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Thor's War: Memoirs of a WWII infantryman

Thor's War: Memoirs of a World War II Infantryman

Thor's War: Memoirs of a World War II Infantryman

By THOR RONNINGEN

I/395


     On Dec. 7, 1941, I was 16 years old, a junior in high school. As often happened, on that Sunday Mother had invited several people to join us for dinner. One of our guests was a student at Iowa State. He wanted to get back and study for a big test so after we finished dinner I drove him back to the dormitory. As I returned home I turned on the car radio and heard the news about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The U.S. was at war!

     While the Japanese attack was a complete surprise, most of us were not at all surprised that our country was in the war. When the Germans attacked Poland in September 1939, and England and France declared war on Germany in support of Poland, many of us knew that it was only a matter of time until we were in it. My oldest brother Johan, was teaching high school in Hampton IA, when he was drafted in October 1940, in the first peacetime draft. The American navy was escorting convoys in the Atlantic and we were furnishing war material to the English. The National Guard had been mustered into federal service. All of these actions made it clear that our government was preparing the country for war.

     When the National Guard went into federal service, Iowa, like most states, formed the Iowa State Guard to replace them so the governor would have an organized force available in case of civil unrest or natural disasters. It was made up of men who, for one reason or another, were exempt from federal service. My father had extensive military credentials, but at the age of 59 was deemed too old for active field service so he helped organize the state guard and was regimental commander of one of the two regiments in Iowa.

     I had known military people all my life and felt I had to get into the army, preferably the infantry, and do my share of the fighting. My parents did not want to sign an underage exemption for me and when I visited recruiting offices, they always told me to go home and finish high school. I did but it was hard to keep my mind on my studies and my grades in my senior year were pretty bad. My other brother Vik, was drafted before I finished high school and I really felt like a slacker.

     In April 1943, I turned 18 and on May 10, 1943, joined the Iowa State Guard. I graduated from high school in June 1943, and got my draft notice about the same time. On July 12, 1943, I received an honorable discharge as a private from the Iowa State Guard and on July 15, 1943, was inducted into the Army as a private, #37675113. Immediately after induction, we all were given leave and ordered to report to Camp Dodge IA, on Aug. 5 for active service.

     My parents drove me to Camp Dodge. I was in high spirits and felt that they were too as I embarked on a high adventure. It was many years later that I learned that my mother was so affected by my leaving for such possible danger, the last of her three sons and also the baby of the family, that she closed the door on my room and left it closed for a number of weeks just as I had left it: unmade bed and all. One of the first fellow recruits I met was John R. Tabb from Corwith IA. He and I were together throughout our military service and our friendship exists to this day.

Training


     I spent several days at Camp Dodge awaiting assignment doing various menial chores such as washing windows, mowing grass, etc.

     I had taken several tests and had been assigned to the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) which had been established in December 1942. ASTP's purpose was to educate specialists in colleges in the fields of engineering and languages; the thought being that the Army would need many people with this type of training. The basic requirements were a maximum age of 22 and an AGC rating of at least 115.

     About Aug. 9, I left Camp Dodge with several other ASTP recruits for Fort Benning GA. We rode in a regularly scheduled train with civilians and the train was packed, as all trains were then. We arrived at Fort Benning on Aug. 11. A truck met us at the train station and carried us to the Harmony Church area of the fort and our new home.

     Here we had 13 weeks of basic training with other ASTP members. Our training consisted of close order drill, lessons in military courtesy and discipline, map reading, marksmanship with firing on the various ranges, first aid, etc., and a lot of physical conditioning. The overweight fellows all lost weight and the skinny ones put on weight.

     I was very fortunate in that my platoon leader Lt. Joseph Skrinski, was an outstanding leader of men and, although we worked very hard, we had a lot of fun doing it. we were quarantined the first two weeks, but after that there was some time off on weekends and we got to town and to the main post. (Benning is a huge post and the main post area was about 10 miles away so we would hitchhike there.)

     We had service clubs within walking distance which furnished entertainment, sold food and soft drinks, and had card rooms, etc. Sunday afternoons there was a "tea dance" with a military orchestra and a few WAACs and civilian ladies would be there but the men outnumbered them probably 100 to one so dancing consisted of a few steps and then someone would cut in.

     Georgia is hot in August and as Lt. Skrinski often said, "Georgia has more trees and less shade than any state in the union." By the time we finished training in November it was cold and damp and could be miserable. We lived in 16-man "hutments" which were long and narrow with no insulation and a small wood burning stove at each end of the building. It could be uncomfortable, but we were young and healthy and survived in good shape.

     The fellows I trained with were from all over the country and we learned from each other. By and large, we got along very well. I had a special treat in that my cousin Mark Slen, came to the same general area in about our fifth week of training and I had the chance several times to visit with him and we went to town a time or two. At first we were pretty much in awe of our training cadre, Sgt. Martin, Cpl. Shudlich, and Cpl. Ives, but as time went on we got to know them better and found them to be good friends.

     Our training was over near the end of November. There was a formal parade and a beer bust as we congratulated each other in making it through. Lists were posted as to what colleges each of us was assigned to which made some men happy and others pretty unhappy. No one had any choice in this matter and I think we were assigned randomly on the basis of how many men each facility could handle. I was assigned to Arkansas State College at Jonesboro AR, as were a number of the other men I had trained with. We left by train and were in Jonesboro on Nov. 30, 1943. We met men who had taken basic in other camps and were assigned dormitory rooms alphabetically.

     We each received a week's leave from Dec. 1-8 and like most of the fellows, I made it home for this short time.

     Returning to Jonesboro, we then started classes. This was a unique experience for all as the programs were accelerated. For example, in mathematics we went from arithmetic through high school algebra the first week. We were all pretty bright but this kind of instruction was a challenge. Some, like me, had just graduated from high school, some had had one year of college, and one fellow had had two years of college. We studied hard, but with this regimen I'm afraid we studied for the current test and really did not absorb a whole lot. We marched to and from class, but our marching skills really fell into disrepair. We had an hour of physical education several times a week which consisted of calisthenics and running, but lost some of our physical fitness.

     The people of Jonesboro were most gracious to us and by attending a church on Sunday we were almost guaranteed an invitation to go home with some of the parishioners for a regular family Sunday dinner. Arkansas State was a relatively small school. There were about 220 ASTP'ers, about 120 Air Force trainees, about 100 coeds, and maybe 20 civilian boys. Chances of dating college girls were slim to none.

     While I did my best, I felt that I was really not serving my country by going to school and was anxious to be a real soldier. I deliberately flunked one class, hoping to be sent out, but was told that my duty was here. Because ASTP was so highly rated, the only branch we could transfer to was Air Cadet. A number of my classmates felt the same way so we made application to become Air Cadets and went to Little Rock for a couple of days to take tests to see if we qualified.

