Long, long journey
Long, long journey
Long, long journey
My main purpose in writing this account is to record my connection with the 2nd Battalion of the 393rd Infantry Regiment and the story of our entry into combat through the Battle of the Bulge to the time spent on Elsenborn Ridge and the taking off forward. In particular I would like to clear up the special mission assigned to the 2nd prior to the Germans' offensive at the Battle of the Bulge.
I would like to start with a rundown from the time I left home until we entered combat just a few miles from Krinkelt, Belgium.
I was born and raised in Evansville IN. I left Evansville for Fort Benjamin Harrison in November 1942 (at the age of 30) after an eight-month deferment because my dad was bedfast. Not being able to hire anyone, I was the only one able to help my mother care for him on a 24-hour basis. Two or three days later I left Fort Benjamin Harrison with about 125 men from Evansville for what turned out to be Camp Van Dorn MS. I was assigned to the field artillery while most of the men I knew went to the infantry. At the time I thought I was one of the lucky ones.
I was assigned the second bunk next to Staff Sgt. Garner, a part of the cadre and in charge of the barrack. (Garner and I became pretty good buddies.) I only walked guard once and did KP once all the time we were there although I had the Charge of Quarters a good many times.
There were five or six men older than me and much to my surprise, several who couldn't read or write. One of them as I remember couldn't keep in step over two steps and always was in trouble on the drill field. I later wrote letters for him to his wife and also read the letters to him from his wife. None of these men went overseas with me.
The only GI in our battery who I know of who was older than me (two years) and went overseas with us was Cpl. Paul Whitlow and he missed most of the combat including the Battle of the Bulge.
I remember several of the cadre besides Garner. There was Master Sgt. Beyers, Sgt. Billings, Sgt. Albright (whom I believe was killed over there), Sgt. Moskowsky, and Mess Sgt. Davis, who later became a first sergeant.
We had one 15-mile march and several five-mile forced marches while at Camp Van Dorn. We had D-series maneuvers at Van Dorn then went to near Camp Polk LA for large maneuvers. From Van Dorn we went to Camp Maxey at Paris TX, where we had two 25-mile marches. Cpl. Whitlow and I were generally buddies on the marches and never failed to complete one although we both had several blisters about the size of quarters on the first 25-mile march.
While at Camp Maxey the first time, I got married to my one and only — Hazel. She was from Evansville and we had known and dated each other for a long time. (We are now in our 49th year and going strong.) We were married in a Baptist church in Paris by the pastor on Feb. 18, 1944. The church was cold and the only people present were Joe and Jerry Gaul who stood up with us. We had stood up with them the previous night at another church. Unless my memory is failing, I believe Joe and Jerry were from Mishawakie IN. Joe was a big fellow and had been on the police force before entering the Army.
As I previously stated, Whitlow and I had big blisters from the first 25-mile march. Both marches were after Hazel and I were married. On the second march we were told anyone not completing the march would have to do it over. When I got home that evening Hazel thought I was kidding her when I said I had completed a 25-mile march. The only thing sore on me was my arm and I'm sure Tom Wilson had a sore arm also as one of us was on each side of Leon Levin pulling him along after the first 15 miles.
I had gotten a three-day pass when Hazel and I got married and we spent the first night in a hotel.
The only place I had been able to find to live was a bedroom in a shotgun house. With the living room in front, our bedroom next, Mr. and Mrs. Russell's bedroom behind ours, and then the kitchen, any time they wanted to go to the living room or we wanted to go to the kitchen we had to go through each other's rooms. We gave each other as much consideration as possible, and we got along fine. For this we paid $8 per week.
There had been two rooms built on one side of the house that made into an apartment. Another GI and his wife had this. He later was transferred and we got the apartment for $40 per month. We thought we were living in style!
We went from Camp Maxey to Fort Sill in Lawton OK, as school troops for a couple of months. It was here I learned how they created what was later called a 90-day-wonder. During training, if an officer or candidate couldn't or wouldn't try to learn, all he had to do to get the answer was ask one of the school troops that had been over the particular problem several times.
