Henry Louis Fleischhauer
Freemason and American Hero
Henry Fleischhauer was born September 1, 1924 in Falls County. His father was a German immigrant. Fleischhauer grew up in the Riesel community where he became a farmer until 1944. When he graduated high school, he volunteered to join the Army right as WWII was underway but the government sent him home on account of the important work he could do as a farmer. Then, six months later, he was drafted anyway.
Fleischhauer was initially assigned as a radio operator for the Armored Forces but he didn’t like it so applied to join the Air Force and was accepted. They sent him to Pittsburgh to begin flying school but after only a few months, the Army decided there was not a need for more pilots and put him on a train with the pretense of going back to his old post. While on the trip, he noticed other soldiers aboard were coming from a variety of jobs which gave him the suspicion that he might not be going back to radio ops after all. His intuition was correct. When the train arrived, every soldier learned that they were now infantrymen. His new home would be Fort Pickett, Virginia.
A Farmboy Goes to War
The men who trained at Fort Pickett, including Fleischhauer, shipped to England in October of 1944. Fleischhauer manned 57mm anti-tank guns. He later explained, “Facing tiger tanks was scary work.” Then, in December, he and his companions were loaded onto rail cars and they slept in hammocks hanging from rafters as they were transported across the English Channel to mainland Europe.
Arriving in France, Fleischhauer’s most lasting memory was the mud. “It rained and rained and rained. We had to camp in that stuff.” A few days later, they were on their way to the battlefront.
In Belgium, Fleischhauer began to see the very worst of the war. One morning, during breakfast, “buzz bombs” crashed through causing all but one of the men to take cover. The loner was the cook who continued to flip pancakes until the bombing ceased and then announced to the others, “Come and get it, boys!”
Fleischhauer and his men were on their way to what is now known as the Siegfried Line(or the West Wall) of German defenses. Its infamous “dragon’s teeth” fortifications were so difficult to pass that they are still there today, a somber reminder of the thousands of lives lost among them. It was here, passing into Rollsbroich, that Fleischhauer spotted a German soldier within proximity for the first time. It proved to be a lasting memory for the rest of his life. He drew his Colt .45 pistol and took aim but decided that it would only serve to “make the German mad” so he dove for cover instead. Neither soldier shot at each other. Fleischhauer picked up an M1 Garand from a dead companion so that he wouldn’t doubt his firearm again.
Many other harrowing moments plagued Fleischhauer’s time of service, including service in the Battle of the Bulge. At one point, he slowly passed across a battlefield only to be told afterward that he had somehow managed to crawl through a minefield. Later, his boots froze so badly that he was forced to saw them off his feet and nearly lost his legs to frostbite. His feet became so swollen that the Army couldn’t find him boots to fit. His solution was to stuff overshoes(galoshes) with straw until they didn’t wiggle too much.
When Fleischhauer’s sergeant was killed, command of reconnaissance missions fell upon him. On March 17, 1945, he passed over the infamous Remagen Bridge across the Rhine. Shortly after reaching the other side, Fleischhauer witnessed the collapse of the bridge and the tragic loss of 100 men to death or injury in a single moment. Though the loss was devastating, the victory of being able to get enough men, including Fleischhauer, across the bridge shifted Brother Dwight Eisenhower’s plans and changed the war.
At the end of the War, Fleischhauer remained with the Army in Germany and was assigned to prisoner camp where he assisted in capturing SS soldiers in hiding. On September 1, 1945, his 21st birthday, Fleischhauer spent the day at a winery negotiating the process of bringing back wine to clubs in town to celebrate the impending close of the War. As he supped with the family that ran the winery, the War officially ended. He later described it as one of his all-time favorite birthday presents.
A Man Returns Home
On March 26, 1946, Fleischhauer was back in the States and honorably discharged from service. The farmboy had gone to War two years earlier and returned home a man with grisly stories to tell. On June 17, 1950, Fleischhauer joined Waco Masonic Lodge where he found a myriad of new friends who had also served in WWII. He found work with General Electric and stayed with them for 39 years. In an interview during retirement, Fleischhauer explained that he was proud to have served his country as part of the “Greatest Generation,” but that he wouldn’t want to do it again. “I did have an interesting life,” he explained, “but I wouldn’t take a million bucks to do it again.”
Retiring in Austin, Fleischhauer was a founding member of the Austin Baptist Church.
Brother Fleischhauer passed away December 15, 2015.