WILBUR JACK MYERS – US Army, Corporal, Gunner 1st Platoon Co. B 692nd Tank Destroyer.
Initially deployed to Holland, 20 year old Myers ended up in Belgium as a gunner in a tank destroyer battalion fighting German soldiers in deep snow and temperatures hovering around minus 20 F during the now legendary Battle of the Bulge; Germany’s last major counterattack which resulted in close to 200,000 casualties on both sides.
“I saw combat from the time I landed until the time I left. You wondered how you got through it.” he said. “I lost three out of my squad — my driver, my assistant driver and my squad leader.”
Myers and his good friend Arthur Staymates who passed away in April 2017 at the age of 92 were among 29 World War II veterans who spent two weeks in Europe to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the famous battle. “I couldn’t believe how many people showed up in very foul weather,” Myers said. “It was snowing and blowing, not like 70 years ago, but they were there anyway, thousands of people.”
He said the scene was a stark contrast to 1944, when dead soldiers and bombed-out buildings spotted the landscape. Many soldiers suffered from frostbite and the wounded often died before combat medics could reach them. More than 1 million soldiers fought in the Battle of the Bulge — some 500,000 Americans, 600,000 Germans and 55,000 British. Each side lost more than 800 tanks, and the Germans lost 1,000 aircraft, according to the U.S. Department of Defense website.
Roughly 30 German divisions launched the counteroffensive in the early morning hours of Dec. 16, 1944, against the Allies in the heavily forested Belgian Ardennes region. Besides being outnumbered, the Americans were taken by surprise because the Ardennes was being used as a rest and recuperation area at the time. American casualties were estimated at 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and more than 23,000 missing. The British suffered 1,400 casualties, with 200 killed. An estimated 100,000 German soldiers were killed, wounded or captured.
Myers didn’t talk about the war for 50 years. Dealing with the loss of his close friends was too difficult to bear. “I was with the same outfit the whole time I was in there, so I had been with them for two years,” he said. “To lose a buddy like that — it’s not easy, very emotional. It brings back memories.”
As I was going to be vacationing in Maryland in July 2017, I began to research veterans from the area. This led me to a story reported by Reporter Jonathan Hunter of WDVM Hagerstown news who interviewed Jack Myers on the occasion of the passing of his dear friend Arthur Staymates in April 2017.
I contacted Mr. Hunter who kindly put me in touch with Mr. Myers. Mr. Myers in turn was generous enough to allow me to pay him and his gracious wife Mary-Jo a visit at their residence in Hagerstown where we sat and chatted about his service record and his friend Arthur Staymates.
At 93, Jack was still active including playing golf when I caught up with him. Jack and Mary-Jo clearly enjoy each other’s company and I felt instantly welcome in their home. After signing the book, Jack, with a warm disarming smile, invited me to lunch. The same graciousness and modesty present in all the veterans I have encountered was on display in this wonderful man and his wife whose company I had the honor to share.