While there in Lawton, we had a one-room efficiency apartment with the bathroom upstairs. Hazel had to wash the clothes in the bathtub. Please don't think any of this is a complaint. I just hope I'm not making any young newlyweds jealous with all these luxuries!
From Lawton we went back to Camp Maxey. While there, we were able to get a bedroom in a large two-story house. Bud and Betty Fahrney also had a bedroom upstairs and we had a kitchen which we shared.
We had a pint jar which we would put an equal amont of money into. The girls would grocery shop and we ate together. The Connellys had a couple living with them downstairs. We all played a lot of croquet as they had a large, well-kept yard. Our night out was Saturday. We walked about 12 blocks to the theater — 25 cents each and a sack of popcorn at 10c (what simple pleasures!).
Leaving Camp Maxey, we headed toward Camp Miles Standish via, what I later learned was the central route. I recognized Terre Haute IN, having been there many times.
After a few days at Miles Standish, we loaded on the ship Argentina (about 5,000 of us) and headed for what we didn't know was our landing point, Southampton, England.
We crossed in what I believe was one of the largest convoys during the war. The food was lousy, so we were happy there was a canteen aboard ship. The seas were rough and there were a lot of men seasick. Luckily, I was not one of them.
We had one submarine alert on the way over. What looked like small motor boats ran around dropping depth charges. We never heard much about it later.
After getting settled in the Quonset huts in Southampton I was assigned to work with an older British civilian who was the maintenance man for the camp. I never did much work!
We left Southampton loaded on LSTs heading across the Channel. After a short time on board I got to talking to one of the crew. He told me the ship was built at the shipyard in Evansville and that he had been on it since it had left Evansville. He also lived near and knew my uncle. What a small world!
The old ships were made out of light plates welded together with a flat bottom like a barge. They only drew about six feet of water. The channel wasn't what would be called rough, but it had huge swells. Drawing so little water when going across the swells at an angle, the boats really rolled a lot. When we went straight through the swells, the old prop would come out of the water when the boat was half-way over the swell. You would think the ship would break in the middle.
We had a safe trip across the Channel, but as we approached the shore near LeHavre, a motor launch approached our side. The pilot of the launch yelled through a megaphone, ""What the hell you doing trying to land here? The mines haven't been cleared yet!" We backed out and he directed us to another site. LeHavre was one big mess, having caught it from land, sea, and air. The thought went through my mind, and many others I'm sure, just what were we getting into? The first night we spent in France, we put up in an orchard. It was cold, wet, and muddy. Our leather boots weren't made for this kind of weather. There was a lot of trench foot.
We went on through France and Belgium and finally ended up on the front lines, a few miles from Krinkelt.
Our section consisted of Cpl. Edward (Edgie) Renoll (wire), T-5 Gravier (radio) later to be replaced by Fred Gaiser, Pfcs. Clyde Wills and Robert Tibbs (jeep drivers), and myself, Sgt. Paul Kuhs (section leader). We had all trained together with another CO all through the camp maneuvers, etc., until we got to Europe. Only then did we have Capt. Warner Curry as CO.
Our equipment consisted of two jeeps, one trailer, one battery pack radio, one 12-drop switchboard, about five reels (one mile each) of line wire, several reels (half-mile each) of lighter wire for shorter hookups, four or five field phones, and a mount for holding the reels when we laid the lines.
When we first went on the line out from Krinkelt, we had two battalions on the line and one in reserve. The three liaison sections, one assigned to each battalion, had a house in Krinkelt where the reserve section plus two out of each of the other sections stayed. Jeep drivers would bring our supplies forward. Most of the time, there were only three out of the section on the line. Only those on the line came under shell fire. Maybe an occasional shell was fired to the rear as the Germans were saving their ammunition for that big drive.