     Meanwhile, the Army was experiencing a growing shortage of troops because of casualties and the expanding nature of the war. About March1, 1944, almost all of the ASTP operations were closed down and most of the trainees were assigned to infantry divisions, where the manpower shortages were the greatest. At the same time orders came transferring me to the Air Corps, unassigned, with action to take place at my next station. With a very few exceptions, those of us in ASTP Unit 1592 were ordered to join the 99th Infantry Division at Camp Maxey TX.

     We left Jonesboro by train and arrived at Camp Maxey about midnight on March 8, 1944. I was assistant train commander so I had to help see that everyone got off with all their gear and was the last to leave the train. It was really great to be back in the Army!

     The division band was playing as we de-trained and trucks were waiting for us. A full colonel was in charge and did an excellent job of seeing that all of us were taken care of. The trucks took us to our battalion area and non-coms from the various companies were there to take charge. We were lined up and a few at a time were ordered to follow a particular non-com to the individual companies. Our guide marched us to the company area, had us draw bedding, showed us our bunks in the barracks, then took us to the kitchen for a meal. By this time it was well after midnight and we were told we could sleep in until 1000 the next morning. I felt I was finally a soldier.

     After breakfast the next morning, we were taken to the personnel office. My interviewer saw the papers transferring me to the Air Corps and I told him I wanted to be in the infantry. He took care of that by tearing up the Air Force orders. The others who had gone to Little Rock with me had similar experiences, but many were really not that happy to be in the infantry. I felt that this is where I belonged and I looked forward to proving myself fit.

     For the next six months I trained as a member of I Company, 395th Infantry Regiment, 99th Infantry Division. At first we ASTP'ers were trained separately as the division did not know how effective our previous training had been. Because we had had good basic training, were young, healthy, and smart, this special training was cut short and we then trained with our own companies.

     We trained in everything from squad problems to division problems. We trained with tanks; marched countless miles; spent a lot of time on the range firing M-1s, Browning Automatic Rifles, machine guns, and mortars; crawled the course under live machine gun fire; had tanks run over us when we were in foxholes; studied first aid, map reading, hygiene, etc. We had formal retreat each night. We watched training films on many subjects. I was assigned to sniper school and traded in my M-1 for a 1903 Springfield with a scope sight and spent a lot of time on the known-distance and variable distance ranges. On June 6 (D-Day at Normandy) we boarded trucks and went to Camp Barkley TX, to fight a mock battle against the 5th Armored Division and beat them decisively. From June 10-22, I was on furlough and went home to Ames for that time. In late July or early August we went to Hugo OK, to run a battalion problem. It was brutally hot and humid. The air was filled with biting insects and snakes were everywhere. The country was so wild we had to cut trees so our jeeps could get through and we all were glad when this one was over. We all drew KP or guard duty from time to time and if you fouled up you were assigned other duties as punishment.

     It was not all work, as we had a lot of free hours. The service club and the rec hall were close by with many activities and on weekends many went to Hugo or Dallas or just into Paris TX, for a movie, an ice cream cone, or whatever.

     Early in September the division was put on "Overseas Alert." All leaves were canceled and we began to pack for movement. Weapons had to be greased and oiled so they would not rust and there seemed no end to the crates necessary for a million different items. We did not know exactly where we were going, but we knew the time was coming to put our training to use.

     We did not all leave Maxey at the same time. I think there were three trains in all and each took a different route with the first leaving on Sept. 18. By Sept. 29 the division was all at our port of embarkation, Camp Miles Standish near Taunton MA. The train I was on had old Pullman cars for the troops (not air-conditioned) and the cooks set up in baggage cars and cooked as we rode. We spent three days and two nights on the train as we went from Maxey to Kansas City to Chicago to Detroit where we crossed into Canada, back across the border at Niagara Falls down to Taunton. The train would stop in mid-morning and again in mid-afternoon so we could get off and stretch our legs. We played cards, read, slept, and each found his own way to kill the time and wonder what the future held in store for each of us.

En route


     Our stay at Camp Miles Standish was relatively short but pleasant. Everything at this POE (port of embarkation) was very well organized and run efficiently. Our train was backed into rail spur lines and as we got off the train martial music was playing on a PA system. Trucks and guides were waiting for us and we were taken to our barracks promptly and with a minimum of fuss. Our officers and non-coms got all their instructions from the camp cadre who were well trained.

     At a company formation all the rules were fully explained to all of us. For the first 24 hours we would be in quarantine and could not leave the base. After that, half of the company would receive 12-hour passes, good from noon to midnight each day for the rest of our stay. There would be no organized training schedule. The mess hall fed about 5,000 men each meal and each company was given a very specific time to get in line with only a five-minute leeway. By following this schedule, no one had to spend more than a few minutes in the chow line.

     The first morning we were treated to a humorous event that happened every morning. A truck stopped in front of the company and the driver got out and approached the first sergeant. In the back of the truck were several soldiers still drunk from the night before and the driver asked Sgt. Malekos if any of these men belonged to him. There were none of our people on the "drunk truck," but each morning this truck would come by with several men aboard. The camp personnel were only interested in getting each man back to his own company and left any disciplinary matters to the individual companies.

     That first day we also had our overseas physical, which was really a joke. It was supposed to be very exhaustive, but took less than 10 minutes from the time we started to undress, have our physical, and dress again. A few men were sorted out, but if a unit needed bodies to come to full strength, men with physical problems were marked as being fit for duty.

     One day all the enlisted men in the company, from the first sergeant to the lowest private, were assigned to KP duty. Again the camp cadre were in charge and had things very well organized. There were enough men available that all the duties could be broken down into small units and less than an hour after the last of the 5,000 men had finished eating, every tray and every utensil had been washed and put away; every table and bench, as well as the floor, had been scrubbed and was ready for the next meal. It was the easiest KP any of had experienced in the army.

     As stated above, each day half of our company got passes. There were files of buses lined up to take us to Boston MA, as well as buses going to Providence RI. It also was easy to hitch a ride into Taunton MA, which was only a few miles away. Our first sergeant, George Malekos, was very fair in issuing these passes and made sure that we each had equal opportunity and would even come up with extra passes and overlook the fact that some men left camp without bothering with a pass.

     The civilians in the area were very warm and generous to us. In Boston one day we were tired of seafood and asked a policeman where we could get a good steak - remember that rationing was in effect at this time. He directed us to a restaurant which turned out to be very busy and we had to wait until a table was available. As we waited we looked around the restaurant and wondered if we were welcome here. The clientele seemed to be mostly high ranking Army and Navy officers and civilians wearing expensive clothes. We were one corporal and four PFCs. Not to worry as the maitre d called us when our turn came and seated us at a very good table. When he handed us the menus he told us that while there was steak on the menu, the civilians could not order this but that we could. When the waiter came we all ordered steak. He told us it was not available, but we told him to check with the maitre de and we all had delightful steak dinners.

