Odyssey: A personal view of World War II
3705 Wren Ave., Fort Worth TX 76133
In 1942, when I was a junior in Greenwood High School, word was sent around to all male students who expected to be drafted in the near future that a group from the federal government would be giving some tests to those interested in a college program. I was one of about eight or nine who took the test. Later, I received a card stating that I had met the initial qualification for the program. Much later I learned that the test given us was the AGCT (Army General Classification Test). To be considered for the college program it was necessary to score a minimum of 115 points. To qualify for OCS (Officers Candidate School) it only required 110 points. I was instructed to present the card when I reached the Reception Center at Camp Shelby MS.
The following summer of 1943, I received my greetings from the President of the U.S., and reported to Camp Shelby. After being processed (uniforms issued, medical shots, more aptitude tests) I was sent to a brand new army camp at Tyler TX, called Camp Fannin. Camp Fannin was named after Col. James W. Fannin, a Texas hero in the war for Texas independence from Mexico. We ASTP candidates (Army Specialized Training Program) were told that before we could be considered for the college program we had to take a basic training course. This one would be a rigorous 13-week infantry basic training course.
Three of us left Camp Shelby at the end of July 1943, with orders to report to Camp Fannin. Charles C. Brock was a studious looking fellow from Clarksdale MS, and Louie L. Love was from Waynesboro. Charlie was later to become an MD and Louie would go back to LSU and get an engineering degree after the war was over. We were all 18 years old and fresh out of high school.
Camp Fannin TX
At Camp Fannin we were all three assigned to Company D, 63rd Training Battalion, 13th Training Regiment. It was Aug. 1 and we were to be the first training cycle. The entire company was composed of ASTP candidates. There were two or three other similar companies.
We were assigned bunks in the barracks by alphabetical order. All the L’s were together, etc. Most of the trainees were from northern states. There were very few of us southerners. I took an immediate liking to just about everybody in the company with the possible exception of the cadre (those in charge of the training). They knew we would be going off to college at the end of the 13-week training cycle and treated us with undisguised contempt and scorn. They referred to us as ball bearing WACS (Women’s Army Corps). On a number of occasions our CO, 1st Lt. Walter G. Fritz, would pick up on this phrase and refer to us as WACs with ball bearing. Fritz did have a way with words.
First Lt. Walter G. Fritz was a small, slight man with round shoulders and a constant deadpan expression. He had a finely waxed moustache that came to points on either side of his face. He was probably regular army enlisted because he wore sun-faded khaki shirts with a slightly dark spot on his sleeves where his NCO (noncommissioned officer) stripes had been. He wore a perpetual scowl on his face, and later in the cycle when he once attempted a smile, I noticed that one of his front teeth was missing.
After a week of training in the oppressive heat of East Texas, Fritz got in the habit of addressing us in his monotonous drawl at morning formation. “Men,” he would say, “you have did well … but you will have to do better.” I never knew what he meant by that remark but we were to hear it many times later during the cycle. He never explained or elaborated.
We were issued one set of cotton fatigues consisting of a dark green jacket and pants. We drilled in these fatigues every day except Sunday. When we came in late in the day the fatigues were stiff with dirt and sweat. After chow most of us would go to the showers where we not only washed ourselves but fatigues as well. We only had the one set and needed them for the next day’s drill. In the darkness of the following morning we would stumble out of our bunks and put on the still-damp fatigues.
There was one guy in my barracks who would return from evening chow to collapse in his bunk. He would not move until the following morning. After several days the odor got pretty bad and three of the biggest guys in the barracks wrestled him out of his bunk one night after chow. They dragged him, kicking and protesting down to the showers. There, they stripped off his cruddy fatigues and proceeded to give him a GI bath with a stiff brush and a bar of heavy duty GI soap. From then on he joined the rest of us in the showers after chow.
Although the heat and humidity was almost intolerable and the training was grinding, the attitude of all the trainees was surprisingly upbeat. The prospect of college dangling before us caused us to forge ahead with only minor grumbling.
The cadre, the training personnel, really gave us a hard time. When we were in the barracks one of the instructors would stand outside of the barracks and yell, “Fall out!” We were supposed to come rushing out the door in a mad rush and line up in formation. The cadre constantly nagged us to fall out of the barracks faster. After they had us lined up they would rant about us taking too long to fall out, dismiss us, and then go through the same procedure until we satisfied them or they got tired of hassling us. They would tell us that they wanted us to come out of the barracks so fast that we would tear the door off from the hinges. One time, John McCoy loosened the screws on the hinges when no one was looking. The next time we got the order to fall out the first few men who hit the screen door as they rushed out knocked it off the hinges.
We walked everywhere. Miles and miles we walked every day to reach the distant parts of the camp to receive training in bayonet practice and other subjects. Once several weeks into the cycle a sudden shower sprang up while we were miles from the barracks and our raincoats. An inspecting officer happened to pass the spot where we engaged in some training activity. He got out of his vehicle and proceeded to chew out Fritz because we didn’t have raincoats. Never mind that we were reveling in the pleasure of a mid-afternoon light shower the event had repercussions. The next morning the uniform of the day included raincoats neatly folded in a prescribed manner over the back of our rifle belts. This continued for the rest of the cycle. I don’t recall that it ever rained again while were at Fannin.
As we marched to and from the training areas each day we got into the habit of singing. Some of the songs we sang were “I’ve Got Sixpence,” and “I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad.”
“I’ve got six pence, jolly jolly six pence. I’ve got six pence to last me all my life. I’ve got two pence to spend and two pence to spend, and two pence to send home to my wife, poor wife!”
“I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl That Married Dear Old Dad” was sung with altered lyrics.
“I want a beer, just like the beer that pickled dear old dad.
A good old-fashioned beer with lots of foam, it took ten men to carry daddy home.
Oh I want a beer like the beer that pickled dear old Dad!”
Despite the ill treatment by the cadre and the searing heat of the Texas summer the morale of the ASTP trainees remained high. They could not break our spirit.
My platoon leader at Fannin was 1st Lt. Charles Spencer. He was a fine figure of a man with a commanding presence. We were in awe of him and paid very close attention to his instruction. Unlike the enlisted cadre, he was very patient with us and instilled a sense of pride in us. At the end of the training cycle we all chipped in to buy him a watch with his name engraved on it. He was really surprised. In December 1944, he was captured by the Germans during the Bulge while serving with K/394, and relieved of the watch.
The 13-week cycle ended the middle of November 1943. On Armistice Day, Nov. 11, the entire cap of trainees marched to Tyler for the Armistice Day parade. The ASTP candidates looked especially smart as we stepped off in our wool OD uniforms.
In November 1943, the 13-week training cycle came to an end and not a day too soon. Most of us were sent to Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge LA. It was like going from hell to heaven. LSU had a beautiful camp and bore no resemblance to an army camp. We were billeted in a dormitory beneath the huge football stadium. There were four of us to a room and we were subjected to military discipline. We stood reveille each morning and answered roll call. After roll call we marched in formation to the campus cafeteria for breakfast. After breakfast we proceeded to class on our own. Life was definitely more pleasant at LSU.
