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Father’s Day Flashback

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I ran in a local 5K event yesterday morning.  I do that every now and then to test myself and to get close enough to death to better appreciate my life.  My result in this event was, even in comparison to my own previously established level of mediocrity, terrible.  I was a full five minutes slower than my best time, and it might as well have been five years slower given how I felt after I was done.  I do have a couple of points to make before the court in my defense.  First, the conditions were not at all good for running.  Even at 8:00 a.m., the temperature was over 80 and the humidity made it feel like a 5K swim instead of a run.  There were some familiar names of local runners on the results list and even some of the best runners around were considerably slower than usual.  Second, while my time was disappointing, I still finished second in my age group.  There were only four people in my age group, but that part of the story will be long forgotten as I discuss this event in the future.  I should note that a significant percentage of the people in my age group that could be running in this event are dead, and therefore not very competitive.  A larger percentage are injured or otherwise not physically able to perform and most of the rest were in a bar somewhere getting ready to watch some European soccer match.  My devious master plan to get better placings in these events through long-term attrition continues to pay dividends.

So I was only a little bummed as a sat down to do some after-race stretches, but bummed is bummed and I wasn’t feeling too great.

This particular 5K event was to raise money for prostate cancer research.  Prostate cancer is a particular interest of mine, since that’s what killed Dad about two years ago.  That might explain why, as I was doing those stretches, I had a flashback to another athletic event over forty years ago.  My senior year in high school, I decided to throw everything I could into getting into the State wrestling tournament.  I spent the entire summer training and going to tournaments.  When the season started, I was as fit and ready as I could possibly be and it showed in my early results.  Then, in the middle of the season, I caught the measles.  There’s something about lying sick in bed for two weeks that’s not conducive to a training regimen.  By the end of the season, I thought I was back in shape and was ready to take my shot at the regional tournament that would decide who went to State.  Then I injured my shoulder three days before that tournament.  So it probably wasn’t too surprising that I lost my second round match to a guy I’d beaten earlier in the season.  The loss didn’t end my State tournament hopes, but it made getting there unlikely.

I walked off the mat, gasping for each breath, shoulder hurting like crazy, feeling like my world was crashing in.  My coach chewed me out for whatever mistakes I made, then walked away to coach another wrestler whose match was just starting.  I crawled up the bleachers to where Dad was sitting.  I guess I was half expecting him to chew me out as well.  He’d done that a few times over the years after sporting events.

This time he surprised me.  He told me that the other wrestler was really good and that he’d clearly gotten better since the last time we’d met.  He reminded me that I still wasn’t done, that I still had a chance, that the wrestlers I would be facing in the rest of the tournament weren’t as good as that guy and really weren’t as good as me.  I still felt terrible, but I could feel my equanimity being restored.  I had a chance.

I won my next match, putting me into an elimination match to determine who would go to State.  It was a close match that I almost lost at the very end of regulation.  The match went into overtime and I found a burst of energy and won easily in overtime.  For this match, the entire family was there.  As I walked into the stands, I noticed my youngest sister was bursting with joy.  My other sister was crying. “I thought you were going to lose,” she said.  Mom was ecstatic.  Then I looked at Dad.  He actually looked drained, like he’d been out there with me.  But he smiled a big smile and congratulated me.  It wasn’t the best moment in my life by a long shot, but it’s probably in the top twenty somewhere.

Years later, we were reminiscing about that event and Dad told me something that he hadn’t mentioned before.  “You weren’t the same wrestler after you had the measles,” he said.  “You were still winning matches, but you were winning on guts instead of ability and you were running on fumes by the end of the season.”  Then he added, “I really didn’t think you’d make it to the State tournament.”

The flashback passed and I finished my stretches and headed to the car.  On the way home, I tried to figure out if there were any great truths to learn from that event.  “Sometimes lying to your children is the right thing to do” just doesn’t seem like something you’re going to see on a motivational poster anytime soon.  Maybe the lesson to be learned is that sometimes fatherhood requires thinking and strategies that are a little outside the box.  Maybe that’s true for any loving relationship we have.

Happy Father’s Day!

Dad’s Story

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Blogger’s Note:  Tomorrow will be the one-year anniversary of my Father’s death.  A few days after his passing, I wrote a post called “Hero” that was about one particular experience that Dad had in France in World War II.  I also mentioned an autobiographical sketch he’d written concerning his experiences in the army.  It was pretty good (Dad was underrated as a story teller), although not always the easiest thing to read for a variety of different reasons.

As it happens, my blog post was pretty popular (popular enough that I decided to republish it on Facebook in November right between Veteran’s Day and his birthday) and a number of people asked me if I could get them a copy of the Dad’s reminiscences.