     Bill Volkert and I met a couple of girls in Boston and after a good meal in a Chinese restaurant, we ended up at one of the girls' homes and sat around the piano with her parents and other family members, eating homemade cookies and doing some group singing. It was great fun and also inexpensive.

     The fellows who lived in the area were able to get home one last time before we shipped out. There was a dog track in Providence which drew some more guys. I got to see performers like Lena Horne and Roy Eldridge. Several of us rode around Boston Commons in a horse-drawn carriage.

     Of course the good times came to an end as we had more vital duties to perform. On Sept. 29,1944, we boarded the USS Marine Devil and sailed out of Boston Harbor that evening. This was the first time many of us had seen an ocean, and for most this was our first trip to sea.

     For those of you going on an ocean voyage I would not recommend a troopship. This was essentially a cargo ship and the holds had been modified to accommodate troops. Our bunks were pipe frames about seven feet long by two feet wide with canvas stretched across them. These bunks were stacked about eight high with 24 inches or so vertical spacing. This is where we slept and also stored all our gear. Each man had to make room for himself on his bunk along with his rifle, steel helmet, large duffel bag, and anything else he owned. The aisles between tiers of bunks were about 18 inches wide, so it was very cozy. With this many bodies packed so closely together, the air at floor level got pretty rank and the man on the top bunk was directly under a ventilator and had difficulty keeping warm.

     Our ship was in one of the biggest convoys in the war and in the daytime we could see ships as far as we could see in any direction. Besides the cargo and troop ships, there were Navy destroyers circling the convoy looking for submarines. We heard that some submarine contacts had been made, but we did not actually see any. Our ship's crew were civilians under contract to the Army and we had some anti-aircraft guns and a five-inch deck gun that were crewed by Navy personnel. The three groups got along quite well. A craps game and a blackjack game started almost before we got out of the harbor and continued 24 hours a day until we landed. I watched, but these games were way too rich for me. In the blackjack game the smallest bet allowed was $10 and in both games several thousand dollars could easily change hands in a few minutes.

     We were served two meals a day. I ate nothing the first day out, but after that was not seasick at all. Some fellows really had it rough and were sick every inch of the way. We felt sorry for these guys but in a group like this, they got no sympathy at all. We ate off metal trays at stand-up tables and the food was not nearly as good as we had been used to. When the guy standing next to me puked all over his tray, I decided I had had enough of that meal. The days passed while we read, talked, slept, or otherwise killed time. It was amazing to us "inlanders" that each day the sailors would hose off the deck and wash so much dirt off; it was as though they were hosing down a street.

     Many miles before we sighted land we passed English fishermen in their little dories going about their jobs. We all felt sorry for them.

     We spotted Land's End and a few hours later docked in Plymouth harbor. An RAF plane was practicing his marksmanship on a towed target which we found very entertaining. We disembarked, formed up, and marched a few hundred yards to a waiting train. This was another new experience as the passenger cars had individual compartments that accommodated six men with a door to each compartment that opened on the side of the car. We also were surprised by the train as both freight and passenger cars were so much smaller than what we were used to.

     When we were all aboard, the train took us across southern England through some lovely countryside to Camp Marabout, just outside Dorchester in Dorset County. This had been a staging camp for the invasion troops in June and we arrived there Oct. 10, 1944.

     Our stay at this camp lasted through the month of October. We did little training as such, but a lot of physical training with group games most mornings and a long march through the country in the afternoons. Our officers were thoughtful and took us on varying routes when we marched so we got to see a lot of the area.

     We were able to get into Dorchester and experience some of the local color. We went to the movies and discovered that the English were wild about our westerns. We ate the famous fish 'n chips and enjoyed them. We got a small taste of what they had gone through as when we asked when they were going to lift the blackout, the English thought it had been as there was now a weak blue light in the middle of the intersection. A number of the fellows got passes and went to places like London and Edinburgh, but I did not.

     One morning at breakfast the cooks gave each of us two oranges as they didn't want them to spoil and go to waste. An English boy about 12 years old came to our barracks regularly just to talk to the Yanks and one of the men offered him an orange. The boy thanked him very much and put the orange in his pocket. When asked why he didn't eat it, the boy said he was going to take it home and share with his younger sister and his parents. Somebody asked him if he had ever had an orange and he told us that he had had one once. Twelve years old and an orange was a novelty! When we heard this, American generosity took over. We tied his trouser legs at his ankles and filled his pant legs with oranges to the point that poor kid could hardly walk.

     Although it rained almost every day, we all enjoyed our stay in England, But this too had to end as we had more important duties calling us.

Combat


     On Nov. 1, 1944, we left Camp Marabout aboard trucks and rode to the port of Southampton. Here we boarded HMS Empire Lance for our trip across the English Channel. It was getting dark as we left Southampton and we were issued strict instructions not to smoke on deck or show any kind of light at any time. This was an English ship and the food was not nearly as good as we had had coming across the Atlantic. We also learned that our English friends were not as concerned about cleanliness as the Americans. Accommodations for the troops, eating facilities, etc., were very similar to what we had experienced before.

     We sailed into Le Havre harbor the next afternoon and got our first real impression about what real war entails. The harbor had been shelled by the British fleet and bombed by the Americans and was really a shambles. All of the piers, warehouses, etc., had been completely destroyed and numerous sunken ships poked their masts above the water all over the harbor. Because of this, our ship anchored in the harbor and we climbed down cargo nets to landing craft that took us to shore. This is the same procedure our troops did on D-Day, but we did not have anybody shooting at us. We also realized how successful our troops had been when we saw the trucks we were to board had all their headlights on full with no fear of enemy attack. Quite a change from the English insistence on complete blackout.

     We boarded trucks and started out on our 385-mile trip to the fighting. It took several days and we would set up camp each night, as we had done in training. Along the way we saw a lot of war-caused destruction and also met a number of civilians. Our convoy would stop often so we could get off and stretch and, at every stop civilians of all ages came to visit and ask for soap, gum, and candy. The Americans were at first intimidated by these men, women, and children, but learned that they paid no attention when one of us would urinate in the ditch. There was no other solution for us. We went northeast across France and into Belgium, through Liege to Aubel. At Aubel we transferred from the trucks to half-tracks and rode them to Kalterherburg, Germany. Snow as falling as we got off the vehicles and marched the last couple of miles to Hofen, Germany, where we relieved infantry elements of the 5th Armored Division. We were at 50 north latitude and, even though it was only about 4:30 p.m. it was getting dark.


