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A Peculiar Crusade

Willis M. Everett and the Malmedy Massacre

James Weingartner

Publication Year: 2000

In the wake of World War II, 74 members of the Nazi SS were accused of a war crime--soon to be known as the Malmedy Massacre--in which a large number of American prisoners of war were murdered during the Battle of the Bulge. All of the German defendants were found guilty and more than half were sentenced to death.

Yet none was executed and, a decade later, all had been released from prison. This outcome resulted primarily from the dogged efforts of Willis M. Everett, Jr., a prominent Atlanta attorney who jeopardized his status as a member of the social elite to defend with great zeal and commitment the accused Germans.

James Weingartner offers fresh insights into one of the most controversial episodes of World War II and in the process casts new light on the often convoluted politics of war crimes justice.

Published by: NYU Press

A Peculiar Crusade

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pp. vii-x

This is a book about World War II, but not in the usual sense. It is the biography of a man whose life was profoundly affected by that war, although he never experienced combat and remained in the United States throughout its duration. Nevertheless, his is a story of fortitude, self-sacrifice, and, in a strange way, comradeship...

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Chapter 1: The Everetts of Atlanta

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pp. 1-14

The Everett family was not of the Old South, but, then, neither was Atlanta. Willis Mead Everett and his new bride settled there in 1888, less than fifty years after Atlanta was established as a railroad and commercial center. Everett was of old Yankee stock, with roots that extended back, on his father’s side, to seventeenth-century Massachusetts and, on his mother’s, to Kiliaen van Rennselaer, first patroon of Rennselaerwyck in New Holland. Timothy, his...

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Chapter 2: The Internal Enemy

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pp. 15-26

As the U.S. Army prepared frantically for its plunge into World War II, Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall remarked that its corps of reserve officers was “probably our greatest asset during the present expansion.” 1 The statement might be interpreted as at least as much an index of American unpreparedness as of the quality of reserve leadership, given the neglect that Washington had visited upon the army reserves during the interwar period.

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Chapter 3: The World beyond Atlanta

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pp. 27-48

Colonel Willis Everett's intelligence duties in the Fourth Service Command ended in the fall of 1945. His departure was part of a general shakeup of personnel at the conclusion of hostilities. Colonel Knopf had left by the spring of 1945, leaving Everett, for a time, as acting director of the Security and Intelligence Division, a position he had occupied de facto throughout most of the war. By war’s end, Colonel Callie Palmer had been appointed permanent...

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Chapter 4: Under the Lights

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pp. 49-74

The trial that began on May 16, 1946, was officially designated U.S. vs. Valentin Bersin, et al., the twenty-five-year-old former tank commander’s name appearing first on the alphabetically arranged list of defendants on the charge sheet. Neither Everett nor Ellis had had experience in criminal court procedure in the United States, but that was not as disadvantageous as it might appear, for the trial procedure employed by military government courts...

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Chapter 5: Of the Particulars and Charge, Guilty

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pp. 75-106

Everett's psychic energy continued to be divided between organizing a credible defense for the seventy-four Malmedy accused and expediting the transportation of his wife and son to Europe, the frustrations produced by both accounting for his growing sense of alienation from the U.S. Army. His admiration for Germans and things German and his tendency to exclude...

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Chapter 6: Death by Hanging

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pp. 107-116

If the verdicts for the Malmedy defendants had been reached with unseemly haste, the same could not be said of the assignment of punishment, which occupied the better part of a week. In the meantime, both defense and prosecution staffs sought to release the tensions accumulated in the course of the previous months. Everett organized a party for the evening of July 12 at the Munich home of one of the German defense attorneys. Dr. Pfister...

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Chapter 7: A Troublesome Conscience

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pp. 117-142

One of the last official communications received by Everett while on active duty with the 7708 War Crimes Group was a Christmas greeting from Colonel Bresee to the U.S. Army staff at Dachau. As a stimulus to holiday joy, it was woefully ineffective. Perhaps nothing joyful could emerge from Dachau, the scene of the frightful suffering and death of tens of thousands during twelve years of Nazi tyranny and of a sometimes arbitrary and maladroit endeavor...

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Chapter 8: An Old-Fashioned Sense of Justice

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pp. 143-176

While awaiting official information from the army on the outcome of the review and on Clay’s final decision, Everett prepared for a counteroffensive, should the outcome not be to his satisfaction, as he expected it would be. Heretofore, he had been operating largely as an individual. Now, he began to muster forces for a concerted campaign. The junior member of the defense team, Wilbert Wahler, had returned to the private practice of law in Chicago.

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Chapter 9: “The Lord Has Given Me Strength to Continue”

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pp. 177-197

The Department of the Army released the report of the Simpson Commission, which had been delivered to the Secretary of the Army four months earlier, on January 6, 1949. There was little to be gained by withholding it from the public any longer, in light of Judge van Roden’s well-publicized pronouncements. On the contrary, the army might benefit should the report, to which van Roden had affixed his signature, prove to be less damning than the judge’s repetitions of Everett’s allegations. And, to a degree, it was. The...

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Chapter 10: A Michael Kohlhaas in Atlanta

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pp. 198-223

It had not been Everett’s ill health alone that had interrupted his compulsive attention to the Malmedy case. Shortly after his heart attack, his wife, Mary, had been struck by a taxi while crossing a street in downtown Atlanta and seriously injured. Three operations to repair cranial damage kept her in Piedmont Hospital after her husband had returned home, and, unable to visit her.

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pp. 224-228

Expressions of sympathy poured into 2510 Rivers Road NW. Although Everett’s obituary in the Atlanta Journal, based on information provided by his son-in-law, Kil Townsend, stressed his role in the Malmedy controversy, 1 it was a matter ignored by the friends and acquaintances who offered condolences to Mary. But the traits of character they chose to remember— a deeply ingrained selflessness and a need to serve those who needed him—were not inconsistent with his epic struggle to save his Malmedy boys. Everett’s long pro...


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pp. 2229-248


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pp. 249-256

About the Author

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pp. 257

E-ISBN-13: 9780814795125
E-ISBN-10: 0814795129
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814793664
Print-ISBN-10: 0814793665

Page Count: 268
Publication Year: 2000

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Subject Headings

  • Everett, Willis Mead, 1900-1960.
  • War crime trials -- Germany.
  • Lawyers -- United States -- Biography.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Atrocities.
  • Malmedy Massacre, 1944-1945.
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