"What Did You Do in the War Daddy?"
A Son's Search
Ben Tarpley wants to know more about his father. So do I. Ben knew that his father had been a prisoner of war in Germany. Few men, especially those who have faced that unspeakable horror, the brutal beatings, unbearable cold and ceaseless hunger of the German stalags, did talk. William B. Tarpley was one of those men. And now, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and modern technology, Ben will know a lot more about the man he called "Daddy" and what he did in the war. And, thanks to Ben's patience after all these years, you will find out at the same time.
William Benjamin Tarpley was born in Wilkinson County, Georgia on November 29,
1912. A son of William Benjamin Tarpley and Georgia Dominy Tarpley, William came to Dublin with his family in the early 1920s. In the years before World War II, William Tarpley opened a service station, one strategically located across from the Fred Roberts Hotel on the heavily traveled and newly opened U.S. Highway 80.
When the war broke out, William was nearly thirty years old and generally regarded as too old to serve in the Army, a role primarily assigned to late teens and men in their early twenties. On January 18, 1944, William Benjamin Tarpley was inducted into the U.S. Army. Three weeks later on February 8, Tarpley left his wife behind in their Hightower apartment home and officially reported for duty at Fort McPherson, Georgia near Atlanta. At the time, he was 5 feet 6 « inches tall, weighed 166 lbs., and had brown eyes and black hair.
Pvt. First Class William B. Tarpley was assigned to duty as a military policeman attached to Co. D of the 109th Infantry Reg. The 109th was originally organized from local National Guard companies across the state of Pennsylvania. Although Dublin had its own companies in the 121st Regiment, the Army often assigned soldiers to companies far away from their homes.
William joined his regiment just a week before it triumphantly marched through the liberated streets of Paris on August 29, 1944. Just two weeks later, the regiment was credited with being the first regiment to cross the Ziegfried Line. Arriving about the same time as Tarpley was one Eddie Slovik, who disappeared right after his arrival but returned to his unit. He was later executed by the Army for when he again deserted. Slovik was the only American executed for desertion since the Civil War.
As a part of the 28th Division, known by its members as "The Bloody Bucket," the 109th participated in brutal fighting in Normandy, North France and the Rhineland campaigns. The blood flowed without end during the campaign to drive the strongly entrenched German army from the dark and bloody Huertgen Forest.
The Allied push into western Germany, though bloody and hampered by bitterly cold weather, seemed to be going well. Then on December 16, 1944, the unexpected happened. At 5:30 a.m., German artillery launched a massive barrage upon the 109th which was positioned two miles west of Stolzembourg on the Our River, the border of Luxembourg and Germany. As paratroopers of the 14th German Paratroop Infantry swarmed across the Our River, Tarpley's battalion retreated to the south some ten miles to Diekirch on the banks of the Sure River.
The Battle of the Bulge began. The German army's final and desperate push to stop the Allied onslaught first appeared to have been successful, but with a lot of luck and American determination to keep on fighting, elements of the 28th aided the successful drive to block the German advance.
William Tarpley was not so lucky. He sought shelter in a barn, but after locals alerted the Germans of his location, Tarpley was captured and taken prisoner on the third day of the battle. Fortunately, Tarpley's captor was a soldier who had been schooled in America. The soldier allowed Tarpley to keep his wedding ring and a picture of his wife, the former Miss Doris Braddy. A month later, he wrote a letter to Doris of his capture. But it would take nearly three months for the long awaited message to make it back home.
Tarpley and nearly 7,500 others were taken to Stalag IV B at Muhlberg in Brandenburg, east of the Elbe River and some 30 miles north of Dresden in East Germany, far from the western front. The camp rapidly became one of the largest in Germany. One of his fellow prisoners was a member of the 106th Infantry. Drawing on his experiences in the camp, the young man authored Slaughterhouse Five. The author, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., became one of the more popular writers of the second half of the 20th Century.
During his stay in the prison, which included both British and Russian prisoners, William Tarpley was subjected to brutal weather conditions and the lack of food. Often, German guards gave them only scraps of food to eat.
Near the end of April, it was suddenly quiet, strangely quiet. After a night of battle sounds, the camp was empty. The Germans were gone. That's when the Russian Cossacks showed up, drinking, laughing and shooting the locks open on the gates. Tens of thousands of prisoners streamed out yelling, "We're free!" Apparently, William Tarpley was one of those who made his way back to American lines. Some, however, stayed and were actually taken prisoner by their Russian liberators. They were eventually freed.
After receiving medical treatment and delicious and hot food in France, Tarpley and the largest group of liberated Georgians arrived on May 12 in Camp Miles Standish in Massachusetts. William made his way to Ft. McPherson where his career in the Army began. There waiting on him was his wife, his brother O.T, and his sister Lorene Minton.
Tarpley returned back to Dublin on May 18, 1945. He told a Courier Herald reporter, "All the things you read in the paper about the atrocities in the German camps are true, and things are even worse if you can imagine that. I suppose I was fortunate because I only went hungry, having just some kind of watery soup and little bread, was exposed in bad weather and forced to march on long, hard marches. Others suffered much worse than that."
Pvt. Tarpley, in a camp filled with thousands, didn't see anyone he knew until his
liberation when he spotted Arthur Wood, who lived on the Glenwood Road in Laurens County.
Tarpley told the Courier Herald, "I lost about 54 pounds while I was in the camp, but have gained most of it back now since I have had food. I will be all right now that I am home, able to rest, eat and be with my family and friends."
William B. Tarpley was officially discharged from the Army on Dec. 6, 1945, given
$300.00 and an additional $8.25 in travel pay. But he was home. Home!
So on this Memorial Day, let us remember William B. Tarpley and all of those who have served our country so that we may be free.
P.S. Ben, there is much, much more out there for you to find out. I hope this helps.