     Here, I think an explanation is in order. Time by itself distorts the memory. In addition, I have been reading and studying military history and have been back to this same area four times as a tourist. I will do my best in this narrative to relate my experiences based on the information and mind-set I had in 1944, although I cannot forget what I have learned since then.


     We did not have to be ordered to be quiet, as each of us was going through some real soul-searching. I was 19 years old and most of the men were in their 20s. We had heard artillery fire for some hours before we got there and none of us really knew what we were getting into. We realized that death was closer than we had ever experienced, but none of us really believed that we would be killed. Newspaper reports called us "green troops," which is true, but often misunderstood. We were "green" in that we had not been in combat, but we were a well-trained and equipped organization, as ready for combat as any division that went to war. We were not "green" very long.

     The 3rd Battalion, 395th Infantry, went "on Line" on Nov. 9, 1944, and was the first unit of the 99th Division to be on the front line. That first night was a long one. As stated above, it was dark by the time we were assigned our positions so we had no concept of our surroundings and the troops we relieved were very anxious to get out of there so the information the gave us was very sketchy. We were most fortunate that we went on line in a village and were stationed in houses and barns so we had some protection from the snow and the cold. Many men got their first taste of combat from holes in fields and did not have this protection from the elements.


     When daylight came on the 10th, we began to sort things out. In my memory, the days run together so I am uncertain of the timing of various events. In addition, it is important to understand that the individual soldier knew very little about what was going on around him. Each of us got very familiar with a small area around him, but knew little or nothing about what was happening a few hundred yards away.

     Hofen is a small village situated atop a hill with some farming fields near the village and deep, wooded valleys on all sides. The German West Wall, often erroneously called the Siegfried Line, was doubled here with some pillboxes north of the village and some through the southern part of the village. In fact K and L Companies used some of those on the south side. Our battalion was assigned a frontage more than four times a normal battalion line. Since there were not enough men to man it all, Col. Butler, battalion commander, ordered that we set up a series of strong points.

     Battalion, company, and platoon headquarters were set up and organized. We began digging defensive positions and were most fortunate that we had time enough to really fortify the village. In many places between building we dug elaborate holes which were deep enough to stand in and long enough for men to sleep in. We would build an aperture in the front, facing the enemy, and then put on a roof of logs, doors, or whatever was available and cover this with earth so that they were excellent protection from anything except a direct hit by heavy artillery.

     Rosters were set and guard duty began immediately. Usual practice was to have three men at a position, one on guard and two sleeping. Guard shifts were two hours long so we would be on for two hours and off for four. This schedule went on 24 hours a day so no one got enough sleep at any one time, but during daylight hours fewer positions were manned so we had time to work on our positions. There was a sound-powered telephone at each position and the man on guard would report every half hour. Sunset was about 4:30 p.m. and full daylight did not come until about 9 a.m. so those nights were long and lonely.

     Reality set in quickly. On Nov. 11, Pfc. Samuel Gibney, a runner from L Company, was killed at battalion headquarters by an artillery round. Pfc. Charles Pierce was the first fatality in I Company when, on Nov. 20, he too was killed by a single artillery round.

     A patrol schedule was set up and each day at least one patrol was sent out from the battalion. Sometimes the purpose was to secure information about enemy positions and sometimes to capture one or more prisoners to interrogate. I was first scout on the first patrol our platoon sent out. It was at night and our mission was to locate German positions. As first scout I was the lead man of our eight or 10-man group. It was frightening in that we really didn't know what we were getting into, but our training paid off and we were successful in locating at least one enemy position when we heard men talking. It was a real relief when the lieutenant said we could head back. I was on several patrols after that but they always were tension filled.

     There were two houses across the street from the line of houses we were occupying which could have provided cover for the enemy so Col. Butler ordered them burned down. None of us who participated in this became confirmed arsonists, but we found it was great fun to burn down a house. We made short order of both of them.

     While we were patrolling regularly, the Germans were too. They regularly sent patrols in to feel us out, locate our positions, and assess our strength. These were usually at night so small fire fights were a regular occurrence. We soon got to the point we could visualize what was happening near us by the sounds of the various weapons and the intensity of the fire. We also began to set up booby traps to injure intruders and also to warn us. Some were as simple as branches with dead leaves or rocks in a can hanging on a wire and many involved explosives. A common one was to wire a grenade to a fence post, fasten a string to the safety pin and run the string to a defensive position where a man on guard could pull it and set off the grenade. Some fellows got very ingenious; some almost diabolical.

     On the ship going overseas I had been very aggressive and said I would kill any German soldier I saw. Reality turned out to be something else. I was on guard in mid-afternoon when I heard the sound of hobnail boots on the asphalt road. I looked up and here was a German soldier coming toward me. He had no helmet and appeared to be unarmed so I shouted for him to halt. He stopped, but pointed to a red cross brassard on his left arm and kept saying, "Austria. Austria." Again I told him to halt. There was a wire screen over the window to deflect hand grenades so I had to way to get at him. I called into the house that I had a German prisoner and needed help. The other guys thought I was just joking, but I finally convinced Moe Piersall who came and looked. Moe ran back into the house and shouted, "Thor's got a Kraut out there." At that about 10 or 12 men rushed out of the house carrying their rifles and the poor Kraut almost fainted from fear.

     Harold Lange could speak some German and the soldier was overjoyed to find someone who could understand. We wanted to surrender so a couple of the men took him back to battalion headquarters and we saw him no more. The others began to rib me and asked why I didn't shoot him. The man looked to be in his late 20s, was unshaven, his uniform was wrinkled and dirty, and all in all he was a pretty poor specimen. I just didn't have the heart to shoot someone that pitiful in cold blood.

     Being Americans, of course we celebrated Thanksgiving. The common feeling was that the Germans were defeated and the war would be over soon, certainly by Christmas. For our Thanksgiving dinner our cooks sent us turkey, sweet potatoes, dressing, cranberries, and the usual trimmings. Ryndal Wetherington had made some delicious applesauce from local apples and someone had scrounged up a coupe of bottles of wine. We had found a fine tablecloth and napkins as well as china and glassware and the table looked elegant as we sat down to eat. We even had music with our dinner. We had found a wind-up Victrola and some records and listened to the Hermann Goering Orchestra play the popular "Bombers Over London," with lots of tympani and that real classic, "Deutschland Uber Alles." When the meal was over one man picked up each corner of the tablecloth and with a one, two, three threw it with all the silver, china, and glassware, out into the back yard.

