"I said a quick prayer. I said, 'God, protect me'. That grenade fell about as far as we are sitting from each other - about three feet. And it never went off", the veteran, who served in the 28th Infantry Division, said.
Angle is one of 12 World War II veterans from the United States who will be traveling to Russia in May to celebrate the anniversary of the Great Patriotic War victory in Moscow. As part of the trip, sponsored by The Greatest GENERATIONS Foundation, the veterans will visit St. Petersburg and Volgograd, and Angle expressed his delight at having the opportunity to visit Russia to take part in the historic celebrations.
Victory Day on Red Square
In May, Angle, who has never been to Russia, will fly to Moscow to celebrate Victory Day alongside people from dozens of other countries that were allied in the struggle against Nazi Germany. The veteran stated that the celebratory mood in the Russian capital will be unforgettable.
"It’s going to be a wonderful experience because I know the Soviet army was glad that the war was over", Angle said.
On 14 February, the president of The Greatest GENERATIONS Foundation, Timothy Davis, said that 12 US WWII veterans will make the trip to Russia as part of the celebrations to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the conflict, and Angle stated that he was extremely honored to be able to go.
"Since there's only 12 us who are going to be going, it's an honor and a privilege for us to be able to go and be part of that because there aren't that many of us living anymore", Angle stated.
Angle pointed out that there were fewer and fewer WWII veterans from the Soviet and US armies, which makes this year's event incredibly important for both countries.
"To be part of the Soviet army in this event, celebrating 75 years is going to be a big event for the WWII veterans, as well as the Russian WWII veterans. It's got to be a big event and it's going to be a big event for those who are just serving in the Soviet Army cause they're going to be part of it", he added.
Learning of History
Angle shared that before being drafted into service in 1944 he did not think too much about the war and mostly read the newspapers just to know what was going on. He knew he would eventually be called to fight but requested several deferrals so that he could help out his father with his business.
"My brother, who was three and a half years older than me, enlisted in the service in early 1942, soon after the bombing at Pearl Harbor. My father needed help in the business and I was the only one that could really help him at that time. Eventually, the draft board said, ‘We can't give you any more deferments’ … So, on 3 July 1944, I was drafted into the service and ended up on a troop train going to Texas", he recalled.
Angle completed his basic training at Camp Wolters, Texas. He went home for a brief period and then was sent to Fort George Meade in Maryland to await processing to be sent overseas. On 26 December, he left the United States on a ship that was bound for the French port of Le Havre.
"I was only there a couple of days when I was taken by truck. It was snowing, I remember. And there was snow on the ground. It was early January. And I joined the 28th Infantry Division at Colmar, France. And I was there as a replacement", Angle stated.
After five months of combat, Angle’s war was over. As the Soviet Red Army launched its assault on the German capital of Berlin, the US veteran was transferred to Paris in April 1945 for treatment for scarlet fever.
Angle heard of the Nazis' surrender while he recovered in the French capital, and recalled the wild scenes of celebration after the victory was declared.
"So I did sightseeing while I was there. And it was in May … I guess the eighth is when the war ended. I went to the show. I came out after the show was over and saw people dancing in the streets, hugging and kissing and a lot of jubilation. The war had ended", the US veteran said.
Cheating Death as Fighting Intensified
On the path to victory, Angle faced many challenges during his military service. Almost immediately after his arrival in France, Angle's unit was tasked with a mission in the mountains that led to a fierce firefight between US and Nazi troops. The veteran recalled in intricate detail the events that took place and resulted in him being inches away from death.
"I was only in Colmar about one day and they decided that the platoon that I was in was supposed to take out a German machine gun nest up in the Vaches (Lac Des Vaches) mountains", he said.
Angle explained how his platoon went at nighttime to the foot of the mountain and ended up tripping a wire that alerted the waiting German forces, who launched an ambush.
Fortunately for Angle and his unit, there was a ditch there that they could hunker down in until the shooting stopped.
"So, the bullets were going over our head but we were pinned down all night", the veteran said. "When finally, our commanding officer said it's no use for us to try to go up the mountain because we're going to be hit. 'They know where we are', he said, 'we're going to go back down the mountain, try to come up another way and maybe come in behind the machine gun nest and take them from behind."
As they traveled back down the mountain Angle noticed soldiers coming toward them. He said that they had white hoods pulled down over their heads, save for one who gave the rest of the group away. As soon as Angle noticed the German helmet, he motioned for everybody to get down on the ground.
"And at that time, they noticed us as well", Angle said. "We had an exchange of fire. And after we were firing at each other for a while, one of the bullets came in and hit me on the helmet. I have a picture."
When struck on the helmet, Angle blacked out temporarily.
