Kurt Vonnegut (Author) Instead of waiting to be drafted, he enlisted in the army in March 1943.
Vonnegut was deployed as an intelligence scout with the 106th Infantry Division. In December 1944, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the final German offensive of the war. On December 22, he was captured with about fifty other American soldiers.
Vonnegut was taken by boxcar to a prison camp south of Dresden, in Saxony. During the journey, the Royal Air Force bombed the prisoner trains and killed about 150 men. Vonnegut was sent to Dresden, the “first fancy city [he had] ever seen”. He lived in a slaughterhouse when he got to the city, and worked in a factory that made malt syrup for pregnant women. Vonnegut recalled the sirens going off whenever another city was bombed. The Germans did not expect Dresden to get bombed, Vonnegut said. “There were very few air-raid shelters in town and no war industries, just cigarette factories, hospitals, clarinet factories.
On February 13, 1945, Dresden became the target of Allied forces. In the hours and days that followed, the Allies engaged in a fierce firebombing of the city. The offensive subsided on February 15, leaving tens of thousands dead. Vonnegut marveled at the level of both the destruction in Dresden and the secrecy that attended it. He had survived by taking refuge in a meat locker three stories underground. “It was cool there, with cadavers hanging all around”, Vonnegut said. “When we came up the city was gone … They burnt the whole damn town down.” Vonnegut and other American prisoners were put to work immediately after the bombing, excavating bodies from the rubble. He described the activity as a “terribly elaborate Easter-egg hunt”.
The American prisoners of war were evacuated on foot to the border of Saxony and Czechoslovakia after General George S. Patton captured Leipzig. With the captives abandoned by their guards, Vonnegut reached a prisoner-of-war repatriation camp in Le Havre, France, before the end of May, 1945, with the aid of the Soviets. He returned to the United States and continued to serve in the Army, stationed at Fort Riley, Kansas, typing discharge papers for other soldiers.
Soon after he was awarded a Purple Heart about which he remarked “I myself was awarded my country’s second-lowest decoration, a Purple Heart for frost-bite.” He was discharged from the U.S. Army and returned to Indianapolis.