It was in this position I remember my first run-in with Major Peters (I believe it was later he became a lieutenant colonel). I was digging a foxhole and had my sleeveless sweater on the outside because my OD shirt was a little small. He promptly told me I was out of uniform!
While we were in this position, we had informed the higher echelon that the Germans were up to something as we could hear a lot of noise going on over on their side of the line.
Early on the morning of Dec. 15, the second battalion took off on a special mission to try to make an opening to advance through. Our final objective may have been a bridge, but first we had to take out a couple of pillboxes. We arrived at the first one OK. The pillbox, like all others I saw, was built into the side of a hill with all the trees cut in a V-shape which covered their entire field of fire.
We were up front with the infantry as usual when traveling with Lt. Col. Peters. Upon request, the artillery laid down a smoke screen. The infantry was advancing across the opening when a change of wind blew away our cover and exposed us to the Germans who opened up on us. We received a number of casualties. It was here that I learned to appreciate the medics and the job they did. Those guys didn't wait until the firing stopped before aiding their buddies. We pulled back into the woods to recuperate and rest. We spent the night there. Needless to say, we never got another try at the pillbox!
Early the next morning, all hell broke loose back at our original position as the Germans laid down a rolling barrage to start their offensive. We were not on the receiving end of the worst of this, but we were cut off from our rear support and lost all communications. The artillery had fallen far enough back that they were out of radio range.
As soon as we were aware of the position we were in, Capt. Curry came to me and said one or two infantry officers were getting three or four jeeps full of men together to try and find a way out and establish communication. He told me to get Edgie and take our jeep and go with them. I believe there were five jeeps in all with a major in charge.
We started back on the road toward Krinkelt. After we had traveled a ways, the major pulled to the side of the road and stopped us (we were in the rear). He told us to grab our carbines and get up on the small rise on the left side of the road, and that the Germans were coming in on us.
There were no foxholes, but Edgie and I spotted a pile of creosote fence posts and got down behind them — one at each end. After being in this position for awhile, three or more of our tank destroyers came along the road behind us. They made us feel pretty good. After laying there for a while expecting the Germans, I looked around and Edgie and I were all alone. The major had taken the rest of the group and run off and left us without saying a word. I don't know to this day what happened to them, but if they continued down the road the way they were headed, they were probably captured or possibly killed. I said to Edgie, "Let's get the hell out of here!"
We went back to our jeep, but instead of going down the main road, we took a side road we had spotted that looked like it went in the direction we needed to go. Eventually, with a lot of luck and perhaps some guidance from above, we ended up at Camp Elsenborn. As we approached, we spotted a lieutenant with a 99th patch. I stopped and asked about Headquarters Battery 370th. He was able to direct me to them.
As we approached, I spotted Capt. Gahahas, Hq. Battery CO. He threw his arms around us like a couple of long lost brothers. They hadn't heard a word from anyone from the 2nd Battalion and didn't know if we were killed or captured. He immediately took me to Col. Brindley who sat me down and began questioning me.
I told him to the best of my ability where we had left the 2nd Battalion and tried to answer any other questions. Col. Brindley immediately sent two or three men in a vehicle with a radio to setup a relay station. He told me to get Edgie and find a hole and get some sleep. Apparently contact was never made.
Early the next morning, he sent for me. The colonel laid out a map he said was from division headquarters. He said he wanted someone to go back forward and try to make contact with the 2nd Battalion. He said I was the last person to leave the 2nd, and I knew more about where they were. So he wanted me to go. He went over the map with me and explained a certain place on there was as far as division knew anything about. Once I left that point, I would be on my own.
The colonel said for me to get someone to go with me. I went back to the foxhole where Edgie was and told him the story. He immediately said, "If you're going, I'm going." We got in our jeep and started on our way — heading in the direction of Krinkelt.
After we were a long way out, we came upon a 99th lieutenant walking all alone in the direction from which we came (to this day I don't know what he was doing out there walking all alone. We didn't ask him.) We asked him for any information he could give us that might be of help to us. He told us we still held a certain part of the town and the Germans held the rest. He tried to explain how to find the CP that was in the basement of a brick house. We thanked the lieutenant and started on our way.