One afternoon after I had finished all my classes, I went by the orderly room to ask for a pass to go to Baton Rouge to see a movie I was told that I would be notified later. Not satisfied with being put off, I strolled over to the field house and caught the next bus into town. After seeing a movie I returned to campus and dormitory where I was told that Captain Rodman, the CO, wanted to see me right away. I raced to the orderly room filled with fear and apprehension. I was certain that I had been found out. I had gone AWOL (absent without leave), a serious offense in the military. When I reported to the orderly room the first sergeant told me that I could have a pass into town. I feigned a calm demeanor and casually stated that I was no longer interested in the pass. This was one of the several times when I would run afoul of military regulations.
Our weekends were free to do whatever we liked and some of us would go to New Orleans, which was about a two-hour bus ride away. It was my first visit to New Orleans and the French Quarter. At one of the many antique shops there I bought a pair of small dueling foils in rather bad condition. I paid $1.50 for them and still have them as of this writing.
This brief interlude in paradise came to an abrupt end in late February 1944. We were advised that the ASTP was being canceled. The war in Europe and Asia was not going to well and replacements were needed to fill the depleted ranks in combat.
In early March 1944, our entire ASTP unit of around 900 men was sent to Camp Maxey TX, near Paris. This was about 50 miles from Camp Fannin, where most of us had our basic training. We were in familiar territory.
At Maxey we were assigned to the 99th Infantry Division. The 99th had been activated in 1942 at Camp Van Dorn MS, gone on maneuvers in Louisiana in late 1943, and settled in at Camp Maxey in early 1944.
Originally composed of people from Ohio and Pennsylvania the division had failed to qualify for overseas assignment as a unit. As a result a large number of its people had been sent overseas as individual replacements. This left a rather large hole in the rifle companies and other units. We were to fill the vacancies.
A little more than 3,000 ASTP people arrived at Maxey to fill out the empty ranks. Overnight the average age plummeted and the average IQ soared.
At this point I was really enjoying myself in spite of the physical hardships. I don’t recall being homesick at any time, although there were times when I recalled the easy but boring life left behind. At Maxey I would encounter many people who I had taken basic training as well as others I had known at LSU. The result was that I saw familiar faces at every turn. I was assigned to F/393. Also were three ex-ASTP men (we were only 19 years old at this point) with whom I came to know and enjoy being around. John McCoy from Chicago, Ernest McDaniel from Charleston WV, Walter Malinowski from New Brunswick NJ, and I were assigned to the second platoon. The platoon sergeant was Stan Lowry. He was one of the Van Dorn bunch.
Shortly after arriving we underwent an eight-week refresher course in basic infantry training. Since it had only been about three months since many of us had completed regular basic training we easily fell back into the routine learned at Fannin. Also we were treated better by the NCOs and the Van Dorn bunch who escaped being sent overseas as replacements. They nevertheless regarded us with some skepticism. It didn’t take too long to build a closer relationship with these older and more experienced men. Despite being unceremoniously evicted from academia and being thrust into the hostile atmosphere of an infantry outfit the morale was pretty good.
The eight-week refresher course finally concluded and we were beginning to feel less like awkward recruits. In fact, we were a pretty sharp looking bunch.
The first sergeant was a small energetic man with a fiery disposition. His name was Richard Keith. He was a man who dearly loved his booze. Each weekend he and a number of the Van Dorn types would head for Hugo OK, the nearest place where they sold liquor. And when they returned to the barracks they were in a dreadful state. I don’t recall that any of the ex-ASTP men went on any of these forays although it could have happened. On one particular occasion, Sgt. Keith returned from a night of carousing, staggered into Stan Lowry’s room (the NCOs had private rooms) and threw up on Stan’s bed. Stan came in shortly and saw a drunken Keith sprawled on the floor, and a bunk full of Keith’s stomach. The enraged Lowry picked Keith up by the belt, walked over to the nearest stairwell and pitched him down the steps. Keith was so limp with booze that he suffered no injury.
We no longer had to eat in the regimental type mess hall as we did at Fannin. Now we ate in a company mess hall that served only our company. The NCOs sat at a table by themselves as benefitted their rank and privilege. Food was served family style with seconds available. It was a welcome change. Large bowls and platters of food were set on the table for us to help ourselves … and we did!
While we privates were required to pull KP (kitchen police) on occasion it was a lot more pleasant than at Fannin. There was one of the Van Dorn people named Clifford C. Collie who was a permanent KP. Curley, as he was called, was from Arkansas. He was not a large person and was completely bald except for a fringe of hair around the ears. Naturally he was called Curley but not in a derisive manner. Curley had a mild personality and rarely expressed an opinion. Although he was bald he was probably in his mid to late 20s. The reason that Curley was a permanent KP was that he absolutely could not march and keep in step. What was worse, the manual of arms with our M-1 Garand rifle utterly confused him. Therefore, he was relegated to the mess hall as hopeless insofar as soldiering was concerned. Curley accepted this banishment with equanimity and good grace.
Our platoon sergeant was a full-blooded Indian. Stan Lowry was short, wiry and had very brown skin. He also was a very savvy guy. In addition, he was very charismatic. To us he was the best platoon sergeant in the company. Our squad leader was a nice looking but humorless Italian lad named Oreste Pizzofarreto. Pizz turned out to be a fizz as we shall see later. Our assistant squad leader was a pleasant little guy named Eli Heitic. Walter Malinowsky and Ernest McDaniel were first and second scouts. Ira Hart from Myles TX, was the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) man, John McCoy was the assistant BAR man, and I was the ammo bearer. It was a three-man team. Don Marseilles from Rhode Island also was in our squad. Another member of our squad was George Snell. He was devastated by the cancellation of the ASTP and moaned over the fickle finger of fate that had transported him to the infantry. It took quite a while for him to get over this big disappointment, but when he did we found him to be a rather charming and witty fellow.
I had an aunt and uncle, Grace and Dallas Calk, living in Shreveport LA. Since it was only about 50 miles from Maxey, John McCoy, Ernest McDaniel and I hitchhiked there one weekend. We had pretty good luck in getting rides. The traffic was sparse but when a car did come along it would usually stop and pick us up. People were pretty good about picking up service men in uniform When we reached Shreveport we got rooms at the YMCA. My aunt and uncle were expecting us and took us around the town and showed John and Ernest the local sights. We got some good food, too.
We trained as a team all summer and soon found that we were pretty good soldiers who worked well together. On June 6, 1944, we got word that the long awaited invasion of Europe had started. We were jubilant that they had started without us.
We continued to train at Maxey with no indication that we were a candidate for overseas shipment in the foreseeable future. In August we got two brand new second lieutenants fresh out of OCS. One was a big gung-ho type who was brimming with self-confidence. The other was a slender Jewish lad with a boyish face. He was quite a contrast to the other lieutenant. The second platoon, my platoon, drew the second one whose name was Joe Kagan. Within a few days after their arrival, Stan Lowry called a meeting of the platoon. Stan informed us that Kagan had told him that he knew he was inexperienced and asked for his help. This made a big impression on Lowry as it did on those of us in the platoon. From that moment on we had a close knit team. Our confidence was not misplaced. The other lieutenant was assigned to the third platoon and proved a disaster in combat.
In early September we were alerted for overseas shipment. There was much speculation as to which theater of operation we were headed. We were desperately hoping for Europe rather than the Pacific or CBI (China-Burma-India). The war was going well in Europe. The Germans had been cleared out of France and Belgium. There was even some speculation that the war might end in Europe before we could get there! Ha!
