Ozark County veteran was eye witness to harrowing WWII sites and an historic trial
Ozark County native Windell Cobb joined the Army the day he turned 18 on July 24, 1944. He couldn’t know it then, but he would have an extraordinary view of some of World War II’s most horrendous and historic sites and events.
“I wanted to join when I was 17, but my mother wouldn’t sign for me,” he said.
His mother, Lidy Owen Cobb, was married to his father, Martin Cobb. He was born near Tecumseh but ended up attending high school at Bakersfield, riding a bus driven by Rich Cobb.
He was inducted into the Army at Jefferson Barracks, near St. Louis, and was trained at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Within four months, he was off to Europe, where he served with A Co., 405th Regiment, 102nd Infantry Division.
On April 15, 1945, F Co. of the 405th Regiment discovered the Gardelegen massacre, where Germans had forced more than a thousand slave laborers, many of them Poles, into a barn, closed the doors and set it on fire.
“The Germans had put straw around the building and poured gasoline on it,” Windell said. Some of the prisoners had tried to dig themselves out, but the Germans had machine guns trained on them and killed them if they managed to escape the barn.
The massacre occurred April 13, 1945, near the German town of Gardelegen, just two days before the arrival of the Americans, who forced the German people living in the area to bury the dead. And they had to take care of that cemetery, Windell said.
While Windell’s company didn’t make the initial discovery, he arrived a little later and had a lot of pictures of the gruesome scene.
“The Germans knew they were losing, and they were still killing all the people they could,” Windell said.
From that horrendous site, Windell’s unit moved on to another one, arriving at the Flossenberg Concentration camp shortly after it was liberated by other American forces on April 23, 1945. Political prisoners and others forced to do slave labor had been kept at Flossenberg. The well-known theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was hanged there just a few days before the Americans liberated the camp.
The Nuremberg trials
After the Germans surrendered, Windell’s unit was getting ready to go to Japan, but “when the bomb was dropped, our orders were canceled,” Windell said. Most of the 102nd Division was sent back to the States, but instead, Windell was transferred to the 1st Infantry Division at Nuremberg.
In November 1945 he was selected as a guard at the Palace of Justice, where the Allies were holding the Nuremberg trials to try major Nazi figures on charges of war crimes. Guards inside the court room had to be at least 6 feet tall, and Windell was just 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall. So his job was to stand outside the door with the prisoners until it was their turn to go in.
“They would bring them down, six or eight at a time, 22 big-wig Nazis,” he said. “I could have reached out and touched Herman Goering on the shoulder. The Nazis would come down in perfect step. They were soldiers to the end,” he said.
Windell was released from the Army in 1947. Back in the U.S., he went to work for a steel company in St. Louis. Eventually he became the general foreman of the company and, with the general manager, had charge of the company.
He still lives in the St. Louis area, but he keeps tabs on Ozark County friends and relatives.
Last fall he attended the funeral of a fellow WWII veteran, Clifton Luna, in Dora.