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Ebersviller was POW, successful businessman

Rod Ebersviller’s roots run deep in the Fergus Falls area.

His is a life filled with community involvement, a stint in a German POW camp during World War II, running a successful implement dealership with his family, and extensive travel abroad with his late wife, Barbara.

Now the active 89 year old is the sole survivor of the business except for a sister who presently lives in the Twin Cities.

Ebersviller has lived in Fergus Falls since 1931 and spent six years in Pelican Rapids. He’s a graduate of Fergus Falls High School and a 1949 graduate of the University of Minnesota following World War II with a B.A. in business administration.

World War II was a real tipping point in his life. On Dec. 19, 1944, his 30-caliber machine gun squad was deployed in an advance position at the crest of a hill in a wooded area.

A small road was behind them and the remainder of the company of heavy support troops, including 50-caliber machine guns and anti-tank guns. A German armored vehicle with support troops came down the road behind the men firing at the support formation.

The support retreated, effectively cutting the men off and preventing escape. The men were all captured after a brief engagement, during which several men were wounded by shrapnel.

After interrogation at a German command post, the men were sent to a rear area, and Ebersviller was sent to a German military hospital along with several other wounded GIs.

They were there on Christmas Eve, and Rod admitted he was lonely, but the men were treated to punch and cookies by a group of young girls from the community.

“As a POW, you don’t talk about women or politics,” Rod recalls with a smile. “but we did talk about food. And four of us had to share a Red Cross box.”

Ironically, Ebersviller said he gained 30 pounds in 30 days upon release from the camp.

While in captivity, Ebersviller and others were subject to torture and verbal abuse, and some of the captives had shed as much as 100 pounds or more.

The famous Battle of the Bulge began the day the men were captured. The 35th Division was part of Patton’s third Army and was pulled out and sent north to help relieve Bastogne, which bore the brunt of the German offensive. It was a desperate try by several German armored divisions to cut the Allied Forces and reach the channel ports where supplies and troops were arriving from England.

The men were housed in stone stables at XIII C, which had been a cavalry training camp for the German army since 1895. There were wooden double-deck bunks with straw mattresses, and the men were kept reasonably warm thanks to a wood burning stove. Groups of POWs were marched to surrounding forests to gather wood for the heaters.

Several intriguing coincidences occurred at this time. The camp was only a short distance from the French village of Tittering, where Ebersviller’s grandfather was born. His family emigrated to the U.S. in 1874, just four years after the Franco-Prussian War.

Rumor in the camp had it that Gen. Patton’s son-in-law was a POW in the camp at Hammelburg and an advance element was sent to secure his release.

Ebersviller’s dad was named Bill, and his brothers were Gordy and Bill. The family constructed a new implement building in 1942 and again in 1967 on College Way, where the business prospered.

Barbara and Rod Ebersviller, on a trip in Russia.

Barbara and Rod Ebersviller, on a trip in Russia.

The Ebersvillers lived in Rothsay for 20 years, where he served on the school board. His wife died two years ago of a bronchial condition.

Rod retired in 1982, before business and the world became immersed in much of the new technology. He has since taught himself computer skills, owns a cell phone on which he takes some pictures, and often posts those pictures on his computer.

Never did he dream of computers, iPads and iPhones, saying he never thought he’d live long enough to see such gadgets. “Some of this technology is OK, but I don’t use it a lot,’’ Rod chuckled. ‘“I sometimes think people have forgotten how to talk to each other.’’

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