The First Yank and Harley to Enter Germany

Chances are, you've probably seen this old photo of a Harley-Davidson riding through the streets of a German town at the end of WWI.  While this in itself may not make for much of a story, the events that led up to it are worth reading.  It turns out that after this photo was published in "The Enthusiast" magazine in 1943, the man riding the Harley in the photo turned up at the offices of "The Enthusiast" to get a copy.  What follows is an article published in "The Enthusiast" in 1944 which tells the story of that famous picture.

One day not long ago, a visitor quietly stepped into "The Enthusiast" office and stood waiting near the door. He was of medium height, of sturdy build and his thinning sandy hair suggested the first touch of middle age. A weather beaten face indicated much time spent in the open. He had almost an embarassed look as he asked in a low voice if he might have a couple of extra copys of the June, 1943, "Enthusiast" which carried the story of the Army-Navy "E" Presentation." I understand that issue has a picture of me in it and I´d like to get a few extra copies as a rememberance." "Your picture?" we asked in astonishment. "Yes," he explained. Then he stopped as if that explained everything. The whole thing was puzzling. We knew if we wanted any further information we´d have to dig for it. We couldn´t remember publishing his picture and we said: "Perhaps your mistaken." "Oh no, it´s there all right. A friend of mine saw it and told me about it." He started paging through a June copy and when he came to page four he stopped and said: "See, here it is - that´s me," as he pointed to the picture across which was written in ink: "The first Yank and Harley-Davidson to enter Germany. 11/12/18." "You!" we exclaimed. "Yes, that´s me on the Harley-Davidson. I was a motorcycle dispatch rider in the last war...

"Why, you're famous," we gasped in excitement. Up to this point we had been so flabbergasted we had forgotten that we still didn't know his name. Seeing our amazement he volunteered: "Maybe I'd better indtroduce myself. My name's Holtz - Roy Holtz. Live here in Wisconsin up in Chippewa Falls." "You're famous," we repeated. "No - I wouldn't say that. The fact is I didn't even remember when the picture was taken. It appeared first in American newspapers and magazines. An aunt of mine mailed it to me in Belgium. Soon afterward, some of my buddies ran

across the photographer in Spa, Belgium, and they bought extra pictures for all of us. But there's nothing exciting about that incident." "Have any unusual experiences over there?" we asked hopefully. "Well - ", he laughed, "I was captured for a few days just before the armistice, but it wasn't my fault." Then he sat there and under heavy questioning we finally dug out all the interesting facts about his capture which make a mighty interesting adventure.

On the night of November 8, 1918, Holtz - a corporal - and his buddies were stationed in northern Belgium near Spa. The big drive toward the German border was on. The enemy was reeling backward and surrender was expected momentarily. In the night of November 8, a rumor circulated among the Americans, that peace was declared. Late that night Cpl. Holtz was ordered to take his captain on a night mission. It had been pouring rain for days. The roads were thick with mud and well plowed up from the big shells. The corporal started out with his captain in the sidecar of the Harley-Davidson. As they slid along in the darkness, Corporal Holtz who know the country well remonstrated that they were going in the wrong direction and were heading for the enemy lines. The Captain disagreed, first politely, then vehemently. The corporal became more and more convinced as they skidded along that the captain was wrong. They came to the rise of a little hill. At the foot they could see a light in an old farmhouse. When they reached the bottom, Cpl. Holtz was ordered to go in and get directions. The thoroughly disgruntled corporal plodded up to the door and pounded fiercely.

Suddenly it was opened and instinctively he stepped in out of the soaking rain. When he had wiped away the rain he glanced across the room unbelievingly. There at a long table were a dozen or more enemy offcers - all eyes staring at him coldly. Actually they were officers of the Fifth Bavarian division. Col. Holtz and his captain had blundered into enemy divisional headquarters. Inwardly the corporal was boiling. He had a hunch something like this might happen - but orders are orders! The corporal was ordered to call in his captain which he admits was not an unpleasant duty. He went to the door and hollered: "Hey, Sam, come on it," omittin "sir" and "captain". In stamped the captain and when he saw the uniforms his jaw dropped.