     Our optimism about the end of the war ended on the morning of Dec. 16, 1944. At 0530 we were hit by one of the heaviest barrages the Germans ever fired. It was terrifying! I was in a hole with two other fellows and asleep when it started. I woke up to the sound of incoming artillery and a series of tremendous explosions. In addition to the artillery, we also were on the receiving end of "screaming meemies," which are rockets fired in salvos that come in with an ear-splitting scream followed by a terrific explosion. The ground we were in shook like a bowl of Jell-O from this assault and all I could think of as I awoke was, "Yea, tho I walk through the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil . . ." the prayer helped, but we all knew that death could come in the next instant. This punishment went on for almost a half hour as we cowered in our hole and prayed.

     It was dark and when the barrage stopped, the Germans turned on aircraft search lights to reflect off the low hanging clouds which they felt would aid their attacking troops. Of course it worked both ways and we could now see the German infantry as they advanced toward our positions with their traditional slow, plodding march tempo. I mentioned earlier that each hole had a sound-powered telephone. However the phone lines had all been cut by the artillery and the three of us were all alone. We figured we were goners, but were determined to sell our lives dearly.

     One man stood at the hole aperture facing the enemy, the other stood in the trench leading to our hole to protect our flank and I ran to a shallow trench behind us to protect our rear. We heard small arms fire in several places, but had no idea as to what was happening. Then to add to our problems, our own artillery began to fire on our positions.

     I thought the artillery forward observer called for this, thinking the krauts had broken through, but I later learned that Col. Butler ordered five-minute barrages on our positions six different times as a defensive measure. He knew his men had good protection and figured the Germans would be in the open, which was true. I was in that shallow trench by myself for what seemed to be several hours, but probably was less than half an hour, when I decided that I would rather die with the other two guys than be completely alone so I called to them and ran back to the hole. We stayed on alert and prayed for daylight.

     Several times we fired our rifles at what we thought were enemy soldiers and heard rifles, a BAR and mortars in action so we knew that some of our men were still alive. Not long after daylight, about 0900, our phone came alive as some intrepid souls had repaired the lines and Lt. Hare assured us that the line held and we had support. What a tremendous relief!

     The next few days are all jumbled in my memory so I do not know the exact sequence of events.

     The barrage and attack were the start of what became known as "The Battle of the Bulge." On the 16th there were a number of enemy attacks as they probed our lines to make a breakthrough, but were repulsed every time. On the 17th there were fewer attacks on our positions as the Germans tried to break through on our left flank. They failed there so on the 18th we again bore the brunt of numerous attacks and artillery barrages, both from the enemy and from our guns. One group of about 100 broke through and took over one building when our artillery laid down a literal wall of steel so they could not retreat. A severe fight ensued and many of them were killed before the survivors surrendered.

     We were warned that paratroops had dropped behind us. This was a complete fiasco so these men tried to get back to their own lines and we were attacked from the rear as well as the front. We later learned that we had been almost completely cut off from any other American troops.

     Somehow we learned that on the 17th German troops had massacred a number of Americans who had surrendered at Baugnez, Belgium, which became known as the Malmedy Massacre. This news got to us all and for some time there were very few Germans taken prisoner by American troops.

     We were all on alert around the clock and anything that moved at night was fired on. Two of us were in a second floor bedroom one night when we heard German voices on the ground just below us. All the glass was gone from the windows and we had placed a headboard against the window to add protection. I whispered to Fitz that I was going to drop a grenade. Our hand grenades were supposed to have a five-second fuse, but we had found that this was not always reliable. I pulled the pin and let the safety handle fly off, counted one, two, and flipped the grenade over the headboard so it would land directly below us.

     However, because it was dark I could not see a shred of curtain that was hanging from the top of the window. The live grenade hit this shred and fell back into the room with us. We were in a corner room so there were two entrances and I dove through one to get away from the grenade that was sizzling on the floor. It went off with a tremendous bang in that small room and plaster flew all over the place. When I was sure it was all over, I poked my head around the corner to check on Fitz. He had dove through the other door and poked his head around the corner at about the same time. We both were relieved to see that the other one was uninjured.

     As mentioned earlier I was carrying a 1903 Springfield rifle. This is a single-shot, bolt action rifle. It will accommodate a five-round clip, but mine had a telescope mount across the breech and could only be loaded one round at a time. On about the 17th or 18th I was engaged, with others, in a fire fight and really got frustrated. Everybody on both sides had an automatic or semi-automatic weapon except me. I would fire one round, work the bolt to eject the spent casing, reach in my pocket for a loose round, place it in the rifle, close the bolt, and fire. I fired one round while everybody else fired a bunch of them. The next day I went to platoon headquarters to turn in my 1903 and replace it with an M-1. I now felt I could carry my share of any subsequent fights.

     One night a good-sized German patrol came by our position. We fired at them, but they took off down the road. We could not see what happened as they passed another position, but from the sounds knew that a real fight went on. We could hear our BAR go almost continually with sporadic firing from enemy weapons and also heard some grenades.

     The next day we could see what happened. George Nothwang had opened up on them with his BAR while two men with him loaded magazines for him as fast as they could. There were 19 dead Germans in the shallow ditch about 20 feet from George's gun. We could see in the snow where German grenades had gone off near George and he told us he did not even see or hear them in the frenzy of action. Col. Butler tried hard to get George a medal for his heroism, but was unable to but he did get George a pass to London.

     When the Bulge started we had moved to the basement from the first floor for greater protection. We lined the walls and ceiling with white bed sheets so it was quite light down there. One night I was asleep in a potato bin just beneath the doors that led to the outside from the basement. We all woke instantly when we heard someone trying to pull those doors open. A grenade thrown in here would have killed us all. One fellow mounted a grenade launcher and a grenade on his M-1 and positioned himself immediately below the door, ready to fire if they got it open. He would have killed or injured the enemy, but the explosion probably would have killed us too. For some reason, the men outside gave up trying to open the door and we lived to fight another day.

     After several days, the skies began to clear and our Air Force was out in strength. At times we could watch dogfights in the sky almost as though we were watching a movie. We cheered when P-51s swooped down over the enemy lines to strafe or bomb them and were sorry to see some of them shot down. By this time the Krauts had pretty well given up trying to penetrate our positions, but patrol activity continued.

     They had paid a terrible price in casualties for no gain whatsoever. Our casualties were very light, thanks to the foresight and leadership of Col. Butler. The 3rd Battalion later received a Presidential Unit Citation for our stand. Richard Mills and Thornton Piersall were both awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their individual heroism.

     We continued to improve our positions although enemy patrol action was less than it had been. Our patrol activity continued, but again at a reduced level. The Germans continued their attack southeast of us, but the Battle of the Bulge was coming to a close.

     On Jan. 28, 1945, American positions were back to where they had been before the enemy attack and the Bulge was over. Also on the 28th I was promoted to squad leader of the 2nd Squad, 3rd Platoon as Harold Lange, the former squad leader, received a field commission as a second lieutenant and it was Army policy to assign him to another unit. On the 30th my rank went from Pfc. to sergeant.