Camp Miles Standish
On Sept. 10, we boarded troop trains in sweltering heat and three days later disembarked in the cool crisp air at Camp Miles Standish MA. We were to receive our final processing here prior to shipping out. Since we were on the East Coast it appeared that we would be shipping out to Europe, but some cynics said they had heard of instances where troops sailed from the East Coast down to Panama and through the canal to the Pacific.
The weather was absolutely beautiful. The air was crisp and the leaves on the many trees were turning to beautiful reds and gold. Boston was only a few miles away and we were permitted a liberal pass policy. It was a very pleasant two weeks. Italy had thrown in the towel and was now considered a co-belligerent. All over the camp there were former Italian prisoners of war, only now they wore GI olive drab wool uniforms the same as we did. On their shoulders they wore a green triangle shaped patch with the word “Italy” spelled out. They were the happiest looking bunch we had ever seen. They didn’t seem to have any duties to perform and mostly hung out in the beer gardens of which there were quite a few. There were a large number of Italian Americans living in the area who came daily to take a load of them home to wine and dine.
The people of Boston were very hospitable and friendly, and when we went into some of the local bars they would always offer to buy us drinks. The problem was that many of us didn’t drink.
Finally the day of departure came and we were driven down to the docks in buses where we unloaded with our gear and waited to board the SS Argentina, a former cruise liner. It was quite a feat struggling up the slanting gangplank heavily laden with our gear and equipment. After unloading all our gear on our assigned bunks we strolled out on the deck and looked out on the dock. There were a number of Red Cross girls still handing out doughnuts to boarding troops. Some wise guys had inflated condoms and let them float down to the dockside. Nowadays that would have passed unnoticed but at that time it created quite a stir.
The ship finally cleared the dock and we steamed out to join the waiting convoy. Only after we were well at sea did we receive small booklets which were French and German dictionaries with English translations. Finally we could relax. We were indeed headed to Europe. After several days at sea we were told that instead of going direct to LeHavre, France, as originally planned, we were being diverted to England. More celebrating! IT seems that LeHavre was jammed with shipping and supplies were needed more than troops at the moment.
During the ocean trip to Europe I spent a lot of time topside. The skies were mostly overcast and the ocean quite choppy. I nevertheless enjoyed watching the other ships maneuvering about. For the first time I saw porpoises leaping out of the water while keeping up with the convoy. It was a fascinating sight. Not once did I get seasick although the sea got a little choppy and the ocean swells caused the bow to rise and fall. Often the salt spray would sweep over the bow as it would rise and fall. A number of the troops got various degrees of seasickness.
We were fed two meals a day. In the morning we would line up for breakfast in a line that extended all the way to the main deck and wound down to the hold where we were fed. The food wasn’t particularly appealing. The powdered eggs had a greenish color but I ate every scrap and wished for more. By the time we finished breakfast they started serving the evening meal. It took almost half a day to serve one meal.
On Oct. 10, we arrived at a British army camp just outside Piddlehinton, England, a small village in South England. The camp was vacant and had not been used since D-Day. Here we were in merry old England and we were the merriest!
The food was not too bad, what there was of it. I was starting a period of my life when I would almost constantly be hungry. We were in wartime England and everything was in short supply.
Passes were readily available, and several of us visited nearby towns such as Dorchester. The local pub was usually a good place to start. We would stand at the bar and sip on a warm pint of bitters. To us it was bitter in taste but we managed to appear nonchalant and put on a charade.
Almost every day we would take hikes through the English countryside. It was an exciting time for me and we were all in a buoyant state. Passes were available to go to London. Mal and I were lucky enough to get some of the first passes handed out. I was still in the second platoon, second squad. It did indeed look like the war was over. Although the blackout was still in effect there were no raids by the German Luftwaffe or any of the V1 and V2 rockets that were to come later.
One of the places we headed for in London was the American USO club called Rainbow Corners. Here we could find lodging for the night and take our meals. It was a lively place and usually crowded. There was always entertainment in the afternoons and evenings. I remember signs over the urinals in the latrine that were evidently written by some Madison Avenue draftees. One sign said, “Stand close. The next man may be barefoot.” Another one requested, “We aim to please. You aim too, please.” Another requested, “Please do not throw cigarettes in the urinals. It makes them soggy and hard to light.”
Our pleasant stay in England soon ended and on Nov. 2 we were trucked to Southampton to board channel steamers for the cross channel trip to LeHavre, France. While lined up with our gear, waiting to board the small steamers, we were milling around taking all the activity of the dock workers and military people. The British civilian dock workers were impressed by our carefree demeanor. They told us that they were used to seeing American soldiers sitting glumly on their duffle bags in comparison to our animated activity. We finally boarded after an hour or so and set sail for LeHavre.
When we arrived in LeHavre the following day we noticed great activity on the docks. Much needed supplies were being unloaded from freighters with others lined up to wait their turn. We were not of sufficient importance to rate a place dockside. Instead we anchored just offshore and unloaded into smaller craft that had a large ramp in the bow that would drop when beached to allow rapid disembarking. These small craft would pull up alongside our anchored ships and we would clamor over the ship’s side down a cargo net into the landing craft. Even without or cumbersome gear and duffle bags it required a lot of timing and agility. Somehow we managed to get off the larger ship and into the landing craft and onto the beach. Fortunately the weather was good and the sea was calm.
After we assembled on the beach a rather remarkable thing happened. We had a chap by the name of Carl Scott Vinson from Georgia in our company. Somehow his brother, who was an ensign in the Navy, found him in all the confusion on the beach. They had a joyful reunion while we waited for transport.
We spent the night in a nearby apple orchard. The next morning, on Nov. 5, we boarded trucks and headed for Aubel, Belgium. We observed no sign of the Luftwaffe, the German Air Force and so far had heard no shots fired in anger. All along the roads through France we did see large numbers of German military vehicles on each side of the road that had been shot up and burned out. This further reinforced our belief that the war must be nearing an end. We began looking forward to stress-free occupation duties.
We arrived in Aubel about two days later and were billeted in various barns and other buildings that were available. Some were billeted in nearby meadows. My company, F Company, was billeted in a farmer’s barn. We slept on piled hay. So far, so good.
The weather was quite cold and it began to snow. We heard our first buzz bombs (V-1 rocket) as they putt-putted overhead on their way to England. Sometimes we could actually see them flying over us. But nowhere was there any sign of the dreaded Luftwaffe. Not to worry. The war was all but over. There was little activity on the German-Belgian frontier. We were simply waiting for the Germans to ask for terms.
On Nov. 10, we boarded trucks and headed for the German border in the vicinity of Krinkelt, Belgium. By now there was an abundance of snow, two to three feet of the white stuff. After a sweltering summer in East Texas, it looked rather inviting.
We relieved the 39th Infantry Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division. There was no noticeable enemy activity and only occasional sounds of gunfire. We moved into already prepared two-man foxholes that had logs and dirt covering to protect the occupants from tree bursts. They were quite warm and snug. It was at this point that I was taken out of 2nd Platoon and assigned to the company headquarters platoon. Several of us, including John McCoy and Ernest McDaniel, had trained on the SCR 300 radio back at Maxey. This was a long range radio used to communicate with battalion message center. It weighed about 30 pounds and carried on the back secured by shoulder straps. I was designated to carry and operate the radio, or “walkie talkie” as it was dubbed.
