TEMPLE – Memorial Day ceremonies will be especially tough for Sue Cantrell of Temple.

She recently received and heard for the first time a taped interview with her dad, Ralph W. Lake, who died on May 23, 2007, in Farmington.

On the 10- to 15-year-old recording, Lake described his World War II military service with B Company, 422nd Regiment of the 106th Infantry Division.

He also detailed horrors he endured as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany.

“It’s very troubling to know my father went through something like that,” Cantrell said on Friday afternoon.

Her father was captured on Dec. 18, 1944, along with an estimated 8,000 other American soldiers two days into the six-week-long Battle of the Bulge.

From Dec. 31, 1944, to March 30, 1945, when they were rescued from Stalag 22-B prison in Ziegenhain, Lake said he and other POWs were only fed a bowl of grass and maggot soup and half a slice of black bread each day.

They slept in unheated, lice-infested barracks.

By the time the 7th Armored Division freed them, the 150-pound Lake weighed only 90 pounds and was a week from death, he said.

“Just knowing what he and others went through, Memorial Day will be very emotional for me,” Cantrell said.

Lake was born on July 22, 1924, in Wilton, and drafted in mid-March 1943.

His division arrived in France on Dec. 9, 1944, and went right to the front in the Siegfried Line of the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, Lake said.

By then, Lake was a 20-year-old sergeant in a mortar unit serving with men who would only experience combat for nine days before capture.

On Dec. 16, 30 German Army divisions launched a surprise offensive in Belgium and Luxembourg at a section of the American line occupied by only three divisions, one of which was Lake’s.

Heavy artillery pounded the stunned American forces prior to an onslaught of tanks and experienced shock troops.

Lake described it as “all hell breaking loose” just after midnight.

“I went out and fired mortar shells over those front lines so that (we) could see what was coming and taking place,” he said.

Lake’s regiment retreated through two feet of snow and icy rivers for two days, he said.

On Dec. 18, they ran into the enemy, which had surrounded the 106th Division’s 422nd and 423rd regiments.

“We fired our weapons as best we could, and they were up on a hill and they started open firing on all of us,” Lake said.

“They wounded a lot and then I think it was Lt. Kenney from 2nd Platoon who got his legs shot off, and he raised a white flag, and then we didn’t know what to do,” he said.

“I started my mortar without the base plate, and I was firing at the tanks with it with my squad,” Lake said. “And then white flags came to the left, and the German infantry started coming down and the tanks started rolling down.”

Soaking wet and freezing, Lake and the captured soldiers were marched to a town, where their captors started taking their clothing and pelting them with rocks, Lake said.

They were then force-marched to Prm, Germany, which was bombed by allied forces after the POWs were loaded into train boxcars and forced to endure the barrage, Lake said

On Dec. 31, the train arrived in Bad Orb, Germany, where Lake and the officers were separated at a POW camp from privates and taken to Stalag 22-B in Ziegenhain.

The POWs had not eaten since Dec. 18. The only water given them was in sugar beet tea on Christmas Eve in Gerolstein, Germany, Lake said.

When rescued, their malnourished systems couldn’t handle Red Cross rations for several weeks. Lake had to be hospitalized.

Sixty-three years later, in 2008, Gov. John Baldacci posthumously recognized Lake’s service to his country and sacrifice as a POW by awarding him and other such POWs with a State of Maine Silver Star Honorable Service medal.


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