Bad-ass Ben | Syracusefan.com

Bad-ass Ben

SWC75

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I'm reading Larry Csonka's new book:

On page 65 there is this anecdote about Ben Schwartzwalder's military career.

"Ben Schwartzwalder had been a great military leader during World War II. I heard that when we invaded Germany, Schwartzwalder, who was a captain, and some of his 82nd airborne troops jumped into the Black Forest to fight behind the German lines while the Allies maintained the thrust from the big front charging into Germany.

An assistant coach who was close to Schwartzwalder told me the operation was considered a near-suicide mission. He said Coach's troops were under a lot of fire. Half his outfit was killed that day, and they were pinned down. Schwartzwalder, who was on another battlefront knew he had to get back to his troops.

Schwartzwalder wanted to take some troops with him to rescue his men who were under fire. But the only soldiers he found were Allied forces guarding German prisoners. he asked the soldiers to come with him to help save his men. When the soldiers said they couldn't accompany him because they were guarding the prisoners, Schwartzwalder supposedly took a machine gun and killed all the Germans. After he shot them, according to the assistant coach, he told the soldiers "Come with me or you'll face the same".

They went with him and saved the troops, who were under fire. Captain Schwartzwalder was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, four battle stars and Presidential Unit Citation. He was promoted to the rank of major, on the spot for his bravery. He was personally decorated on the field by a general, who, during the ceremony, said "Ben, I never expected to see you here to receive this award."

But after the war, charges were filed against Schwartzwalder for violating the Geneva Convention. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover reportedly stepped in, put political pressure on the military prosecutors and they dropped the charges."

My first reaction is that it's ironic that Ben Schwartzwalder would parachute into the Black Forest, since Schwartzwalder means "Black Forester". I also wonder why our military would prosecute Ben under the Geneva Conventions- isn't that sort of thing done at the World Court in the Hague? And we'd already given him all those medals. Didn't they already know that he'd killed those German prisoners? Would J. Edgar Hoover have gotten involved in this and did he have to power to shut these things up, (or down)?

Most of the discussion of Ben's war adventures are about his unit battling for the La Fière Bridge in Normandy, which was key to the breakout form the D-Day beaches. Wikipedia has this to say: "As a captain in the 82nd Airborne (CO of Company G of the 507th), Schwartzwalder earned distinction during the invasion of Normandy and battles that followed in the last days of the war. He played key roles in the capture of the La Fière Causeway and Sainte-Mère-Église, crucial points of entry into France during the D-Day invasion. By the time the 507th reached the battle for Hill 95, they had suffered more than 65% casualties. Schwartzwalder continued his campaign all the way into Germany and acted as military governor of the town of Essen for a period of six months. He was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, four battle stars, Presidential Unit Citation and was promoted to the rank of Major for his actions during the invasion. When he was personally decorated by General Matthew Ridgway, the General said 'Ben, I never expected to see you here to receive this award.'" That does say that he continued his campaign all the way into Germany" but doesn't mention this battle in the Black Forest. Some googling suggests that the primary fighting along the German border in a forest was in the Hürtgen Forest, east of Belgium. The Black Forest was in southwestern Germany and something of a backwater in the water that was taken over late in the war by French forces. General Ridgeway was in charge of the battle in the sector La Fière was in. Here is an article on the battle for the La Fière Bridge that briefly mentions "Captain FV Schwarzwalder "
La Fière Bridge: The D-Day Battle You Should Have Heard Of
"In a three company attempt to retake the bridge at noon, A Company under Captain FV Schwarzwalder rushed the bridge and causeway, then continued on to reinforce Timmes. But they could not secure their position all the way back to the bridge and became cut off as well."
We had an earlier thread about the documentary mentioned but PBS doesn't seem to have it anymore and I can't find it elsewhere:
And here's an earlier one with a big contribution from the late, great Orangeyes:
Here is the article he linked:
Schwartzwalder is mentioned several times but nothing about killing prisoners.

