World War II story has personal touch

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 3, 2011

“Hitler in the Crosshairs,” by John Woodbridge and Maurice Possley. Zondervan. 2011. 230 pp. $24.99.
By Deirdre Parker Smith
SALISBURY — “Hitler in the Crosshairs” reveals what the authors believe is new information about a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler during World War II.
It also tells some of the story of Ira “Teen” Palm, a man who once lived in Salisbury and rose through the ranks to eventually work at the Pentagon.
And it is a story about Hitler’s gold-plated pistol, which, the authors say, Teen Palm took from Hitler’s office in a raid of his apartment in Munich.
Palm was a sensitive, self-doubting musician when World War II started. But once he completed his training and was shipped to Europe, he blossomed into a leader under the most difficult of conditions.
Author Woodbridge is the son of Charles Woodbridge, who was once pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Salisbury. Palm, rediscovering his faith, became one of Charles’ best friends, due to the minister’s preaching and teaching.
Palm met Helen Raney of Granite Quarry and later married her. The couple spent much time in Bible study, and in their long years in the military, shared their faith with many soldiers and others.
So, while telling the story of World War II and the attempt on Hitler’s life, the authors use many of Palm’s letters to his wife, his pastor and others to show his ardent faith in God. We learn little about the war through the letters — in those days, mail was heavily censored by the military, and Palm was careful never to divulge exactly where he was or what he was doing.
Suffice it to say he was in some of the bloodiest, most dangerous battles of the war. Not once, but twice he was standing next to his commander when the commander was gunned down.
Palm fought on the front lines, advancing and retreating, fighting forward and falling back. As more and more men died, Palm rose through the command stages.
People trusted Palm, and he was conscientious, but aggressive. He knew there was a job to do. He knew people were depending on him, and he knew the Lord would get him through whatever danger he faced. If not, he was always ready for the ultimate sacrifice.
The new information in the familiar World War II story is an attempt to kill Hitler by Rupprecht Gerngross, a German man who formed Freedom Action Bavaria.
Gerngross planned to shoot Hitler as he emerges from his car. But a little girl comes to hug Hitler and Gerngross never gets a clean shot. Could Hitler have known he was a target?
As the war in Europe intensifies, and Hitler escapes to his aerie, Teen Palm is in the detail that raids Hitler’s apartment in Munich. It’s empty, of course, but the soldiers have a good long look around.
Palm goes to Hitler’s office and finds Hitler’s gold-plated pistol: “It was the golden pistol the Walther family gave Hitler nearly six years ago to the day on the dictator’s fiftieth birthday. … (Palm) picked it up and, just as quickly as he had entered the room, stuffed it inside his shirt along with a stack of stationery that had been sitting atop the desk.”
Years later, he gives the pistol and stationery to his beloved pastor, Charles Woodbridge, now in Savannah.
Inexplicably, the pistol and stationery are stolen from Woodbridge’s home after some time has passed. The house is ransacked, but little is taken — as if the thief came only for the pistol.
The story of the gun’s disappearance and reappearances, in this auction or that, never lead to the original thief but make for an interesting tale of authenticity, ownership and value.
Today, the gun is in the hands of an unnamed private collector.
Palm’s daughter, Susie, and Woodbridge’s son, author John, provided much of the personal historical information, through Palm’s letters and memories of the Woodbridge family.
Possley, a journalist, cites extensive sources for his part in the book, much of it war history and acknowledges the help of many people.
This is no tome — it doesn’t rehash the war, revisit Hitler’s atrocities or dwell too much on the horrors, which include Palm’s assignment to Dachau.
It is an accessible story of one man’s place in the bigger picture, with emphasis on his Christian faith and his mission to spread the word to all he met.
A section of photos brings the man a little more to life.
But, like so many veterans, Palm did not talk on and on about what he saw and what he did. He served his country, did what was necessary, and then rejoined the Army because he felt he could still make a difference.
The gun story, as well as the assassination attempt, are part of a larger tale of what is rightly known as the Greatest Generation.