Skip to ArticleSkip to Radioplayer
Jul 28, 2018

Take no prisoners: Inside a WWII American war crime

Co-produced with PRX Logo

In December 1944, Adolf Hitler surprised the Allies with a secret counterattack through the Ardennes forest, known today as the Battle of the Bulge. In the carnage that followed, there was one incident that top military commanders hoped would be concealed. It’s the story of an American war crime nearly forgotten to history.

After desperate house-to-house fighting between German and American forces, American soldiers wrested control of the Belgian town of Chenogne. Americans rounded up the remaining German prisoners of war, took them to a field and machine-gunned them.

Reporter Chris Harland-Dunaway found an entry in General George S. Patton’s handwritten diary referring to the incident in Chenogne. Patton called it murder. So why then was there no official investigation?

Through vivid interviews with a 93-year-old veteran who witnessed the event, conversations with historians and the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials, and analysis of formerly confidential military records, we investigate why justice never came for the American soldiers responsible for the massacre at Chenogne.

DIG DEEPER

  • Read: Did defense secretary nominee James Mattis commit war crimes in Iraq?
  • Read: The devastating story behind one image of detainee abuse

Credits

Reported and produced by Chris Harland-Dunaway. Edited by Brett Myers.

Research help from historians Benjamin M. Schneider, Justin Michael Harris, Danny S. Parker and reporter Jason Leopold. Thanks to the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Anna Sussman of Snap Judgement for helping to bring the story to our attention.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
  Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:17:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al Letson: From The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson. Back in 2016, Chris Harland-Dunaway was between two world's.
Chris D.: Well, I had just finished my first year in journalism school and I had been a semi-pro bike racer for six years.
Al Letson: Chris was in his mid-20s. He was thinking more seriously about his career in journalism, but he also wasn't quite ready to give up on bike racing.
Chris D.: I had always dreamt of racing my bike in Europe, because that's the heartland, and I decided, well, this is my opportunity.
Al Letson: In the middle of grad school, Chris made a go of it. He flew to Belgium, and got a little apartment and began testing himself against the elite riders in a place where bicycle racing is a really big deal. It's full of traditions and idiosyncrasies, like the Rodania car that drives ahead of Belgium bike races, blaring an ad for Rodania Watches.
Speaker 3: Rodania. Rodania.
Chris D.: It's the ice cream truck of Belgium. Everyone hears that call, and they hear the Rodania, and they know there's a bike race happening just out their front door. They gather along sides with their paper cones of fries and beer, and watch the racing.
Al Letson: This Chris, doing his thing he's always dreamed of doing and is performing really well, placing in races and just training all the time, taking these long rides on narrow ribbons of road through the Ardennes, a region stretching from Belgium through France, Luxembourg, and into Germany.
Chris D.: I would go on these rides and I would pass through the spruce forests. It's so peaceful, and I couldn't help thinking, whenever I sort of encountered these moments out there, that this is also this place where there's just unbelievable carnage happened there during World War II.
Al Letson: This is where Chris' curiosity and love for journalism began creeping back into focus. The Ardennes forest saw some of the fiercest fighting of World War II. In December 1944, Germany launched a surprise attack that would become one of its last major offenses. Today, we know it as the Battle of the Bulge, and Chris wanted to know what it was really like.
Chris D.: I became obsessed with finding the oldest people in the villages nearby, people who would be willing to talk to me and tell me about what they saw during World War II. I figured what better way to understand what it was like than to talk to people who were still alive and who can still tell stories about what happened.
Al Letson: After hearing some of those stories, he began picking up on whispers of an incident he knew almost nothing about, one that's received little attention in the history books.

 

Chris D.: We see the men and women who fought in World War II as the greatest generation for beating Hitler. They did this amazing thing. They saved the world.

 

Al Letson: While all of that is true, Chris has spent the last two years investigating whether that's all they did.

 

Chris D.: Maybe bad things had happened that no one is really willing to talk about.

 

Al Letson: We're spending the whole show today looking into a single event, an American war crime during World War II, the massacre at Chenogne, and why nearly three quarters of a century later, most people don't know about it, and those who do, still don't seem to want to talk about it. Chris takes the story from here.

 

Chris D.: There are always soldiers who don't talk or can't talk about what they went through. Often, it's not until they're old, looking back on their lives, that some of these stories about war finally start to come out. I searched a long time for someone who knew about Chenogne. There aren't many people who really know what happened there, let alone saw what happened there, with their own eyes.

 

Frank Hartzell: The one thing that's missing is my combat infantry badge, which got left in our attic. That's the thing I was proudest of.

 

Chris D.: Frank Hartzell's 93, lives outside Philadelphia. These days, sweaters over collared shirts are kind of his thing. 75 years ago though, he didn't have the luxury of a signature look, it was just combat uniforms like the one we're digging out of the closet in his study. It's got the 11th Armored Division patch right on the shoulder.