"See what your and your blasted directions got us into," snapped Cpl. Holtz. The Captain never answered. They both realized then the armistice report had been a very false one. While the two Americans stood there a German general, hearing the commotion, came striding into the room. "What have we here?" he demanded in German. "Two Americans," the officers chorused. Turning to an orderly, the general, still talking German, asked that an interpreter be sent in. Holtz immediately spoke up and said in German: "It is not necessary to call an interpreter. I can speak German." The assembled officers were thunderstruck. Then the general took Cpl. Holtz into a side room for further questioning. He assumed a very kindly air and commanded the orderly to send in some schnapps. He poured out two schnapps - one for Holtz and one for himself.

Ah, ha, thought the corporal, he's either trying to poison me or get me canned up so i'll talk. Watching the general closely, Holtz assured himself that the general was also going to drink the stuff. Then the general lifted his glass and said: "Gesundheit." Down went the drink. Holtz followed suit and almost choked. It burned like fire. He discovered later it was very potent potato whisky. Three more were had at close intervals. In the meantime, the general did his darndest to pump Holtz about the American positions, their strength an so forth, but the corporal wouldn't talk. At last, in disgust, Holtz was sent back to the main room where his captain was sitting very uncomfortably. It was decided to send the Americans in German general headquarters. The general ordered a German captain to accompany Holtz and his captain on the Harley-Davidson. The German got astride the rear wheel on the hard luggage carrier.

Away they went. It wan't long until the German captain began complaining of the hard seat. the more he'd complain, the harder Holtz drove. He headed for every bumb and hole he could possibly find. By the time headquarters was reached, at Spa, Belgium, the German captain was in awful shape. Spa, incidentally was a town of several thousand near the Belgium-German border. At headquarters, the Americans underwent another cross-examination and were then put in jail. They stayed there until November 11. One of their guards came up to them late in the morning and said: "The war is at an end." After it had been certified that the war was actually over, the Germans returned Holtz's automatic and his Harley-Davidson and the captain got his belongings. They hat to return about fifty or sixty miles, they estimated, to reach their outfit. Naturally, the members of their company hat no idea where the two were. But being reported missing was common and any of several things could have happened to them.

On their way back, Holtz drove his Harley-Davidson as fast as he could over the terrible roads. They got off the right road and wound up in another little Belgian village. They went to the home of the village priest to ask for directions. When he saw the two Americans he was so excited and happy that he ordered the sexton to ring the church bells for an hour. Soon villagers began streaming in. Holtz and the captain were the first Americans to reach the village, the priest told them and he gave them affidavits covering this fact. The joy of the villagers knew no bounds. These were the first two americans they had seen, the first of an army which was coming to rescue them. In a way, it was really embarassing admits Holtz. The happy girls and townsfolk threw their arms around them and kissed them to show their great joy. The kind hearted village priest prepared a soft bed for the two in spite of the fact that they were not entirely free of dirt, the grime of war and the inevitable cooties. they were welcome guests, indeed, in the parish house that night.

The next day after oft-repeated farewells, and with the right directions ringing in their ears, the Harley-Davidson and its occupants started out again. Not long afterwards, the Harley-Davidson bumped to a stop in front of their own headquarters. They arrived just in time as their outfit was ready to move forward. On November 12, Cpl. Holtz crossed into Germany. He rode his Harley-Davidson back and forth across the border many times in the days which followed. He spent a total of eight months with the Army of Occupation in Germany and a total of twenty months overseas. During this time he and his Harley-Davidson carried countless dispatches for American troops as they advanced through France and Belgium. He had the highest praise for the way in which his Harley-Davidson stood up under the constant hammering and battering it took over the shell-torn roads of France and Belgium.

During his visit at the factory, Roy Holtz was accompanied by his brother, Ezra, who also served overseas in World War I and worked on army Harley-Davidsons for a time. Today, the brothers are engaged in the electrical contracting business and just recently finished a wiring job at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. Thus ends the story of the famous World War I motorcycle dispatch rider whose identity has finally been re-discovered after these many years.

"The Enthusiast", February 1944