It's the unlikeliest of friendships: An American World War II soldier and a German paratrooper he shot during battle.
In one of the most improbable bonds, these wartime enemies became best friends.
William A. Wilch, a Middletown, Ohio native, joined the Army in 1943 when he was just 19 years old. He was soon shipped overseas and was one of many soldiers who stormed the beach at Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
At the same time Wilch was fighting for his life in battle, Adolf Huf, a German paratrooper, was fighting for his.
Meeting The Enemy
After the second World War ended, Wilch began working at Sorg Paper Company in Middletown. More than a decade later, in 1957, he heard rumblings from co-workers that a German paratrooper who fought at Normandy started work in the same facility.
His name was Adolf Huf.
When the two finally met, Wilch had only one thing to say: "I haven't seen you since the day I shot you in the ass, running over a hedgerow in Normandy."
The men at the paper mill listening to this potentially hostile conversation thought the two former enemies would have harsh feelings toward each other, and rightfully so. But that isn't how it played out.
The Battle At Saint Lo
In June 1944, Huf's Sixth Fallschirmjager Regiment was assigned to help in the defense of Saint Lo, the same battle Wilch was fighting on the other side of the enemy line.
In the book, "Don't just kill them, murder em," Wilch recalled the flamethrowers German paratroopers used to burn soldiers out of the hedgerows. He described the horrible "hiss" the weapons made when the Germans attacked.
"We didn't have flamethrowers approaching Saint Lo, so we knew they were Germans when we heard the hiss on the other side of the hedgerow."
Wilch's 115 Regiment and Huf's Second Parachute Division fought each other mercilessly, with fire and guns.
"They wounded and killed some of our men, but we finally held them off," Wilch said. "When we turned the fighting back in our favor, these damned German paratroopers began to retreat, running back over the hedgerows. We shot them in their backs as they ran away."
Wilch killed several men and remembered shooting one soldier in his backside, knocking him over. After the battle ended, the American soldiers followed their enemies' escape route.
As Wilch checked the German soldier he had shot last, he looked at his face but saw no sign of life.
"I noticed he had a bad scar along the side of his face that ran down to his chin... I left him where he laid to help the medics called forward to care for our wounded," Wilch said.
The man with the scar was Huf.
The Improbable Friendship
"When I was introduced to Adolf at the paper mill, I recognized that face and scar immediately," Wilch said.
He wasn't alone. Huf recognized his wartime enemy as well.
"Adolf was as shocked as I was," Wilch said.
Huf told him that he was in terrible pain after Wilch shot him and when he heard the GIs get closer, he played dead in the hope he wouldn't be given a fatal shot.
"He told me he kept his eyes closed, and felt a GI standing above him, looking him over," Wilch said. "Adolf was thankful I had not shot him again, finding it incredible he had come all the way to America, only to meet the GI who'd shot him was working for the same company."
After the war ended, Huf became a German DP (displaced person). He and his wife were then sponsored by the local Episcopal church, who had members that owned the Sorg Paper Company in Middletown.
The sponsorship allowed Huf and his wife to come to America and work at the paper mill.
While many believed the two former enemies should have hated each other, their loyal friendship based on humor blossomed for decades.
"We teased each other," Wilch said. "He done things to me and I done things to him."
They used to badger each other constantly, with Wilch calling his friend a war criminal and Huf referring to him in German as a pig-dog.
"We had a Christmas tree in the office and (Huf) hung a dummy grenade on it for me," Wilch remembered.
But not everyone was as fond of the former German paratrooper.
"A lot of employees didn’t like Adolf because they had fought against him," Wilch said. "There were some places he wouldn’t go because they would accost him and cuss him and belittle him. I was always good to him."
Some saw a different side of the odd pair's friendship.
"How’d my dad survive all this?" Stephen Wilch said. "Humor. He came home and laughed and laughed and cut up with his buddy, his enemy."
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
On December, 7, 1986, Huf wrote a letter to his best friend,
To my dearest friend, Bill Wilch,
Today forty-five years ago, Pearl Harbor was bombed by Japanese Air Force. On this day, "they" declared you and I enemies. I was supposed to hate and shoot you, or you had to do the same to me, Whoever had the better chance first. We had never known or seen each other before, and had no quarrel for such a stupid action. But war gave us a license to kill. Now I consider you as my best friend, for the past thirty years, Our laughs, jokes, and smiled for all these years, and it is still this way. We never forget.
When Huf died, he was taken back to Germany to be buried.
"He had the greatest sense of humor," Wilch said.