Larry is careful about how he put this: "Schwartzwalder supposedly took a machine gun and killed all the Germans. After he shot them, according to the assistant coach, he told the soldiers "Come with me or you'll face the same." The Syracuse coaching staff was known for its hyperbole. Floyd Little, in his book "Promises to Keep", has a section on page 27 entitled "Penn State Pinkos". He describes Ben's address to the team before the 1964 Penn State game:

"Five minutes into it, Schwartzwalder stopped talking and started peering around the room. Then he began looking behind pictures, under the desk. "Shhh..Quiet, everyone!", he whispered. "This room is bugged! Follow me!" he quickly ushered us down the hall to another room and immediately locked the door behind us.

"I have to tell you something", he said, looking as serious as a judge. "People who go to Penn State are Communists. Their coach, Rip Engle is best friends with Nikita Khrushchev." we were like school children lostening to tales of the big bad wolf. You have to remember this wasn't that long after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Communist scare was real. I was thinking, "Oh boy, oh boy, this is bad"...I didn't want to be touched by a bunch of Communists."

I suspect that, in that environment, an assistant coach might have made up a story to make the diminutive head coach seem more impressive. Still, I've always thought the three dirty secrets of war not much discussed in the histories are: 1) civilian casualties; 2) friendly fire casualties and 3) soldiers trying to surrender or who have surrendered who become battlefield casualties when it is not or no longer convenient or safe to guard them. I have to admit that part of me hopes the story, (in some form), is true.
 
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longtimefan

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I'm reading Larry Csonka's new book:

On page 65 there is this anecdote about Ben Schwartzwalder's military career.

"Ben Schwartzwalder had been a great military leader during World War II. I heard that when we invaded Germany, Schwartzwalder, who was a captain, and some of his 82nd airborne troops jumped into the Black Forest to fight behind the German lines while the Allies maintained the thrust from the big front charging into Germany.

An assistant coach who was close to Schwartzwalder told me the operation was considered a near-suicide mission. He said Coach's troops were under a lot of fire. Half his outfit was killed that day, and they were pinned down. Schwartzwalder, who was on another battlefront knew he had to get back to his troops.

Schwartzwalder wanted to take some troops with him to rescue his men who were under fire. But the only soldiers he found were Allied forces guarding German prisoners. he asked the soldiers to come with him to help save his men. When the soldiers said they couldn't accompany him because they were guarding the prisoners, Schwartzwalder supposedly took a machine gun and killed all the Germans. After he shot them, according to the assistant coach, he told the soldiers "Come with me or you'll face the same".

They went with him and saved the troops, who were under fire. Captain Schwartzwalder was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, four battle stars and Presidential Unit Citation. He was promoted to the rank of major, on the spot for his bravery. He was personally decorated on the field by a general, who, during the ceremony, said "Ben, I never expected to see you here to receive this award."

But after the war, charges were filed against Schwartzwalder for violating the Geneva Convention. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover reportedly stepped in, put political pressure on the military prosecutors and they dropped the charges."

My first reaction is that it's ironic that Ben Schwartzwalder would parachute into the Black Forest, since Schwartzwalder means "Black Forester". I also wonder why our military would prosecute Ben under the Geneva Conventions- isn't that sort of thing done at the World Court in the Hague? And we'd already given him all those medals. Didn't they already know that he'd killed those German prisoners? Would J. Edgar Hoover have gotten involved in this and did he have to power to shut these things up, (or down)?

Most of the discussion of Ben's war adventures are about his unit battling for the La Fière Bridge in Normandy, which was key to the breakout form the D-Day beaches. Wikipedia has this to say: "As a captain in the 82nd Airborne (CO of Company G of the 507th), Schwartzwalder earned distinction during the invasion of Normandy and battles that followed in the last days of the war. He played key roles in the capture of the La Fière Causeway and Sainte-Mère-Église, crucial points of entry into France during the D-Day invasion. By the time the 507th reached the battle for Hill 95, they had suffered more than 65% casualties. Schwartzwalder continued his campaign all the way into Germany and acted as military governor of the town of Essen for a period of six months. He was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, four battle stars, Presidential Unit Citation and was promoted to the rank of Major for his actions during the invasion. When he was personally decorated by General Matthew Ridgway, the General said 'Ben, I never expected to see you here to receive this award.'" That does say that he continued his campaign all the way into Germany" but doesn't mention this battle in the Black Forest. Some googling suggests that the primary fighting along the German border in a forest was in the Hürtgen Forest, east of Belgium. The Black Forest was in southwestern Germany and something of a backwater in the water that was taken over late in the war by French forces. General Ridgeway was in charge of the battle in the sector La Fière was in. Here is an article on the battle for the La Fière Bridge that briefly mentions "Captain FV Schwarzwalder "
La Fière Bridge: The D-Day Battle You Should Have Heard Of
"In a three company attempt to retake the bridge at noon, A Company under Captain FV Schwarzwalder rushed the bridge and causeway, then continued on to reinforce Timmes. But they could not secure their position all the way back to the bridge and became cut off as well."
We had an earlier thread about the documentary mentioned but PBS doesn't seem to have it anymore and I can't find it elsewhere:
And here's an earlier one with a big contribution from Orangeyes:
Here is the article he linked:
Schwartzwalder is mentioned several times but nothing about killing prisoners.

