My legs won’t move; my feet are caught and I keep hearing these hideous screams. The head with no face is staring at me, a glistening white bone is pointing from the blood-soaked mess that was once somebody’s son.
That’s how the new nationally published memoir by Columbia resident and World War II veteran William Meller begins. And the fast-paced, image-packed, first-person account of his service from the Huertgen Forest, through the Battle of the Bulge and into a German prison camp is remarkable for a first-time author.
An agent who viewed the manuscript told Meller, a Greensburg, Penn., native who moved south in 1981 to escape the cold, that he could write better than half the authors on sale at Barnes & Noble.
“Since then, I’ve been to Barnes & Noble,” said Meller, who still speaks with a soldier’s gruff, salty bluntness. “It isn’t that big of a compliment.”
Meller will return to Barnes & Noble today to sign “Bloody Roads to Germany: At Huertgen Forest and the Bulge – an American Soldier’s Courageous Story of World War II” (Berkley Hardcover, $25.95).
The event, which coincidences with Sunday’s 68th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Harbison store, 278-A Harbison Blvd., Harbison Court, Columbia.
Unlike many memoires written by World War II veterans late in life, this book landed a major publisher and has drawn national recognition – with New York Times bestselling authors and international documentary filmmakers praising it.
A producer for, of all things, the German History Channel, called it “a true piece of outstanding literature, gripping and convincing. This is rarely found. A masterpiece.”
It has all been a little dizzying for the 88-year-old Meller, who admittedly wrote the book with pencil and legal pad in the 1990s “to have something to do,” then shelved it away for a decade before deciding to seek an agent and publisher. The book was picked up almost immediately by Penguin Group USA.
“He did a great job on the first draft and then kept refining it and refining it,” said Mike Dawson, a retired Army colonel who first urged Meller to write the manuscript. “He worked at the thing. You sit down and write something with pencil and paper and get it published by Penguin? That’s something.”
In addition to being published, Penguin also sent along a check as an advance of probable sales.
“I don’t faint easily,” Meller said. “But I almost did.”
During the Battle of the Bulge, then-Sgt. Meller was just 20 years old. He had been promoted to sergeant because every single non-commissioned officer above him had already been killed or wounded in the previous battle of the Huertgen Forest.
Meller and the other men of his 28th Infantry Division, huddled in freezing foxholes, were armed only with rifles and a few machine guns and grenades when the German launched their last counterattack in the Ardennes Forest on Dec. 16, 1944, creating the “bulge” in the Allied lines which gave the battle – the largest ever fought by the U.S. Army – it name.
Outgunned, outmanned and out of ammunition, Meller and many others in the division were captured, but delayed the advance long enough for the Allies to mount resistance behind them and blunt the German attack.
“We’re the ones that saved the asses of the people at Bastogne you’ve heard so much about,” he said, referring to the men of the 101st Airborne Division who held out at that crossroads town in Belgium.
Meller said he didn’t write the book for money, although it’s nice to have the income. But rather to help people understand the reality of war.
“People think (soldiers) don’t talk about the blood and guts because it’s too difficult,” he said. “That’s not right. They don’t talk about it because they know people won’t understand. I wrote this work … for those loved ones who seek knowledge and understanding of a most violent and emotional happening. I hope this helps.”