The First Yank and Harley to Enter Germany

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In early 1944, a visitor to the Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee humbly asked if he could have extra copies of the June, 1943 Enthusiast magazine. He said, “I understand that issue has a picture of me in it.” After paging through the issue, he showed the staff, “See, here it is. That’s me.” He pointed to the photo of “The first Yank and Harley to enter Germany 11/12/18.” The staff responded “You!” Up to that time, no one at Harley-Davidson knew the rider in 1918 was a U.S. Army corporal from west central Wisconsin named Roy Holtz. 


Holtz shared his story leading up to that day. On November 8 of 1918, rumors circulated among the troops that the war was nearing an end. Stationed near Spa, Belgium, Holtz was ordered to take his captain out on a night mission. It had been raining for days. A dispatch rider, Holtz was on his Harley-Davidson model J with the captain riding in the sidecar. A debate ensued when the captain ordered that they go in a specific direction. Holtz, with his knowledge of the region, warned that they were heading straight toward the enemy. The captain remained unconvinced and they carried on.

They approached a farmhouse with light coming from the windows. Holtz’s captain told him to knock on the door and ask directions. The disgruntled corporal approached the door as ordered. When it opened, he instinctively stepped in, out of the rain. He was greeted by German soldiers, officers of the Fifth Bavarian Division. Holtz was right, and they rode right into enemy hands. He was told to summon his captain. Not using “Sir,” or “Captain,” he shouted “Hey Sam, come on in.” The Captain was shocked upon arriving indoors, only to hear Holtz grumble “See what your blasted directions got us into?”

A German general ordered one of his men to summon an interpreter. The son of German immigrants, Holtz informed him that he could speak German. He was then escorted to a separate room for further questioning. Holtz paused when the General poured them two drinks. Thinking it was either schnapps or poison, he waited for the general to take the first sip. After the General stated a hearty “Gesundheit,” and downed his drink. Holtz felt more at ease and proceeded to drink. It was neither poison nor schnapps, but a potato whisky that Holtz said burned like fire.

The German tried to get information from Holtz, but with no success. The American soldiers were to be delivered to headquarters for further questioning. With Holtz and the Captain back on the bike and sidecar, the German escort rode on the rigid luggage rack over the rear wheel. Holtz deliberately hit every bump and pothole he could, and with as much possible speed.  The more the German complained, the more aggressively Holtz rode.

After more questioning at headquarters, both Americans were incarcerated until November 11, the day the Armistice was signed, ending World War I. A German guard approached with the message “The war is at an end.” Holtz and the Captain had the weapons, gear and motorcycle returned to them. They began the 50-mile journey back to their camp, but had no idea where they were.

They stopped at a small Belgian village, asking the local priest for directions. The priest was thrilled. The sight of American soldiers confirmed the war’s end. He ordered a tolling of the church bells and the townspeople came out to celebrate. After spending the night, they got their bearings and returned to their camp. Their outfit was already pulling up stakes to move.

Later that day, Roy Holtz entered Germany riding his trusty Harley-Davidson. He was the first American to enter Germany. A local photographer had taken notice of the German military heading toward home. They were not in a march step, which was the norm in wartime, but moving at a casual pace. He set up his camera and began to document the event. As he did so, Holtz rode into view and stopped, waiting to turn left. The photographer caught the historic moment and the photo remains today an iconic piece of H-D history.

Before leaving the service, Holtz was promoted to Sergeant. In the years following World War I, Roy Holtz and his brother Ezra ran a successful electrical contracting business in their hometown of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.

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