WWII vet recalls duty as guard at Nazi trials

Like fireworks on Independence Day, Alex V. Lopez celebrated his 19th birthday with a burst of machine-gun fire on the day the United States and its allies restored freedom to Europe, held in the grip of Nazi Germany in World War II.

“I was at a machine-gun nest outside the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg, and it was May 7th, which was my birthday, and they announced that the war was over. I opened a clip on the machine gun up in the air,” Lopez said, recalling the day in 1945.

Now 86 and living in Las Vegas, Lopez was an Army private who had arrived in France in mid-January 1945 in time to fight the last days of the Battle of the Bulge with the 79th Infantry Division. His unit, the 314th Infantry Regiment, cleared towns in northeastern France and drove Nazi soldiers out of Haguenau Forest and back across the Rhine River into Germany.

But it wasn’t those battles that put Lopez in history’s spotlight.

That came months after he shed his battle fatigues and turned in his machine gun. His old unit was packing up to return home when the Nuremberg trials started Nov. 20, 1945.

“When the war was coming to an end, I didn’t have enough points to come home, so they sent me over to 1st Division,” said Lopez, a draftee from Los Angeles who was one of only a handful of Mexican-Americans in the 79th Division.

“My commander came to me at the barracks and told me I had to get myself all pressed up, my clothes cleaned and shined and everything, and go to the Nuremberg trials and report to a lieutenant.”

Lopez donned the white helmet, belt and gloves and pressed dress uniform, pants tucked neatly into his black leather boots – the signature uniform of 1st Infantry Division military police who were courtroom guards at the Nuremberg war crimes trials.

NUREMBERG GUARD

Preparing his uniform was no easy task.

“I had to take my brown belt, put salt on it and put it out in the sun so it would turn white. I had to put wax inside my seam to iron my clothes. I had English boots, which is leather all the way up with hobnails in the bottom of them. And I had to shine them every day. And, I had to press my shirt, my pants every single day,” he said.

Allied officials were looking for a tall combat veteran to guard Hermann Goering, Luftwaffe commander and Gestapo founder and one of the highest-ranking Nazi officials.

Clean-shaven Pvt. Alex Vincent Lopez, with his chiseled chin, high cheekbones and no-nonsense brown eyes peering from beneath his white helmet, fit the bill.

In his wallet, Lopez still carries a photograph from the trials. It shows a 20-year-old Lopez standing at parade rest behind Goering, who is seated at a microphone wearing a double-breasted olive jacket with a perplexed look on his face. Behind them is a wooden wall hiding an elevator shaft for bringing prisoners from their cellblocks to the Palace of Justice auditorium.

Occasionally, Lopez would watch Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s deputy. But for most of the nine months he served during the trials, he guarded Goering.

Eventually they got to know each other to the point they would sometimes chat in English.

“He could speak it enough to understand what I said,” Lopez said. “As a matter of fact, he asked me what my nationality was. He didn’t understand ‘Mexico,’ so that was it with him.”

Once, Goering autographed a dollar bill for him.

But it was all business in the courtroom, where translators would convey conversations among judges, lawyers and prisoners using microphones and headsets.

“One day he took his earphone apart, and there was a sharp instrument in there. I had a BB sap that big,” Lopez said, holding his hands about a foot apart to show the length of a flexible baton tipped with lead shot. “I hit him over the hands with the BB sap, and he called me a ‘schweinehund’ ” (literally, pig dog).

For the most part, despite his arrogance, Goering was “a real congenial person,” Lopez said.

At night, Goering’s bad side would erupt.

“Goering was, I’m sure, a dope addict,” Lopez said. “About four in the morning he’d start screaming and hollering, moaning and groaning. He couldn’t take it anymore.

“So they’d take him out and strip him down and check him out and give him a shot. And then he’d go back into his cellblock. I understand he had a heroin field in back of his house.”

