Editor's Note: The following story is the 17th installment of the Stories That Live Forever series. The series originated in 2007 to commemorate Memorial Day and honor the names listed on the Washington State University Veterans Memorial on the WSU campus. Beginning Veterans Day 2008, the scope of the series was expanded to include Washington State student-athletes who have served, or are serving, the United States in the military. To access the entire series please click HERE.
By Jason Krump
Fred Carmichael returns to Germany to reminisce about a buddy.
Carmichael, a communication sergeant with the 87th Infantry during World War II, remembers what happened the morning of December 16, 1945, at the onset of the Battle of the Bulge.*
"(F-Company) Captain Dahlke told me to have our radio operator call Battalion to see if we were going to attack as planned. Our radio operator was just a few feet from us. I just got back in our hole when all of a sudden a shell hit the hole with the artillery observers. The captain and I were buried under dirt and rock. He asked me if I was all right. I said I thought so. My left ear was full of dirt and my hands were clenched tight. The artillery radio operator was killed and the artillery captain lost both legs. He died a week later."
Captain Dahlke’s first name is William, or Bill as he was known less than a decade earlier as captain of the 1936-37 Washington State College basketball team.
The Jan. 22, 1936 Daily Evergreen, the Washington State College student newspaper, featured Dahlke in its "Meet the Cougars" section. The Evergreen said of the junior forward:
"His unusually large hands come in handy in recovering the ball in a scramble. He is a good shot and a smooth ball handler. He was an alternate starter last year."
Entering the 1936-37 season, Dahlke was one of six letterman returning. The senior had earned the respect of his teammates the previous two years, so much so, he was elected captain by his teammates.
Throughout that season the Cougars battled Washington and Oregon for Pacific Coast Northern Division supremacy.
The 1937 Chinook yearbook features Bill Dahlke and Jack Friel
When the season's final weekend arrived in early March, Washington State's record stood at 9-5 in division play, a game behind the Huskies and Ducks.
Washington and Oregon would battle each other in Seattle while a 5-9 Oregon State squad visited Pullman for the regular season's final two games.
"Two victories this weekend will give us second place and maybe a playoff with Washington and Oregon." Coach Jack Friel told the Evergreen.
The Cougars got the two wins, sweeping Oregon State 22-17 and 42-23. And they got what they needed in Seattle, too, when Oregon and Washington split their two games, setting up the playoff that Friel forecast.
The team managers met to determine how to conduct the tie-breaker. Washington volunteered to play the first game as long as they could host, leaving Oregon and Washington State to draw for the bye.
Oregon won the draw, meaning Washington State would have to travel to Seattle.
Despite defeating Washington earlier in the season at Seattle, the prospects of two straight wins at Washington seemed dim, especially considering Washington had never lost two straight games to an opponent at Seattle.
Washington took early control and led 23-14 at the half. However, in front of 8,000 stunned Husky fans, the Cougars outscored Washington, 22-10, in the second half to capture a 36-33 upset win.
The Evergreen noted the Cougars "…dealt the Huskies and Seattle fans one of the most stunning blows of the 1937 basketball season."
Dahlke told the Evergreen, "The reserves came through at Washington and practically won the ball game for us."
The win at Seattle set up a clash with Oregon in Pullman for the Northern Division title.
"I think we'll take Oregon but we're playing these games as we come to them," Dahlke said. "Right now we are concentrating on beating those web foots who will be plenty tough. We aren't looking past Oregon to any future games."
The Northern Division title game took place Saturday, March 20 in the men's gym on the Washington State campus.
The turnout was so great the Evergreen described, "specially built bleacher were strung around three walls of the gym to accommodate the throng."
The Evergreen headline announcing the win vs. Oregon in the Northern Division title game.
The gym was packed with 6,500 fans. And they watched their Cougars dominate Oregon.
Though it didn't start out that way as Oregon jumped out to a 11-3 lead. But just as they did at Washington, the Cougars came back, this time led by Dahlke.
