Red Crossers Pose with Battle of the Bulge Prisoner of War Dan McCabe
The American Red Cross supports veterans and families all across the U.S., proudly serving those who serve our nation. A brief look at the reach our services have had this year includes 65,439 emergency communications to 117,580 military members and their families. 162,200 families were served this year to date. Volunteers provide home comforts and critical services on bases and in military hospitals around the world. We support military families during deployments and emergencies. We continue servicing our nation’s veterans after their service ends. We enjoy getting to know each and every individual’s personal story and look forward to participating in local events and parades aimed at honoring our nation’s heroes.
While seated in the passenger side of his son’s vintage red Mustang, Dan McCabe captured the attention of some North Bay Red Crossers. “I’d always seen them around, but never talked to them,” says McCabe. The two groups were staged near one another at the Fairfield Veterans Day Parade and decided to take a photograph together.
Lately, pictures have become a talking point for McCabe. This past year, a photograph surfaced of a young man in uniform holding the same type of gun the expert rifleman used during World War II. The resemblance: uncanny. While the former prisoner of war has since received many honors and awards for his service, most of his military records and memorabilia were lost in a fire. His family is thrilled about the snapshot that surfaced as it brings to life a moment that was once lost in time.
For McCabe and many others that defend our nation, the holidays bring back different kinds of memories than most people.
McCabe enlisted at the age of 18. One of 13 children, the teenager exchanged his civilian clothes at the Long Island Reception Center on January 11, 1944. Following basic training, he was sent to the 69th Infantry Division in Biloxi, Mississippi before being shipped out to England from the New York Harbor in November of 1944.
On Christmas morning, a sergeant announced twenty-five men from each platoon would be sent to the front lines. “A bunch of us thought we’d volunteer and go where we would be together,” recalls the native New Yorker.
With bad weather grounding air traffic, the replacements arrived by sea and by land. Those that volunteered did not remain a unit.
“It was a 300 some foot long boat. It went across the channel and landed in France. It opened up and a ramp fell out,” says the 94-year-old. A truck was waiting for them to continue their journey. “The driver stopped and said, ‘This is as far as we go.’ Everyone got off in the middle of the night at a rail yard close enough to see explosions,” he adds.
McCabe joined Company E of the 331st Infantry Regiment of the 83rd Infantry Division on New Year’s Eve. He spent the first day of the new year dodging enemy bullets as he struggled to stay warm.
At the end of February, McCabe’s company crossed the Rhine River. A firefight at an old factory building ensued. Completely surrounded and out of ammunition, their commander gave orders to destroy all weapons.
McCabe and fellow captives were escorted to Dusseldorf where they remained at a prisoner of war camp for about one week before being loaded into a boxcar headed to Limburg. Fighter planes stopped the train in its tracks.
“They’d drop the bombs and the whole train would be bouncing on the rails. We were all locked in that thing, about fifty of us, and we stayed in there until they let us out after dark,” says McCabe.
The men were marched towards a town near the Holland and Germany border where they were set free. The following day, VI Corps arrived and provided cigarettes and K-rations. In March, a liberation tank came to the village.
The veteran saw the Statue of Liberty once again on May 16, 1945, after serving six months and one day across the Atlantic.
The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II. An estimated 19,276 American lives were lost.
While the Army Veteran now proudly shares his war stories, it took many years before he could. The American Red Cross and its members are honored to have met such a heroic man and even more honored to highlight his patriotism this holiday season.
Thank you for your service, Dan McCabe, and to all the United States Veterans, as well as the active uniformed men and women who spend this time of year apart from the comfort and warmth of home, family and friends.
Lindsay R. Peak is a volunteer writer with the Northern California Coastal Region.