Historians note that Goering, a decorated World War I pilot, became hooked on morphine after he was shot in the leg during a failed coup attempt by Nazi party leaders in 1923.

Despite being tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity, including starving Jewish civilians, the Nuremberg prisoners ate well, Lopez said.

“They had some pumpernickel bread that you’d die for. I used to steal it from them,” he said. “Then in the mornings they had a bunch of fruits and cereals and all this sort of stuff, and they had stews.”

SENTENCED TO DEATH

Lopez returned to the United States and was honorably discharged at Camp Beale, Calif., on July 31, 1946, less than three months before Goering was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to death. But the night before Goering was to be hanged, he ingested a potassium cyanide pill and quickly died.

In 2005, another courtroom guard, Herbert Lee Stivers, said he was the one who slipped Goering the suicide pill.

But Lopez believes it was the Army “captain” with sole access to Goering’s cell who gave him the deadly pill.

“There was only one guy that got next to him. From what I hear, he asked this guy to go into his briefcase and get him a compound that he had there, some kind of cream compound. The pill was inside that compound,” Lopez said.

Authors who researched the suicide identified the U.S. Army officer as Lt. Jack G. Wheelis, who died eight years after Goering died. He sneaked the pill to Goering in exchange for souvenirs, including Goering’s watch, which Wheelis is seen wearing in a photo after the war.

COMBAT OVER GUARD DUTY

Looking back on his minor role in military history after the war in Europe ended, Lopez said his combat experience overshadows the tedious duty as a courtroom guard.

Lopez lives day by day with his one year, 11 months and 10 days in the Army – from a bout with frostbitten feet to his first encounter on snowy battlefields in Alsace-Lorraine. “They sent me out at night, and I stepped on a dead Kraut in a white uniform.”

He said he remembers killing only one enemy soldier, a sniper in Nancy, France, from whose body he retrieved a P-38 Luger pistol. But his descriptions of battle suggest many more.

“We were more-less an attack division. We would attack every Sunday, and a lot of times we would go back and take a town that we already took once,” he said. His .30-caliber, air-cooled machine gun was “a long sucker that you’d set up in a foxhole. I carried it on my shoulder. I had two ammo bearers behind me.”

Lopez can’t erase some memories, such as the time in Czechoslovakia when his regiment was under attack.

“I didn’t care who I was firing at, I was just firing,” he said. “Those guys were crazy, man. They’d come right up in front of you, and you’d just cut ’em in half. Terrible.”

In the northeastern tip of France, he was told to shoot only five-round bursts.

“And that’s what I tried to do, especially when we were under attack in the Haguenau Forest. It scared me because I shot 10 rounds one time because they were almost on top of me.”

He said his worst experience was crossing the Rhine. Sixteen heavy artillery guns had cleared the opposite shore.

“You wouldn’t believe the horrible scene you were seeing over there. … The shooting was more or less over, but it was still a mess,” he said. “You get 16 rounds going through over there, and you see dead people. That was horrible, horrible, horrible. I’ll never forget that scene. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.”

BADGE OF HONOR

While the phrase “post-traumatic stress disorder” wasn’t in the soldier’s vocabulary during World War II, PTSD certainly became a reality.

“I dream about it once in a while, and it sort of gets you a little bit,” Lopez said. “You get flashbacks on it, but you wake up and walk it off.”

Lopez points to the Combat Infantryman Badge – light blue with a silver musket – pinned to his black “World War II” cap.

“That means more than damn near all the medals those generals have on their coats,” he said. “I was under fire. People were trying to kill me. That’s the best medal you can get as far as I’m concerned.”

Today, on the nation’s 236th birthday, Lopez intends to observe Independence Day more closely than in past years and pause to remember the freedoms he defended. He thinks some of them are slipping away after patriotism surged on the heels of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

He told his sons to never drop their guard.

“For this nation to be going the way it is going, and the way I see it, I’m going to have a gun in some hole in Las Vegas defending this country again. That’s the way I feel about it.”

