Arthur J. Daigler Sr., 92
War zone: Europe
Years of service: 1942-45
Most prominent honors: European Theater Medal, American Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal
Specialty: Radio operator
By Lou Michel
News Staff Reporter
One of 13 children, Arthur J. Daigler Sr. graduated from St. Mary’s Elementary School in Swormville and, after a year of high school, put aside the books. With so many mouths to feed, he was needed to help support the family.
He worked for several years at Buffalo Arms until another relative – Uncle Sam – summoned the 20-year-old Daigler.
Less than two years later, as radio operator with the Army Signal Corps, Daigler waded onto Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944, one day out from the initial D-Day invasion at Normandy. He had heard about the deaths of many American soldiers the day before and counted his blessings that he was not assigned to those first waves on “Bloody Omaha.”
“If I had gone that first day, I probably wouldn’t be here,” says Daigler, 92.
But it was no cakewalk when he and other Signal Corps soldiers jumped from their landing craft onto Omaha Beach.
“There were a few bodies still floating in the water, and myself and another soldier had to help one of our friends who was a littler shorter than us get through the water to the shore,” Daigler recalls. “We got our arms around his arms. It wasn’t easy. We were all weighted down with our backpacks and rifles, and I had a generator with me.”
On land, they went to work stringing telephone cables for the next few days in the fields beyond the beachside cliffs.
“Barrage balloons floated above us to prevent the German airplanes from strafing us. The balloons were attached to the ground by steel cables,” Daigler says. “We didn’t worry too much about German troops. Most had been pushed back, but at times, we did hear gunfire.”
After the Battle of Saint-Lô, he recalled moving into that French town and stringing more telephone cable.
“The phones allowed the officers to stay in touch.”
Then there was a scare. Orders went out for everyone to put on their gas masks.
“We didn’t know where the gas was coming from,” Daigler says. “I had to help my buddy put his mask on, but it turned out there was no gas.”
Then there was the shrapnel from a bomb that narrowly missed his head while he was transmitting encrypted messages from a tent that doubled as his living quarters.
“I never knew what I was sending because it was coded. I’d be in the tent for hours and days sending out messages,” Daigler says, recalling how his ears were antennas of sorts listening for the enemy. “I could hear enemy planes, and one time a plane dropped a bomb near us, and shrapnel hit the wooden box my radio was in. If the box hadn’t been there, I would have been hit in the head.”
The radio survived, he says, though it “was kind of beat up.”
War also provided him with the unexpected.
As his unit through France and then into Germany over the next several months, Daigler met an American woman.
“She told me she was from Milwaukee and had come to Germany before the war,” he remembers, “but I can’t remember the circumstances of how she got to Germany.”
Back home, Daigler’s dad was doing his part in the war effort working for Bell Aircraft in Wheatfield, and when a job transfer came up, the father had even pulled up stakes and moved the family to Burlington, Vt., to another Bell plant.
Daigler, after being honorably discharged in 1945, joined his parents there, and he, too, worked at the Bell plant. It seemed he was setting down roots in New England. He married Pauline Muir, a Burlington area native, and the couple had the first of their four children in Vermont.
But when General Electric purchased the Bell facility, Daigler says, he lost his job. He was able to return to the Wheatfield plant, where he worked as a machine operator 38 years before retiring in 1982.
His military service, he says, remains a big part of his life, and last year he traveled on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., with State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, to visit the National World War II Memorial.
“It was emotional,” Daigler says, “really something to see.”