Dahlke scored on an under the basket flip to cut the lead to 11-5 and after a technical foul on Oregon, Dahlke made the free throw to cut Oregon's lead to 11-6.
Dahlke sparked a 13-4 Washington State run to end the half. Leading 16-15 at the break, the Cougars overran Oregon in the second half, defeating the Ducks 42-25 and capturing the Northern Division title. Dahlke scored 11 points before fouling out late in the game.
The Northern Division champions advanced to face Southern Division champion Stanford, considered the best team in the country, for Pacific Coast supremacy. The Cougars lost two hard-fought games, 31-28 and 41-40.
Washington State finished the season with a 24-8 record. Dahlke ended his senior season averaging 5.9 points a game, second on the team.
After graduating, Dahlke married Jean Bardwell, whom he met at WSU and also a '37 graduate. The couple settled in Waterville, Wash., where Dahlke worked as deputy treasurer of Douglas County.
With the onset of World War II, Dahlke joined the Army and was sent to Europe in October 1944.
Captain Once Again
It is Veterans Day 2006 and Carmichael is standing at the crossroads of two dirt lanes near the city of Coblenz (also spelled Koblenz).
And he remembers the night of March 18, 1945, and what happened at the spot he is standing.
At this juncture of the war, the 87th Infantry had advanced into Germany and was near Coblenz.
"On the night of March 18, 1945, F-Company's Captain Dahlke had been ordered to push German SS troops down the hill and toward the Rhine River. In the total darkness the company had managed to capture a German soldier.
"The American G.I Interpreter was called for," Carmichael went on to say. "The prisoner and the interpreter were standing in the middle of the lane, the interpreter's voice could be heard by the German soldiers close by on a hill above the vineyard.
"They fired off a panzerfaust, which landed in the middle of the conversing soldiers, instantly killing the Captain, the interpreter and the prisoner."
A. W. Whitaker Jr., Chaplain of the 347th Infantry gave this account of what happened in a message to Dahlke's parents:
"Captain Dahlke was leading his company in our advance in the vicinity of Coblenz, Germany. The fight started. After the fight an enemy prisoner was captured and sent back for interrogation. William was questioning the prisoner when a rocket shell landed right in the midst of the group. Your son was struck by fragments of this enemy shell and died instantly."
The loss was felt half a world away at Pullman.
Washington State President Emeritus E.O. Holland, who had recently retired and was president during Dahlke's time as a student, wrote this message to Dahlke's widow and parents.
Dear Mrs. Dahlke,
"I am sending a copy of this letter to Mr. and Mrs. Edward Dahlke. It grieves me to learn that your dear husband, Captain Bill Dahlke, has lost his life in the great conflict. Even though his life is sacrificed for our American ideals, it is tragic that a young man of such character and promise could not have been spared to his family and to society for many years to come. In a way, I looked upon Bill as a member of my own family, and therefore, I share with you, in a small way, the grief you feel in his passing."
Bill Dahlke contributed a great deal to this institution. He was a fine, upstanding fellow, a good college citizen and he represented the best in our college community.
Remembering a Buddy
Over six decades since that March night, Carmichael is not alone in his return trip to Germany. He brought with him Janet Jean Dahlke, Captain Dahlke's daughter, who at the time of her father's death, was 14 months old.
He brought her to the site to show what her father heroics and what he meant to him and to the company he led.
As they remembered, Carmichael hugged the Captain’s daughter and said, "War is hell. You have to have a buddy in order to survive."
William Dahlke's name on the World War II section of the WSU Veterans Memorial.
Special thanks to the WSU Manuscripts, Archives & Special Collections department for information and photos used in this story.
*Editor's Note: Fred Carmichael's recollections were taken from accounts he gave in the 1998 and 2007 editions of the Golden Acorn News, a newsletter sent to the 87th Infantry Association. Carmichael gives his account of the Dec. 16 attack in the 1998 edition HERE. His 2006 Veterans day visit with Dahlke's daughter is recounted in the 2007 edition HERE.