As a young boy, Eugene Parmer lived in Bettendorf, Iowa. Just before he joined the military he moved 40 miles north to the quiet town of Maquoketa, Iowa. He joined the 92nd Signal Battalion who furnished communications for the United States Army. While serving in Europe during WWII, Eugene was ordered to join American soldiers liberating a concentration camp called Dachau. He was to investigate the camp's communication equipment and report to his officer.
When he arrived at Dachau, Eugene didn't want to park his weapons carrier at the main gate so he drove around the side of the camp. There he located railroad tracks with parked coal cars leading out of the camp. Eugene's curiosity got the best of him so he climbed up the ladder. There was no coal in the cars. Eugene was not prepared for what he witnessed. Shock hit him hard. The train cars carried human bodies. Then he looked in the second car and there were more. He could not believe his eyes. What he saw made him physically sick.
Eugene then approached the gate and shot the lock off with his revolver. Immediately, a prisoner who spoke English yelled "don't open the gate". This man told other prisoners to stay back but then disappeared. The prisoners didn't listen and came towards Eugene and began to mob him. He fell to the ground. The American soldier assumed they were after his rifle. But the Jewish prisoners did not want his rifle nor did they want to harm him. All they wanted was American flags lapel pin which was the Signal Corps insignia. All they wanted were the flags of their liberator.
The English speaking prisoner quickly returned with something to secure the gate. He wanted that gate shut! Eugene removed his flag pin and gave it to the man. The others backed away. The frightened soldier was relieved.
"Do you have some spare time?" asked the prisoner, "Follow me."
As they walked past buildings, Eugene saw more death. The horrors of this war were everywhere. Then the prisoner suggested Eugene get his rifle ready. What was going to happen?
They uncovered a German guard who hid when the camp was liberated. It wasn't safe for the guard to be surrounded by angry prisoners. There was another guard hiding in a 55 gallon container used to store human waste. When they tipped it over, the guard fell out. His life was also in danger. The German guards had been cruel. Now the prisoners wanted revenge.
Eugene needed to stay focused and asked the English speaking prisoner to show him the signal equipment and he did. Finally, his simple yet dangerous mission was accomplished. The young soldier returned to his regular duty.
Those horrible memories of war stayed with Eugene his whole life. Years later at an event recognizing veterans, Eugene listened to a grateful Holocaust survivor speak to the audience. While she spoke about her memories, Eugene felt sick all over again - just like he felt during his time at Dachau.
Eugene returned to and lives today in historical Maquoketa, Iowa. When Eugene is asked what message he'd like to say to children, he replies: "Children should see pictures and realize what can happen if we lost our freedom. I have no words to express my feelings towards these people. If I hadn't seen it, I don't know if I'd believe it. It happened."