By April 1945, Capt. T. Moffatt Burriss, then 24, had helped liberate Wobbelin Concentration Camp, participated in Operation Market Garden and fought in the deadly battles of Anzio and Salerno in Italy
Little did he know that another harrowing moment was just around the corner.
The Allies were nearing victory in Berlin when, he recalled, orders came in from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, who later became president, to stand down and allow Russians take control.
“But I said: ‘I can’t stand this any longer.’ I got in my Jeep with the lieutenant and sergeant and said, ‘Let’s go across the river and see what we can see, see if there are some crowds still over there,'" he said.
Burriss ended up stumbling head-on with a 15,000-man German Panzer Corps. That did not stop him from going straight to German unit's leader. Burris informed the three-star German general that he was there to accept the German unit’s surrender.
The general, Burriss recalled, looked at him as if he was crazy – especially because he was accompanied by only two men and a Jeep.
"He went back and had a conference with his senior staff, walked back, pulled his pistol out and pointed it right at my heart. I will admit that I had a flutter inside my body at that moment, but he turned it around and had the pistol pointed toward himself," Burriss said.
While Burriss' colonel was not happy that he defied orders, he did not ask Burris to return the German unit. The American army ended up disarming the German Panzer Corps.