I moved into a two-man foxhole with Joe Pollock, a rather debonair sort who was the company communication sergeant. Joe was a congenial easy-going sort and we got along well. The rest of the company moved into foxholes left by the departing 9th Division people. These faced the International Highway which was a two-lane blacktop road that ran along the boundary between Germany and Belgium.
Shortly after moving into the recently vacated foxholes we had our first casualty. We were told to be extra vigilant while on guard duty at night. Shoot anything that moves, we were told. Bert Starcher drew first guard.
Shortly after going on guard and well after dark (it got dark early) Bert whispered to his foxhole buddy, Lloyd “Pete” Peterson, “I hear something down in the trees in front of us. What should we do?”
Pete said, “Sergeant Conrad told us to shoot anything that moves.”
Bert fired in the direction of the sounds. Immediately came the cry, “I’m hit! I’m hit!” It was Cpl. Ed Stein who had answered a call of nature. The wound, while not life-threatening, was serious enough for Stein to be evacuated. He subsequently recovered. Poor Bert was filled with remorse! Pete said he never really got over the goof. Friendly fire has always been a factor in many wars and will always be with us.
Except for an occasional artillery or mortar round from the German side, all was relatively calm. Both we and the Germans sent out reconnaissance patrols probing each other’s positions. Boredom and the cold were our more immediate concerns.
Shortly after we had taken over the foxholes, our battalion CO, Lt. Col. E.C. Peters visited our company CP. While he was talking to our CO, Captain J.R. Edwards, Robert Gair, the company clerk appeared. He usually stayed back in the rear area with the kitchen and supply sergeant. From a distance of about 20 feet Gair called rather loudly to the Battalion CO, “Colonel Peters! Major Jacobs is trying to reach you!”
Col. Peters whirled around and in a shrill voice yelled back at Gair, “All right, General Gair! If you call me colonel this close to the Germans, I am going to call you general! From now on it’s Pete and Jake!”
From that point on all formality between the officers and the enlisted men disappeared. The ice had been broken by no less a figure than the battalion commander.
About every 10 days or so small groups of our people would be allowed to go into Krinkelt, the nearby village which was our regimental headquarters. The civilians had all been evacuated to safer places behind the lines. The houses were all intact and offered a warm dry place to spend the night Krinkelt was once part of Germany and most of the civilians were of German descent. The citizens all spoke German and the store signs were in German. Many of our GIs thought we were in Germany. After World War I a strip of Germany along the Belgian frontier was taken from Germany and ceded to Belgium. While prowling through personal possessions of the absent villagers I found a number of picture postcards written to and from Krinkelters at home and in the German army during World War I. The pictures were in color and showed German soldiers in heroic poses, and being sent off to war with adoring pretty girls throwing flowers.
Daybreak came late in the morning this time of year, with dusk coming early. It didn’t get good light until around 8 a.m. and light started to fade around 4 p.m. We were served two hot meals a day. A hot breakfast was sent up shortly after daybreak with the evening meal arriving around 4 p.m. They were brought up in large insulated containers from the kitchen area. We would feed a squad at a time at the company CP. For our lunch we were issued a dinner C ration consisting of two cans. One contained several wheat crackers, three cigarettes, hard candy, toilet paper, and a lemon powder to make lemonade by adding water. The other can contained baked beans. After a week or so the portions of our hot meals were reduced and instead of a C ration we got a D ration, which was simply a fortified chocolate bar. This ration was considered an emergency ration.
Our positions would change from time to time. For a while we would be on the front line. A few days later we would move back to battalion reserve.
The trees in the Ardennes forest were evergreen pine or spruce, and were of uniform size. The trees had been planted in rows and were perfectly aligned.
On one of our trips back to Krinkelt, Joe Pollock took a liking to a pendulum clock in one of the houses. It was about three feet tall and chimed on the quarter hour. Joe concealed it in an army blanket and smuggled it back to our company area. It was quite a feat as we were not supposed to be looting from the civilians. After all, the Belgians were our allies even if they did speak German. Joe set the clock up in our foxhole and started the pendulum. Every quarter hour the clock would chime away to the amusement of all within hearing. We were in battalion reserve at the time so the enemy was denied the pleasure of hearing the chimes. About two nights later a sudden warming trend caused the snow on the trees to start melting. We were awakened in the middle of the night as our foxhole filled with very cold water. We scrambled out and set up our two-man pup tent. The rest of the night was spent trying to dry out and warm up. That’s the last I saw of Joe’s chiming clock.
The battle begins
On Dec. 13, word came down that our battalion, 2/393, would join two battalions of the 395th Regiment to form a regimental combat team. We were to accompany the 2nd Infantry Division on a mission to take the Roer River Dams to our immediate north. The mission of our RCT was to provide right flank guard for the more seasoned 2nd Division.
This left only the 394th Regiment with all three of its battalions and the 393rd Regiment (my regiment) with only two of its battalions to cover a front of some 29 miles. The 99th at this point was spread very thin.
All went well at first. The snow was two to three feet but the weather was overcast with no wind or precipitation. We breached the West Wall, also called the Siegfried Line, in several places. A couple of pillboxes were taken along with a small number of prisoners. Our casualties were few. I was designated company runner for my company. My job was to take messages from battalion message center to the company.
After about four days we were told to hold in place. Word filtered down to us that there was some German offensive action taking place just to the south of where we were. On Dec. 18, we were ordered to pull back and retrace our steps to where we started. I recall being very hungry and tired. For some reason I found myself without rations. At one point in our pullback we passed an abandoned kitchen area. The mess tent still stood. I scrounged around looking for something to eat but found only an opened can of uncooked sausage. I was so hungry I tried to eat it raw. Almost immediately I became violently ill. I threw up all the sausage and went into dry heaves. I became so weak I could hardly walk. Somehow I managed to stay on my feet as we continued our retreat. After about four or five hours I began to get my strength back.
As it began to get dark on the 18th, we pulled off to the side of a forest trail and were told to dig in for the night. Within an hour or so, we were told to put on our gear and continue our withdrawal. After an hour or so of stumbling along in the dark, we were suddenly ordered to turn around and go back to where we had halted earlier. When we got back to where we had started digging in we discovered the Germans had moved into some of our foxholes. After a brief tussle they were ejected. Our own TDs (tank destroyers) laid down protective fire around our position to discourage infiltration by the Germans. Unfortunately several short rounds fell into our area resulting in some casualties among our people.
The next day, early, we resumed our withdrawal toward Elsenborn. We learned later that our RCT had received what they believed to be an order from our divisional headquarters to proceed immediately to Elsenborn. This was not the case, which accounted for our abrupt return to the spot previously occupied. There was even some speculation that the Germans had captured one of our radios and sent a bogus order but this was never confirmed.
As we marched along, tired and hungry, we could see tracer bullets criss-crossing the night sky off to the south in Krinkelt. We learned later that a fierce tank battle had taken place leading to our abandoning Krinkelt. Late that night we passed through a line of our combat engineers. We were back within our own lines and near collapse with hunger and fatigue. There we received rations and were allowed to spend the rest of the night in deep slumber.
J.R. McIlroy had an interesting experience as we pulled back. Mac led a patrol that was taking two German POWs to the rear. Lt. Hudson Rinehart of H/393 saw them approaching his position. Mindful of rumors that Germans in American uniforms were attempting to infiltrate our lines, he challenged Mac and asked the password. Mac responded with the correct password and asked permission to approach Rinehart’s position.
