A Farm Boy Who Became Jackson’s Bodyguard
Editor’s note: The following is part of the Robert H. Jackson Center’s Defenders of Freedom project, which highlights stories of area WWII veterans.
It was a dank, dreary November day beneath the towering pines of the dense Hurtgen Forest located just south of Aachen, the first German city in the west to be liberated in bloody fighting by the Allies.
Pvt. Moritz Fuchs, a fresh-faced 19-year-old replacement with the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division, was huddled Nov. 19, 1944, with the Big Red 1’s battle-scarred veterans as the Germans blasted the area with deadly 88mm artillery fire, shattering the quiet and raining tree tops and shrapnel down on the Americans.
Many of the men had been fighting for weeks in brutal wintry conditions in the forest, with several suffering from frostbite and trench foot in the tree-to-tree struggle that was to run six months at a cost of more than 30,000 American dead and wounded, along with some 28,000 German casualties.
Newcomer Fuchs was luckier than many that day. Shrapnel from an 88mm killed his squad leader and either killed or wounded the remainder of the squad. Fuchs took shrapnel in the left leg and was eventually transported to a hospital in England, sparing him from the continued fierce fighting in the deadly Hurtgen Forest struggle that is often described as the single longest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army.
Most late-war replacements like Fuchs did not last long on the front lines. Weary and wiry veterans had grown tired of advising newcomers to keep their heads down, dig their foxholes deeper, and carry extra ammo only to see the “newbies” end up in shallow graves.
Fuchs’ hospital stay in England’s Blandford military hospital proved providential. Not only did he miss much of the prolonged fighting in the Hurtgen Forest, but the fierce Battle of the Bulge also occurred while he was recovering.
Although relatively new to the war, Fuchs already had seen much. One of his most disturbing memories was the sight of a dead teenage Wehrmacht soldier lying slumped in the vestibule of a Catholic church in Duren, Germany. He apparently had sought refuge there and judging from his bandages, had bled to death. Upon closer examination, Fuchs noted the young trooper had his eyes pecked out, presumably by birds.
He also recalls one American in the hospital who had bullet holes every two inches across his body, most likely caused by the rapid fire of an MP 40, a hand-held German “machine pistol” somewhat similar to a submachine gun.
Fuchs recovered and managed to rejoin his unit in the Hurtgen Forest, then on to central Germany and Czechoslovakia. After the end of the war, Fuchs was initially assigned to Nuremberg to police SS men in the cleanup of that heavily damaged city. He was selected for that duty because of his German-speaking skills learned from his Swiss-American parents. But providence played a hand yet again in his life and the rather introverted farm boy from upstate Fulton was assigned from among thousands of other soldiers to serve as the bodyguard for Robert H. Jackson, an associate U.S. Supreme Court judge selected by President Harry Truman to be the chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crime trials at the end of the war.
As Jackson’s bodyguard, Fuchs was the only one in the courtroom authorized to carry a weapon, a snub-nosed 38-caliber pistol. And he had a front-row seat to the historic indictment procedures against many of the most important military and political leaders of the Third Reich. The lengthy process relied heavily on the extensive array of documents left by the fastidious Nazis.
He came away with a rather thorough knowledge of the Nazi atrocities and an appreciation of Jackson as a “wise, understanding and well-read” prosecutor who was committed to justice and had a strong love of his country. He guarded Jackson round the clock and even went on a deer hunt outing with him where Fuchs was the only one to shoot a small buck. He was surprised when Jackson, a bit of a country boy himself, offered and personally dressed out the deer. “Jackson was familiar with farm life and was a very humble person,” noted Fuchs.
Fuchs rode shotgun in Jackson’s car, an extraordinary 16-cylinder Mercedes with a fold down top and enough seating for seven people that had once been owned by Joachim von Ribbentrop, the former foreign minister of Nazi Germany, who would be found guilty at the trial and sentenced to death. Although Fuchs did not drive at that stage in his young life, he does recall flying down the Autobahn (without Jackson) with the chauffer reaching speeds of more than 120 miles per hour.
At one point Fuchs had enough points to go back home, but the then 20-year-old elected to stay. Jackson expressed his appreciation in a Dec. 18, 1945 letter to Mrs. Fuchs. “You must be very proud of your keen, clean son” he told her.
Following the trials, Fuchs returned home and entered St. Andrew’s Seminary to become a priest. He elected to go into the priesthood because of his experiences in the war and the horrendous atrocities that had been committed. It was very apparent to him that life is more important than valuables. He was ordained and offered his first mass in 1955 and served at parishes in Clinton, New Hartford, Oswego, Binghamton, Syracuse, Oriskany Falls and Canastota. Although now retired, the 91-year-old continues with an active role in the church.
Peri Pearson is a junior majoring in history at the State University at Fredonia. She is an intern with the Defenders of Freedom project at the Robert H. Jackson Center.