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@
reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Protesters Line Streets for President Trump's Arrival in Las Vegas
Hundreds lined the streets in front of Suncoast to protest President Donald Trump's arrival in Las Vegas. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Thunder Mountain monument stands as a tribute to Native American culture
Caretaker Fred Lewis talks about Thunder Mountain monument in central Nevada, made from concrete and found items. The five-acre site is a tribute to Native Peoples of the West. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New CCSD superintendent Jesus F. Jara aims for 1st in the nation
On his third day as Clark County School District superintendent, Jesus F. Jara talks about his vision for the future during a visit to Del Sol Academy of the Performing Arts on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @brokejournalist
Ceremony Recognizes Refugee Students, Graduates
Rosy Mibulano, a graduate of Las Vegas High School who came to America from the Congo in 2015, was recognized in a ceremony for refugee students in Clark County. Like many other students relocated to Las Vegas from countries around the world, Rosy had a challenging high school experience, from learning English to adjusting to American customs and taking care of her family. On top of that, she wants to go to school to become a nurse so she can take care of her mother, who suffers from diabetes. The annual Refugee Recognition Ceremony celebrates the enormous lengths these young adults go through to create a new life for themselves. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Paul McCartney is worth over $1 billion
Sir Paul McCartney is one of the most celebrated and accomplished musicians in history. He just turned 76 on June 18. McCartney grew to international fame with the Beatles and went on to become a wildly successful solo musician. Paul McCartney’s net worth is estimated at $1.2 billion, according to Celebrity Net Worth. In 2017, McCartney landed the No. 13 spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s highest-paid musicians, earning $54 million for the year. On Thursday, June 20, McCartney will release a double A-side single featuring two new songs, "I Don't Know" and "Come On to Me." McCartney has yet to announce a title of his new album or when it will be released. Th album is expected to be released before he headlines the Austin City Limits Music fest in October.
Water leak at Mandalay Bay convention center
The convention center area of Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas experienced major flooding Tuesday afternoon. Credit: Melinda Cook
Hollywood Memorabilia Up For Grabs at Las Vegas Auction
Elvis Presley's car, Marilyn Monroe's bras, Han Solo's blaster, and Jerry Lewis's "Nutty Professor" suit are just some of the items that are up for auction at Julien's Auctions at Planet Hollywood June 22 and 23. The auction's viewing room at Planet Hollywood is open to the public 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily through Saturday at Planet Hollywood. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Indoor farming in Southern Nevada
Experts discuss Nevada's indoor farming industry. (Bailey Schulz/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Fontainebleau could have become a Waldorf Astoria
Months after developer Steve Witkoff bought the Fontainebleau last summer, he unveiled plans to turn the mothballed hotel into a Marriott-managed resort called The Drew. But if Richard “Boz” Bosworth’s plans didn’t fall through, the north Las Vegas Strip tower could have become a Waldorf Astoria with several floors of timeshare units. (Eli Segall/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Springs Preserve Exhibit Shows Off "Nature's Ninjas"
"Nature's Ninjas" arrives at the Springs Preserve, in an exhibit and live show featuring critters that come with natural defenses, from armadillos to snakes, poison dart frogs to scorpions and tarantulas (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CrossRoads of Southern Nevada psychiatric urgent care to open in Las Vegas
Jeff Iverson, who operates the nonprofit sober living facility Freedom House, is opening a private addiction treatment center that will operate a detoxification center and transitional living for substance users trying to recover. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Metro Capt. Jaime Prosser gives update of officer-involved shooting
Metro Capt. Jaime Prosser provides an update about an officer-involved shooting at Radwick Drive and Owens Avenue in the northeast Las Vegas on Thursday. A robbery suspect was shot and killed. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Wayne Newton surprises burglars
