There are a lot of mysteries in life that have no reasonable explanation. Like why is the price of gas always higher around Statesville than anyplace else? Why do people still smoke cigarettes? Why am I always at the end of the four in a row when I cut on the radio and what is Hermann Goering’s pants doing in a western N.C. jail?
Yes, in an old county brick jailhouse in the western part of N.C. is a pair of Hermann Goering’s pants. Reichsmarschall Hermann Wilhelm Goering (Goring) was a Nazi military and political leader who at one point was second only to Adolf Hitler in Germany and the Nazi party. Goering had served in WWI as a German fighter pilot ace and was the last commander of the “Jagdgeschwader,” the fighter wing once led by Manfred von Richthofen (The Red Baron).
Goering became a supporter of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in the early 1920s. When Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933 Goering became Minister Without Portfolio and created the Gestapo, Hitler’s official secret police force that would later take part in the Jewish Holocaust. Hitler designated Goering as his successor and created the rank of Reichsmarschall making Goering senior officer over all the German armed forces.
Goering served as the commander-in-chief of the German air force known as the Luftwaffe and stole priceless artworks from the areas Germany occupied. After the war Goering was arrested and tried at the Nuremberg trails in 1946 for war crimes. The night before he was to be hung Goering committed suicide by taking cyanide.
This now brings us to former Statesville High School football star Red Watt. No, Red didn’t slip him a cyanide tablet but he did steal his pants. William Neri “Red” Watt was born on April 15, 1910 in Iredell County to William Alexander and Margaret Elizabeth Patterson Watt. Red was an outstanding athlete who played football, basketball, baseball, and ran track before graduating from Statesville High School (in the D. Matt Thompson building) in 1929. Red led Statesville to the N.C. state football championship game against Wilmington in Chapel Hill in 1928.
Watt graduated from North Carolina State University in 1933 with a degree in civil engineering. On Feb. 24, 1943 he enlisted in the U.S. Army serving in the 44th Infantry and 71st Infantry Division of Patton’s Third Army. During WWII he served in U.S. Army Intelligence as a topographic draftsman and did aerial photo interpretation. Red was responsible for providing detailed maps for the 71st as it advanced into Germany. He later wrote of the Division’s final push as the 66th Infantry of the 71st swept into Neuhaus.
“On a high bluff behind a stone wall, we saw Hermann Goering’s 500-year old castle. After a short fight with some SS troops, who retreated into the woods, the castle was taken late one afternoon.” The Major who was in charge of the convoy decided to take a break in Neuhaus. Red and the major took advantage of the stop to tour Goering’s castle.
“The major had to return to the convoy, and I told him that I would hang around and catch a ride to the next town later. After looking at some of the expensive tapestries, oriental rugs, and art I realized that I was the only American soldier in the castle with servants (Nazis working for Goering) everywhere. Even though I had a pistol, I cut my tour short after I visited the dining room and a bedroom. I confiscated Goering’s signatures from books, a bridge scoring pad, and his pants from the bedroom. The pants were knickers, and his name was in the waistband, probably in his own handwriting.”
Red Watt would recall that “in the last few days before May 8, 1945, it was “if you don’t shoot, we will not shoot” as the Germans began to surrender. He accompanied the 71st Division to Styr, Austria on the Enns River where over 60,000 Germans surrendered to the Americans before the Russians arrived. “The had a smile on their faces, and you would never think that they were enemies.”
William N. “Red” Watt was discharged on Oct. 31, 1945. He received the EAMET Service Medal, American Theater Service Medal, and Good Conduct Medal for his service in the war. He saw action in the battles of the 71st Infantry Division from Bitche, France to Styr, Austria. After the war Red worked in the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in Sparta, Ga., for 32 years before returning to N.C. after retirement.
The pants he liberated in Germany were later donated to a county historical society whose office today is in an old former county jail building. The pants are huge. Goring packed on a lot of weight by the 1940s and looked nothing like a fighter pilot. As he grew bigger so did the pants as tailors sewed pieces of cloth into the pants to expand their size. The Allies were careful not to mistreat the German prisoners awaiting trial at Nuremberg. Army doctors examining Goring found him to be obese and put him on a diet which greatly reduced his size by the time the trails began.
Red would combine his love of history and his skills in map reading to conduct historical and genealogical research publishing seven historical books including, “Statesville My Home Town 1789-1920” in 1996, and the N.C. Society of Historians award winning “The Granville District” in 1992. He assisted in the publication of both the Iredell and Alexander County Heritage books. Red passed away at age 87 on March 30, 1998 and is buried in Oakwood in Statesville.
Originally published in the Statesville Record & Landmark.