My brother and I were working on a story that we thought would be fun to turn into a screenplay. Of course, every story needs a plot, tension, storyline, and above all a focus. And the cool thing about this story is that it was all TRUE.
While there are several protagonists, we settled on a hero, a main character of sorts to follow. My brother asked me why he was my hero.
My reply: because he is, and because he so did not wish to be called one.
He was uncomfortable with the limelight, You could tell that with some of the interviews he did. There was always something higher behind how he conducted himself. Like his lifelong friend Dr. George Gross, the appearance of the Holocaust survivors that they liberated on April 13th 1945, I think profoundly enriched his sunset years. Above all I remember his laugh, his chuckling disdain for fools and his engaging talks to young people about what he saw-and what our responsibility as human beings is.
The last time I was with him alone we spent 5 hours together on a rainy summer afternoon, ten years nearly to the day after our initial meeting and my seemingly innocuous interview with him. This day he was happy as we sat together. He reminded me that he felt sorry for me as a Yankees fan, then said, do you know I saw Babe Ruth play? With his dad, he would travel to New York City by train on Sunday afternoons to watch his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers play, back in the days when men dressed up for these outings.He popped in a cassette tape that he made-Benny Goodman, I think, closed his eyes and tapped his foot and snapped his fingers to the beat, head bowed,swaying from side to side… “Oh, man”…
My brother said to me- do you like your main character?
No, I replied. I love him.
Carrol passed away yesterday, Dec. 17th, 2012, at 6:05 pm at home with his wife of 68 years by his side. He was 91.
In the wake of so much heart breaking tragedy and misery in the world, I am pausing and remembering the actions and life of a single man who would bring to thousands of people so much joy, laughter, and of course life itself, with so much personal humility.
He profoundly altered the course of my own life in the short time I was honored to know him. This CBS News short sums up a lot about the man. And the interview that follows was where I took today’s post title from.
Just listen to him tell a story.
The Story with Dick Gordon- broadcast May 25, 2009
Steve Barry, Holocaust survivor
Carrol Walsh, US Army, liberator
Interviewed by Dick Gordon
Gordon: A twenty-four-year-old American soldier, Sergeant Carrol Walsh, was commanding one of those tanks. He remembers the day they came upon that train near Magdeburg, as much as he remembers anything from those endless days of fighting.
Walsh: Tired? I never thought about being tired. I can’t explain that. You just didn’t…you just kept going. I can’t explain that to you, you just kept going; you didn’t feel anything much.
Gordon: Do you remember seeing the train the first time?
Walsh: Oh, sure, I remember coming upon the train.
Gordon: What did you see?
Walsh: We were coming down this dirt road way, as I remember. I had no idea what we were approaching or where we were going or what was going on. I can remember just approaching this area and all of a sudden, ahead of me I saw this train. It was stopped. In my mind I can still see it, and I could see how long that train was, that long, long string of boxcars and the engine in the front. There were no SS guards around it at the time that we came upon it. I can remember swinging my tank to the right and proceeding along side of the train. I didn’t know what was really on that train until that tank stopped. Then I saw what the train held.
Gordon: Did you see the doors of those boxcars open at that time?
Walsh: Yes, I believe they were. I believe that they were open; some of the people were up. But I still remember peering into those boxcars and seeing those people just huddled and mashed together inside those boxcars.
Dick Gordon: And what did the people look like?
Carrol Walsh: …They were all shapes and sizes and…they looked like ragamuffins. Their clothing was poor and dirty and… they, you know, they didn’t look very healthy.
DG: Did you know at the time that these were prisoners, or had been prisoners, or that…they had been held? Did you have any idea what they were doing there?
CW: No, I had no idea. I had no idea who they were, where they had come from, where they were going – nothing. No idea. All I knew: here’s a train with these boxcars and people jammed in those boxcars. No idea. No, I had no idea.
DG: Steve Barry was among the twenty five hundred people rescued from a train that recently left Bergen-Belsen. After the war, Steve moved to the U.S. He became an American citizen. He fought for the U.S. in the Korean War. Steve says he never stopped thinking about that day of his liberation back in April 1945. He discussed it hundreds of times with friends who had also been there. He always wanted to know more about what had happened. Who were those G.I.s? Why did they stop to help? He collected every book he could find about World War Two but never saw a reference to the train of camp survivors near Magdeburg. Then, one day, just a couple of years ago, Steve saw something in his local newspaper.
