Surviving Normandy: The Cost of Freedom

One of the many joys of being in wealth management is that you get to know your clients on a very personal level. One of my most special clients was Arthur Eck, a Prisoner of War during WWII. From our initial conversation I could tell there was something different about him. He understood the cost of freedom. Not in a rhetorical “feel good” kind of way, but the rare kind that comes only from having risked your life to obtain and protect it. Army Private Arthur Eck stormed Normandy and survived a Nazi prison camp. He is one of the great men that sacrificed so much so we could live free.

Here is just one of what he calls: A small portion of the many “Rantings by Art.” This entry was written as a response to the 1989 Supreme Court Ruling that desecration of the United States flag was not illegal and any laws making it illegal were unconstitutional.

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DESECRATION OF MY FLAG IN MY PRESENCE WOULD BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH

Why? BecauseArthurEck she is much more than a symbol to me. My experiences have made it so.

She means leaving my home Monday after I graduated from high school for basic infantry training and advanced combat training, boarding a troop ship in New York Harbor and joining a convoy which steamed into the Mediterranean sea. During the Atlantic crossing our destroyers sank a German U-boat which narrowly missed my ship with her torpedoes. We held our breath while the torpedoes barely skimmed by.

She means landing at Marseilles, France and fighting our way north toward Germany. She means carrying an aircooled “light” (Army’s designation –it got very heavy!) machine gun up and down the Vosges Mountains of eastern France. She means the death of one ammunition bearer and two second gunners, one of whom had the lower half of his face blown away as he lay beside me feeding the belt of ammo into the machine gun. She means fighting our way to the top of one mountain but getting stopped there, stuck out into German held territory like a sore thumb because Companies E and G on each side of us did not make it as far as did my Company; Company F, 399th Infantry, 100th Division. That night we were surrounded. After fire fights which consumed all our ammunition, we fought on for most of another day using bayonets, knives, rifle barrels and buts and even rocks. The weather was so bad that the Army Air Corps (now Air Force) could not fly to drop food or ammo or strafe or bomb, and the German forces were so strong at that point the Companies E and G could not rescue us. My flag means 3 days on a box car without food or water, packed in so tightly that only about one fourth of us could even sit down at any one time and try to rest or sleep. We took turns. Some died on that trip from the front.

My flag means getting a Prisoner of War dog tag at Stalag 12A then being separated from EVERY Company F comrade, gathered with other American POW’s and marched, at night, to the north and east until we were somewhere northeast of Berlin, Germany. She means 5 months 21 days of freezing during the winter that and starving at all times because the Germans refused to provide fuel for heat, enough blankets or clothing or food despite RedCross packages of food which the German guards ate, giving us nothing. Many died of pneumonia, starvation, dysentery and illness due to starvation and cold. We were given absolutely NO medical attention, not even asprin. One POW who could speak German was given a bit of extra food by each of us and he tried to escape. He was brought back dead. We buried him without a coffin. The German guards were soldiers who had been wounded and not physically able to return to the front lines. The seemed to enjoy taking out their physical and psychological problems on us, using their rifle barrels and butts, bayonets and farm tools such as baleing hay hooks (we were forced to work on farms), shovel handles and the steel shovel blades. There was no one to restrain them.

When the Russians came through, we followed them (with NO help from them) until we got to the American lines at Elbe River where the Americans had stopped their advance. I was taken directly to an American field hospital where they weighed me in at 95 pounds and my temperature was 103 degrees due to a strep throat. My normal weight had been 175 pounds from my junior year at high school and all during my military training. Army doctors and surgeons in the hospital in Paris, France were convinced that gangrene would set in because my feet and ankles were black, swollen and split open in two places due to freezing. I refused amputation about half way between the knees and ankles –always was afraid of coming back maimed. But I got lucky and healed sufficiently to walk; took me 3 years, but I could no longer hike 20 miles!

Occasionally even now, 52 years later, there are some bad dreams and daily minor to not so minor pain from the untreated strep throat and physical damage during the stay in German prisoner of war camps.

THEREFORE, THE SUPREME COURT NOTWITHSTANDING, DESECRATION AND GROSS DISRESPECT FOR MY FLAG IN MY PRESCENCE WOULD DEFINITELY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH!

-Arthur Eck

(May 1997)
Read more about Arthur Eck here

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