“Hi there,” Mac said. “We’ve been on patrol and captured two Germans. I want to take them to the PW collecting point. Do you know where that is?”
“What are you doing with that German rifle and burp gun?” Rinehart asked.
“I just took them from the prisoners,” Mac said.
“Where is your rifle?” Rinehart asked.
“One of the guards of the prisoners has it,” Mac replied.
Rinehart thought the man was telling the truth until he noticed the squad leader was wearing German boots. When he felt White, the NCO with him, shift in the snow, Rinehart knew he had seen the same.
“What company are you with?” Rinehart asked quickly and abruptly.
“Company F, Second Battalion, 393rd Infantry,” Mac responded without hesitation.
“Your company commander’s name?” Rinehart asked. He continued to question Mac and somewhat mollified, he asked, “Where did you get those boots?”
“I got them off a dead German. The soles give better traction in the snow,” Mac said.
Rinehart informed Mac that as soon as he saw those German boots he almost killed him without further ado. Nevertheless he advised Mac to get rid of the German gear and allowed a weak and shaken McIlroy to proceed.
In 1987 at the Pittsburgh convention, Rinehart and Mac fell to talking about the war. When Mac started relating the encounter with the outpost, a light went on in Rinehart’s head. “That was me that challenged you! I came close to killing you!”
The next morning, very early, we moved up on Elsenborn Ridge to foxholes that had been dug for us by the engineers. As it got good light, German artillery and mortar fire rained down on us, causing casualties. After an hour or so in the CP foxhole, the enemy shellfire became so fierce that Lt. Fridel, the company exec officer, took the company group to look for a more suitable location. I was left alone in the CP foxhole as telephone orderly to receive any messages from battalion. They would send for me when they found a new spot. So they said. About three in the afternoon I tried to check in with battalion message center on the EE8 field telephone, only to discover the line was out. The intense enemy barrage had severed the line. I immediately disconnected the phone and taking it with me hightailed it in search of the new CP. I found it in an empty cistern. It was a large square concrete structure built above ground with dirt covering the entire cistern. Trees had been planted in the earth that covered the cistern. It was an ideal spot for a CP. Entry was through a square opening atop the cistern. A steel ladder led down into the interior. Inside one could find relative safety. Our CO, Capt. J.R. Edwards, had been evacuated after having nervous problems. He was a kindly old guy but could not take the stress of the shelling and was led away. First Lt. Bill Fridel took over command of the company.
I was made company runner to take messages to and from battalion message center. This mean that I stayed back at the battalion message center. There were two of us from each company. Curley Collie, the permanent KP at Maxey, and I were two from F Company. We were foxhole buddies for several weeks. Since we had to be available at all times to make runs to the company we did not have to stand guard. It was a neat arrangement. Curley was a pleasant and agreeable foxhole companion. He was soft-spoken and never got excited. He was not much of a talker but would preface every remark with “I b’lieve …” For example, he would say, “I b’lieve I’ll get me a drink of water.” Whatever he decided to do he would announce his intentions to whoever was present.
For the rest of December the German shelling continued in great force. Several ties German armored units supported by infantry tried to dislodge us from our dug-in positions but were repelled each time. After several attacks by the Germans all activity on both sides settled down to random shelling on both sides. We learned later that the Germans gave up trying to go through our positions and withdrew to renew their attacks to the south of us.
Life was less frantic but we still had to be careful as we made our way around the company area as well as going to and from the battalion message center. Unexpectedly we would have to dive for cover whenever we heard an enemy shell come in, which was often.
In early January we started sending out reinforced combat patrols to take prisoners for interrogation. I went on two. The first one was with Joe Kagan. My job was to carry the walkie-talkie which weighed about 30 pounds. The purpose of having this radio along as opposed to the handie-talkie (SCR 536) was greater range. This was a much better planned (and executed) patrol than any before. We had a clear channel to division artillery with pre-designated artillery plots at our disposal. At first serious contact with the enemy we could call for any number of artillery barrages by code number. Fortunately this was unnecessary. This was a reinforced patrol (15 men), with more than the usual (four or five) number of men. On this patrol were J.R. McIlroy, Ernest McDaniel, Sidney Spiegel, Paul Vescovo, Johnny Nelson, and seven others. Because the radio was heavy and cumbersome I was armed with a .45 cal. pistol borrowed from a machine gunner in our heavy weapons platoon.
The snow was more than a foot deep and as we made our way toward enemy lines the crunching of our feet on the snow made a dreadful sound. It was a moonless night but we were highly visible against the snow in our dark clothing. We did not have so-called snowsuits.
We made our way down the slope past the first knocked out German tank and started up the opposite slope, followed a hedgerow in single file. The hedgerow or fence offered some cover and concealment.
At one point we came to a large tree branch up against the hedgerow, making it necessary to detour out into the snow-covered field about 15 feet, and then moved back to the protection of the hedgerow. Just as I got to the outermost distance from the hedgerow and started back, a muffled voice in German floated back to us. We immediately stopped and hit the ground. With the heavy radio on my back I hunkered down in the field, the only one caught out in the open. In less than a minute (it seemed longer) word came back to reverse course and double back to our lines. We had a prisoner.
Ernest McDaniel describes the patrol: “The patrol moved out that night with me in the point and I noticed that we had a man with us carrying a stretcher. About a fourth of the way out, Lt. Kagan stopped the patrol and indicated that the second scout and I, Nelson from Kentucky, should look over a knocked out German tank to our left front, which might possibly be used by the Germans as a forward observation post (OP). Nelson and I looked at each other wordlessly as we started to formulate a plan for approaching the tank. Lt. Kagan mistook our hesitation for reluctance to follow out the order and immediately trudged through the snow, inspected the tank himself, and returned to the waiting body of men. Shortly, the second scout took his turn at the fatiguing work of breaking the trail through the snow. I fell back in the line in fifth or sixth place. Suddenly we heard a command barked out in German: “Komen Sie Roush!” All up and down the fence, I heard the sharp metallic click, click, click of safeties being snapped off. In a few seconds Little Joe (Kagan) came running by remarking as he passed to reverse course.”
We had captured a German soldier and returned to the F Company CP. McIlroy, the GI who had been carrying the stretcher, passed it over to the prisoner to carry back. The PW offered no resistance on the trip back to the CP. The prisoner was wanted back at battalion headquarters for interrogation. Since I was the only member of the patrol who knew the way, I volunteered to take him. I led the way, followed by the prisoner, with Paul Vescovo trailing us both with his Thompson sub-machine gun.
We arrived at the battalion CP without incident and delivered our POW. As we left the battalion CP Paul checked his weapon and discovered that moisture had gotten into the mechanism, freezing it. It would not fire! We had a big laugh out of that.
Years after the war both Ernest McDaniel and I wrote our account of the Kagan patrol and agreed that the voice we heard that night, “Kommen Sie Roush!” was Sydney Spiegle. Some time after both our articles appeared in the Checkerboard, I had occasion to write Spiegle. I asked him if he indeed did rush up to the foxhole of the German outpost and loudly demand his surrender in German.
