The soft-spoken, humble man, now 95, saw incredible things as a tank commander in World War II.
David Redle credits one thing for his survival.
“I prayed all day, all the time,” said the West Akron resident.
As part of the B Company of the 756th Tank Battalion, Redle served in North Africa in 1943 then fought in several battles in Italy including Anzio in January 1944 and the Battle of Monte Cassino. By August he was in southern France and on his way across Europe until the end of the war.
“The first day we took 3,400 prisoners,” he said of the day of the landing in France.
His story is told in the book The Day of the Panzer — A Story of American Heroism and Sacrifice in Southern France by Jeff Danby, published by Casemate in 2008.
“Captain Redle remained remarkably resilient throughout the dizzying challenges confronting his command,” Denby wrote in his book. “His men admired him for approachability, sincerity and impeccable honesty.”
Redle and his wife, Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Cunningham Redle, who died in 2011 at the age of 88, had nine children, 28 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A native of Sheridan, Wyo., Redle graduated from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., majoring in math and physics. He was commissioned as an officer in an Army Reserve unit after graduation. He was called up to active duty in September 1941.
He remembers sleeping under his tank during battles.
“The Germans could see you anywhere,” he said.
During a break in fighting, he went to St. Peter’s Basilica and was just a few feet away from Pope Pius XII.
On what would be the last day of the war, he found himself in the tiny Bavarian town of Marquartstein.
An American woman who had come to Germany and met her husband there came up to him and said there was an SS unit in the town.
So Redle and a staff sergeant carried a stick with a white flag to a cemetery at the town where they were stopped by an SS paratrooper sergeant.
“He told us to wait and he sent a runner to the command post,” Redle wrote in a memoir he wrote in 1996. “While we were waiting I informed him that Salzburg had been captured and the war was nearly over, and I offered him a Lucky Strike cigarette.
“He liked it so much I gave him the pack.”
By then thousands of German regular army soldiers had already turned themselves in, he said.
The runner returned and took Redle and the staff sergeant blindfolded to the town and into a hotel where several SS officers were staying.
While the noncommissioned officer waited in a lobby, Redle was taken to a banquet room where there were maps on one wall.
The commandant came in wearing a raglan-sleeved civilian overcoat over his uniform and then Redle said he thought it would be a good idea for them to all surrender.
“I said the war is over and I would like to have you surrender,” he said. “You will be surrendering with honor. Take your troops to the nearest autobahn overpass and your unit will be taken care of.”
But the SS commander said no.
“I don’t have any orders and without orders, that is out of the question,” Redle said the German SS officer said.
Then, he told the German, “If you don’t surrender, I will have to come back and drive you out!”
The SS officer had someone take Redle and the staff sergeant back to the frontlines and told them they would start firing in three minutes.
The Americans then began to attack the small village and as they entered, 150 German regular Army men remained in holes and surrendered.
During the battle, a lumberyard was set on fire and the SS officers ran off into the nearby Alps, Redle said.
The Americans then worked with villagers to put out the lumberyard fire, Redle said.
After taking the town, Redle returned to the hotel where the manager invited him and a lieutenant colonel into a room and they all had a drink of cognac.
“At about 11 or 11:30 p.m., as we drove east in blackout conditions, we saw a column of vehicles coming toward us with bright headlights on,” he said. “When they passed us, we saw command cars with two or three stars on each car. The American generals were bringing in the German generals to accomplish the surrender.”
This happened on May 6, 1945.
Redle said during his time at war with his unit of 17 tanks — three platoons of five tanks each plus two more — about 50 of his men were killed.
Tankers were in such short supply, he said, that toward the end of the war, infantry soldiers were brought in and given on-the-field training on operating tanks.
He said he kept his mind on the battle at hand and worked hard not to think about his family back home.
“I thought, I have to get this out of my mind now,” he said. “If I was thinking about my family I wouldn’t be effective.”
He was wounded with shrapnel on the back of his neck at one point during the war. He had to wait 30 hours to have a medic remove it.
“I was too busy fighting,” he said.
During his time in battle, his life crossed paths with famous people.
There was Audie Murphy, the recipient of the Medal of Honor and later film actor.
“He had a Texas drawl,” he said. “He was a good boy.”
And he also served with Lt. Col. Keith Lincoln Ware, another Medal of Honor recipient who served with him in World War II and later became a major general in Vietnam who was killed in a helicopter crash in 1968.
“I lived a charmed life,” he said.
His older sister, Sister Mary Jude, and the nuns in her convent, he said, prayed for him and his unit.
“I was blessed,” said the recipient of a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Silver Star. “It was the power of prayer.”
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or email@example.com.