Rhiny Weber’s World War II military service may have been shorter than some of his contemporaries at two years, but during those two years he earned a Bronze Star, three battle stars, an infantry combat badge and a POW medal, and spent six months as a prisoner of war in Germany.
Weber became a U.S. soldier at the age of 20 in December 1943, and took basic and infantry training in Fannin, Texas. He spent his time as a soldier in Italy serving in the infantry with Company F, 351st Infantry Regiment, 88th Division.
Weber, 89, fought in at least three battles in Italy, the largest of which was in the northern suburbs of Rome.
Weber said the incident that led to his Bronze Star was “kind of gruesome. I was in the first squad, and the second squad got annihilated by German machine gunners hiding in a haystack. I put in a clip of white phosphorus rounds (used to shoot into the air to let other soldiers know your location), and shot all eight rounds into the haystack, where the Germans were. They came out and were taken prisoner.”
“I got captured near Veronica, in 1944, Oct. 26 at noon,” Weber said Friday.
“Twenty of us were captured. They (German soldiers) walked us about 12 hours with nothing to eat.” The new prisoners were put into boxcars, and after three days on the train they arrived at German Stalag 7A at Mooseberg, Germany near Munich.
Weber said he and fellow POWs were soaking wet when captured, and the rain continued as they marched to the train. He said if fate would have prevented their capture for just a few more days, he likely would not have become a prisoner, because action slowed down as Europe began a particularly fierce winter.
“I was at Stalag 7A for two months, then we were taken on work details building a railroad in Germany. We had very little to eat.”
Weber said during the time in the Stalag plus his time building the railroad his weight dropped from 165 pounds to 90. “I lost half my weight,” Weber said.
As the war neared its end, Weber said German soldiers moved him and fellow prisoners deeper into Germany in hopes Germany would end up the winner.
He said the marching finally came to an end when he and other POWs were between German and allied forces. At that point, Weber said, the German guards left, and the U.S. Soldiers were liberated by fellow Americans.
When the war in Germany ended June 6, Weber said he was flown to LaHavre, France, where he stayed about two weeks.
After Weber and his fellow POWs were freed, they were flown to Camp Kilmer, N.J. “There was a lot of yahooing going on – everyone was happy to be home.”
The freed soldiers were given a few weeks recuperation time when the returned to the U.S., which for Weber included a visit with his family in Valley City. “It was a real surprise to my family (who had not expected to see Weber so soon.)”
Weber explained he was so anxious to return home “I arrived a couple of days before my orders.”
Weber said the first telegram sent to his mother after his capture simply said Weber was missing in action. “Later she got a letter saying I was a POW. That was a relief to her.”
While Weber was a prisoner he said his mother had written him “and sent me goodies. I wrote back and said I was doing OK. The letters were censored, so I didn’t get to say much.”
Weber was home in Valley City for “three or four weeks, then was sent to the Quartermaster Corps at Fort Warren near Cheyenne, Wyo.
“I thought I was going to be a quartermaster, but they made me a clerk/typist to a dentist.” He was finally discharged in November of 1945.
Weber might be 89, but he remains active today.
His wife, Mary Lou Weber, said the couple both deliver meals on wheels to senior citizens. She said by doing the deliveries they will not feel guilty when they need meals delivered.