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Home : News : News Features
NEWS | Dec. 8, 2022

Rainbow Division Vet Passes on War Stories to Today's Soldiers

By Maj. Jean Kratzer, Headquarters, 42nd Infantry Division

ALBANY, N.Y. – A World War II veteran of the 42nd Infantry Division shared his combat stories with 300 New York Army National Guard Soldiers serving in the division's headquarters for the unit's annual dining out.

Lockered "Bud" Gahs, from Perry Hall, Maryland, who served as a private in the division's 222nd Infantry Regiment, shared his memories on Dec. 2, 2022, at a hotel in Albany.

Gahs, 98, is a member of the Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation, which co-hosted the event.

Hosting Gahs is an integral part of passing on the legacy of the Rainbow Division to its newest Soldiers, said Maj. Gen. Thomas Spencer, the 42nd Division commander.

The history and accomplishments of the division bind our Soldiers from every era, he said.

Initially created from National Guard units in World War I, the 42nd Infantry Division reactivated for World War II and fought in Southern France and Germany, capturing the cities of Wurzburg, Schweinfurt, and Munich while liberating the Dachau Concentration Camp alongside the 45th Infantry and 12th Armored Divisions.

In 1947, the Division became part of the New York Army National Guard and served as a combat headquarters in Iraq in 2004-05 and Kuwait in 2020.

Gahs, drafted into service in 1943, served in the anti-tank company of the 222nd Infantry. As a truck driver, it was his job to maneuver the guns into position.

Gahs told the audience what it was like to serve with the division during the war.

Without artillery and supporting units, the three infantry regiments of the 42nd were rushed to France in November 1944.

Gahs and his fellow infantry members faced down the German counteroffensive near Strausburg, France, called Operation Nordwind, launched in conjunction with the Battle of the Bulge further north in the Ardennes.

Gahs and his unit defended a town called Schweghausen. During the fight Jan. 25, 1945, Gahs remained at his post for hours, fending off repeated German attacks with his M3 submachine gun.

"We lost two Soldiers from our squad that day," Gahs said. "As soon as they (the Germans) left, we were grateful they didn't set the house on fire while we were still hiding out on the second floor."

The Army credited Gahs with killing 10 enemy troops, wounding eight, and capturing eight in his defense of the position. For his actions, he received the Bronze Star.

Just 90 days later, Gahs found himself advancing with the 222nd Infantry through Dachau and the infamous concentration camp.

He rode into Dachau on the date of its liberation, April 29, 1945, providing security in the woods near the camp and expecting to find SS prison guards.

While clearing the woods, they heard rustling, and a man crawled up to Gahs.

"Dachau was a surprise to all of us," he said of the camp's liberation. "We didn't know it was that bad."

"We were ready to shoot if needed," Gahs explained before the group of American GIs realized the man was a prisoner.

"To this day, the most moving moment of my life was when that prisoner came up to me and kissed my boot. It brought a tear to my eye and still does."

The regiment continued its advance, and by the next day, Gahs and the 42nd Division entered Munich, the birthplace of Nazism.

The realization of his accomplishment that afternoon in late April 1945 didn't set in for a while, Gahs said. He never wandered through the front gates of the concentration camp until 1972.

"Thank you, Bud, for sharing the story of your exemplary heroism," Spencer said as Gahs finished to a standing ovation from the modern-era Soldiers. "You know the price of freedom better than anyone, and we are all grateful for you."