From the Lonoke Democrat, April 19, 1984
By Lamar B. Dodson
(After United States and allied armies invaded Europe in June of 1944 on the Normandy beaches as a first step in liberating the continent from Adolf Hitler, U. S. forces entered Germany in September at Aachen, breaching the German Siegfried line. Hitler decided to launch a desperate counter offensive; aided by extraordinarily heavy fog on December 16, his troops attacked. The first brunt of the assault was borne by the U. S. 4th. 28th. 106th Infantry and 9th Armored Division, and General Eisenhower asked General George S. Patton to counter attack in the Bastogne-Cologne area with six divisions. The following is the experience of one American soldier who took part in that action).
Pulling his field jacket closer for protection against the 30 degree December weather, an 18 year old mortar gunner wearily marched through the deep snows of Germany. The year , 1944. Two thoughts kept the 190 pound American, Private First Class, from thinking about the cold and the danger.
He knew that a few miles behind his outfit General George S. Patton was pushing his armored division hard in an attempt to rescue American troops about to be encircled by counter attacking German soldiers.
And young Robert I. (Joe) DePriest Jr., as he moved along the frozen road with his companions, had another thought, albeit a wry one, considering his dire circumstances; his 106th division practically surrounded by Germans. He had been given a deferment by his draft board back home at Furlow, but had turned it down!
He and his tired buddies mused again, for the thousandth time that day would Patton reach them in time?
DePriest’s World War II experience actually began on his father’s 400-acre farm in 1943 when ‘Joe’ graduated from Union High School at Furlow. Young DePriest had been given a deferment by the draft board to help his father and mother raise essential crops for the war effort. Each fall his family grew about 120 bales of cotton on land which included oats, lespedeza and pasture.
“But,” DePriest said with a smile, “I still felt a sense of frustration because my brothers, Jim and John, were already in service, one in the Army, one in the Navy.
Although the draft board and Robert Sr. tried to persuade Robert Jr. he was needed at home, ‘Joe’ volunteered as an Army Infantryman.
He received 17 weeks basic training at Camp Roberts, Calif., “near the beach at San Pablo.” The young farmer received advance training as mortar gunner at Camp Atteberry, Ind., and assigned to Company A, First Battalion 422nd Infantry Regiment, loft Infantry Division.
“Where is General Patton?” they asked themselves again, thinking of the brave commander racing his tanks toward them through the drifting snow and ice.
In the Ardennes battle the 106th Division maintained a 26 mile front,” DePriest said. “This showed our desperate situation ordinarily, we would have stretched out only about nine miles.”
“There was no way to escape,” he remembered.
“And, since there was no escape from the German encirclement, our officers made the decision to surrender.” General Patton and his men would rescue thousands, but DePriest’s group was too far ahead of his tanks.
After he was captured and made a prisoner of war “we walked, and walked, and walked for what seemed like 500 miles, day and night,” DePriest recalled.
The American soldiers received no food for three days, then were given, once a day, a soup made of turnips, beans and potatoes. They were confined in different ?stalags? or prisons “called 3A, 4B, 5 something or other we were moved around considerably.” Riding a train on the way to Leipzig, they saw landmarks they knew were near Berlin. At Leipzig the American prisoners were put on a work detail shoveling coal, and made to repair a German railroad that Americans had bombed out with aircraft.
Their treatment by their captors ranged from very harsh, to good, “depending on who guarded us. Some guards had sons who were prisoners of war in America, and were sympathetic,” DePriest explained.
By this time, the 106th Infantry division had earned a nickname; “the cold, hungry and sick.”
DePriest’s weight had dropped to 125 pounds, and he had developed Infectious hepatitis when liberated by American troops in April, 1945. After two weeks in a hospital in Paris he was put on a stretcher and flown to New York.
He was transferred after several weeks to the Army-Navy Hospital in Hot Springs where he stayed “quite a while,” but was allowed to visit his home in Furlow occasionally. He completed a lengthy recuperation at that hospital.
Almost forty years later Robert DePriest of Furlow was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for valor in that World War II action which historians would call “The Battle of the Bulge.”
Many military service records were lost during the battle, but in 1983 the U. S. War Department notified DePriest that they needed only one piece of evidence before awarding him the Bronze Star for personal bravery. He found the evidence; DePriest sent the department his Expert Combat Infantryman’s Badge which he had won so many years ago.
DePriest is the son of the late Robert I. (Sr.) and Jewell (Kelley) DePriest. His brother, John W., lives in Lonoke. Margaret Moore and Roberta DeBlack are sisters who reside in Little Rock.
DePriest and his wife, Clarice, have three children Robert 1119 Jim and Martha Jane Swint.
DePriest has served as a justice on the Lonoke County Quorum Court since 1975. He was a justice of the Peace before the new court system came into being.