 

Frank Hartzell: Here is the-

 

Chris D.: Oh, wow, there's the patch, the Thunderbolt patch.

 

Frank Hartzell: Yeah.

 

Chris D.: Did you wear this in the Ardennes?

 

Frank Hartzell: No. Well, yeah, I guess we did. Yeah, this is what we wore.

 

Chris D.: After the war, Frank went to Drexel and MIT. He worked his entire civilian life as a structural engineer, making sure buildings were safe. He's sharp, still talks with the precision of an engineer. I saw a picture of him back before the war at basic training in the California desert, standing at attention, rifle resting against his shoulder, a little smirk on his face. He had the same round boyish cheeks he has today.

 

Frank Hartzell: I got my notice when I was 18 that I was drafted. Once I graduated from high school, I was soon after, next week or so, called to take a physical. Passed a physical and was inducted in the service in, I guess it was July.

 

Chris D.: Because he had good grades, he was fast-tracked for an officer training program in Washington State. But, after a few months, the army disbanded the program, because they didn't need leadership. Hitler still had a firm grip on Europe. Frank says what the army really needed was cannon fodder. Frank sat down with his two buddies, Paul Gentile and Bob Fordyce.

 

Frank Hartzell: We had made this pact among us, that we'd go to visit the parents if anything had happened to one of us.

 

Chris D.: Before shipping out, Frank was allowed to return home to Wallingford, Connecticut one last time. On his first morning home, he came downstairs and there was his mom, standing in the kitchen.

 

Frank Hartzell: She had the radio on. She said the allies have landed in France.

 

Robert St. John: This is Robert St. John in the NBC newsroom in New York. Ladies and gentlemen, we may be approaching a fateful hour. All night long, bulletins have been pouring in from Berlin claiming that D-Day is here, claiming that the invasion of Western Europe has begun.

 

Chris D.: After D-Day happened, the U.S. began shipping as many men as it could, as fast as it could, across the Atlantic. Frank and his best friend Bob took a picture together in London below the Big Ben clock tower. They're standing shoulder to shoulder, smiling, wearing those army envelope hats tilted off to one side. After a couple weeks living in Quonset huts, they crossed the English Chanel to France.

 

Frank Hartzell: We were actually on the channel on December 16th, when the Battle of Bulge started.

 

Chris D.: The Battle of the Bulge began at 5:30 AM. The pre-dawn sky lit up with artillery fire. For the next three weeks, the entire war hung in the balance. It was Hitler's secret last ditch counterattack against the allies in the Ardennes forest in Belgium.

 

Speaker 1: Under cloudy skies, close hanging ground mists that defied aerial observation, the very much alive German Army gathers its forces in the forest isles to strike one strong decisive blow at the American Army.

 

Chris D.: Hitler's favorite tank commander, Joachim Peiper, led the charge, promising, in his words, to break the resistance by terror. In the opening hours of battle, he shocked American troops near the Belgium town of Malmedy.

 

Speaker 2: Malmedy, scene of an appalling crime. Here are men of the United States 30th Division uncover the frozen bodies of American soldiers, who after surrendering, were murdered by their German captors.

 

Chris D.: The story was gruesome. On the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, American soldiers ran straight into German tanks by accident. They surrendered. German soldiers corralled the American POWs in a muddy field beside a crossroads and shot them. Some Americans played dead. They listened as the Germans walked among the bodies, shooting anyone who looked alive. In all, 84 American prisoners were killed. It was called the Malmedy Massacre. News of the atrocity was spreading just as Frank and his battalion were piling into armored trucks called half-tracks, heading straight towards those same German forces that massacred fellow G.I.s. To dodge German observation planes, Frank's convoy advanced in the dark.

 

Frank Hartzell: We drove all night, no lights, very slowly. They can't even see. They would have the armor down, this little slit they'd look out of, and it was really something.

 

Chris D.: It was so cold that equipment froze to the ground. Both sides were bogging down, fighting from village to village. This would be Frank's first experience in combat, trying to take control of a Belgian town named Chenogne.

 

Frank Hartzell: The next morning, and we made this attack on Chenogne. The sky was just ladened in snow-covered fields. So it was. There's a machine gun firing at us. We were going up this field and we were under some fire. Anyway, we finally got up and we took that ridge.

 

Chris D.: The ridge looked out over scattered Belgian farm houses, a church steeple. Another group of Americans tried and failed to take the town the day before. Frank remembers looking down on their burning tanks. There's another thing he remembers, something eight veterans from the 11Th Armored say is true, that there was an order to take no prisoners.

 

Frank Hartzell: Then we went down into town, and then we were told to pull back. I do remember digging into the fox hole along the top of that ridge.

 

Chris D.: They were going to try again the next day. Frank was with his buddy Bob. It was New Year's Eve, 1945.

 

Frank Hartzell: In a twilight I guess, there was shooting going somewhere, sporadic artillery coming in, and we were digging. It was so hard to dig in that frozen ground. Bob Fordyce, who I dug with, he was a hard worker, and he had been digging and working hard, and he said, "Frank, you want to dig for awhile?"