     On Jan. 30 the 3rd Battalion was relieved and late in the day we marched back to Kaltherherburg and were "off the line." From there we went to Hollerath and again were part of the front line in a defensive position. There was some patrol activity as well as some artillery fire both ways, but it was relatively quiet. Some of us were billeted in West Wall pillboxes.

     On Feb. 11 the 69th Division relieved us at Hollerath and we started to the rear for a well-deserved rest. When we left Hollerath it was snowing, but as we marched the snow turned to sleet. The wind was blowing hard enough that we held our helmets to the side to keep the sleet from cutting our faces. Before we got to our bivouac area the sleet had turned to rain and we were all soaking wet when we stopped for the night.

     We were in an area where someone else had dug some holes which we used as shelter for the night. Unfortunately these were sleeping holes and only about four feet deep with log and earth roofs. There were too many of us to stretch out so we spent the night sitting hunched over while rain dripped through the roof.

     We each had a C-ration can filled with sand. When gasoline was poured in the can, the sand acted as a wick so we had a candle-like flame that produced a little light, a little bit of heat, and a great deal of soot. It was a miserable night. When daylight came we were still soaking wet and filthy dirty. Our cooks served us a hot breakfast then we boarded trucks and headed for Belgium.

     When we got off the trucks we met more of the 69th people. What a contrast! They were just coming on line. Their uniforms were clean and pressed, all the non-coms wore their stripes, they were clean-shaven. We were filthy dirty, our uniforms wrinkled and dirty, no one wore any rank insignia, nobody was clean-shaven. We really looked like a bunch of bums. We spent the night in a barn and really slept as we did not have to pull guard duty.

     The 13th was a banner day - we took baths! Engineers had set up tents with lots of shower heads and duck-board floors. As we entered we stripped down to the buff, placing our boots and personal belongings (watches, billfolds, etc.) in baskets and dumped our filthy clothes in a pile. For most of us, this was the first real bath we had had since we left England on Nov. 1. There was lots of hot water and GI soap and after we had scrubbed hard from our hair to our toes several times, we began to feel clean again. After drying off we were given clean uniforms, unpressed but clean. Walking out of that tent I hardly recognized many of my friends, it had been so long since I had seen them clean. Everyone looked considerably younger. We had gotten dirty at about the same rate so no one really noticed how we all looked.

     We spent several days here cleaning and repairing equipment, had some instruction, and did some work on the roads. We slept in barns. On Feb. 20 we left by foot and marched for some distance until trucks picked us up and drove us to LaMinerie, Belgium. It was a miserable march as we had been given shoe-pacs to wear. These were leather-top, rubber-bottom boots designed to keep the feet dry. We had needed them desperately while we were on line, but they were not made for marching and almost all of us developed blisters on our feet.

     The first night in LaMinerie we slept in a barn, but the next day we moved in with the civilians in this little town who were most warm and generous to us. Three of us stayed with the town baker, his wife, 12-year-old son Fernand, and eight-year-old daughter.

     We were furnished a bedroom with a double bed. Since there were three of us we drew lots to see who would sleep in the bed and who on the floor, intending to rotate during our stay. I drew one of the two bed slots and hardly slept at all as it was much too soft for me. I told the other two guys they could have the bed. I slept on the floor and slept like a baby.

     We ate our meals at our own mess, but one day our hosts fixed a lunch for us. Our hostess gave us apple turnovers hot from the oven, and apologized profusely that she had used bread flour as that was the only thing available. They also served thin slices of meat. Knowing they were severely rationed and the meat on the plate was probably the family's ration for a month, we said we didn't care for any, but they insisted and served us anyway.

     To help all the civilians, the Army gave each household some coal and our kitchen gave us some canned goods that we could give them. The weather was getting warmer, so before we left I gave our host my Army overcoat and he was most grateful. He made me understand that he would remove the brass buttons and dye it immediately. Wonderful people. Language was a problem but Fernand was a big help interpreting between his parents and us.

     One night before we left we got another view of the war. It was a clear night as we walked out to get a breath of air before bed and as we looked up we saw a sky filled from horizon to horizon with vapor trails from 8th Air Force bombers. Where the vapor trails came together in the distance we could see flashes from the bombs they were dropping, but could not hear them. Fernand made us understand that Cologne was being bombed and they really got plastered that night.

     There was still a war going on so we left LaMinerie on Feb. 27 heading for the lines. We rode trucks through Aachen which had suffered a lot of damage and then through Duren which had been destroyed. Through the heart of the city there was nothing but rubble, not a single building standing.

     At 0400 we began our attack on the city of Bergheim. It was our first experience in street fighting and fortunately was not heavily defended. It was scary to clear buildings in the dark but we got it done. There were a lot of civilians, mostly women, children, and old men who we rounded up and took to the cathedral. By noon we had complete control of the city. When we were taking a break, one of my comrades gave me half a sugar lump (the old fashioned kind - long and flat) which was one of the tastiest things I have ever eaten.

     Bergheim is a good-sized city and we ended up in the best part of town. One thing that struck us was that none of the houses had central heating. Instead they had what were essentially wood or coal burning stoves, some very lovely and elaborate. They had running water, but the bathroom would have a coal burning, coiled water heater right in the room which apparently heated water for the tub only. Another striking feature was that almost every house had a bomb shelter in the basement. I wonder why.

     We spent two nights here and could hear an armored unit moving through us to continue the attack. The town was filled with motorcycles, cars, and motorbikes and of course we had to try them out. It was really a fun time. All soldiers are scroungers and we maintained the tradition.

     We were now on the Cologne Plain attacking toward the Rhine River. The land is very flat with very few wooded areas, draws, or rivers so there were no features that would make good defensive positions and the Germans were in full retreat, with only occasional small unit fire fights. We went through a small village every couple of miles and they all run together in memory. One, however, stands out in the memory of every man who was there.

     On March 5, 1945, we were in the little village of Kuckhof. It was around noon. We had eaten and received some mail. A group of us were in a small barn attached to the house and were preparing to continue the attack that afternoon. Ed Tanner and Art Sorenson were going to load their bazooka when it happened. There is a friction catch at the back of the bazooka and for some reason this did not do its job. The round they were loading slipped down the tube, hit the concrete floor, and exploded. (The both died in minutes.)

     I was standing a few feet away when this happened. My instincts controlled my actions. I knew something serious had happened and I shouted "Medics!" as loud as I could and ran to get away from the explosion. My left leg worked, but my right leg buckled when I used it, and I fell to the floor. As I lay there, Gene Womble rushed up and asked if I was hit. I told him I was and when he asked "Where?" My answer was "Hell, I don't know." I had not felt any pain, had no idea where, or how badly I was hit, but I knew I had been hit.

