Key Point: We must never forget.
BACKSTORY: The final months of World War II in the European Theater were a harrowing and desperate time for the soldiers who fought there. No one wanted to die when the war was so close to its end. This called for caution in the minds of many, yet the fighting was not over. The forces of Hitler’s Third Reich––still actively resisting the advancing Allies–– simply had to be beaten. Further, they had to be made to understand they were beaten, lest there be another war for the next generation to fight. In the event, the Nazi leadership gave the Allies no choice but to prove that point.
At the same time, American troops were learning why they had to fight this war firsthand. With only weeks left before the surrender, GIs were unexpectedly coming across the concentration camps. These centers of evil and depravity, scattered across Nazi-held territory for all the Allies to discover, explained the need for the war far better than mere words ever could. It gave American soldiers clear reason as to why this war had to be taken to its full and dreadful conclusion.
Leon Tulper of Denver, Colorado, lived through these desperate days. As a young radioman in the 65th Infantry Division, he was at the forefront of the division’s 55 days in combat, from early March 1945 until the war ended. He served as the radioman for the battalion’s executive officer in Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 260th Infantry Regiment.
From this position he witnessed not only combat operations but was also present at the liberation of two separate concentration camps. The first was Ohrdruf, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, some 100 miles southwest of Berlin. Later he would be present at Mauthausen in northern Austria. This gave Leon an exceptional perspective on the war. In July 2015, at the age of 90 yet still spry and sharp (he had only retired from work the year before!), Mr. Tulper sat down to tell of his own experiences.
CM: Tell me about your early life, where you’re from, how you grew up.