By S. Derrickson Moore
LAS CRUCES — This Memorial Day, Charles “Chuck” Miles is harboring no hard feelings for those who shot at him when he was a teen soldier in the last days of World War II. In fact, he has just presented a plaque that has a place of honor in the Möckmühl, Germany, cemetery where he and his fellow soldiers took refuge on April 7, 1945.
It’s the latest development in a story of forgiveness and synchronicity that stretches back through more than six decades of world history.
Miles, 84, also coauthored the 2002 book “Once Enemies, Now Friends,” which tells the story of two young World War II soldiers (Miles and German native Felix Pfaeffle) who met as friends and neighbors in Las Cruces and realized that long ago, they had been shooting at each other in a remote rural area of Germany. The book was translated into German and Miles and others have since toured Germany and France together, making friends, signing books and sharing stories with history buffs.
A plaque, dedicated in German and English “in memory of the America and German soldiers and civilians who died during the last days of the Second World War in Möckmühl” was presented in April 10 ceremonies by Wolfgang Schlauch of Mesilla Park on behalf of Miles, whose health prevented him from making the trip to Germany himself.
Historical plaques are important to Miles, a retired textile manufacturer and lifelong history buff. During his 20 years in Las Cruces, he has headed the Doña Ana County Historical Society and has personally donated five plaques in honor of local historical events and figures, now featured at sites from the Branigan Library to Las Cruces City Hall and Veterans Memorial Park.
“It’s my way of giving back to the community I love,” he said.
He figured a plaque would also be a fitting act of closure marking the 65th anniversary of a war that is still vivid in his memory.
“On the morning of April 5, 1945, a company of American soldiers of the 63rd Infantry Division moved through Rogheim, Germany, meeting little resistance,” he said. “We hoped our luck would continue, but it was not to be.”
As squad leader that day, Miles was the first American soldier to enter the village of Möckmühl.
“We charged through an orchard into the town cemetery. Then bitter house-to-house fighting followed as we battled their way through the town on to our next objective.”
On April 20, 1945, he was wounded, he said.
He dismissed it as “just a flesh wound,” rubbing the scar he still carries on his neck.
It’s clear that he’d rather talk about the recent friendships he’s made in Germany.
His personal post-war détente campaign started when Doña Ana Community College history professor Donna Eichstaedt invited Miles and Pfaeffle to speak to her history class.
“They’d never met, but discovered in the class that they were neighbors in Las Cruces and once had been within two miles of each other in Germany in 1945, two teenage soldiers on opposite sides, shooting at one another,” said Eichstaedt.
“Miles never forgot that cemetery or the town of Möckmühl and after writing a book about his war experiences in 2002, he was invited by the local historical society for a visit. Wolfgang Schlauch, Chuck Miles, Felix Pfaeffle, my husband Carl Eichstaedt and I traveled to Germany in 2002 and visited many of the villages where Chuck and his 63rd Infantry Division had fought. We were treated royally and gave talks and met a few German veterans,” she said.
“I developed some warm friendships with the people of Möckmühl, especially village historian Dr. Karl-Heinrich Kraft, who later visited me here in Las Cruces,” Miles said.
He learned their historical society was contemplating a plaque to commemorate the Battle of Möckmühl and the end of World War II by remembering those — both Americans and Germans — who lost their lives.
“With input from Möckmühl Mayor Ulrich Stammer, Dr. Kraft and Professor Schlauch, Miles decided to have a plaque made for the wall of honor in the village cemetery — the same cemetery he found himself in on that fateful day in 1945,” Eichstaedt said.
“I had the plaque made by Trophy County in Las Cruces and on April 10, my good friend Wolfgang (Schlauch) traveled to Möckmühl and presented it to the mayor and citizens of the town,” Miles said.
“There were about 50 people there from the town and the reaction was very positive. It was a very somber presentation. There were some old people there who remembered the very dark days of World War II. They thought it was a very generous gesture of Charles Miles, commemorating the war and also a way to think of peace that would hopefully last,” said Schlauch, 75, an Eastern Illinois University professor emeritus of history who now makes his home in Mesilla Park.
Schlauch, now an American citizen who has lived in the U.S. for 45 years, was born in the German village of Bachlingen.
“Chuck was shot just a few miles from my village. I was about 9 then,” said Schlauch, who has surprisingly fond memories of the post-war American occupation forces.
“I loved the American soldiers. I remember the first soldiers we met were black and they were very kind to the children. They gave us chocolate and we spent whole days with them.”
Schlauch brought back photos, newspaper articles and a special message to Miles from Möckmühl’s Mayor Ulrich Stammer.
“All citizens here in Möckmühl have enclosed him in their hearts. When former enemies reconcile and send such a signal, this then means something very special. This should be a challenge to all of us to constantly search for reconciliation,” Stammer said.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at (575) 541-5450