 

Chris D.: Frank got in the fox hole. He hacked at the dirt. It was like rock. Then they heard artillery rumble in the distance. German shells started whistling down all around them.

 

Frank Hartzell: I had been in there digging for two minutes before some 88 fire came in. The hole was just shallow enough I was lying down. When the fire come in, you lie down, and he would lie down in the outside where I'd been. This piece of shrapnel I guess, I felt it hit the top of my helmet, just a little teeny down at the top of my helmet. I remember saying, "Boy Bob, that was close," and I looked up and it had taken the top of his head off. I remember shouting over to Tom Hickcock, who was our squad leader. I said, "Bob's dead." I guess we spent the rest of the night there. I don't know if his body stayed there all night or not. Well, I lost my two best friends in the first two days.

 

Chris D.: In the morning, Frank climbed out of his fox hole. His battalion gathered along the ridge line. Behind them, U.S. artillery started shelling the town of Chenogne, trying to soften up the Germans before the attack. They waited. The guns went quiet, then they charged down into town. Machine gun fire snapped through the air as the G.I.s ran through the snow. The Germans were ready. What do you remember seeing around you as you moved into town?

 

Frank Hartzell: What'd I see? Just the houses, which would have been pretty well demolished by the bombs dropped on the town. Dead bodies, or black people who had been wounded. Chaotic. Combat is when you're actually in it. It's very chaotic, yeah.

 

Chris D.: The G.I.s pushed through the village, starting at one end, hoping to reach the other. They zig-zagged, taking cover from the German guns wherever they could. The Americans couldn't figure out where one of the machine guns was shooting from. Then they spotted the source, the basement window of a farm house.

 

Frank Hartzell: I remember I'd been near that farm house, just outside a high stone wall, probably two or three yards from it.

 

Chris D.: Two of Frank's buddies hopped the wall, lobbing grenades at the open upstairs windows. Their aim was bad. The grenades bounced off the side of the farm house. One of the men dove into the doorway of the house to dodge the explosion. The other guy was shot while trying to make it back to that stone wall, the same one where Frank was taking cover next to one of their sergeants, a guy named Ed Fraley.

 

Frank Hartzell: Ed Fraley, and I remember, and he said, "My stomach hurts." I looked at it and pulled his shirt up, and I couldn't see anything in his stomach at all. Then I turned him over, and there was a little hole in his back, and he died.

 

Chris D.: That high caliber German machine gun wouldn't stop. Behind Frank, a bunch of these Shermans, these quick scrappy American tanks rolled into town. One of them fired its cannon at the farm house. The smoke cleared and the machine gun went quiet. The side of the farm house was cratered. There was nothing the Germans could do but surrender.

 

Frank Hartzell: They'd stopped shooting because we had surrounded them.

 

Chris D.: By this point, Frank dashed off to continue fighting throughout town. He and the other Americans spread out, surrounding each farm house as they went. Eventually, the Germans began surrendering in mass.

 

Frank Hartzell: I just remember them filing out, yeah. Long overcoats and they were pretty bedraggled as we were. They'd been attacking for two weeks and living in the cold as we had, so they were probably just about as unshaven and as dirty as we were. Worse, because they'd been around longer.

 

Chris D.: Under the Rules of Land Warfare in the U.S., the Germans were prisoner of war. They should've been taken to a collection point behind the front lines and transferred to a prison camp. Instead, the German soldiers were stripped of their weapons and herded to an empty field where they stood in the snow.

 

Frank Hartzell: Things quieted down, and I remember we got orders, take no prisoners. That's when, I think, was that afternoon that they were shot. When I walked past a field on the left, where there were these dead bodies. I knew what they were, I knew they were dead Germans. That's about all I can say.

 

Chris D.: Frank says he wasn't there in the field when the German prisoners were gunned down. He says that he had no part in it. What amount of blame, by saying take no prisoners, do you think they deserve?

 

Frank Hartzell: The person who issued the original order had a lot of responsibility I think. I don't think I could've pull ... I couldn't pull a trigger on just men standing, unarmed men. Most people, I don't think, could do that. I say whoever pulled the trigger has the most responsibility.

 

Chris D.: Back in the States, The New York Times landed on people's doorsteps. On page three there were two stories. On the left side of the broad sheet, an article confirmed the Malmedy Massacre by Joachim Peiper's German troops weeks earlier. On the right side of the same page, the other headline read, "Strike on 10-Mile Front." It told the story of General Patton's lightening assault that knocked the Germans off balance. It noted back and forth attacks and counterattacks in a town called Chenogne. But nothing else. That wasn't the whole story, and I couldn't get the whole story from Frank, because he only knows so much.

 

  Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 - 00:17:04]
  Section 2 of 3          [00:17:00 - 00:34:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Chris D.: Get the whole story from Frank because he only knows so much.