Larry is careful about how he put this: "Schwartzwalder supposedly took a machine gun and killed all the Germans. After he shot them, according to the assistant coach, he told the soldiers "Come with me or you'll face the same." The Syracuse coaching staff was known for its hyperbole. Floyd Little, in his book "Promises to Keep", has a section on page 27 entitled "Penn State Pinkos". He describes Ben's address to the team before the 1964 Penn State game:

"Five minutes into it, Schwartzwalder stopped talking and started peering around the room. Then he began looking behind pictures, under the desk. "Shhh..Quiet, everyone!", he whispered. "This room is bugged! Follow me!" he quickly ushered us down the hall to another room and immediately locked the door behind us.

"I have to tell you something", he said, looking as serious as a judge. "People who go to Penn State are Communists. Their coach, Rip Engle is best friends with Nikita Khrushchev." we were like school children lostening to tales of the big bad wolf. You have to remember this wasn't that long after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Communist scare was real. I was thinking, "Oh boy, oh boy, this is bad"...I didn't want to be touched by a bunch of Communists."

I suspect that, in that environment, an assistant coach might have made up a story to make the diminutive head coach seem more impressive. Still, I've always thought the three dirty secrets of war not much discussed in the histories are: 1) civilian casualties; 2) friendly fire casualties and 3) soldiers trying to surrender or who have surrendered who become battlefield casualties when it is not or no longer convenient to guard them.
Reading your post, I flashed on "Band of Brothers", which detailed a company of the 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne. The most pivotal character was Company Capt. Richard Winters (played by Damian Lewis), who also received a battlefield promotion to major and was also from West Virginia, like Ol' Ben.

What coincidences.
 

McNabb2Brominski

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“Shhh..Quiet, everyone!", he whispered. "This room is bugged! Follow me!" he quickly ushered us down the hall to another room and immediately locked the door behind us.

Sounds like something Dino has likely done
 

Dinkyspond

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Doesn't the story go that when Larry was recruited by all the Big Ten schools and Notre Dame, they only showed him around the football facilities, stadiums and campuses? When Ben recruited Larry, he did all that and also drove Larry out to the beautiful Central NY countryside and showed him where he could hunt and fish. I remember some story like that and Larry committed to SYR because of Ben doing that. Is that in the book? I will probably buy this book too.
 

HtownOrange

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Enjoyed the story, I am sure Czonka repeated what he heard. I am not sure the assistant coach had the facts correct.

Parachuting is tough, with present day parachutes it is difficult to land in an open air stadium. Nobody parachutes into forests, there are few open areas in which to land and any open area is likely unlevel ground, making landings that much more dangerous.

The Hurtgen Forest, where it us documented that the 82nd operated, is east of Belgium and north of Luxembourg while the Black Forest is south and east of Luxembourg, not close in WWII or battlefield terms. Further, there is no documentation of 82nd operations in the Black Forest.

Finally, few American soldiers will kill prisoners, then and now. There exists a level of depravity to do so. Most soldiers won't follow a leader who has done such. Further, the military tries to weed out anyone with that level of depravity. The basic story is told several times over with different soldiers taking the action. To be sure, it probably did occur in rare instances, but it would not be a widespread incident matching the number of stories. Though Nazi soldiers deserved to be shot on the spot, those who surrendered were generally treated well, far better than Allied prisoners were treated; and far, far better than the Nazis deserved. Yes, this is anecdotal evidence, not direct evidence, but few people can hold back that level of depravity from showing through as long as Ben was at Syracuse.