We approached a house we thought was the one he described but saw no one. We heard a noise that seemed to come from the house. We took our carbines and cautiously approached the house. As we entered, we saw two dead German soldiers lying on the floor. We heard another noise and a GI popped his head through the rear window and yelled, "What the hell you guys doing in there? We just killed those Krauts a few minutes ago." He was in a tank that was against the rear to the house.
Again we asked if he could help and he showed us a house a couple of streets over. So we got back in our jeep and drove over. We went to the basement via an outside stairway where I tried to gather any information that may have helped us.
I went back outside and a major and lieutenant approached me. They had the 99th patch, and asked what outfit I was with. I told them I was a liaison sergeant connected with the 2nd Battalion of the 393rd. The major asked me if I knew where they were. I told him I knew where they were yesterday when we had left them, and was planning on going back there. He said he had the withdrawal plans for the two battalions of the 395th that were still out there next to the 2nd Battalion of 393. He handed me a map and said since I was going out there anyway, I might as well take the plans for 395. Would you call this passing the buck?
As Edgie and I started to leave the CP to go on our way, some men came out of the woods. Capt. Curry was one of them. They had made their way through the woods to there. He said it was a good thing he had caught us as the 393 and 395 had gotten together and drawn up their own withdrawal plans, and had we made it out there, all we would have found were Krauts.
We all got out and ended up on Elsenborn Ridge. It was at this point that I found out about the other two liaison sections. Sgt. Feuser, the section leader, his CO Capt. Piate, and Lt. Jackson, a forward observer (FO) had been killed. The rest of Sgt. Feuser's section, Cpl. Joe Sedoty, Pfc. Finger, and one more were all captured. One jeep driver had been back to the headquarters and made is safely. The second liaison, Sgt. Calhoun's section (I can't remember his CO or the names of his men) all walked out but they had to abandon all their equipment. Our section luckily all got out safely with all equipment.
I knew Capt. Paite and Lt. Jackson who had his FO post in an upstairs window of a farm house on the international boundary road between Belgium and Germany.
We are now on Elsenborn Ridge on an open hill with practically no camouflage. We started digging on a one-man slit trench dug by some infantrymen earlier. It had a small bush in front of it. We worked hard to enlarge this hole. Capt. Curry dug at times when Edgie and I were too busy to help. Prior to this time and every time later, Capt. Curry stayed with Col. Peters in the CP. Their hole was no more than 10 yards from ours but they didn't have room for him.
This was one hot spot. The first two nights we got what sleep we could wearing our boots, not knowing if or when the Germans might breakthrough on us. We ended up with quite a hole, three men wide, (Curry, Edgie, and myself), about seven feet long and probably four and a half to five feet deep with a couple steps dug out on one corner.
After a night or two, Edgie and I drove back to some torn-up buildings at Elsenborn camp. We got some fence posts and timbers to put across the top so we could cover the foxhole with some rocky soil. We did this to mostly take care of timed fire shells which were timed to explode in the air sending the shrapnel down on you.
We had a 12-drop switchboard, a battery pack radio, and four or more field phones in the hole with us. Edgie and I dug holes in the wall to set the switchboard and radio in. The phones were hung by their straps on the fence post that spanned the hole. It was necessary to pull the phones up as high as we could in order to get around. We folded the blankets all in one roll in one end of the hole.
It was here after a few days that there was some diarrhea going around. Most got to go back to the rear a day or two till they got better. I got it but they said they didn't have anyone to take my place so I had to tough it out. We had a trench four or five yards away with a hole in the bottom that was our latrine. When we had to go, we raised to the trench and jumped down as the Germans who were dug-in a woods across an open field could see us anytime we got out of our hole.
