Author’s note: Last year, I helped Kiss, 88, write a 40-page book about his WWII experiences. He is a fine example of what journalist Tom Brokaw has called The Greatest Generation. Until five years ago he could never talk about the horrors of his war experience. He and his wife, Ellen, raised three daughters in Austin. They now live between Round Rock and Pflugerville and enjoy grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In honor of the Memorial holiday last weekend, I have written this brief history.
Richard (Kiss) Kissman was born in 1919 on a farm in Bastrop County. He spoke only German until he started school. After high school graduation in 1937, he worked 12 hours a day for 75 cents. But soon World War II was raging in Europe, and in October of 1942, he joined the army to fight the Germans.
He was trained for armored tank duty at Fort Knox in Kentucky. On Feb. 12, 1944, he shipped out on a convoy of 156 ships to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Soon his 735th Tank Battalion, 5th Infantry, along with tanks and equipment were loaded on a barge, ready to land in France at Omaha Beach.
It wasn’t long before his tank battalion was under almost constant fire. Kiss was wounded, sent his Purple Heart home, but kept on fighting. He was promoted to sergeant.
It was common for the Nazi soldiers to hang explosives (usually hand grenades) onto large dogs and send the animals toward American tanks or men in foxholes. The explosives were set off by a timer or remote control.
One evening in the summer of 1944, the soldiers in his unit were sitting outside their tank. All of a sudden, a dog loaded with explosives came running toward them. Kiss jumped up and in German, yelled “Zuruck! Zuruck!” (“Go back! Go back!”).
The dog turned and headed back, and in a couple of minutes as he reached a fence, they heard a yelp, and then a large explosion. The German language he learned as a child saved their lives that evening, much to the surprise of the men who had no idea he spoke German.
The mortality rate of tank soldiers was very high. Lieutenant Dollarhide of Houston was commander of a tank in the 735th Battalion. Nearby, a German 88 exploded right over Dollarhide’s tank, no more than 30 feet from Kissman’s tank.
A crew member radioed out, “Dollarhide don’t have a head.” Kiss later recognized Dollarhide’s body lying in a pile of dead American soldiers because of his Texas cowboy boots.
Kiss has been troubled with war-related injuries and disability since leaving the Army. Not a fan of VA hospitals, it wasn’t until 1995 that surgery removed a piece of shrapnel that pained him for 50 years.