As way of an introduction to the article below which was written by Senior Vice Fred Apgar, each month we have a speaker. Although we have had a number of excellent guest speakers, it is always a treat to have one of our own speak. In September, we had two of our own, Post member Fred Dietrich and his wife, Auxiliary Chaplain Nancy Dietrich. So with that introduction, I’ll let Fred Apgar tell you their story and as it was told to us.
Like many young high school students, Fred Diedrich joined the Army upon graduating from high school. He left Coos Bay, Oregon for basic training after which he volunteered for Airborne training, which eventually took him to Ft. Benning, Georgia and then to Camp Mackall in North Carolina for advanced training. Fred departed New York City on 28 December 1943 on a troop ship and landed at Bangor, Ireland on 8 January 1944. He was assigned to the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment (Red Devil’s) and sent to Wollaton park in Nottinghamshire, England. D-Day arrived, and at 2:00 AM on 6 June 1944, Fred and the other members of his regiment boarded C-47’s for the short hop across the English Channel. Operation Overlord was underway, and the Red Devils, as well as hundreds of other paratroopers, parachuted into Normandy several hours ahead of the storming of the beaches. Their immediate objective was to capture the town of Sainte-Mere Eglise and then to secure crossings at the Merderet laFiere and Chef-du-Pont Rivers. Like most paratroop units that participated in Operation Overlord, they were dropped at wrong locations and experienced difficulty in linking up with each other as planned. Fred found himself attached to the 505th PIR and later with the 507th PIR. Despite the huge obstacles that had to be overcome, Fred and his unit remained in contact with the Germans until being relieved in early July. In late July, Fred met a young English girl named Nancy Stanley. Nancy lived with her parents in Beeston. Nancy and her family had experienced the war’s fury first hand during the numerous German bombing raids that took place in the Midlands in from 1940 and into early 1942. During one of those raids, a bomb exploded near their home, raining down debris all over the area and causing substantial damage to the Stanley home. Fred and Nancy dated, having established a liking to each other. He asked Nancy to write to him when he returned to action in Europe, which she promised to do. One Sunday morning in September, Fred and his unit disappeared. They were off to participate in Operation Market Garden, which was an Allied effort to shorten the war by seizing control of strategically located bridges leading to Germany. On 17 September 1944, Fred’s Regiment jumped into Holland with orders to seize control of the Nijmegen Bridge. After securing the bridge at Nijmegen and engaging the Germans for six weeks, the Red Devils moved south to the Ardennes and combat operations in the Battle of the Bulge. Fred participated in the defense of St. Vith. They successfully defended the city and delayed the German advance until mid-December when the unit was ordered to fall back. Less than five months later, the war in Europe was over, and Fred was serving in an Honor Guard unit in Berlin. As promised, Nancy had faithfully written letters to Fred while he was involved in three major combat operations. Theirs was a romance by mail. In one of his letters, Fred proposed marriage, and her immediate response was a resounding “yes”. Since Fred had been scheduled for a furlough, the wedding was planned for October 22nd. All was in readiness; however, the needs of the Army prevailed. Fred’s furlough was cancelled, and he received orders to return to the United States. Nancy knew that “doing nothing” was not an option so she wrote a letter to the Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, Major General James Gavin. Shortly thereafter, Fred was summoned to General Gavin’s Headquarters in Berlin. The General, now aware of Fred and Nancy’s dilemma, offered Fred the use of his private plane to fly to England so that the marriage could take place as planned. After a brief honeymoon in the beautiful hills of Derbyshire, Fred returned to Berlin. Soon, he was on a troop ship headed home. Seven months later, on 2 May 1945, the newlyweds were reunited. Nancy sailed to America on the Queen Mary with over 2,000 other war brides and more than 900 babies. After a cross country train ride that deposited the English war brides and their babies in towns and cities all across America, Nancy, and two other brides, finally arrived on the west coast to join their husbands. Fred and Nancy have been married for 67 years. They have two sons; Dr. Richard Diedrich who resides in Bayfield, Colorado, and Paul Dietrich of Seattle. They have four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.