It was while I had the diarrhea that I was probably as miserable as I have ever been or will ever be. We had started taking off our boots when we buttoned up because our feet were swelling. We had a shelter half that we pulled over the exit hole to try to get warm. We had no fires, only body heat. I had on long johns, fatigues, and OD pants. There was about 10 inches of snow on the ground and a full moon. I woke up with a pain hit me. I tried to get my boots on but it hit me before I could get out of the hole. I had to stand out in the snow with my pants down and cut off my long johns with my wire knife and clean myself up all, all the time expecting the Krauts to see me and start shooting. Some fun.
Our mess sergeant, Sgt. Wayne Blakeney was one nice guy and we thought one of the best mess sergeants in the Army. (I had the pleasure of visiting him at his home several times on my way to or from Chicago. He lives in Ridge Farm IL.) Sgt. Blakeney tried to look out for us liaison men. Once by getting several KPs out of bed to fix us pancakes when we got there during the middle of the night. He would send me some eggs and on several occasions, some meat which I cooked on a small gas stove I had been issued.
Some time later Edgie and I got to go back to Verviers to get some clean clothes and take a bath at one of the public bath houses. Blakeney had given me a piece of meat that I had not had the time to cook. When Edgie and I returned the next day, the meat had started to smell. When I got down in the hole I remarked that the hole smelled like a pig pen. The captain quickly told me that if it suited him that was all that was necessary. I was forced to remind the captain two other men lived in the hole besides him.
On two other occasions it was necessary to come to a little understanding while we were in this position. Once was when I forgot to say "sir." I reminded the captain Edgie and I were sometimes too busy to remember to say "sir." Another time when the cold got to my kidneys after we had our shoes off and were buttoned up I would use a can and throw it out the opening. The captain thought I was being unsanitary. I respect rank but it's up to rank to earn respect. Anyway, I think we had a better understanding after that.
The shelling was heavy in this position and the law of averages was catching up; we had several direct hits on foxholes. One hole with two men in it was lucky as an 88 came into their hole and buried itself into the wall but didn't go off (a dud). Others were not so lucky.
One day I was standing on one of the steps with my head sticking out. I had a compass in my hand and was trying to get a reading on the compass when the German artillery fired. I would try to make an azimuth reading from where I thought the shell came from and where it hit. Capt. Curry would relay the reading to our observation plane that was nearby and the pilot would try and locate the gun and fire a mission in the attempt to knock it out. Capt. Curry had an open line to the infantry switchboard hole which had moved about 50 yards to the rear of us in a little clump of bushes when things got so hot. The Germans fired a round and it was so low over my head I ducked down in the hole. As I did, a follow-up round came over getting a direct hit on the infantry foxhole. Screams came over the phone. Capt. Curry ran to Col. Peters' hole and told him. He in turn got the medics who had their jeep in a slanting hole down the hill. The medic went to the hole where one GI was dead and the other was badly wounded. They carried the wounded GI down to where they had their jeep and set the stretcher on the ground. One stayed with the wounded man while the other got the jeep out of the hole. As he was doing this another shell came in finishing the wounded man and wounding the medic.
We finally took off forward one night expecting and hoping to be in the woods before daylight where the Germans were dug-in. The artillery had fired a lot of rounds into the German position trying to soften it up, but as we found out later the Germans were dug in well. As we got close to the woods we were pinned down in a draw with nothing but snow around. The Germans kept us pinned down all day. Our artillery fired rounds all day, some shrapnel and some phosphorus.
We finally entered the woods the next night. A cold moonlit night with plenty of snow on the ground. There were a good many dead German soldiers on the ground, frozen like they fell. There was the smell of phosphorus. It wasn't a pretty sight.
It was about this time I believe Capt. Curry rejoined us. A night or two later after walking through snow all day, darkness fell and we were too tired to dig a very deep hole. We dug our holes about three feet apart and set our radio between them. Edgie and I were in one, and Capt. Currie and our other man were in the other. We were supposed to contact our fire direction every hour. We rotated every hour.
