mountaintop retreat in the town of Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps. The town was also the southern headquarters of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, commonly known as the Nazi Party, of which Hitler had been its leader.
My father, Adler Muller of Martinsburg, West Virginia, was among those who celebrated V-E Day in Hitler’s retreat, dubbed the “Eagle’s Nest.” How he and others got there was chronicled in the HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, based on the book by Stephen E. Ambrose.
After participating in the Normandy Invasion, units of the 101st Airborne Division trekked through Europe, engaging enemy forces wherever they were found, notably in Bastogne, Belgium where Hitler’s last western offensive was turned back during the vicious Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944.
Months later, with the war finally winding down, the Allies recognized the need to take Berchtesgaden to prevent it from being used by diehard Nazis as a possible redoubt for guerilla operations orchestrated by the SS. By that time, however, Hitler had already been discovered dead in a bunker in Berlin and German troops were surrendering en masse. Berchtesgaden was no longer a strategic objective. Instead, it became the ultimate trophy for Allied forces.
The 101st Airborne Division’s Company E was among the first American units to reach the Eagle’s Nest in a race that included Russian and French troops. If Berchtesgaden still held any spiritual significance for true believers across Germany, a lingering Allied presence there would go a long way toward crushing that spirit. Other Airborne units immediately joined Company E at Berchtesgaden. Among them was Company C, my father’s unit.
The troops went through the abandoned homes of Nazi officials and confiscated thousands of bottles of Europe’s best wines and champagnes. Varying accounts put Hermann Göring’s personal liquor stock at between 10,000 and 16,000 bottles. The parties thrown in and around the Nazi complex on V-E Day are still the stuff of legend. After that, many Allied units were rewarded with their own tour of Berchtesgaden. By the time Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower showed up, the town had been stripped of all moveable objects.
Any item with a Swastika was allowed to be taken, but this rule was loosely enforced, if at all. Troops took trays of silverware adorned with an Eagle and Swastika emblem bracketed with the initials A H. Gold trimmed white Nazi ceremonial flags, candelabra, linens, china, and crystal were among the other items found. There was so much booty that the occupying troops played cards using it as currency.
Some, like my father, crated their share for shipment back home. Over the years, he distributed a few items to family members, but retained the bulk of the collection.
When my father’s parish, St. Leo the Great in Inwood, West Virginia, finished building a new church, it had exceeded its budget. This left the church steeple without a crucifix. With the help of an intermediary, my father sought a suitable buyer for his collection so a cross could be purchased for the church.
Not any buyer would do, of course. The collection could not fall into the hands of a neo-Nazi group that might use it to inspire hateful acts. This would have tainted the cross and everything it stood for.
Eventually, a buyer was found who had a genuine interest in World War II history. The purchase put the crucifix on the steeple of St. Leo’s Church, an act that had so many levels of meaning. At the highest, it was a manifestation of pure evil turned into pure good.
My father was hospitalized in January 2013. On arriving at his bedside from Smethport, Pennsylvania, he reached to shake my hand. I asked how he was feeling. “I’m on my way out,” he said. He had been hospitalized on previous occasions, but this time was different. There was no going home and neither of us could pretend otherwise.
Among the items he left behind – a German Reichsmark – signed by his closest friends among the Band of Brothers during their remarkable celebration in the Eagle’s Nest on V-E Day: Adler Muller, Steve Nikkel, Ernie McCoy, Martin Majewsky, CC McQuillin and Dick Hoover.
Wherever these Brothers may be, a grateful Nation salutes you and all World War II veterans for their sacrifices in achieving the hard-fought Victory in Europe that changed the course of history.
Nathan J. Muller is cofounder of Ascent Solutions Group, which provides marketing services to tech sector clients. With 40 years of telecommunications industry experience, Mr. Muller has written extensively about Internet technologies, having published 29 books and more than 2,000 articles in over 75 publications worldwide. He lives in Smethport, Pennsylvania.