Spiegle’s surprising reply was: “I was not about to do any shouting right up n the front of the German lines. I just opened the blanket enough to see the guy and said – in a loud whisper, “Ergeben sie sich.” That is, “Surrender.” At that time my German was not as fluent as it is now, but I did know how to say, “Kommen sie heraus,” but preferred the simple command to surrender. Anyway, Kagan kicked over the door which was serving as the roof to his hole. The flames (from the charcoal fire in the hole) shot up – and I thought for sure the Germans would fire. But they were just puzzled, and shouted things like “Was ist da denn los?” (What’s the matter? What’s going on?) But they didn’t fire, and didn’t come running to investigate. So we were just lucky and got away!”
I went on a second patrol with a different lieutenant (third platoon) but the poor guy was so shaky that we just crept out in front of our lines and hunkered down in the darkness. After an hour or so we slunk back to our lines. Needless to say, I was not about to complain! Later this lieutenant was evacuated for combat fatigue.
About this time we started getting an opportunity to go behind the lines to get a shower and clean change of clothes. This was about the second week of January 1945. I hadn’t had a bath since we left England in November. We were a cruddy lot. They would let a few of us at a time go back a couple of miles to the rear where the quartermaster had set up a large tent. A long pipe with holes in it ran the length of the tent. We were told to peel off our blackened clothes and pitch them in a pile. From there we moved to where the pipe hung suspended. A big fat Pfc. sat on a stool with an alarm clock in hand.
“Awright you guys. Ya got two minutes under the water. Then you step back and lather up. Then you got another two minutes to rinse off.”
It was that brief and by the numbers but it was a great feeling. After the shower we were herded in our birthday suits into another large tent. There were large piles of used but clean clothes piled according to pants, shirts, socks, etc. We had to sort through each pile to find a piece of clothing closest to our size. We were not always successful but nobody complained.
Shortly after that we were told that three-day passes would be granted to Paris and the Riviera on a limited basis. Only one person from each company could go at a time. I was the second or third person in my company to get a pass to Paris. This was about the third week of January. My pass was to start Jan. 30. A few days after getting this wonderful news, word came down of a major offensive starting Jan. 30. I asked if my pass had been canceled but was told it was not. Suspicious me did not take that at face value. On Jan. 29 we were told that hot chow would be brought up after dark. At that time, ammunition would be issued and surplus equipment would be turned in to be carried back to where the kitchens were located. After chow had been served to all the troops and the excess gear had been loaded into the kitchen truck I asked 1st Lt. James K. McCaslin, our new CO, about my pass. He told me to load up with the kitchen crew and go back to the kitchen area. When we got back to the kitchen area there were eight of us scheduled to go to Paris. We gathered in a rather cozy but roomy dugout that could accommodate 10 or 12 people. It had a pot-bellied stove that put out more than enough heat. One of the cooks knew that I was going to Paris the next day, so he took me over to a two-wheel trailer. He pulled back the tarp to reveal 40 or so cartons of cigarettes and told me to take all I wanted. Fearing trouble with the MPs, I declined.
We sat for hours in the dugout around the stove that night, listening to trucks and heavy artillery being moved up for the big push the next morning. We scarcely spoke. Any moment we expected someone to fling open the door and tell us to get back to our companies. Finally we went to sleep.
Early the next morning we were roused, and told to board an army truck for our trip to Paris. It seemed so unreal. The trip took two days. The weather in Paris was balmy compared to the frigid cold in Belgium.
We were assigned a hotel room in Montmartre. My roommate was Joe Werner from New Orleans. We had a whole room just for the two of us. And I got to take another bath!
As we walked the streets of Paris, Joe and I were wide-eyed at the calm. There was little indication that the war was still going on. One of the first things we noticed was Frenchmen rushing about with briefcases. They would stop and engage GIs in conversation. The GI would reach into his pack and pull out a couple of cartons of cigarettes for a handful of French francs. MPs would stroll by taking no notice of these transactions. We were astounded! We immediately located the Paris PX where we were able to draw two weeks’ rations. This consisted of two cartons of cigarettes, some chocolate bars, and some soap which we promptly traded for francs. Thus we had ample funds to see the sights.
All people in uniform rode free on the French subway, called the Metro. We simply walked through the gates and got on the cars. There was no war damage apparent in Paris. We went to a burlesque show called the Mayol. We were enthralled by the nudity. The girls wore beautiful elaborate costumes with the bosoms cut out completely, revealing bare skin. That took some getting used to.
All too soon the three days passed and we boarded the truck for our return trip to Belgium. We returned to the kitchen area from whence we had departed. Now there was no one there. The battalion kitchens had all moved forward but large quantities of food and other supplies had been left behind unguarded. For about three or four days we passed the time in the snug little dugout feasting off the food left behind. Finally, someone remembered us and it was back to the war.
Back to the war and reality
Company F was in some pillboxes on the Siegfried Line near a small German village called Udenbreth. A few days later we were relieved by elements of the 69th Infantry Division. We then started the long trip by truck back to Aubel, Belgium, for some R&R. We stopped briefly near the Belgian village of Born where we helped on some road repair work. The Red Cross had a doughnut wagon on hand and a couple of young American girls handing out doughnuts.
While in Aubel we were again billeted in farmers’ barns on sweet smelling hay. It was a luxury after all the time spent in frigid foxholes wondering if the next incoming shell had your name on it. We had a lot of free time to wander the streets of Aubel. Passes also were available for nearby towns. I got to go to Liege. After Paris it was a bit of a letdown but I savored every moment. Pizz? He was a combat fatigue casualty.
On March 1, we were alerted for movement to cross the Roer River. The weather had improved a lot and we moved across the Cologne Plains at a rapid pace. The Germans were in retreat but every now and then they would put up a spirited battle. It was a rat race trying to keep up with the retreating Germans. Finally we came to the Ludendorf Bridge, a railroad bridge spanning the Rhine River. The bridge had been captured unexpectedly. The Germans exploded some charges on the bridge but failed to destroy the bridge. We crossed on March 11. The company crossed in the morning on foot while the Germans were still firing on the approaches to the bridge. They could not fire directly on the bridge because on the east bank (held by the Germans) was a steep hill called the Erpler Ley which blocked direct fire on the bridge. Company Headquarters Platoon went over early in the afternoon. We rode over on the back of one of our tanks. There was no shelling on the bridge approach at that time. Nevertheless the carnage was terrible and much in evidence. Army trucks and other military vehicles, ours, were still burning. Teddy Shumsky, a nice kid from Brooklyn, was killed crossing. The Germans sent one of their new jets, the ME 262, to bomb the bridge but there was so much of our anti-aircraft artillery available and shooting, the jet veered off before reaching the bridge.
The next battle we got involved in was a small village called Ginsterhahn. This was a small village east of Linz and on the eastern side of the Rhine River. It was well after dark when F/393 moved into the small village of five or six houses. We had been in battalion reserve, missing out on the day-long battle that resulted in the ejection of some combative German troops. The weather was clear but overcast and not too cold for March. There was no wind and no moonlight. It was a pitch black night. Several of the houses had been hit by artillery fire earlier in the day, and only flickering embers remained. Nearby we could hear cattle, injured by artillery fire, bellowing in the night. It was an eerie scene.
I had been carrying the SCR 300 radio all day and was looking forward to a few hours rest. It was not to be.
Word came down from battalion for a 13-man recon patrol to go out in front of our lines to set up an OP in preparation for the attack the next day. The usual volunteers were selected; you, you and you. We were to leave immediately. Because they wanted a radio along I was designated to go. This was to be my third patrol into enemy lines with the big radio, and all I could think of was what an inviting target I must be.