Ben was a hero, the documented deeds exceed what most will or can do. He should be remembered for what is documented. Likewise, Czonka is right to repeat what he was told, it was what was used to motivate and manipulate players. People should know to be cautious when working with impressionable minds. Parents need to caution their children to beware of sensationallism.
 

OrangeXtreme

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Reading your post, I flashed on "Band of Brothers", which detailed a company of the 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne. The most pivotal character was Company Capt. Richard Winters (played by Damian Lewis), who also received a battlefield promotion to major and was also from West Virginia, like Ol' Ben.

What coincidences.

Winters was from Lancaster, PA.

Carwood Lipton (played by Donnie Wahlberg) was from Huntington, WV. He was promoted from Sergeant to 2nd Lieutenant.
 

SU68

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I remember Ben as gruff, but kind. On the Monday following a game, the coaches used to show the game films in Sadler Hall for anyone wishing to see them.
 

MGDCuse

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Reading your post, I flashed on "Band of Brothers", which detailed a company of the 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne. The most pivotal character was Company Capt. Richard Winters (played by Damian Lewis), who also received a battlefield promotion to major and was also from West Virginia, like Ol' Ben.

What coincidences.
Very similar to Ronald Spiers story in episode 2 of that series when he supposedly gave a handful of German soldiers a cigarette and then executed all but one. The story grew each time it was told.
 

SWC75

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Doesn't the story go that when Larry was recruited by all the Big Ten schools and Notre Dame, they only showed him around the football facilities, stadiums and campuses? When Ben recruited Larry, he did all that and also drove Larry out to the beautiful Central NY countryside and showed him where he could hunt and fish. I remember some story like that and Larry committed to SYR because of Ben doing that. Is that in the book? I will probably buy this book too.

I haven't encountered anything in the Csonka book to that effect. Larry says he was part of a group of top Ohio players who made a joint visit to Ohio State, where Woody Hayes told them that since they were Ohioans, they were obligated to come to Ohio State. That didn't sit well with Larry. Larry also said that Woody was interested in speed backs, not big power backs. That doesn't jive with his history of big, strong fullbacks like bob white, Bob Ferguson, Matt Snell, Jim Otis and John Brockington.

Another problem was that virtually all the coaches saw him as a defensive player, a linebacker or an end. Larry wanted to run the football. (He just missed the one-platoon era.) Ben promised him a chance at running back and said that after that, they'd have to evaluate the results. The results were good. Larry liked Ben's honesty. (When he wasn't saying that Rip Engle and Nikita Khrushchev were buddies.)
 

SWC75

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Very similar to Ronald Spiers story in episode 2 of that series when he supposedly gave a handful of German soldiers a cigarette and then executed all but one. The story grew each time it was told.


One other thought on that. I don't know what the ratio of prisoners to guards would have been. But for the guards to be enough men to make a difference in a pitched battle, there must have been a lot of German prisoners for Badass Ben to mow down - if that actually happened.
 

MGDCuse

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One other thought on that. I don't know what the ratio of prisoners to guards would have been. But for the guards to be enough men to make a difference in a pitched battle, there must have been a lot of German prisoners for Badass Ben to mow down - if that actually happened.
Thanks for the story SWC. My Dad actually met Ben a few times. He recently lost about 50% of his vision in both eyes, so he loved hearing me read your story to him.
 

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phsyra

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Played golf in an SU golf outing at Drrumliuns years back with Ben and an offensive lineman on the championship team (Yeager??). !8 holes of golf and Ben never said a word about football. All WW11. He was 80 then and hit every drive down the middle. A nice memory.
 

SWC75

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SWC75

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Played golf in an SU golf outing at Drrumliuns years back with Ben and an offensive lineman on the championship team (Yeager??). !8 holes of golf and Ben never said a word about football. All WW11. He was 80 then and hit every drive down the middle. A nice memory.

What did he say about WWII?
 

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