 

Al Letson: But there is someone else who knows more. A man so obsessed with the massacre at Chenogne that he bought a house on top of the ridge, right next to the fox hole where Frank lost his best friend Bob.

 

Roger M: The people doesn't know that every day in every unit, German and American, it was a war crime every day, every day.

 

Al Letson: That's next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal, I'm Al Letson. The good war. The greatest generation. This is how we tend to talk about World War II and the US role in defeating the Nazi's. But, it's much more complicated than that. When we left off, an elderly veteran told reporter Chris Harland-Dunaway about a little known massacre. German prisoner's of war gunned down by American soldiers. It happened during the Battle of the Bulge in a tiny Belgium town called Chenogne. That's where Chris picks up the story.

 

Chris D.: It's December when I arrive. Around the same time of year as the Battle of the Bulge. Thin, icy snow covers the fields and forests. Everything is blanketed in fog so thick, you wouldn't even know the town of Chenogne was here until it's practically in front of your face. After some searching in the haze, I finally find the house I'm looking for. [foreign language 00:19:05]

 

Roger M: Okay, I'm coming.

 

Chris D.: Hello.

 

Roger M: Please, come [crosstalk 00:19:13]

 

Chris D.: How are you?

 

This is Roger Marquet.

 

Roger M: I'm 50- uh, 50. I'm 72.

 

Chris D.: While Roger sometimes has a hard time remembering his age, 72 by the way, he says he'll never forget what US soldiers did for Belgium. Roger was born just a year after the war, in a town nearby. He sees the guys of the 11th Armored Division, guys like Frank Hartzell as saviors, liberators.

 

Roger M: And please.

 

Chris D.: Oh, thank you.

 

Roger M: Take the chair.

 

Chris D.: So, it came as a shock when Roger first heard rumors about what happened in Chenogne. That Americans might have massacred German prisoners of war.

 

Roger M: I decided, maybe, it's not true.

 

Chris D.: He used to be a PE teacher but after he heard about the massacre, he became a man obsessed and turned historian.

 

Roger M: I began my own investigation.

 

Chris D.: To understand the full story, Roger embedded with the 11th Armored Division veterans, like Frank Hartzell who we heard from earlier. Roger knows him really well. Roger used to hang out at reunions back in the states where he'd take guys aside and interview them alone. One by one, he pieced together what happened.

 

Can we walk there or should we go in a car?

 

Roger M: Oh, in a car. You could go by walking.

 

Chris D.: Roger takes his wool driving cap down from its peg. We go get into my rental car. We're driving around in the dark. Then his arm shoots up to the window.

 

Roger M: That's the house, here, where the basement and where the German were killed.

 

Chris D.: He's pointing at a farmhouse but really, he's pointing backwards in time.

 

Oh wow, that's the house right there?

 

Roger M: You want to see?

 

Chris D.: Yeah. I'll pull over.

 

Roger M: You can stay here.

 

Chris D.: Roger steps out into the snow. I step out onto the frosty, black tarmac. Remember earlier when Fran Hartzell described crouching behind that stone wall, taking cover from a German machine gun nest? That's where we're standing. In front of us is a three story farmhouse strung with gold Christmas lights. 74 years ago, that high-caliber German machine gun was in the basement window. An American tank shot its cannon point blank at the house. It caught fire, the basement filled with smoke and screaming. Those are details I already knew from Frank but there were some things Frank didn't see that day. For the rest of the story, Roger points at the cellar door.

 

Roger M: [inaudible 00:21:57] Do you see the ... against the wall?

 

Chris D.: Yes.

 

Roger M: It's the stairs where from the guys game out. The first one was a medic. A German medic.

 

Chris D.: Roger says it was a German medic who surrendered first, climbing out into the front yard where we're standing. He carried a white flag. American soldiers were positioned in a sort of semi-circle around him, rifles raised.

 

Roger M: Without any word, when they saw the guy, [rum 00:22:30], he was killed.

 

Chris D.: American soldiers shot the medic trying to surrender.

 

Roger M: Second one was maybe a young Belgium boy. They didn't fire, of course.

 

Chris D.: The boy made it out alive. Then another German emerged from the cellar steps, trying to surrender.

 

Roger M: Rum.

 

Chris D.: With the basement on fire, one-by-one, German soldiers emerged, trying to surrender. One-by-one, they were shot. Roger turns and I follow him. He crosses the narrow road, makes a sweeping gesture towards a small grassy embankment.

 

Roger M: When the mayor came three, four days after, he came back and the bodies were lined here in front of here.

 

Chris D.: The German soldiers from the cellar, that ones who had tried to surrender.

 

Roger M: It was 19 dead and they were put side by side.

 

Chris D.: That wasn't all of course, there were other German POWs staggering out of farmhouses trying to surrender. GIs stripped them of their weapons. Roger was told an American commander then barked an order.

 

Roger M: "Not here guys because the Germans could see us. Come a little bit further."