Lt. Stan Lowry was designated patrol leader. Stan had been my platoon sergeant at Maxey and I knew him to be an outstanding NCO. He had earned a battlefield commission during the Bulge, and it was reassuring to have him calling the shots.
We wandered around in the darkness for an hour or so and became hopelessly lost. Finally we halted in place and rested until it got light. At first light we resumed our trek toward the northeast. Presently we came to some foothills with extremely steep slopes. We clamored up the side of the first one we came to and went up to a ledge about 15 or 20 feet from the top of the hill. The ledge was facing toward our lines and overlooking the valley below. We were some 300 to 400 feet above the valley. Here we set up our OP. I attached the 10-foot antenna to the radio and checked in with the battalion radio net. Reception was excellent.
We settled back and awaited the dawn and for our battalion to move out and through our position. Just before dawn but in full light the Germans counterattacked with tanks and infantry. We could see them quite plainly down in the valley moving toward our lines and firing as they went. We could hear the popping of the nearby German mortars firing on the other side of the hill
Our main concern at the moment was discovery by the Germans, but they were not facing in our direction. They seemed intent only in pressing the attack.
Stan got on the radio and called for artillery fire on the attacking Germans. He adjusted the fire as the rounds fell.
About an hour or so after the German counterattack started, some U.S. P-47s came in to strafe and bomb the Germans. Trouble was they were also firing on and bombing our troops as well. Because of the hilly terrain our rifle companies could not communicate directly with the battalion CP using their SCR 300 radios. Because of our lofty perch we could talk to them both. We therefore relayed messages between the companies under attack and battalion. I recall hearing the G Company CO yelling into his radio to “Get those damned planes off us! They are killing us!” We relayed this to battalion and the planes retired. The American Luftwaffe had scored again!
The battle below raged all day, finally subsiding late in the afternoon with the Germans being repulsed. In the meantime we were marooned on top of this hill, and we were just a little hungry. Since we expected to be relieved shortly after dawn most of us had no rations with us.
Looking around our OP position seeking cover we discovered a cave back from the ledge. It went back into the hill about 30 feet. At its widest point it was about 15 feet. In the cave we found two Italian soldiers in their faded and tattered uniforms. They had been held as POWs by the Germans since Italy threw in the towel. They were overjoyed to see us and readily shared their meager food supply with us. It consisted of bread, cheese, butter and some sugar. It sure tasted good at the time.
We spent a restless night speculating on the morrow. The next morning in full daylight our troops resumed the attack, putting the Germans to flight. From our ringside seats we silently cheered them on, being careful not to expose ourselves unnecessarily.
We could see our GIs reaching the bottom of the hill we were on and come rushing up to where we were. They were panting from the long climb, and had their rifles at the ready. It was then that we discovered that they were not our unit but the 395th. They had spotted us on the hill as they moved out and took us for Germans. They had even requested artillery fire on our position. Fortunately for us, the request was refused with no explanation given. They were surprised and we were delighted. We did have some trouble at first convincing them we were not Germans.
Stan Lowry recalls: “When the 395th came up and saw us waving, all of them took cover. The captain in charge took me and whoever was with me prisoners. I had a hard time trying to convince him that we were Americans. And that I was an Indian.
“I was even wearing beaded moccasins. I guess they thought we were black Germans. He said that he would shoot us if we didn’t drop our weapons. When I pointed out to him that I had a man zeroed in on him with a BAR, he got the message. We gathered up all of our people, Italians and German civilians and got off that hill max schnell!”
When an article I wrote describing this action appeared in the Checkerboard, years later, I got a letter from Charles Harrington. Charles was in the AT/395. He read the article and reported: “I feel that I know that cave you described in that incidient. As we reached the top of a very high hill, as you described, we found a group of German civilians, women and children with several older men, all outside a large cave. Just as we approached the cave, several mortar rounds came in. This killed one old man and wounded me and two other soldiers. Several other people were hurt including one young child. The aid man did the best he could for all, then went on with the rest of the company. Of the two wounded soldiers, one was able to leave, and went to find the aid station. The other, with both arms broken, stayed with me. I had a broken pelvis and leg wounds and could not get up. They had put us in this cave along with the Germans. One lady would get up and go outside where the (dead) old man lay, then come back crying and kick and stomp me, and hit the other soldier. This went on all night, and in the morning the other soldier said he would go for help … finally some stretcher bearers appeared and took me and the injured Germans to the aid station.”
We were dubbed the Lucky 13. Stan got the Silver Star and the rest of us got the Bronze Star medal. We had suffered no injuries and were not even fired on by the Germans.
Three days later we crossed the Weid River. After we crossed the Weid the next village of any size was Kurtscheid. We got into Kurtschied late at night. About half the houses in town were burning from the artillery fire we placed on the town. We found a house that was not on fire and collapsed on the floor.
The next morning before daylight we moved out to attack the next town. Just after it got light we passed a large paper wrapped bundle of German handkerchiefs that someone had liberated in Kurtscheid. As each man passed he grabbed a handful. I got about six or seven. Shortly after daylight we ran into some German Volksturm troops headed in our direction. The Volksturm were recently recruited civilians along with regular German army soldiers convalescing from wounds and other injuries. Joe Kagan lined us all up into what is called marching fire. We formed a single line from left to right, and marched abreast down into the wooded ravine, firing our rifles from the hip as fast as we could, without aiming. As we reached the bottom of the gently sloping ravine and started up the other side we spotted German soldiers lying behind some trees. We very shortly prevailed and moved on. Walt Korell, the 1st Platoon leader, was killed in this skirmish but our overall casualties were minimal.
Soon we came to the Autobahn. It was unique for the time. It consisted of four lanes of concrete pavement, two in each direction with side crossings that passed under the highway.
We soon reached Wetzlar, Germany, one of the larger German cities and the biggest one we had taken so far. Wetzlar was the home of the famous Leica camera factory and the Zeiss Optical Werks. Unfortunately nobody was able to liberate any cameras because a protective guard was placed around the factory. It was off limits.
We stayed in Wetzlar for the better part of the day. There were lots of DPs running loose and raising hell. DPs were displaced persons consisting of foreign workers (usually forced labor) brought to Germany to work in the factories and on the farms. They were delirious with joy and broke into civilian homes and stores. Many were drunk. We restrained them as best we could. The German civilians were terrified of them, especially the women.
We were not in the Ruhr, which was highly industrialized. Each town we passed through had bed sheets and anything white hanging from the windows. The civilians for the most part were docile and showed no hostility. We saw many bicycles which was the main form of transportation for the citizens. We even commandeered a few and went joyriding when we stopped for at least an hour in various villages.
German troops were surrendering by the hundreds and we met long lines of them passing us in the opposite direction, headed for PW enclosures. We had the Ruhr Valley surrounded with the trapped German troops in a shrinking circle. Finally they surrendered. We suddenly found ourselves miles behind the front lines. Many hundreds of smiling German soldiers was herded into PW pens with our troops guarding them, but they made no effort to escape and gave us no trouble.
