My name is Leonard G. Lutjen, former prisoner of war. I was a light machine gunner for Company L, 357th Regiment, 90th Infantry Division. On July 6, 1944, we were in attack on Beau Coudray, a village in Normandy, France.
I was told to mount the machine gun on a hedgerow wall. I had orders to open fire on the first three or more Germans seen. A sniper moved behind me in a tree. He shot me with his rifle through the left side of my face. My mouth was open so the bullet fractured my right jaw bone, underneath my right ear. The bullet then tore the clothes off of my shoulder and buried itself.
Some of our men could not see the sniper very well in the apple tree, so they fired a bazooka at the sniper, thus killing him. I fell off of the hedgerow wall after being hit, trying to call for a medic. Blood was all over me. The battle increased in intensity and they took my weapons and left a rifleman to guard me. The medic tried to treat me. They told me that they would take me to an aid station later.
I was hit about noon on July 6, 1944. By nightfall they took the village of Beau Coudray. Several of the 90th’s G.I.’s picked me up. I leaned on them and they said we will take you into the village. You will be safer with four walls around you.
Hearing the voice of the Germans
They took me into a three-story house, where some of the 90th were holding some German prisoners. There was also an American G.I., who had been a prisoner of war (POW) of the Germans. That day he was liberated. It became dark and the Germans began their counterattack. For a while there were voices of Americans. The battle increased in fury.
A German machine gun zeroed in on the window where the other G.I. and I were lying. It was firing tracer bullets. Each piece of glass was shot out. Bullets flew only about an inch or so over our heads, finally there were the voices of the Germans in the darkness.
I tried to hide behind a liquor cabinet with a blanket over me, hoping they wouldn’t see me in the darkness. Suddenly there were sounds of German boots stepping on the glass. They had blackout lights. They found the other G.I. and then they found me. “Amerikaner!” they cried.
Caught by the Germans
I was expecting a bayonet thrust through the heart, but instead, they put the blanket back over my head. These Germans were Luftwaffe and S.S. Later some German medics came in and asked whether we wanted morphine. I didn’t trust them, so I would not take any. The other G.I. took some morphine. They found some dead soldiers in other rooms.
Daylight finally came. I looked in the next rooms. There were six dead Germans in the other rooms and hall. One day a German soldier came in, pointed his rifle at me, getting ready to fire. I held my hands up and he lowered his rifle and walked out of the house.
One day a mortar shell went through the second floor of the house. The house shook, but it stood. I was in this house for five days without food and water practically. After the fifth day, a German ambulance stopped at the door, picked us up and moved us to Ward Brittany.
After a stop at an aid station, we were searched. They thought about shooting me again. They found some ammo, plus German souvenirs, but they needed prisoners. That night they stopped at a building, where we stayed the night.
Morning came and we moved on to a large barn, where we were interrogated. The company commander also was a prisoner. He had a concussion from a hand grenade. He was deaf in one ear and also couldn’t see very well. I won’t go into details about the interrogation.
We moved on later and arrived at Rennes, France, capital of Brittany. It was a former girls school, now made into a POW hospital. There were prisoners of different Allies: British, Canadians, Americans, French, Moroccans, Sikhs from India, Arabs and also Russians. There was one American doctor POW. I had my teeth wired together because of my fractured jaw.
Eating what I could
I had to try to eat what liquid food there was and there was little of it such as a little eggnog. Milk had to be boiled. Sometimes the one or two eggs allowed per day were rotten. Sometimes we got a cup of peppermint tea or a cup of soup, which was made from cat, dog or horse. It was bad!
American bombers came over time after time. The Germans waxed in fright. Bombs were getting close. We could not see the sun from all the black smoke. French citizens went about unconcerned when bombing raids came. They were used to it.
My fever was growing in intensity. The French doctors in attendance were becoming puzzled. They called the American doctor who examined me and said I needed an operation. But he changed his mind — this boy has erysipelas, an acute infectious disease of the skin. Because they had no penicillin there, that explains why I caught the erysipelas. I didn’t get any blood transfusion, even though I sorely needed one. My face threatened to burn up because of the high fever.
The next day I was moved to a solitary isolation ward. I was blind for several days. After I was in the ward a while, I was growing weaker; dysentery was rampant in fury often through the night. There was a scream.