     Lying on the floor I could see Emery Touchette, my assistant squad leader, but knew he would have to take over the squad so I called to see if he was hit. He said he didn't think so, but then said "Wait a minute. I am hit." Two very small pieces of shrapnel had come through the sole of his boot and lodged in the bone of his second toe. Although very minor, this stung so he looked down and saw blood streaming down both legs. Apparently a piece of shrapnel had passed between his legs and laid both thighs open, serious wounds but not crippling or fatal.

     Because the whole battalion was in this little town, the medics and surgeon were treating the wounded almost instantly. Several of us were lying the doorway and were really in the way. We did not have fatal wounds so we were given a shot of morphine, put on litters, and loaded on a jeep for evacuation. My friend John Tabb helped load my litter on the jeep and I gave him my Army flashlight as he could use it and I no longer needed it. Neither of us had any idea that in just a few minutes he would be wounded much worse than I was and the flashlight destroyed by a piece of shrapnel.

     The jeep took us to the nearest field hospital and my litter was put on an operating table. The surgeon looked at my lower right calf and said, "Hmmm. A lot of guys lose a leg with a wound like that," and then they anesthetized me.

     I awoke in a large room filled with wounded men in litters, each litter on a pair of saw horses. Having heard lots of stories about "feeling" in missing limbs, I sat up and felt with both hands to assure myself that all of leg was still there. Charlie Urrea was next to me and was drunk as a skunk from the anesthetic.

Hospital patient


     When I first laid down on the litter it was very comfortable, particularly since I had been given a shot of morphine. However, it was 72 hours before I got off the litter and by this time I ached all over. I think it was in Eischweiler that I first got into a real bed. What luxury! Spent the night here and got cleaned up some. Then back on the litter to Aachen. Another night and on to Liege. After a night in Liege we were loaded on a train for Paris. Emery Touchette was in the next litter. The train car had racks to hold the litters which were three high along each side of the car.

     It was Army policy to keep moving the wounded to the rear so that the beds and the facilities would be ready to take care of future casualties. An individual's route was determined by the severity of his injury. Men who would be a long time healing were sent to England as soon as it was medically feasible and those who would never be militarily fit again were sent to the States as soon as they were fit to travel.

     Emery and I ended up in the 203rd Army General Hospital in a Paris suburb. This was a large operation with several big three- and four-story buildings and accommodated a lot of patients. When I was wheeled into a ward, a voice called out, "Boy. They don't care who they let in here."

     To my surprise here was Gene Womble whom I had last seen when he helped me load on the jeep at Kuckhof. Gene filled me in on what happened.

     When I left the medics the uninjured men were doing all they could do to take care of the wounded. Suddenly several rounds of German artillery hit Kuckhof with at least one round hitting right in the doorway of the barn they were in. It was chaos! A number of the men who had not been hit when the bazooka round exploded were hit by artillery (Gene was one of them). Several men who had been hit by the bazooka round were hit again. Some of the medics working on the wounded were hit by the artillery. My friend John Tabb, who also had helped me load on the jeep was hit by the artillery and spent over two years in Army hospitals as they tried to repair his foot. When everything was over about 14 men were dead and almost 40 were injured. With one exception, every man in my squad was either killed or wounded. The one exception was George Nothwang who was in England on leave. I feel I got off very easy.

     A few days after arriving in Paris I went to the operating room and they sewed up my leg wound with wire and put a half cast from my heal to my hip so the leg would heal straight and not be permanently bent.

     To my surprise and that of my ward mates, I had a number of visitors. A soldier who worked somewhere in this hospital came and introduced himself as a cousin of a girl I had been dating at home. Another soldier from Cedar Rapids IA, came to visit and brought me some Cedar Rapids newspapers. He was a student of a professor who lived near my folks in Ames. A fellow patient came by who lived in Huxley IA, about 10 miles from Ames.

     I had to rub my eyes when I looked up one day and here came my brother Vik. He was in a topographic battalion and I thought he was in Virginia. I couldn't believe my eyes. Each time we were checked into an Army hospital, that hospital would send a card to our next-of-kin with our new address, which included an APO number.

     The entire Seine Basin sector had the same APO which covered the entire Paris metropolitan area. Our dad noted that Vik and I had the same APO and reasoned that we were relatively close to each other, although Vik was stationed miles away, clear across Paris.

     It took him several hours to get to where I was and I really appreciated his efforts as it was so good to see him. He happened to be there when my wire stitches were removed and made that long trip one time only to find I had been shipped out.

     Emery Touchette was in the next bed and wondered if everyone I knew was in Paris. Emery had grown up in the Lake Charles region of Louisiana and spoke French long before he learned English and he shared my visitors, but had none of his own.

     I was enjoying a USO show one day when I got a terrific pain in my gut. I got a nurse to check and she transferred me to the GU ward as they thought I had kidney stones. On April 13 I had a cystoscopy, which was a real thrill, and the doctors decided it was caused by sulfa collecting in my kidney.

     On April 20 I was shipped to England. In Paris any patient who felt up to it could get a pass and go into Paris and many of my ward mates did. I had not been up to it so I had seen nothing of this famous city. An Army ambulance driver took us to the airport (in litters) and he went out of his way so I got to see the Arc de Triomphe through the small rectangular window in the back door of the ambulance. My hopes were up when we got to the airport as I thought I would at least get an aerial view. The litters were stacked in racks five high in the plane and I was in the top one. I could raise my head a few inches and hit the top of the plane so of course I saw nothing except the inside of the plane.

     It was warm and sunny as we left Paris and the flowers were blooming. It was snowing when we landed in England. Then it was on to the 112th General Hospital at Newton-Abbot in Dorset County, only a few miles from Camp Marabout in Dorchester.

     By this time I was down to a small bandage on my leg and could walk quite well. There was a small golf course right next to the hospital where we could play for free. The only drawback was that you had to wear clothes and we were only allowed to wear pajamas so we could not use the course.

     I was here on VE-Day, May 8. We could hear all the celebrations going on, but with nothing but pajamas could not leave the hospital so we just listened to the Armed Forces Network radio. A couple of days later the Army began to shut down replacement camps and systems so there was no way to send us back to our units, even if we had been fit!

     On June 14 a number of us were taken by truck to Southampton where we boarded a passenger ship for home. As our ship was pulling out of the harbor the Queen Mary passed us and landed in New York four days before we did, as it only took them four days to cross the Atlantic.

     The passengers aboard were almost RAMPs (Repatriated Allied Military Prisoners) or hospital patients, although there were a few members of diplomatic families also on board. Over the PA system the special service officer called for volunteers to show movies in the hospital wards. I volunteered as it would give me something to do. An Air Force sergeant (a RAMP) and I got a 16mm camera and showed movies in the wards.