SB: There was an Associated Press article in the “Sun-Sentinel” [newspaper] that talked about the reunion of people of the train near Magdeburg and I fell off my chair [chuckles]. And I after I, at that point, it was sixty-two years [chuckles]. I expected anything but seeing it in my local newspaper. I… it… was just mind-boggling. The first thing I did is I re-read the story again to make sure that this is the train that I was on…
SB: – and then I said I… have to find out how this story became the story. Who gave this story? Where did it come from because the article did not really explain it. It explained the train and everything else but I had to find out who my liberators were.
DG: This was the beginning of a journey that would eventually bring Steve Barry and Carrol Walsh together. That meeting sixty-two years later gave Steve, the survivor, the chance to say thank you, and Carrol, the U.S. sergeant, had a chance to say, actually, we are the ones who should be thanking you and all the others who endured so much in that war. I will talk with both men about that meeting in just a moment.
DG: I am Dick Gordon. This is “The Story.” On this Memorial Day we are hearing the stories of two men whose lives crossed when a train loaded with concentration camp survivors was rescued by the American army. Steve Barry was a young Hungarian Jew on that train. Carrol Walsh was a 24-year-old American tank commander. Now by the time Carrol reached that train on April 13th 1945, he had already been through a bruising year of combat. He had arrived in Europe in May of 1944.
CW: It got to the point where it seemed I had always been there; I would always be there if I lived. And it seemed such a long, long, long time. Seemed … endless.
DG: And if you started your sort of active battle engagement in the summer of 1944, then you would have started at a time when the outcome of the Second World War was still very much in doubt.
CW: Well, we, when I reached Normandy we were only ten miles inland if that tells you something.
DG: Yes exactly.
CW: Yes, yes.
DG: So your travels would have taken you, if you were drawing a line on a map [chuckles], where?
DG: -Where did you go from the coast?
CW: From Normandy we went somewhat south toward a place [called] Mortain [major battle with Germans in France]. Then we swung north and we were west of Paris. And we were the first troops to enter into Belgium and Holland. We swung… northeast from the Aachen area [area on the border of the Netherlands and Belgium] and we were waiting to cross the Roer River when the [Battle of the] Bulge began. And so- and we moved back [chuckles], back down through Aachen and then into the Ardennes.And it was a little dangerous with tanks trying to manipulate through those mountains, especially after the snow came and the ice developed. And it was very cold in the Bulge.
DG: Mr. Walsh, [it] says you fought your way through the winter of 1944 into 1945. How old were you at the time?
CW: Let me see. I was born in 1921. I was, in 1944, I was twenty-three years old. By the way, it was very cold in the Bulge and we had no winter clothing [chuckles by both].
DG: So these stories of undersupplied troops really go back some years, do they [not]? [chuckles].
CW: Yes! Well they, they had an idea the war was going to end before… the Bulge occurred. And they [it] just did not. They had a lot of the winter clothing I guess stored up, and around, in Paris but they… did not bring [it]. They did not think that we would need it.
DG: Was it frightening for you?
CW: Was it frightening?
CW: On occasion it was very frightening, sure. Sure, sometimes I was scared to death …[chuckles], positively. I wanted to live. I did not want to die. And… we would be shelled. We would be under artillery attack. We were always fearful of the German armor, which was far superior to ours. And I was in a light tank! We did not have a chance against the German armor with a [chuckles] 37-millimeter gun.
DG: Carrol Walsh and his companions found themselves in Germany as the war turned in favor of the Allied forces. He was among the Americans who came upon the train with twenty five hundred survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Carrol says, at the time, he is not certain that he and the other soldiers he was with were even aware of the existence of those camps.
CW: I do not believe we were. As I look back and I contemplate that thought… I suppose we were too busy in combat to think of anything except what we were doing at… the time. And of course, you know we had… we were not privileged to hear any news. We did not know really what was going on. We did not know whether we were successful in our own [chuckle] endeavors or not. And no. I was not aware of the extent of the horror that was perpetrated on the Jewish and other people. No, I had no idea at the time of the extent of the concentration camps.