At three o'clock in the morning it was my hour to call. As I reached for the handset which was on top of the radio a German sniper who had crept into our area cut loose at me with an automatic weapon. The bullets hit in the loose dirt we had dug out of our hole. Needless to say, I got down in the hole very fast. I called to Capt. Currie and said this is one hour fire direction isn't going to hear from us. I assume the German got out of there fast as no more shots were fired.
It was about this time we got our first real break. For our break we were sent back to Ploubier, Belgium. Most of the FA stayed in a large factory building but the three liaison sections stayed in a brick three-story house. We were on the third floor which was empty of furniture. The house was occupied by an older couple and their daughter and grandson who was about eight or nine years old. The daughter was a school teacher and spoke English well.
The first night George Mahnke and I were downstairs talking to the old folks with the daughter acting as an interpreter. As we started up the stairs to leave the daughter said her mother wanted to know if we would like to sleep in a bed. There was no question how we answered. We ended up sleeping in the bedroom on the second floor the entire time we were there.
Each morning the mother would come up and open the window to air the room, fill the pitcher with water, and straighten the room. Frequently, we ate the evening meal with them using some of our 10-and-1 rations. In turn, we gave the daughter some money to buy eggs on the black market on her way home from school.
George and I would go late to breakfast at the chow hall so we could get coffee grounds in order to fill the Germans' large granite coffee pot. They would drink what coffee there was and then dry the grounds to use over again. These folks really made our break a lot more pleasant. The daughter had given me a calling card with their name and address. I tried writing them after several years but I did not receive an answer. The daughter's husband was in the army and hopefully made it home.
When we returned to active duty we returned to the Siegfried Line where we relieved the 82nd Airborne. The captain stayed with the colonel in the CP pillbox that seemed to be about 50 yards away. There were only three of us for 24-hour duty in our pillbox.
It had a large hole in one side that the Germans had blown in it before leaving. The hole was on a draw that ran toward the Germans. We strung wire with cans attached across this hole to try and prevent a surprise as with only three men we couldn't stand watch and do our job. The other two men in the section, the jeep drivers, were staying at a relay station that was in the woods about halfway back to the FA. I don't remember the exact number of days we were in the Siegfried Line, but it was a tough time as only the three of us had to maintain 24-hour duty. We three had to do our own guard, maintain 24-hour communications, and try to get some sleep in between.
After leaving the Siegfried Line we were a part of the Ruhr Pocket where we captured some, and thousands of German soldiers surrendered. We were in small crossroads town for a couple of days (had a little luck in a poker game — won $87 and sent it home to Hazel). Our rest was cut short as the Remagen Bridge had been captured and we were called back to duty.
We were sent south and crossed the Rhine the next morning on the first pontoon bridge they put up. I believe later they put up a second bridge.
We were one of the first FA Bn. to cross the Rhine and when our guns were set up the front lines were so close they had to elevate the guns very high.
We had a house in Linz where we did a little swapping of time as the Krauts had us pinned down at the crossroads. We named it "Hot Corner." A couple in our section found a winery along with some others and enjoyed a bottle or two. I never made it.
One day when I was back at the house and watching the Krauts trying to knock out the Remagen Bridge, a couple of our trucks pulled up in front of our house. Both trucks were full of black GIs — all volunteers from the rear echelon. These were our first black soldiers in the outfit.
I got to talking to them and found out one was from Evansville and we both knew a deputy sheriff named Moody. They went up front that night and the next morning two of them came marching six German prisoners back. They were good soldiers.
In a couple of days we started moving forward and at a much faster pace. At one small town in a hollow, we had just run the Krauts out and were trying to keep wire communications with our fire direction center. We were putting the wire overhead as we were ahead of the tanks at this point.
At a corner, a house had burnt down but was still smoldering and in order to keep the wire high enough, I climbed up on top of a metal building to lay the wire on the roof. What I didn't know was the retreating Germans had set up a machine gun on the hill overlooking the town. As I stood up they cut loose at me. I climbed up but I didn't climb down — I jumped. It was a close call.