Wayne Newton and his wife, Kathleen, arrived at their southeast Las Vegas home shortly before midnight on Wednesday to find two burglars inside their house. The burglars fled and were seen heading north through the property. Las Vegas police quickly set up a perimeter and launched an extensive search of the area, but the suspects were able to escape. It was unclear if the burglars got away with anything of value. Several items, under the watchful eyes of the police, were seen on the ground near the home's main driveway. Neither Newton, nor his wife, were injured. The Newtons were not available for comment.
Police Officers Turn Off Body Cameras
In four separate body camera videos from the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting released Wednesday, officers in a strike team are instructed to turn their body cameras off and comply with the request.
Debra Saunders reports from Singapore
Las Vegas Review-Journal White House correspondent talks about the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un.
How long will North Korea's denuclearization take?
In Singapore, Las Vegas Review-Journal White House correspondent Debra Saunders asks President Donald Trump how long North Korea's denuclearization will take. White House video.
LVCVA purchase of gift cards hidden
A former LVCVA executive hid the purchase of $90,000 in Southwest Airlines gift cards in records at the agency. Brig Lawson, the senior director of business partnerships, said the money was for promotional events and did not disclose that it was for gift cards. Lawson also instructed Southwest employees to submit invoices without mentioning the purchases were for the cards. More than $50,000 of the cards cannot be accounted for. The convention authority is publicly funded . Lawson recently resigned.
Kim Jong Un visits Marina Bay Sands in Singapore
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his entourage visited the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore briefly Monday night, local time. (Video by Philip Chope)
Coca-Cola Bottle Purse Has 9,888 Diamonds
Designer Kathrine Baumann and jeweler Aaron Shum set the Guinness World Record for most diamonds (9,888) set on a handbag. The Coca Cola bottle-shaped purse was on display at the Coca Cola Store on the Strip. (Madelyn Reese/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sentosa Island a pleasure resort with a pirate past
The site of Tuesday's U.S.-North Korea summit is known for theme parks and resorts. But before that, it was known as a pirate island. (Debra Saunders/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Judge Sandra Pomrenze's comment about girl's hair
Nevada Races Full of Women From Both Sides
It's already been a historic election season for women in politics. Record numbers of women are running for political office all over the country - including Nevada. (Madelyn Reese/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @MadelynGReese
East Las Vegas home damaged by fire
Clark County Fire Department crews responded to a house fire in east Las Vegas Thursday morning. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
911 call: Mom tries to get to son shot at Route 91
A woman stuck on the interstate during the Route 91 Harvest festival shooting on Oct. 1, 2017, in Las Vegas, tries to get to her son. 911 call released by Las Vegas police.
Las Vegas 911 caller reports people shot on Oct. 1
A 911 caller on Oct. 1, 2017, reports several people shot at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas.
911 call from woman under stage in Las Vegas shooting
A 911 call from a woman underneath the stage at the Route 91 Harvest festival during the Oct. 1, 2017, Las Vegas shooting.
LVCVA facing scandal over gift cards
LVCVA is facing a growing scandal over airline gift cards. LVCVA bought $90,000 in Southwest Airline gift cards between 2012 and 2017. Now auditors can’t account for more than $50,000 of the cards. CEO Rossi Ralenkotter and his family used $16,207 in gift cards on 56 trips. Brig Lawson, the senior director of business partnerships, was responsible for buying and distributing the cards. He recently resigned.
Siblings separated in the foster care system get a day together
St. Jude's Ranch for Children and Cowabunga Bay Cares program partnered to bring 75 siblings together for the day to play on the water slides and in the pools at the Henderson water park. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
People flee the Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1, 2017
Las Vegas police released footage from a camera on Mandalay Bay of the Route 91 Harvest festival on Oct. 1, 2017
Aaliyah Inghram awarded medal of courage
Aaliyah Inghram, a 10-year-old girl who was shot while protecting her 18-month-old brother and 4-year-old cousin during a shooting on May 8, awarded medal of courage. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal @bizutesfaye
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like