During World War II, a Mass. soldier held his fire. It likely saved hundreds of livesPlay
Robert Chouinard, 97, served as an Army corporal in World War II and saw a lot during his three years of service.
He landed on Omaha Beach a few days after the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. He walked the trenches there and saw bodies of German soldiers all around him.
But one of Chouinard's strongest memories is of the bloodshed that didn't happen.
"I can't get it out of my thoughts," said Chouinard, who lives in Salisbury and is one of just over 5,500 World War II veterans in Massachusetts, a figure that is shrinking with each passing year.
After decades of silence, Chouinard has begun to share his stories from the war, including an incident that happened just before the fighting ended.
It's a story about the lure of fresh eggs — and a split-second decision to hold fire.
Chouinard and his fellow soldiers found a field south of Munich and dug their foxholes. Then Chouinard noticed a farmhouse down the road.
"I decided I'd go across that road ... and see if I could get some eggs, because that was a prize — get a fresh egg to fry on a skillet on a bonfire we'd make," he said.
A woman met him at the door. Chouinard said she was an American who had married a German.
They spoke briefly, and Chouinard walked away with his prized eggs.
The next morning, Chouinard decided to go back and ask the woman for more eggs. But this time was different.
"She says, 'We had company during the night.' Well, I didn't know what she was talking about. And she pointed to the hallway. There was a German soldier standing there," Chouinard said. "Holy mackerel — I had my rifle and I put my rifle up and I said, 'Halt! Don't move!' "
Chouinard remembers the German soldier gesturing his head toward a door in the house. Inside was a German officer sitting at a table.
"Huge guy, and he spoke with broken English, 'I want to talk to an officer.' He wanted somebody his own rank," Chouinard said.
The German officer wanted to surrender to the Americans because they treated prisoners of war better than the Russians did. So Chouinard ran across the field to headquarters and found an American officer to go talk to the German officer in the farmhouse.
"The next thing I know, a great big herd of soldiers came out of the woods — could have been a hundred," Chouinard said. "They were there all night, right next to us. Could have wiped us out. They walked out with their hands up."
Chouinard said he doesn't know why he didn't fire on the German soldier that day. But the lives of more than 100 Americans and Germans were likely saved because he didn't.
The war ended weeks later.
"It's just an episode that was so surprising," Chouinard said. "How things were close all the time — it was the story of the war. You were so close to things all the time it kept you on edge."
Chouinard plans to retrace his steps as a soldier in Germany next year.
This segment aired on November 11, 2021.