 

Chris D.: There were still German soldiers clustered in the forest, just outside of town. Potential witnesses. The Americans herded their prisoners down the hill. Roger takes me down the road, past the church.

 

Roger M: When they arrive in the bottom on the village. The German could not see them.

 

Chris D.: We stand next to a barbed wire fence. An anonymous empty pasture on the other side.

 

Roger M: Frank has said it was only this meadow.

 

Chris D.: This snowy meadow is where Frank and other veterans told Roger that all those German soldiers were gathered up.

 

Roger M: And they shoot 60. Once of them, 11th Armored guy, told me, "I count this, 61 Roger."

 

Chris D.: That 11th Armored guy, Steve [Bugden 00:24:55] assured Roger. He said "I'm precise." Three testimonies from Steve, Frank Hartzell and his friend John Fage who were by all accounts, bystanders to the incident, estimate that Americans machine-gunned 60 German prisoners in this field. That combined with the cellar incident makes around 80 German prisoners killed, after they had surrendered to Americans. Two weeks earlier, when Germans massacred American prisoners in Malmedy, they killed 84. Chenogne nearly settled the score. Roughly one German life for each American life taken.

 

Back at Roger's house, we go into his study. Right above his desk there's a photograph of Bob Fordyce. Frank's best friend who's killed by shrapnel when they were digging that fox hole.

 

You have Bob's photograph right next to where you write?

 

Roger M: Oh yeah.

 

Chris D.: Roger adopted his grave. That spot, where Frank and Bob dug together on the ridge where Bob was killed, it's in Roger's backyard. He built his house here for that reason and planted a tree to honor Bob. Roger tried to explain his devotion to these men, struggling to find the words in English.

 

Roger M: I don't find the word in French. [Foreign language 00:26:26]

 

Chris D.: You have the mentality that as long as you remember-

 

Roger M: Yeah.

 

Chris D.: Someone-

 

Roger M: Yeah.

 

Chris D.: They're alive.

 

Roger M: He is alive, yeah. He's maybe not alive but he is existing because you speak of him. He is existing.

 

Chris D.: These American soldiers gave their lives to liberate his little corner of the Arden forest where the Battle of the Bulge plowed through Belgian villages and people's lives. One question nagged Roger. How could these saviors also kill all those unarmed Germans who surrendered? How could the Americans do what they did?

 

Roger M: One of them tell me, "We became animal at the time of the combat. We became like animal and you have to do this because if you don't have the instinct of war, you will be killed." It's not excusable but it's explainable.

 

Chris D.: It's worth noting, we're talking about Nazi's here. That alone make some of this explainable. Allied soldiers were battling for their lives. They were exhausted, living in frozen fox holes. That's when they got the order to take no prisoners. It's hard to know who gave that order, especially since many military records from that time have been destroyed by fire. It's not like they didn't know about it.

 

There's a book called "The Patton Papers." It's mostly a transcription of General George S. Patton's dairies and notes. It says this about Chenogne, "There were also some unfortunate incidents of the shooting of prisoners. I hope we can conceal this." I found Patton's original handwritten diary in the library on Congress. It's been digitized. After hours of clicking through Patton's scrawl, I found the same passage. Blue ink, on 10 pages. Except, this passage is different. It has a misspelled word, med, instead of men. More importantly, there's a number.

 

I read it aloud to Roger, slowly. "Also murdered 50 odd German med. I hope we can conceal this."

 

Roger M: That's the ... the document that was ... Where did you find this? Patton paper [foreign 00:29:09] Wow.

 

Chris D.: Roger's surprised because this diary entry seems to prove something he long suspected. Patton knew his troops had killed Germans. At least 50. Also, Patton called it murder. Not long after, we say our goodbyes. [foreign language 00:29:31] All right, bye-bye.

 

I learned that "The Patton Papers" were written by a historian named Martin Blumenson. He worked for the Army and he was given unlimited access to all of Patton's documents. He died in 2005. How important was it that a historian who worked for the Army didn't transcribe Patton's exact words?

 

I went back to the states to find out.

 

Frank Hartzell: Chris.

 

Chris D.: Hi.

 

Frank Hartzell: How are you?

 

Chris D.: Good, how are you? Nice to meet you Bill.

 

Frank Hartzell: I was looking for you but-

 

Chris D.: Bill Johnsen is a military historian and former dean of the Army War College in Carlisle, PA. We walked past paintings of musket charges and the calvary riding in. Then Bill points me to a plaque with Martin Blumenson's name on it.

 

Frank Hartzell: I did check, Martin Blumenson was here. The Harold K. Johnson visiting professor of history from 75 to 76.

 

Chris D.: That's after he published "The Patton Papers." Bill starts walking down the hallway again. Did you know Martin Blumenson yourself?

 

Frank Hartzell: No, I never met him. I know him clearly by reputation.