With the capture of the Ruhr we were about a hundred miles behind the German lines. We got on trucks and headed for the fast moving front. We only got to ride a few miles and then we detrucked and had to walk. They used the few trucks we had to shuttle different units for short periods of time. One night, long after dark as we were walking (dragging), an artillery convoy came along. They stopped briefly while we clambered aboard any vehicle where we might find a perch. I wound up on an artillery caisson. It was a very precarious perch. I was so tired that all that kept me from falling asleep and falling off was the fierce bouncing of the gun I was clutching for dear life.
It was late in April when we approached the Danube River and the Germans were surrendering by the hundreds, but we would encounter resistance from time to time. We crossed the Danube on April 27, n assault boats. Our company crossed without incident but other units were fired on. The Danube was not blue, just muddy like the Mississippi.
The next river we came to was the Isar. As we approached the Isar River we captured a large POW camp that had a large number of Allied prisoners. Large numbers of British POWs streamed past us to the rear. Many had been prisoners for several years but seemed to be in good health and spirits. On May 1 we crossed the Isar River without incident. As we got out of the assault boats on the far side we came under fire. We all hit the ground and remained in the prone position for almost an hour. It was a clear spring day with a warm sun bearing down on us and some of us were so tired we dozed a bit.
We finally were able to proceed into Landshut which was on the east bank of the Isar. Landshut was another large town with a military barracks in the center of town.
The war ends
We passed on through Landshut and headed for the Inn River. We got as far as Vilsbiburg when we got the order to hold in place. It was May 5. We were ordered to reverse and go back to Landshut. On May 8, the war was over. We stayed in Landshut, billeted in the barracks in the middle of town. There was no rejoicing or show of emotion. We were too tired and drained to make any kind of demonstration. It was just another day.
On May 11, we assumed occupational duties. Our company CP was in a small undamaged village called Laufach. The 2nd Platoon, my old platoon, was in nearby heavily damaged Aschaffenburg, a much larger town.
We had heard rumors toward the end of the war that the German military was going underground and that we could expect a lot of sabotage by the German civilians. Nothing liked that happened. The civilians were very docile and were anxious to please us.
Our CP was set up in a two-story home in Laufach and life for us took on a decided turn for the better. We set out a guard in front of the CP and that was about the extent of our duties. As communication sergeant for F Company, I ran wires to the different platoons in nearby towns. We had captured a number of German field telephones and used them in the platoon CPs. Life was good!
We soon located a good-sized swimming pool in a nearby village and put it to good use. I went to Aschaffenburg to visit my friends, John McCoy and Ernest McDaniel. I even located my fellow Mississippian, Charlie Brock in another regiment and paid him a visit. Charlie’s company was quartered in a schloss or castle. In July we relocated to Marktheidenfeld on the Mainz and resumed our occupation. After a week or so I came down with some kind of bug and was sent to Wurzburg. A large German hospital was located here and had been taken over by our army. The town of Wurzburg was one of Germany’s larger cities and had been heavily damaged in the allied air raids. Most of the tall buildings were mere shells. They had been fire bombed. The destruction was enormous. Nevertheless civilians showed no bitterness or hostility. They were very relieved that the war was over. I stayed at the hospital for about a week. The hospital had a huge red cross painted on the roof with a white background and received almost no damage. It even had an elevator. As another GI and I were getting on the elevator he pointed to the name of the elevator maker, Otis.
In late July all the low-pointers were gathered in groups according to reception centers near our homes. We were to return to the States, get 30 days leave and return to the 95th Infantry Division to get ready for the invasion of Japan. Everybody started counting points. For every month in service we got a point. Every month overseas was another point. A Purple Heart, Bronze Star medal got us another five points.
We were loaded up in boxcars, called 40x8s because they were designed to hold 40 men or eight horses. I looked around and saw my old pal Charlie Brock from Clarksdale. There was another F Company friend by the name of Jack Nazary. Jack and I had been in Company Headquarters Platoon together. Jack was a year or two older than me and married. He was a really nice guy. He also was very religious and went into the ministry after the war.
The first stop was Camp Lucky Strike in France. We spent several days here and proceeded to England and Camp Barton Stacy. We were there when the bomb was dropped on the Japanese. Suddenly the war was over. Getting back to the States looked uncertain. While we were sweating this out, Charlie and I got a pass to London where we signed in at the USO club at Rainbow Corners. The first night we were at the USO club there was a raid by MPs looking for deserters and AWOLs. An MP shook me awake in the middle of the night and asked to see my pass. Sleepily, I fumbled in my wallet, drew out the pass and handed it to him. He stood for a moment looking at my pass and told me to get dressed and come downstairs to talk to his lieutenant. It seems that I had failed to fill in the blanks on my pass. The lieutenant who was in charge of my group had signed blank passes and we were to fill in the dates. This I had failed to do. The MP lieutenant told me that I would have to go down to MP Headquarters and have my pass verified with the duty officer at Barton Stacy.
There were about nine of us who had been nabbed in the raid. Seven were actually AWOLs. We drove to MP Headquarters in the dead of night. When the MP tried to call Barton Stacy he was unable to get the duty officer. Finally they decided I wasn’t a deserter or AWOL and took me back to the USO. It certainly was an exciting anti-climax to a great war. It was my first time to be in MP custody – and last!
A few days later my group of about 30 men was ordered out and trucked down to Southampton where we boarded a liberty ship named the William F. Cody. We boarded to discover that all the other GIs on board were Air Force ground crew who had been in England a number of years, many since the beginning of the war. It looked like a big herd of zebras. I never saw so many stripes (chevrons) in one group before. It was a glorious trip home. We were traveling alone and since we were traveling without ballast the ship rode high in the water. The weather was good but every time the ship caught a wave the bow would go up and then down. When the bow went down the single propeller at the stern would come completely out of the water and have to be throttled back, causing a reduction in forward speed. This happened fairly often.
We would see ships approaching us from the stern, gradually increase in size, and then pass us only to disappear as it passed us. Meals were meager and once again I knew the pangs of hunger.
Home at long last
We arrived at Boston Harbor almost a year to the day when we had left to go to war. We were whisked off to Myles Standish where we were fed and issued khaki uniforms to replace our wool ODs. The next morning we boarded a troop train for Camp Shelby MS. Home was getting closer and we were getting more anxious.
After two nights on the train we pulled into Camp Shelby just before dawn. We debarked, had breakfast, got paid, and got our leave papers all before 1 p.m. No more hurry-up and wait. Charlie and I caught a bus into town, Hattiesburg, and caught the next bus headed north. I got off at Greenwood and Charlie continued on to Clarksdale, which was 50 miles north of Greenwood. It was Oct. 1 and there was a hint of fall in the air. It seemed like I had been gone for years but it had been only a little over a year.
I swaggered around town wearing my combat boots and CIB and sergeant stripes. After a few days of this I simply wore khaki pants and a t-shirt. It was an exciting time.
After I had been home about two weeks I got a telegram from Camp Shelby telling me to take another two weeks. They were covered up with returning service personnel and were discharging most of them in a steady stream. Charlie got the same telegram. We were to report Nov. 16.
On the 15th, Charlie came to Greenwood and we both hitchhiked back to Camp Shelby. People were very good about picking up service people. We reported in to Camp Shelby bright and early the next morning still in a daze from the whirl of events that raced past our eyes. Then they counted our points and discovered we both had enough to be discharged. To our amazement and delight, we found ourselves getting paid and discharged within a few hours. Walking on air, we again rode into Hattiesburg and boarded a bus for home, this time for good!