Robert Cahow volunteered to save injured comrades, stepped on a mine and died. On 13 December 1944 Robert Cahow lost his life in the Hürtgen Forest. His comrades heard the detonation but couldn’t help him due to intense enemy fire. He was buried sometime later, most likely by German soldiers. Cahow’s remains were discovered in 2000. At the spot, a makeshift grave commemorates him to this day.
Robert Cahow was the eldest of eight brothers from a Wisconsin farmer’s family. During the first stages of the war he served as a Military Policeman (MP) back home. Then Robert decided to volunteer for frontline service and was transferred to Europe. He joined the 78th U.S. Infantry Division. In the autumn of 1944 his unit was involved in the heavy fighting in the Hürtgen Forest.
At one point the American forces got stuck when their advance towards the city of Schmidt was confronted with heavy resistance. The 78th Division made an effort to take the pillboxes (concrete bunkers) that dotted a strategic hill called Ochsenkopf. During the prolonged battles for these bunkers a number of Cahow’s comrades were injured. He volunteered to try and save them. During the endeavour he stepped on a mine. Other GIs weren’t able to reach Robert due to German crossfire. After the fighting was over Cahow’s body was buried in the woods, most likely by German soldiers. In this makeshift grave his remains rested for the next 56 years.
The message that Robert was missing reached his parents via a telegram. For a year the family lived in uncertainty. Then Robert was declared dead. However, what had happened remained a mystery until April 2000 when combat engineers – combing the woods for remaining land mines – found his improvised grave. Given his size of 2.01 meters he was easily identified. Though his remains were shipped to the U.S., his family still visits the Hürtgen Forest regularly. Sadly, this kind of closure has not come for every family. Hundreds of men are still missing in the Hürtgen Forest to this day.
On 12 September 1944, the first U.S. troops crossed the German border near the ancient city of Aachen, with units pushing into the Huertgen Forest to secure their right flank. Underestimating the German defences and the difficulties of the terrain they suffered heavy losses during a bitter confrontation starting on 2 November, known as ‘The Battle for (the town of) Schmidt’.
Between September 1944 and February 1945 American and German soldiers faced each other directly in the pillboxes at the Ochsenkopf. In the almost inaccessible forest the Germans were able to defend their fortified positions for a long time.
When, in November 1944, worn-out American units were forced to retreat from the village of Schmidt, they had to pass the Kall bridge under fire. In the midst of the bitter fighting, Dr. Stüttgen, a German medical officer, organized several short cease-fires. As a result, wounded soldiers from both sides could be treated by German doctors and paramedics.
During the autumn and winter of 1944/45, the longest battle of the Second World War on German soil took place in the Huertgen Forest. With this battle, the war precipitated by the Nazi regime returned to Germany. The battle caused numerous casualties on both sides. For the American soldiers, it’s very name – with its first syllable ‘hurt’ – became a byword for injury and death.