 

Chris D.: Bill is heading into a conference room. It's got funky faux-wood paneling. We sit down at the table side by side and swivel our office chairs to face each other. I pull out a folder holding my documents and pick out Blumenson's transcription, the one that reads "There were some unfortunate incidents of the shooting of prisoners. I hope we can conceal this." Then I pull out a printed copy of Patton's original diary, in his handwriting. Which, clearly says "Also murdered 50 odd German men." Bill inspects them.

 

If you were doing a transcription of Patton's papers, what would you have done?

 

Frank Hartzell: At this time I think I would have probably looked at, from a historian's perspective, this is a relatively small, isolated incident, far out of relevance to the bulk of the other material that's there. He may have just made a generalization.

 

Chris D.: Does it come across as sanitized in any way to you?

 

Frank Hartzell: I'm sure that some people would immediately look at this and say "Look, he concealed the number." Others might look at it and say, "No, he didn't know what the number was. He had a single report." We have a truism in the military which is, never believe the first report. The question in Blumenson's mind may have been, I don't know what the real number is, so I'll keep it general.

 

Chris D.: Do you think people who approach it thinking that it's just a transcription of what Patton wrote, verbatim, do you think they have some right to be disappointed?

 

Frank Hartzell: Again, I think that if you look at some of these issues, some of it is, I'm sure, that editors were trying to portray a broad, positive picture. Sometimes, these things get shaded. Winners usually get to write the history and get to determine what's good or evil.

 

Chris D.: He's saying, it's complicated so cut Blumenson a little slack. I pressed one last time for answers about what happened in Chenogne.

 

Is this like clearly a war crime?

 

Frank Hartzell: Well, under the law of land warfare, yes. Once people surrendered, they've surrendered. There are clear definitions of what constitutes surrender and not surrender, what constitutes a combatant and a noncombatant and all of these activities are reinforced at least on an annual basis throughout the Army.

 

Chris D.: The same rules are in the Genova Conventions. Both Germany and The United States had signed them before World War II. Bill says US soldiers must follow orders but they also have a higher responsibility.

 

Frank Hartzell: Every soldier has the responsibility to disobey an unlawful order.

 

Chris D.: Every soldier his the responsibility to disobey an unlawful order. But if it was unlawful, if it was clearly a war crime, who was supposed to investigate it and why wasn't it ever prosecuted?

 

Al Letson: When we come back, Chris talks to a war crimes investigator who argued one of the biggest murder trials in human history. That's coming up on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Report-

 

  Section 2 of 3          [00:17:00 - 00:34:04]
  Section 3 of 3          [00:34:00 - 00:50:52]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)

 

Al Letson: [inaudible 00:34:00]. That's coming up on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

World War II lasted six years. Six years of fighting and extermination on a scale never before seen. At the close of the war, there was an attempt at justice. The trials at Nuremberg and Dachau were one of the world's first major experiments with international courts. Reporter, Chris Harland-Dunaway picks up the story with what happened next.

 

Chris D.: The Americans fought all the way to Berlin where they clinked glasses of Cognac with their Russian allies. Spring went to summer to fall, then the Nuremberg Trials began in Germany. The Nuremberg Trials forced the Germans to answer for crimes against humanity during the war. Trials for Hitler's cabinet ministers, the Gestapo secret police, concentration camp doctors, the worst of the worst. They sat in a courtroom wearing translation headsets.

 

Trial Speaker 1: We are now ready to hear the presentation by the prosecution.

 

Chris D.: A young American prosecutor named, Ben Ferencz, stands at the podium. He looks confident, calm, and determined.

 

Roger M: Reports will show that the slaughter committed by these defendants was dictated not by military necessity, but by that supreme perversion of thought, the Nazi theory of the master race. We shall show ...

 

Chris D.: It was the biggest murder trial in human history-

 

Roger M: ... of men in uniform-

 

Chris D.: ... 22 defendants all part of Nazi death squads known as the Einsatzgruppen. They were accused of murdering over a million Jews and other civilians.

 

Before continuing, the American prosecutor pauses, he drinks some water taking his time and then makes an argument for the principle of international justice.

 

Roger M: The jurisdictional power of every state extends to the punishment of offenses against the law of nations, "by whomsoever and wheresoever committed."

 

Chris D.: When the trial happened back in 1947 that young American lawyer was just 28 years old. Today, he's the last surviving prosecutor from Nuremberg.

 

Roger M: My name is Benjamin Ferencz, I'm 99 years old. I'm being interviewed now by a very nice gentleman in Delray Beach, Florida.

 

Chris D.: I flew to Florida to meet Ben. It's worth repeating, he's 99 years old. I was amazed to learn that two years before he stood at the podium in Nuremberg as chief prosecutor of the Einsatzgruppen, he was a janitor. He scrubbed floors and cleaned toilets in Patton's headquarters. One day towards the end of the war, he was called in for an interview.

 

Roger M: I met a colonel there who said, "We have gotten instructions from Washington to set up a war crimes branch, and your name has been forwarded from Washington, and what's a war crime?"