That proved a little difficult.  My first thought was to find a link through the Library of Congress.  As it happens, the Library of Congress is trying to collect as many of these stories as they can get a hold of, so a family member sent Dad’s story in.  Unfortunately, while I think the Library of Congress is doing a wonderful thing here, it is also a black hole.  Once one of these stories goes in, it may be a very long time before it ever sees daylight.  I would imagine it has something to do with a review and vetting process, or maybe it’s being stored alongside the Ark of the Covenant in some warehouse somewhere where our top men are working on it.  You never know.

Relatives of mine suggested that I put Dad’s story on the blog.  That sounded reasonable, but all I had was the manuscript, so transferring it over was going to be a nightmare.  I had visions of trying to type the thing and, as it’s over 30 pages long, I usually just don’t have the time to pull off something like that or the money to hire somebody to do it.  I tried scanning it to PDF, but that took a huge amount of memory.

Toward the end of January, my Uncle Joseph Hughes (thanks again Uncle Joe!) got the story transferred over to a PDF and a Word file, meaning that all it would take was a little persistence on my part to get this onto the blog.  As you probably guessed by the fact that it’s been almost a year since I got the files before I got this done, I’m not particularly good at the persistence thing.  I’d love to blame the Library of Congress, but…

Anyway, here it is.  Some of the formatting didn’t transfer very well and, if I had a couple of days, I’m pretty sure I could fix some of the problems, but there are no problems that are so bad that it’s unreadable.  I changed some of the names as Dad was pretty blunt about his experiences and the people he met.

INTRODUCTION

I had a lot of experiences in service. Many were good and some were bad. I think I have forgotten most of the good and remember more of the bad. This will probably contain more bad than good. Most experiences involving physical training, I enjoyed. Even the twenty five mile hikes and the speed hikes for time I enjoyed, even though the weather was usually hot and maybe some were not physically able to do these types of things. I would guess that most of the people who collapsed during these marches weren’t really trying. The training we were doing wasn’t really that difficult.
I am dividing this into three parts. They are: 1. Basic training, ASTP, and advanced infantry training; 2. Europe and combat; 3. Home to the United States and discharge.

My Experiences in the Army
By
Wilfred L. Pettus

Basic Training, ASTP, and Advanced Infantry Training

I was drafted in June of 1943 after graduation from high school at Johnstown, Missouri. The school I attended had just 10 students in the four grades: There were two seniors, one junior, three sophomores and four freshmen. My brother Vernon was not one of them. He had transferred to Ballard High school that spring when my family moved to that district.
Sometime in early June I had to report to Butler and be transported to Ft. Leavenworth for a physical examination. It had been raining a lot. The roads were muddy so my dad and I decided to ride horses to Butler. We didn’t have a car anyway. It was 14 miles to Butler. About three miles from Butler it started to rain. We stopped at a farm house. The man living there gave us a ride to Butler. I passed the physical and returned home for two weeks of leave. I arrived in Butler at 12:30 A.M. There was no ride available so I decided to walk home. I got home at 5:30 A.M.
After the two week period of leave I reported back to Ft. Leavenworth to be processed and sent to another army camp for basic training. They loaded us on a train. We had no idea where the train was going. All we could do was ride the train to where they were sending us and things would work out OK. The train went across Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Arizona to California.
They took us to an anti-aircraft training camp on the Pacific Ocean north of San Diego. The camp, located just south of Del Mar, was called Camp Callen. Camp Pendleton, a marine camp was just east of there. Once, while on vacation, we drove through that region. Camp Callen is no longer there. A golf course occupies part of the former camp now.
Basic training involved lots of marching and close order drill. I wasn’t good at doing close order drill at first but later I was as good as any of the rest of the recruits. There was a lot of outpost duty. There was some talk that the Japanese might try to invade California. With some training on how to shoot the forty millimeter anti-aircraft gun we would take one out on the coast at night. We would set up the gun and report by phone any aircraft flying over or anything else we might see on the coast.