DG: I am Dick Gordon and your listening to “The Story.” Carrol Walsh was one tired soldier when the Americans discovered the train of camp survivors. And they were still under orders to route the remains of the Nazi soldiers, so they had a problem.
CW: What are we going to do with these people? How can we handle this …situation? Fortunately, there was, as I have since learned, another attach unit with the 30th Division. They were in the area. That battalion immediately went around the neighborhood there, getting food from the local farmers and bringing it to the people. And then over night or the next day there were other units that arrived to assist these people and find shelter for them. That first night they… stayed around the train. There was no place for these people and whether any food even reached them that night I do not … know.
DG: It may be a… silly question to ask from this one moment whether or not it stuck in your mind, but in the years after the war did you ever think of… that day when you came upon that train?
CW: Not very much, no.
CW: No, it was… it was because… it was just another day you might say.
CW: I do not mean to put that down or minimize…
DG: No … I understand. Based on that – Yes, I understand what you are saying.
CW: -what was going on, but… these people… it was just another incident, another day… and on you went. No, I did not think much about it much through the years and I did not think much about it until I had this interview with Matt Rozell, the history teacher at Hudson Falls, [chuckle] New York High School. My daughter said ‘Why don’t you tell him about that train?’ I had not… thought even to mention the train to Matt Rozell, and I did, and as a result of that, that is how a lot of the programs and the connections with the survivors has come about.
DG: Carrol Walsh talks about the high school history teacher Matt Rozell. In teaching about the Second World War, Matt invited veterans to speak to his students that led to a website and eventually to an event, a reunion that included both veterans and survivors. Carrol Walsh was there.
CW: It was quite… emotional. Do you know what I said, when, [on] the day, that I [arrived], of the ceremonies, and the program that was conducted? They had an early morning breakfast and that was the first that I …met three of the survivors. And you know what I said to them? ‘Long time no see’ [chuckles].
DG: [Chuckles] Only, only sixty-two years! Yes.
CW: Yes, that is all! [chuckles] It was… quite emotional.
DG: Now… I was going to ask you…
CW: The ones that I had met were very young on the train. A couple of them were, I think, teenagers [but] for the most part they… were children.
DG: But … you said it was emotional and I can understand why it was emotional for them. You … guys, whether you knew it or not, were the saviors and the heroes but…
CW: Well, let me stop you there. No, not heroes- it all came about, it just so happened that [chuckles] Gross [a fellow tank commander, Walsh’s friend, and the man who took photos of the train liberation] and I were the ones that tanks were assigned to this particular scouting trip. Yes those people look upon us as saviors. I do not [chuckles]… know why. I do not feel like [a hero]; that if you can understand my… feeling. I do not. Yes it came about… because we got there. Yes, at that particular time those SS guards took off and … it was the end of their ordeal. There is no question about that.
DG: I mean if you were not their, you know, the … sole hero who saved them- and nobody is suggesting that is the case. You, certainly you and the other tank commanders: you were the symbols of their liberation.
CW: Exactly! That is a good expression. That is a good description: symbols. Yes indeed. Yes.
DG: And… so if it was in a way just another day in battle for you, when you say that your reunions have been emotional, why… why are they emotional for you?
CW: It’s emotional for me when… I think of where they were headed. They… were headed for, to, another concentration camp and extermination. And I… get emotional now because I know what they went through, and what it meant to them that we happened to intercept that train at that time. They are… real people. When I look back, they were almost not like real people when I first encountered them on the train on the cars. They were just a large group; twenty-five hundred figures…
CW: – and, now all of a sudden, they have names. They had lives. They had families. They had stories. I guess that is why I have, why I find it emotional.
DG: The Associated Press published an article about the reunion of survivors and liberators of that train beside Magdeburg. And that was the article that Steve Barry read. He had been there. He had been waiting a very long time to thank someone, and so he called up the high school history teacher [Matt Rozell] and found out that Carrol Walsh lived just a few hours away from him in Florida.
SB: And I… was just so anxious to hug somebody that was liberating that train that I just could not wait to meet with Carrol. I called Carrol and I explained to him who I was and I said, you know, ‘I just have to come to you and I just have to hug you’ and he said anytime, just please do come.
Hear Carrol and Steve reunite here. Go to the You Tube clips at bottom of the page.