 

Chris D.: "What's a war crime?" asked the colonel.

 

Roger M: That is literally a quotation of how the War Crimes Program for the United States Army in World War II started.

 

Chris D.: Ben had a Harvard Law degree, studied international law, so he had good answer. After World War II, there were two sets of war crimes investigations, and Ben worked on both of them. The most heinous cases involving concentration camps and the slaughter of civilians were handled in Nuremberg. But a hundred miles away, trials in Dachau covered German war crimes committed against Allied troops. One particular case at Dachau captured the public's attention.

 

Trial Speaker 2: State your full name.

 

Translator: [German 00:37:56].

 

Joachim Peiper: Joachim Peiper.

 

Chris D.: Joachim Peiper was that German tank commander responsible for the Malmedy Massacre. Remember, that's when 84 American prisoners were shot on the first day at the Battle of the Bulge. During Peiper's trial, dozens of his troops sat in stands pushed up against the wall. Each one wore a big card with a number on it hanging on a string like a necklace.

 

Trial Speaker 2: [inaudible 00:38:21] case number 42. Were you ever a member of the Armed Forces of the German Reich?

 

Translator: [German 00:38:26]?

 

Nazi Soldier 1: [German 00:38:27].

 

Translator: Yes.

 

Chris D.: The case ran for two months. First the prosecution tried to find out if Peiper's troops knew the rules of war. If they'd read the Geneva Convention.

 

Trial Speaker 3: I'll ask you once again, did you ever read the rules of the Geneva Convention whether in a book or in a pamphlet or in a manual in your life?

 

Nazi Soldier 2: [German 00:38:50].

 

Chris D.: Yes. The soldier says. They did know the rules. Those American prisoners at Malmedy were slain in spite of that. When it came time for the sentencing ...

 

Trial Speaker 4: The court in closed session at least two-thirds of the members present at the time the vote was taken concurring, sentences you to death by hanging.

 

Chris D.: Death by hanging.

 

Trial Speaker 4: [inaudible 00:39:11].

 

Translator: Joachim Peiper [German 00:39:13].

 

Chris D.: A camera flashbulb pops, and Peiper is taken away. His sentence was eventually commuted largely for political reasons, but he and most of his troops were found guilty. This is what justice looked like for the Malmedy massacre.

 

But what about the massacre in Chenogne? Americans killed a similar number of German troops. There were no trials for the Americans, no prosecutions, and, certainly, no death sentences.

 

But there was a call for an investigation. One that few know anything about. It's all inside a declassified file I got. One filled with confidential reports from just after the war, including one about Chenogne.

 

A soldier named Max Cohen described seeing roughly 70 German prisoners machine-gunned by the 11th Armored. Then there was a back-and-forth. General Dwight D. Eisenhower demanded a full investigation. The 11th Armored said they sent it. Eisenhower's office said, "We don't have it. Send it again." Then the 11th Armored basically said, "It's too late. The war's over the unit's disbanded."

 

In the end, Eisenhower never received any investigation into Chenogne. I wanted to show all this to Ben Ferencz, the Nuremberg prosecutor.

 

Okay, so this is a confidential report. It's not this one, it's ...

 

Sitting on his couch in Florida, I asked Ben what he makes of it.

 

Roger M: Well, it smells to me like a cover-up, of course. Okay. Well, does that surprise you?

 

Chris D.: Yeah, it does.

 

Roger M: It doesn't surprise me.

 

Chris D.: During his investigations for the trials at Dachau and Nuremberg, Ben thoroughly investigated German war crimes driving all over, interrogating people, researching documents, exhuming hastily buried bodies with his shovel.

 

Was it ever your job to investigate American war crimes?

 

Roger M: No, we don't do that sort of thing. No, I would never investigate American war crimes. I was hired to investigate German war crimes.

 

Chris D.: Even if you received evidence that an American war crime had occurred like Chenogne, you wouldn't be told to go investigate it?

 

Roger M: Well, the truth is, pay attention, of course, Americans commit crimes in war, and it happens on both sides, on all sides in all wars.

 

Chris D.: Is understanding that when our guys go in, into a war knowing from the get-go that there will be soldiers among them who commit war crimes, is that part of understanding war by its nature?

 

Roger M: [crosstalk 00:42:15] crime. War is the supreme international crime. We have glorified war for centuries.

 

Chris D.: The men and women who went to fight in World War II are often referred to as the Greatest Generation.

 

Roger M: That's nonsense. That's nonsense. There's no Greatest Generation. Greatest Generation are the ones who have the courage to say that what the government's doing is wrong, and we'll not support it. That's the Greatest Generation.

 

When they said, "Hell, no," in the Vietnam War, "Hell, no, Mr. President, we won't go." Stop war-making is the answer.