     All the time I had been in the hospital I had been with men who had injuries similar to mine and I had no idea how badly so many men had been torn up. It was a real shock to see so many men missing limbs and in casts of every description and I felt it was an honor to help entertain them. We would show the movie in one ward each morning and in two wards each afternoon. Because we showed the same movie over and over we really got to know "The Male Animal" with Henry Fonda.

     Being on a passenger ship the accommodations were far superior to the ship we went over on. I slept on a top bunk in the former ballroom, but it was only two bunks high and had a mattress and sheets. From the trip to Europe I had learned how dirty you can get on a ship so I put my khakis under the mattress and wore fatigues while we traveled. Again there were only two meals a day, but because of our movie duties the sergeant and I had passes which allowed us to go to the head of the chow line. It was a smooth trip and the SSO even gave us each a carton of cigarettes for our efforts, which was not at all necessary.

     It was a tremendous thrill to sail into New York Harbor. I had never seen the Statue of Liberty before, but a chill ran up my spine when I saw it and knew I was home. There was a huge "Welcome Home" sign on an embankment. People waved from skyscrapers. Fireboats shot streams of water in the air. A Navy blimp pulled up about 50 feet away, throttled back to keep pace with our boat, and we could talk to the crew. A fancy yacht pulled alongside with a dance band and a bunch of lovely young ladies on the deck. What a reception!

     We were told over the PA system to not all go to one side of the ship, but of course we ignored this as the ship docked and we all rushed to the pier side. The ship listed a foot or more.

     Reporters came aboard looking for men from their towns for interviews. The bed patients were unloaded first and we all watched carefully to see that they were well treated. Flash bulbs were popping. As we came off we only had to walk a few feet to waiting buses. As soon as a bus was loaded it moved off, went a few yards, and stopped while Red Cross ladies boarded to give us donuts and coffee. We were soon whisked away to Camp Shanks and assigned beds.

     Rationing was still in effect and each of us were given ration stamps for two pair of shoes and also received a coupon good for a free five-minute phone call to any place in the country. The phone room had numerous phone booths and many operators who would place the call then direct us to a booth. All the calls were pretty emotional, as was mine when I called my folks.

     The next order of business was our welcome home dinner which was really something else. All you could eat of steak, mashed potatoes, and a vegetable. The real treat was fresh milk. As soon as we emptied a bottle it was replaced with a full one and we all drank volumes of it. Remember that I was just barely 20 years old and we had had no fresh milk since we left the States. The topper to the meal was ice cream for dessert and again we could have all we wanted. I'm sure I ate a quart or more.

     For those who wanted them there were passes and some of the guys went into New York. I was physically and emotionally drained and headed for the rec room for a little while before I went to bed. We had heard of something called "television" and here we saw it for the first time, a small black and white picture but a real revelation.

Homeward bound


     I was only at Camp Shanks for a few days, which was long enough to see New York City for the first time. We had no duties other than to check the shipping lists a couple times a day. The rest of the time we read, played games, and watched this new-fangled television.

     My named showed up on the shipping list and on June 26 a bus took a group of us to a train. The car I was on was sensational. There were generous bunks, only three high, parallel to the side of the car, and I had a center one. There were very large, long windows on the side of the car so that when I was in my bunk the wall was all glass and I could lie in the bunk in complete comfort watching the passing scenery as we crossed much of this wonderful country.

     Our car was air-conditioned and at the end there was a small vestibule containing a refrigerator which contained ice cold juice and soft drinks that we could have whenever we wanted them. What luxury.

     Our destination was Borden General hospital in Chickasha OK. We arrived there on June 28. On July 3 I started a 3-day furlough and headed for home - Ames IA. My brother Vik also was on leave a part of the time so we had a great family reunion. Rationing was still in effect but both Vik and I were given some gas ration stamps so the whole family was able to go to a lake in Minnesota for a week or so where my sister and her two children joined us.

     I returned to Borden after the furlough was over. There were only a few fellows in my ward and we were all waiting - most of us for discharge and a couple who would have further operations. The only regular events were mealtimes and the rest of the time we killed as best we could.

     The doctors would come around once a week, check our records, and decide what to do with us. I spent a couple of delightful days with my friend Gene Womble, in Tulsa OK, as he had been discharged and was home for good. I also was in Chickasha on VJ-Day and had no better luck than I had had in England on VE-Day. Yes, I did have clothes this time, but Chickasha was in a "dry" county so the only alcoholic beverage we had was a pint of some bootleg rotgut and it really wasn't fit to drink.

     When I returned from furlough I had tried to re-up, planning to make a career in the Army. I had no training in anything else. I knew the Army and felt that would not be a bad life. However, I could not pass the physical so they would not take me.

     On Sept. 26, 1945, I received an Honorable Discharge and headed for home - two years, two months, and 12 days after I had left.

Afterthoughts


     I was, and am proud of my Army service. I was not a hero but feel that I did my duty and held up my end. I had the good fortune to serve under outstanding officers and my fellow soldiers were as fine as any men this country has ever produced. I am proud to say that many of them have been life-long friends.

     World War II was a seminal event in my life, probably the seminal event, as it was for most of us. I was 19 years old when I participated in history, when I killed men and they tried to kill me, when I lived the destruction and cruelty of war, when I saw friends die, when I saw men risk their lives in spite of their fear, when I learned the true meaning of duty, honor, country!


     I also want to pay tribute to the doctors, nurses, and medics who served us so well. They all were dedicated people and did an outstanding job of saving lives and easing our pain and suffering.

Epilogue


     When war broke out in Korea in 1950, it appeared to me that this might develop into a wider fight and I felt I should be part of it. Regulations were in effect then that combat experience and a college degree qualified one for a commission and I felt that I might as well go in at the highest rank possible.

     On Oct. 27, 1952, I received a commission as a second lieutenant, ASN 0993322, in the U.S. Army Reserve. I attended classes regularly at Fort Benjamin Harrison IN, and went to summer camp for two weeks each year. There was a side benefit to this as I would take my vacation from work to go to summer camp so for those two weeks I got double pay, which certainly helped. As a veteran, summer camp was fun. As a taxpayer, I felt it cost more than it was worth.

     We went to Fort Knox KY, for summer camp in the first year; to Camp McCoy WI, the next five years, and my last camp was at Fort Benning GA. I got to fire a 4.2-inch mortar, to fire a 105 recoil-less rifle, and to drive a tank. These are fun things for us vets.

     I received an Honorable Discharge on Sept. 13, 1961, in the rank of captain. I was in the reserve for eight years, nine months, and 13 days. This was the end of my time in uniform.

      

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