Donald Applegate and the stories behind his WWII Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Rare are those who earned the Distinguished Service Cross, our nation's second-highest medal for bravery in action. Rarer still are those who earned not only the Distinguished Service Cross but also the Silver Star, the third-highest medal for bravery in action. Donald Applegate of Toledo, Ohio, was the recipient of these two medals and two Purple Hearts for being twice wounded in action in the European Theater of Operations in WWII.

Donald Applegate was a student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, when he received his draft notice. He had the option of completing college or going into the service immediately He chose m postpone his education and report immediately After basic training and Officer Candidate School, he was sent to the European Theater After a time in Britain, he went to Le Havre, France with the 75th Division. They mere m Holland on Dec. 16, 1944, when the surprise German counteroffensive in the Ardennes, known as the Barrie of the Bulge, began.

The Germans overran the American positions in and around the town of Bastogne in Belgium. They made a bulge in the American lines, hence the name, the Bartle of the Bulge. It was a last-ditch effort on the western by desperate Adolph Hitler. He hoped to split the Allied armies, capture the port of Antwerp, and perhaps sue for peace. Although the German offensive failed, the American army suffered its greatest losses in the European campaign. Applegate's unit was sent m Liege, Belgium, on the north end of the counteroffensive.

Where were you on Feb. 2, 1945?

The Bulge was over and we were on our way to eastern France. An action developed there called the Battle of the Colmar Pocket. Our job was to drive the Germans across the Rhine into Germany. They were the last Germans to be on French soil and they were very good SS troops.

I'm looking at an award from the 9th Army headquarters for the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest award given to a soldier. How did you earn this award? It was for an attack on a small town near Colmar and the Rhine River, which was the escape route for the Germans. We were pinned down in an open field by tank fire and we called in artillery fire and the Germans withdrew. We went into town fighting house to house and were then counterattacked by German troops and tanks.


The citation reads that you directed your unit to back, while you remained behind with one platoon to cover their retreat. You blasted a hole through the wall of a building with a bazooka and led your men through and stopped the counterattack. It further says, ' the extraordinary heroism and courageous action of Lieutenant Applegate reflects great credit on himself and are in the highest traditions of the military service."


Did you cross the Rhine?

No, I have wounded again and was evacuated and put in a Paris hospital for two or three weeks. I rejoined the unit after they had crossed the Rhine. While I was in the hospital, the unit was mostly engaged in patrol duty until the crossing.


I have a citation for a Silver Star awarded to Captain Donald Applegate. To have both a DSC and a Silver Star is indeed rare. The citation says that your unit was surrounded and the Germans demanded your surrender. What happened then?


We were able to radio a unit to support us by firing on the Germans.


The citation reads that you braved the intense enemy fire and captured three artillery pieces and over 170 prisoners. The war was to be over in just a month and you had made it this far, but now you were in serious trouble. You saved your unit once more and you were again recognized for your heroism.


        We came to a bridge that would have to be crossed and I had to pick the platoon to cross. I knew it could be mined, but we had to cross. Before the first platoon I had chosen to cross the bridge got there, it blew up. they were just moments away from death. That incident was to be the end of our combat. From that time on it was mainly occupation duty.


Were the Germans surrendering in large numbers?

    Yes, there was this problem with the Russian bear. They were coming from the east, so there was mass surrender to the Americans.

I see that when you were awarded the DSC, you were the first lieutenant and when you got the Silver Star, you were a captain.

    I was promoted while I was in the hospital in Paris. It is usual that a company commander is a captain.


Where were you when the war ended?

    In the state of Westphalia [Germanyl on occupation duty. I was in charge of five towns and five or six prisoners of war camps, one of which was a Jewish labor camp. When anyone was no longer able to work, would be sent to a death camp.


Did you liberate these camps? What were the conditions in the camps?

    Yes, we and the British liberated the camps and the conditions were dreadful. At that time, we did not know about the Holocaust. Were you able to do anything for these people? Yes, we brought food and sanitary equipment. We scoured the countryside for fresh vegetables and whatever we could find. In the Italian prisoners' camp, I remember there was one water faucet for 700 prisoners. They had separate camps for Poles, Russians, Dutch, and French.

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