He thinks of him even today -- the Wyoming boy Leonard Wold met thousands of miles away from home.

Wold grew up in Torrington. Lt. Gerald Penley was from Casper.

Both were officers in the 4th Cavalry Regiment. They landed in Portsmouth, England, in 1943, later settling on land belonging to the Duke of Wales. Wold remembers the enlisted men fishing in the clear creeks. They used concussion grenades, nabbing unconscious fish as they floated to the surface.

Penley and Wold became friends during their months in England. They played poker and took leaves to London together, ducking into bomb shelters whenever they heard the alarms.

They also trained for war. They led their men through beach-landing exercises, and the responsibility weighed Wold down.

Wold, now 88 and living in Evanston, thinks back on the war nearly every day, he says, either in his dreams or in quiet moments. He still has questions, some that have no answers.

He fought on Utah Beach -- D-Day plus 2. He also fought in Northern France, Rhineland, the Battle of the Bulge and Central Europe -- 337 days of combat. He watched nearly his entire division turn over as replacements arrived for the dead and injured. Wold is one of the few officers who made it all the way through.

Often, he wondered what it was all about, this business of people killing people.

From Nov. 23 to Dec. 21, 1943, Wold fought in the Hurtgen Forest, where a series of long, fierce battles killed 33,000 American soldiers in about five months. Six thousand men were killed from one division alone, Wold said -- 84 from his. The trees themselves killed many. The Germans used their artillery to create "tree bursts," and the wood splinters, branches and metal became dangerous shrapnel.

Wold and his men marched out of that battle 100 kilometers under radio silence, unsure if they were marching toward friends or enemies. Seven hours after stopping, they marched for the Battle of the Bulge.

It was so bitterly cold, the ground frozen solid, that the best way to start a foxhole was with a grenade.

"One thing I do think of, I wonder why I survived over there and so many others didn't."

That's what comes back when he thinks of the war today.

He thinks of all those boys, buried on foreign soil.

He thinks of the sergeant, standing between him and Penley one moment, shot by a German sniper the next. He doesn't know if the sergeant survived.

For so long, through all the friends made and lost, all the noise and marching, Wold didn't really understand what they were doing.

Then, he arrived at the Nordhausen-Dora, a German concentration camp in which political prisoners were forced to build the V-2 rockets used against Allied forces.

"It was the most horrible, horrible sight I ever saw. Bodies were stacked like wood. Men so weak, they couldn't get off their bunks," he said.

"Once I saw that, there was no question in my mind why we were there."

After the war, Wold came home to start a 30-year-career with the Wyoming Highway Patrol. He married the pretty girl with the pretty smile who worked at the courthouse in Basin. They took trips around the country and celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Dec. 7, 2007. In January 2008, she had a heart attack and died a few months after.

Wold is dad to four girls, granddad to 13 and great-granddad to 19. Whenever they ask, for school reports or curiosity, Wold will tell his stories.

Sometimes, he'll wonder why he was blessed with the life he was.

He thinks of Penley and the Silver Star commendation for bravery Wold was honored to write. He thinks about the last time he saw his friend, surrounded by flowers, lying on foreign soil.

As an officer, he heard the incident over the radio. It was September 1944, before the Battle of the Bulge and the Hurtgen Forest. Penley had been charged with finding a southern route into a Belgian village and the Americans secured a small band of Germans as prisoners. One of the Germans still had his gun, but his arms were raised over his head. Another German crept behind him and pulled the trigger, sending out a quick burst of bullets before the Americans killed them all.

But Penley had already been hit.

By the time Wold went to see him, the Belgians had lain Penley's body on a table under a tree and placed flowers all around it.

Wold doesn't know where his friend was buried, if his body stayed in Belgium or if he was brought back to Wyoming. Wold thought about contacting Penley's family when he returned from war. He never did and, sometimes, he wonders why.

But he has no answer.

They Served With Honor

Some have said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day in United States. History dies with each one.

"They Served With Honor" is a special project by the Star-Tribune to collect stories from Wyoming World War II veterans. We will feature one story each week, from Veterans Day to Veterans Day.

If you would like to suggest veterans to be featured, please send their names, contact information and a summary of their service to Kristy Gray at kristy.gray@trib.com or P.O. Box 80, Casper, WY, 82601.

0
0
0
0
0

Load comments