After about two weeks of basic training weekend passes were issued to recruits who wanted them. Most went on pass. About fourteen of the forty in our barracks did not take a pass. Someone came into our barracks about two o’clock in the morning and made quite a commotion, and had everybody awake, then left. The next morning was Sunday and most were sleeping late. About 9:00 A.M. a sergeant came into our barracks, blew a whistle and ordered us all out into formation on the parade ground. We were asked who caused the commotion. No one said anything. We were ordered to double time around the parade grounds between the barracks for about 30 minutes. The sergeant running the show stood in the middle and counted cadence. We were called in and again asked who did it. No body said anything. Again we went through the same thing. Again, for the third time, we were sent out to run again. This time some people went to having physical problems – or acting like they did. They would fall down on the asphalt and lay there. The weather was not hot. We were called in again and asked who caused the commotion. Again nobody said anything. We had been running at least 1-1/2 hours. I guess they never found out who caused the problems. A recruit who slept upstairs in the barracks told me later that he knew one of the people that caused the trouble. He thought that none of them were from our barracks, but he would never tell them. I agreed with him. Basic training generally was not fun.
When basic training was over, some of us were selected to go up to Compton Junior College to take six weeks of refresher courses in math and science. This selection was based on army general intelligence test scores that we made back at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, during the processing there. I think my selection for this surprised some people. They knew I didn’t know much about driving a car. I had to mention this when they were selecting people for truck drivers. A lot of things that we were refreshed in were things that I had never heard of before.
After this six week period was over we were all given individual interviews where our performance in school at Compton Junior ColIege was discussed. Some said they hated school and they didn’t want to go on. I was one of the people that was sent to Indiana University. Some were sent back to the army units they came from.
We started school at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, around December 1, 1943, at the beginning of the winter term. We were carrying around fourteen college hours. The courses I remember taking were chemistry, physics, algebra, trigonometry, English and physical education. This was a big load for a twelve week term. They called the program ASTP, which is an abbreviation for Army Specialized Training Program. Two years of this was supposed to qualify us as engineers. The rumor was that they were planning to use us to rebuild Europe after the war. Most of the day was spent in class. Each evening we had study period from 7:00 to 10:00 P.M. I studied a lot more hours than that trying to make passing grades. I felt lucky to be there. Many others were being killed in combat. Many students flunked out for various reasons and were sent to combat units.
Sometime in late February, I contracted scarlet fever. I was in the hospital forty-five days with it. When I got out I found that everybody had been shipped out to combat units that were being prepared for the invasion of Europe. They had no place for me to go. There were about five others like me, so we had a good time doing nothing for about a month. Finally orders came for me to report to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina. The day before I was to leave my throat swelled and I had to go to the hospital again, this time with the mumps. I was there for three weeks. When I got out I had to leave immediately for Ft. Jackson. My doctor told me that I should be given leave or at least light duty for a while because the mumps were something one should be careful with for a while. I don’t think she understood the army very well.
The day I arrived at Ft. Jackson my unit was going on a ten-mile hike with full pack, rifle and gas mask. I tried to explain my situation. They let me know that having been sick didn’t matter. I was to do the regular training. The training and hike didn’t seem to hurt me. I was placed in an anti-tank unit. We trained on a 57mm anti-tank gun. The training we received was advanced combat training in the 346th infantry regiment of the 87th infantry division.