The next morning the medic came through the ward shaking his head and saying poor fellow. I told him to stay in his bed, but he started to move around and he disobeyed orders. He broke open his wounds. He died, poor fellow.
Air raid sirens were on top of the hospital, Gestapo headquarters. Next door, every so often another prisoner died. When I was shot, I weighed about 200 pounds. The ones on a regular diet were fed a small amount of German moldy bread, had regular Gestapo inspections and were kicked around some.
The flies were so bad that they almost drove us mad, with the torture thereof. We prayed for night to come so that we could have a little peace from this hell on earth that this was, but at night there was an inferno of noise, of shouting, of the winged devils of the mosquitoes, which were even more terrible than the flies by day.
Having a wired shut jaw
The air raid sirens on top of the hospital kept on howling. American bombing planes were making another bombing raid on Rennes. Because I had my teeth wired shut, the only way I could say anything was by writing on a piece of paper, but usually I couldn’t find any paper or pencil. My fever was getting higher.
The two Frenchmen who wired my jaw were dentists. Every time they came around they were smiling and shaking hands. They did a lot to keep up my morale! One day the French lieutenant, who was my dentist, brought me a can of jam from his own rations. Then on another day, he brought me a pack of cigarettes from his rations.
I was transferred to the dental ward, so they could observe my case better. Some of the soldiers often called the sentries outside, saying, “Ein Licht Mein Herr!” (“A light, sir!”) Some of the sentries made a deal with an English soldier. The limey was to bring some tobacco and give it to the Germans. The Germans in exchange gave the limey some bread. A typical sign of a German was the double- cross.
I met Holt, my old squad leader. We shook hands and he told me everything that had happened that fateful day and night of July 6. He also told me what was left of Company L. They had been forced to surrender in the counterattack. Also the company had run out of ammunition and headquarters had been unable to reach them in time, thus more faces came to light. By this disclosure, Holt told me that they threw away the machine gun after several bursts from it had been fired.
He was pursued by eight Germans and was shot through both legs. It wasn’t serious enough to keep him from running. He said he didn’t know why they didn’t kill him or hit him again. Suddenly a Jerry (German) officer barked an order, “ ‘Dumkopf!’ These are not Britisher, but Amerikaner.” They stopped firing and took him prisoner.
Hoping Americans were near
They had a secret radio in the hospital. We heard through the grapevine that Rennes was not a military objective. Then later we heard that the Americans were within seven miles of the city. The Germans tried to move out of Rennes in any manner possible — trucks, cars, bicycles, wagons, etc. I heard later that the Germans tried to move all the able-bodied prisoners out of Rennes. They were loaded on a troop train.
It was not marked with the international Red Cross symbol, so our planes strafed the train, killing about half the prisoners and half the Germans. But the train kept moving until they reached a work camp. I talked to a G.I. a month later who escaped from there and made it to England.
Convoy after convoy left Rennes until most of the Germans were gone, except for a few harassing agents of Germans. One night there was the rumble of the tanks, and the Americans fired several mortar shells into the hospital.
Nurses came running into my ward wanting to know whether I was hit. The shells passed underneath my ward.
Finally being saved
There was a cheer when the first Americans entered the city. The French Forces of the Interior reached the Americans and said “Stop shelling the hospital! You are killing your own people,” so the mortar fire was lifted.
Litter bearers carried me out of the hospital. After so many hours we were moved to a field hospital, where we stayed awhile. Then we were moved to the Cherbourg air strip, where we boarded a C-47 ambulance plane. We flew to England. They had me in a different hospital for about five-and-a-half more-months.
Finally, I was discharged from the hospital and was transferred out of the infantry to limited service in the post office, where I worked until September 1945.
We left France Sept. 26, 1945, and reached the U.S.A. on Oct. 5, 1945. I had a 45-day furlough at home and was discharged on Dec. 23, 1945, at Fort Meade in Maryland. I went back into farming and went to G.I. carpenter school. I also went to a commercial art school in Kansas City. After that I was a painting contractor and also farmed. I retired in 1986.
Today I am disabled and also retired. I was married to Delphia McNish in November 1955. We have two children and five grandchildren. I have been decorated with different medals and some foreign medals.
I weighed about 200 pounds when I was captured and weighed about 140 pounds when I was liberated. I could not have lasted another month. I was a private first class when I was discharged.