We got to moving faster after this. We went into a small village. Our jeep was following Col. Peters' jeep as we did a good bit of time.
The colonel had his jeep stop in front of a brick building that had a half basement. It was the infantry CP. The colonel's jeep driver and radio operator went into the basement looking for loot. They came out carrying some wooden boxes. It turned out to be the officers' monthly liquor ration. They realized what they had after they got outside and were going to take it back but didn't have time so I told them to give it to me. I moved things around in our trailer and made room for it in the center and covered it up.
When we stopped in another part of town for the night, Red Harris came up from our Hq. Battery and the first thing he said was, "Did you hear about someone getting the officer liquor rations?" Of course we said no. We had a good many laughs as the bottles were emptied, one at a time.
As we went on we were moving fast. We had some trouble with the jeep that Clyde Wills drove so Capt. Curry told me to go with Clyde back to our motor pool and get it fixed. When Wills and I caught up with them late that afternoon they had stopped in a small town. We saw a large barn with double doors and a large hay loft so we didn't report but drove the jeep in the barn and got us a good night's sleep.
When we got out the next morning the entire outfit had pulled out. We had it all to ourselves. We started up the road that we thought they had taken but when we caught up with a unit it wasn't ours. They told us our unit was going up a road that paralleled the one we were on. We saw a dirt road that looked like it would take us to the other road.
When we were part way down the dirt road we came upon a big farm house with a large fence and gate across the front. This was unusual as most lived in small villages about a mile apart. We drove up to the large gate hoping to get some directions. The gate was open a little and we heard someone talking in German. We took a look inside and saw two German soldiers talking to the old couple who lived there.
We took our carbines in hand and went through the gate. As soon as the soldiers saw us they threw up their hands. They were glad to give up. We loaded them up on the hood of the jeep and took off. When we caught up with our unit in the next village, Col. Peters was walking down the street. We stopped and turned over the prisoners to him. He marched them down the street as if he had captured them.
Clyde and I never heard anything more about this and were never questioned about the time we were away from the outfit.
We finally crossed the Danube River and was in Austria when the war ended. At the end of the war our unit was divided in half. Half to go to the States and then on to fight the Japanese. Of course, they never got out of the States. The rest of us that remained for occupation duty thought we were the lucky ones.
I was given the job of provost sergeant at Langlau Prison. I believe either Col. John Brinley or Major Orville Swarkee assigned me to this job. I always seemed to rate pretty well with the two of them.
I was put on detail with Service Battery because it was close to the prison. I was assigned a first lieutenant as my CO but don't remember seeing him after the first day. I don't remember his name or what he looked like. Any calls made to the prison were made to me.
The prison contained between 1,300 and 1,400 prisoners, including 19 German generals and a good many other officers. One general we found out had been an SS officer. The prison was a working prison and we assigned the regular soldiers out to farms to help raise food. An officer could volunteer but you couldn't make him work.
We also had an ammo dump behind the prison that had to be cleaned up. Of course, they didn't like this assignment. The job the prisoners liked best was working at our batteries, especially as KPs. They got to eat better there. The men that remained in the compound had to work on the ammo dump.
I had about eight German soldiers who worked in the office. My office manager was named Ervin. He took charge of all office work, called the roll, etc. He was one sharp man. I believe he must have done this type of work in civilian life.
I had two soldiers named Hans. Both spoke good English. One was about 35-40 years old, the other 16 years old. I called the older Big Hans and the younger Little Hans, although both were about six feet tall. Big Hans knew the country so I took him when I went someplace I hadn't been before. When I went where I had been before I took Little Hans as this was the only way the young soldier got out of the compound.
The prisoners only got two meals a day and they weren't too good. The German people had to furnish all their food. Later I was assigned two old German army trucks. On weekends I would take one of the trucks, load up all the office help, and go around to many of the villages, look up the burgermeister (mayor), and see how much food we could collect. The office help liked this as it was the only time they got out of the compound and the food we got also helped a little.