 

Chris D.: Ben Ferencz says war crimes can only be avoided if countries avoid war in the first place. Not only will the bad guys commit them, the good guys will commit them too. This is the natural course of humanity's most destructive activity. It's easier to deal with that truth in general, but what about in miniature on a personal level?

 

After those Americans killed prisoners in Chenogne, there was no big trial. I wondered what that did to them. What it was like living with that?

 

When I was in Belgium talking with Roger Marquet that historian who investigated Chenogne, he talked a lot about Frank [Hartzell's 00:43:28] experiences as a soldier. Going to war as a young man just 18, seeing his first combat during the Bulge, then the war crime in Chenogne. Among the stories, there was one I had trouble understanding. Roger was vague enough that I almost forgot it, but as I sat in Frank's living room in the suburbs outside Philadelphia, I asked about it.

 

When I went and visited Roger, Roger told me a story where you shot a German that you came across. It was at Chenogne, I think, and do you have any recollection of this? He was close to you, and I think John was there?

 

Frank Hartzell: No, I shot a soldier, two of them, but I don't think John was there. I don't know if anybody was there.

 

Chris D.: Tell me about what happened.

 

Frank Hartzell: They were in a foxhole, and I shot them. I didn't know I'd told Roger that, but I did.

 

Chris D.: Were they trying to surrender, or were they-

 

Frank Hartzell: Yeah, they were. They were. Something I've never forgiven myself for. It was my first day in combat. They, two young boys, and I shot them, no excuse for it.

 

They'd been shooting at us, and I could have just passed them by. We were under fire. It was our first attack. I didn't have to shoot them. That's what we were trained to do, shoot.

 

I shouldn't have done it. I've always felt guilty about that. If you had time to think about it, you probably wouldn't do it. It's a very different feeling when you're being shot at, and you're right in the middle of it, and you're scared to death.

 

It's a spur of the moment decision that you make. Sometimes, you don't do it, and, sometimes, you do. I was young and inexperienced, and I did it. But I don't want to talk about it anymore.

 

Chris D.: Okay, I respect that.

 

To be clear, what Frank is talking about happened in the first 30 minutes of battle before the massacre at Chenogne. Frank and his buddies made a charge for the ridge. Two Germans stood up from a foxhole, their arms above their heads, and called out to him, "Comrade." That's what Germans yelled to surrender.

 

Frank says it all happened so fast that he acted out of instinct and fear. It's been nearly three-quarters of a century, and Frank hasn't told anyone about this, not his wife or children. Why now?

 

The night after our first interview, Frank sent me an email. He had more to say about the two Germans, so I went back and sat down with him the next day, so Frank could tell me in person. He started by reading that email back to me.

 

Frank Hartzell: What I wrote was:

 

You certainly did call to my attention my hypocrisy in telling you that I wouldn't shoot unarmed POWs while knowing that earlier that same awful day, I had done essentially the same thing. I will tell you that I've never forgiven myself for what I did that morning and will regret it until the day I die.

 

I can't begin to tell you how many times throughout the last 73 years I remembered and regretted what I did during my first half hour in combat. Whenever I think of my son or my grandsons and how much I love them, I think of the bereavement of those unknown parents.

 

When I think of the long, happy life I have had, of the joys of living and loving and learning and working and parenting, the beauty of our world, the marvelous discoveries about the composition and the scale of the universe, the understanding of molecular biology, the digital revolution, et cetera, et cetera, I think of how my action deprived two boys, who were no doubt as innocent and un-warlike as I was, of all that and so much more.

 

There are times when I can't rid myself of the memory for days on end. One can plead extenuating circumstances of which I guess there were a few. But in the last analysis, I committed an act for which there is no excuse and no forgiveness, and I've lived with that realization most of my life.

 

Chris D.: Frank doesn't know anything about those two young, German soldiers, whether they lived or died, whether they were Hitler Youth or unwilling conscripts. It's impossible to know.

 

One can plead extenuating circumstances, the order to take no prisoners, the Malmedy massacre just two weeks earlier, maybe even the very fact that these two soldiers were fighting for Nazi Germany.

 

Earlier, Frank told me that war is chaotic. That it's different when you're up close. For Frank, the greatest extenuating circumstance might actually be war itself. But some 73 years after shooting those two young men, it's a point that brings him no comfort.

 

Al Letson: We want to thank Frank Hartzell for sharing his story with us. Chris Harland-Dunaway reported and produced today's show. He started working on it as a student at UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

 

It was edited by Brett Meyers. We had research help from historians, Benjamin M. Schneider, Justin Michael Harris, Danny S. Parker, and reporter, Jason Leopold. Thanks also to my friend, Anna Sussman from Snap Judgment for helping bring the story to our attention.

 

Our production manager is Mwende Hinojosa. Original score and sound design by the dynamic duo, Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda. Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Amy Pyle is our editor in chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Camerado-Lightning.

 

Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

 

Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

I'm Al Letson, and remember there is always more to the story.

 

Close: From PRX.

 

  Section 3 of 3          [00:34:00 - 00:50:52]