William R. Schaffner, a computer analyst and World War II veteran who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, died Tuesday from heart failure at Bonnie Blink, the Maryland Masonic Home in Hunt Valley. The former Cockeysville resident was 95.
William Robert Schaffner, son of Peter Frank Schaffner, an insurance agent, and his wife, Ida Bernice Schaffner, a dressmaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on McCabe Avenue in Govans.
Two weeks after he graduated from City College in 1943, Mr. Schaffner was drafted into the Army and after completing training was sent to the European Theater.
He was serving in December 1944 as a forward observer with the 589th Field Artillery of the 106th Infantry Division in Baraque de Fraiture, Belgium, defending a road to Bastogne, Belgium, when a German Panzer division attacked in an action that was a prelude to the Battle of the Bulge.
“From my understanding, an artillery battalion was assigned in coordination to an infantry regiment,” a son, Robert Schaffner of Lutherville, wrote in a biographical profile of his father. “The 106th was assigned to support the 423rd Infantry Regiment, but they were placed too many miles apart to provide any support for one another. Dad’s group’s orders were for a 72-hour ‘Alamo Defense’ to stall the German advance.”
As a forward observer, it was Mr. Schaffner’s role to call in and direct artillery strikes. “He attributed his ability to do the job because of the strong math skills he learned at City College,” his son said in a telephone interview.
The action became known as “Parker’s Crossroads,” which took its name from Maj. Arthur C. Parker III, who commanded the 589th Field Artillery and was successful in delaying the German advance long enough to allow for the arrival of the troops of Gen. George S. Patton Jr.'s 3rd Army.
“They accomplished that but he was only one of a handful that wasn’t a casualty or taken prisoner,” his son wrote.
“The headquarters opinion was the Germans would not attack where the ‘green’ 106th was placed. The 422nd and 423rd were easily surrounded and overrun and after a two or three day fight, were given orders to surrender and thousands from the 422nd and 423rd were taken prisoners,” he wrote.
“After the 589th Artillery Battalion was overrun after defending the crossroads, my dad was temporarily assigned to the 82nd or 101st Airborne for a few days before catching up with what was left of the 106th, and then was assigned to the 509th Artillery Battalion as an artillery fire director,” his son wrote.
Mr. Schaffner was discharged with the rank of corporal at war’s end. “He then put the war pretty much behind him,” his son said.
From 1956 until retiring in 1989, Mr. Schaffner was a computer analyst for AAI Corp. in Cockeysville.
“One day he got a call from his colonel, who gave the order that Dad was to be present for the 106th Infantry Division’s 40th-year reunion that was being held in Indianapolis in 1989,” his son said.
Mr. Schaffner, who eventually became president of the Maryland, Washington and Virginia chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge Association, was also a member and historian of the Markland C. Kelly Jr. American Legion Post in Timonium.
Mr. Schaffner contributed his wartime experiences or wrote forewords to eight books, some of which included “Warriors of the 106th: The Last Infantry of World War II,” “The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler’s Final Gamble in Western Europe,” “Red Legs of the Bulge: Artillerymen in the Battle of the Bulge,” and the "Fightin’ 589th.″
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