"I was in a prone position when the bullet hit and that bullet went past my ear .... tore all the threads. There was nothing there. Just a few threads hanging down over my ear. But the bullet never touched the ear. But the bullet did go into the shoulder here. And so I was hurting but I didn't know how bad", he recalled.
Angle was not given much time to dwell on his near-death experience since soon after a German soldier threw a grenade at him. It failed to explode, allowing Angle and the other members of his division to escape a bloody demise.
A medic who later examined Angle said that the bullet that hit his helmet had become lodged in his clothing, leaving the shoulder more or less intact.
"That bullet was lodged between the shirt and the undershirt. It never penetrated my shoulder, just bruised it. And it was a little sore, but nothing really serious", he said. The medic suggested that Angle keep the bullet as a souvenir, and the soldier eventually sent it to his mother. On the back of the envelope, Angle had written: "This is the slug that hit my helmet up in the Vaches mountains around Colmar, France. Part of it is broken off. This is only about two-thirds the size of it. Keep it as a souvenir."
Advance on Germany
Angle revealed that after that skirmish on the mountain, his division kept moving, taking small towns where the Nazi forces had taken over the homes of the French people.
"There was a lake close to where we were billeted at the time. And my platoon was chosen to cross over to two small islands that were in the middle of the Rhine River. So there were eight of us that were chosen", he said.
However, only a few days before the start of the mission, General George Patton and his tank battalion crossed the Rhine River and Angle’s mission was called off. The veteran's unit still had a use, though, since the flanks needed to be covered during Patton's advance. Angle recalled that they were at a small town and that there was only a hill with no trees.
"The Germans had dug a trench around the perimeter of these trenches. Another division before us had taken the hill away from the Germans. They took off, but they were still being under fire from the Germans with artillery fire and tanks. So our division went in to relieve the division that had originally taken the hill. And while we were there, we were being fired at by artillery - there were 88-millimetre guns - and by tanks that were down in the valley. They were throwing mortars in", he said.
Angle noted that after staying there for about a week they kept advancing into German towns before eventually entering the Black Forest.
"Now I can understand why they call it the Black Forest. It's really dark at nighttime, you absolutely cannot see the person in front of you. We were walking through this Black Forest. In order to do so, we had a long rope and they told us to hang onto the rope because I couldn't see the guy that’s in front of me", he said.
Angle said he had veered off to the right and fell into a German foxhole and, despite being alone and not being able to speak for fear of getting spotted, eventually made it out.
As Soviet, US and UK troops continued their advance into Germany, the end of the war was becoming closer and closer until, in the early hours of 9 May, the German forces surrendered.
Angle will turn 97 years old on 27 June. His wife passed away 16 years ago but was survived by their two daughters, two granddaughters and great-grandchildren. He worked up until he was 88 in the automobile business in Chambersburg in the state of Pennsylvania, he said.
"My brother, who just passed away this past October, he was 99 years of age. He would have been 100 on 27 December had he lived to 27 December, this past December", he noted. "We had a dealership. We sold Pontiac, Buick, and Cadillac automobiles and we sold our business and went to work with another company that did business internationally. It was a business that was related to tires and wheels. I worked in that business for 32 years and retired at the end of 2011."
Angle revealed that he still plays the saxophone after 83 years.
"I'm part of a senior citizens band and we practice every Thursday and we do concerts now and then in nursing homes or whoever wants to hear us play. I enjoy doing that. In fact, I took the saxophone with me last year when I was on the Queen Mary 2. The Greatest GENERATIONS Foundation sent me and fifteen other veterans over to England on the Queen Mary 2", he said.
Today, Angle says he is retired, sleeps late and goes to concerts.
"I'm able to drive the car even at my age", he stressed. "I cook my own meals and I live in my own house here that I built 60 years ago. The only thing I have is a lady who comes in once a month to clean the house and I let her do that. But every other thing I do myself and I'm physically able to do it… I'd rather live here than go to a retirement home because I don't think there's a retirement home any nicer than this house."
When asked about his secret of staying in such great shape, Angle said: "I never smoked."
"When I was in the service in our rations that we got, they always had cigarettes that we could smoke. But it never tempted me to smoke", he underlined. "I'd give the cigarettes like we were in France. I’d just given it to the people in France. And I was brought up in a household that didn't drink alcoholic beverages. So, I never drank. And I don't know, I think that's helpful that I never smoked and never drank. But… on special occasions, I'd take a sip of wine. But that's about it."
When asked about what dream he has today, Angle said: "Well, rather than a dream, I would say that I'm blessed to be in relatively good health. I mean, I can walk. My mind is still alert and good. I can still live in my own home, do my own thing and I hope that I can continue to be that way for a number of years more."