Julius Mate - Radio operator
146th Engineer Combat Battalion
Captured by German paratroopers
The patch of the 146th
Engineer Combat Battalion.
Early on the morning of 17 December, Sergeant Henri Rioux sent Norman Netttles and another radio man-whom we called "Indian"- from the radio shack to the battalion for breakfast. When these operators had not returned as expected, Sgt Rioux told Julius Mate and James France to go to breakfast and determine what had happened to the other two.
On their way, they saw a parachute with an attached bag hanging in a dead tree (this was not surprising, since they had heard the paratroopers during the night, and had seen the green and red recognition lights which they used). When Mate attempted to reclaim the chute, the tree trunk broke, and the trunk fell across his ankle pinning him to the ground. After being freed, they continued on and suddenly saw Nettles ahead acting very strange.
When they ran up to ask what was happening, six Germans with machine pistols stepped out of hiding, took them captive, disarmed them, and then threw their M-1 Garands into a nearby creek-where they were found later that day by one of our patrols. Nettles and Mate were directed to make a pole support to carry a German who had compound fractures of both legs.
At the end of the first day Mate's ankle was swollen and painful, so France and Nettles carried the wounded paratrooper from then on. They kept moving during the day and everyone slept under fir branches at night. After wandering about for two days, they joined the main body of about 150 paratroopers, and were interrogated by an officer who spoke impeccable English. He had studied at a Texas University, and so not only knew the language-but also the American idioms and customs.
They were combined with twenty others, captured from a laundry unit near Eupen. At night, they slept in a thight pile to keep warm, as it was very cold. After an interval when their body side on the ground was growing cold, they all turned at a given signal. They kept up a running conversation warning each other of the importance in moving toes and fingers to avert frostbite. When an American infantry patrol flushed the paratroopers, the captives took off in a high lope waving their shirts and yelling "Don't shoot, we're Americans." The infantry held their fire and then escorted the captives back to their units.