These Sunday trips gave me something to do and I got to know the people better. Most Germans were hard-working and very conservative. I also found most of the soldiers OK. Some were radical and some officers were a pain but overall we got along pretty good. I made them do what they were supposed to do and when it was all over they respected me for it.
The firing batteries had to furnish all the guards so I didn't have to worry with that. The 19 German generals had requested and gotten permission to take daily walks outside the compound. They would meet at the gate every morning. The firing batteries were short on guard and I'm afraid I wasn't too cooperative with them. They complained to the higher echelon but I just told them they hadn't sent me a guard and nothing more was said.
When I was scheduled to start for home I was sent to Regenstadt where they were assembling a train load to start toward home. We slept in a large brick building on mattresses stuffed with shucks. This was still better than a lot of places I had slept and I was headed home.
They had a train of boxcars on a siding next to a lumberyard. This was to be our ride out. There were so many GIs assigned to each of these sorry little boxcars that all of us could not lie down at the same time and this turned out to be a four or five day trip to Camp Baltimore in France.
There were drop doors on the side at each end of the cars so with the help of a few in our car we used some heavy lumber 2x8x10' that we liberated from the lumberyards and built shelves on each end of the car. They were deep enough for four or five to lie on. We also got enough shuck mattresses to cover them. This helped a lot as all could lie down at the same time.
I also found some isinglass and some 1x2" lumber and made windows on our end of the car. I put my name on one so was able to look out and also read an old magazine or two.
Any other light came from a door open about four inches. For a small stove, pipe and a candle in a half-can swinging from the ceiling by wire.
Our food was rations, except one meal day where they had set up kitchens along the way. Our rest rooms were any field along the way if the train stopped long enough. When the whistle blew you had to run for it.
With dry food, water not too handy (five gallon cans), I'm sure there were a lot of pills taken when we got to Camp Baltimore.
We were supposed to go to LeHavre to ship out but it was so stacked up they decided to send us to the Port of Marseille.
I don't remember how many days we spent in Camp Baltimore but we finally left for the camp on a hill outside of Marse9lles. Can't remember the name of the camp.
I don't remember the number of days here, but it was into December 1945, by now.
The CO sent another sergeant and I down to the docks the day before loading. I can't remember the exact assignment but we got to sleep aboard ship. The ship was named the Montecello and was operated by our Coast Guard. It was a large old luxury liner. Had good food and again got on the first open deck toward the stern and a bunk-type bed with a mattress. We were again lucky as we had rough seas coming home. We left port around the 19th or 20th of December. We were of course, on board for Christmas of 1945 and thanks to our Coast Guard had a good meal with all the trimmings.
When coming out of the Mediterranean, four large porpoises picked up our ship. They were in a straight line across the stern of the ship about 25 yards apart. They would go under and out of the water at the same time and they followed us for miles.
We eventually passed the Rock of Gibralter and out into the Atlantic. We landed in New York on New Year's Day 1946.
As we passed the Statue of Liberty, the old ship leaned toward her as everyone wanted a good view. We left New York by train. I remember it was a long walk to get on the train and the old duffle bags were heavy but I didn't hear much complaining. We arrived in Camp Kilmer NJ, that night. I called home and found out Hazel, my wife, was in a TB hospital and had been there about a month.
In a day or two I headed toward home. Next stop — Camp Attebury IN. I was there two or three days getting my discharge on Jan. 6, 1946. The 6th was Hazel's birthday. A good day to get home, but sure could have been better surroundings.
My brother picked me up at Atterbury in what was my first new car. A two-door Chevy that cost me $790.
I got home the afternoon of Jan. 6 and went to the hospital to see Hazel. She remained there for eight more months. Bedrest was the only cure they had for TB at that time.
This, my friends, is the end of a long, long journey.
I loafed for one week and couldn't stand it, so I went back to work at my old job.