Europe and Combat
In early October, 1944, the division was moved by train to Camp Kilmer, N.J. We were loaded on the British troop ship, “Queen Elizabeth,” on October 14. It departed NewYork Harbor October 17.
I noticed when we left New York we were headed southeast. I found out the reason we were going southeast was to avoid meeting German submarines. There were probably several waiting for us on the direct route northeast to England. The next morning we were headed almost due north. Most troop ships went to Europe in convoys, but we were on our own. The Queen Elizabeth was the largest ship afloat and faster than any German submarine, so it crossed the ocean by itself. There were more than 15,000 American troops on board so, if it were sunk, it would be quite a victory for Germany.
We arrived in Great Britain at Gourock, Scotland, the seaport for Glasgow, Scotland. We unloaded and spent most of the night in a huge warehouse. Our group loaded on a train around 4:00 A.M. the next morning and headed south to Cheshire County, England. We were located someplace between the major cities of Manchester, Chester and Liverpool. We were in this area until around November 24th, when we again loaded on a train that took us to South Hampton, a port on the south coast of England. We boarded an LST boat that took us to Le Havre, France. LST boats are small open boats that have a front door that can be let down when they approach land. Troops can walk out on dry land.
Le Havre was pretty much a ghost town. There wasn’t a building standing. Most of the troops moved into the open fields in the area. We were lucky. We got to move into a bomb shelter. It rained continuously. The troops in the open fields had a hard time.
After three days we loaded onto trucks and headed east across France. We were pulling our anti-tank gun behind the truck. After about two days travel, we arrived at Metz, France. Metz is in northeast France in the province of Alsace Loraine. We were close to the battle front. In Metz we could hear the booming of the artillery at the front. A short time later we moved to the front. The rifle companies had a terrible loss of life in about two days of combat. Our anti-tank company had no losses. About 12 days later, the Germans made a major attack about seventy-five miles north of us, which started the Battle of the Bulge.
We moved back from the front near Metz. The division loaded into trucks and headed for the bulge area in Belgium. We had our own truck, which pulled our 57 mm anti-tank gun.
Our anti tank company stopped in an empty field on the evening of December 24 near Reims, France. It had been raining every day and snowing every night but Christmas day was crystal clear. The skies were almost continuously full of planes flying to and from the Battle of the Bulge area.
The evening of December 25, we moved east toward Bastogne, Belgium, where the Germans had surrounded the remnants of several American divisions. One armored division had lost every tank they had. General Patton’s third army, of which we were part, was attacking from the south and had finally broken through to Bastogne, but were partially cutoff and partly driven back. They finally broke through and held. We heard that Patton’s elite 4th armored division had lost a lot of tanks. The road running southwest from Bastogne to Arlon, Belgium, was pretty well littered with destroyed tanks, mostly American.
Our division moved into battle lines near St. Hubert, Belgium, some ten to fifteen miles west of Bastogne. We took the town of Tillet several times, then lost it again and again. I remember B company of our regiment went past where our anti-tank gun was set up. About thirty minutes later we heard a lot of small arms fire. They had moved into an ambush and were totally wiped out. The three rifle platoons were gone. The only part of B company left was headquarters and a heavy weapons platoon, which did not take part in the attack. After about a week of this, the rifle companies were so depleted our division was pulled out of line and sent to a defensive area in nearby Luxembourg. Our anti-tank company had not had any casualties that I was aware of. During this period after Christmas it had been snowing continuously and was cold enough that it didn’t melt any. The snow was at least two feet deep.
In Luxembourg, we had a defensive area along the Moselle River. There was very little combat. Some German shells came in at times, but we had about a week of rest. A lot of replacements came into the rifle companies, which increased their numbers some, but they were still under full strength.
One kind of amusing story I might tell was about the champagne. We had heard that there was a champagne storage cellar on our side of the Moselle River, but no one could go there because it was where the Germans could see from across the river. One day, we were having a heavy snow storm. We thought we wouldn’t be observed because of the heavy snow. About five of us found a kid’s sled and some boxes set out to find the cellar. We found it O. K. and there was a lot of champagne. It was dark inside but we could see that there were thousands of bottles of it. They were stacked in layers all the way to the ceiling with thin boards between the bottles. There were dozens of layers like this. We had the boxes stacked pretty high on the sled. We figured we had about 150 bottles of the stuff. The cellar where the champagne was stored was surrounded with steep hills or almost cliffs. These were terraced with flat areas where the grapes were grown then a rock wall was built up to the next flat area. Each flat area had a little railroad track that carts could be pushed around to the vineyards on. The rails were about the size of one’s finger. We had to pull and push our sled along one of these tracks to get it out. Some of the top boxes fell off the sled and fell over the ledge onto the next flat area below. We just left those bottles there because there was a sign that said there were land mines where they fell. The snow was starting to slow down, so we got out of there fast. We still had over one hundred bottles of the stuff. Everybody in our platoon that wanted a drink of the stuff got pretty drunk and several were downright sick. One who claimed to know about champagne said that it was a little green but wasn’t bad. Some people will drink about anything, which brings another story to mind, which I might as well tell here.
Our platoon, which was the first platoon of the anti-tank company, had three gun squads. The third squad considered themselves the toughest squad of all. There were some real characters in that squad. One member of that squad married a girl who came to see her brother at Ft. Jackson before he went overseas. He already had a wife back in Indiana. When we were going overseas, I heard him say he had to get killed in combat because if he made it home he had a real mess to face, I heard that after the anti-tank company was broken up, he went to a rifle company and was wounded so badly he had one or two limbs blown away, but he lived. Some members of that squad got to drinking lucky tiger hair tonic, which had a high percentage of alcohol. I saw them drinking the stuff. They would take a drink of it then make a terrible face. It must have not tasted very good. They painted the name “Lucky Tiger” on their gun.
When we picked up the champagne, we were doing something which was unauthorized and dangerous. If it had been reported to the right people we might have been in a lot of trouble if they would have wanted to push it. Also we could have gotten ourselves killed. The trail we traveled had been cleared of mines and people had been there before. The floor of the storage area was littered with about four inches of broken bottles. If the Germans had thought someone was there we would have attracted artillery fire. It is one of the things I was involved with that I am ashamed of. This and some of the other things I am writing about here are things that I am not particularly proud of now.
The Germans during the Battle of the Bulge were apparently using older type artillery guns that required bags of gunpowder. We were playing around with these bags setting them on fire and other things. When we would burn a bag of powder it would make a huge flash. Some one suggested putting some of these bags in a room in a house, burn them there, and see what happens. We found a room that had an open door to a room that had a door on the other side. I think we put about five bags of gun powder in the first room, then stood across the next room through the open door and threw lighted matches across the empty room into the room with the gun powder. Finally a lighted match hit the gunpowder. It went off with a flash. The flames almost reached across the empty room between us and the gun powder. We thought the flames were going to reach us so we all tumbled backwards on the floor. Luckily no one was hurt. I have often wondered what the Belgian who owned the house thought could have happened in that room when he returned to his house after the fighting stopped in that area. The paint on the walls and ceiling were very black and burned.
Another example of what kids will be involved in was the killing of fish with hand grenades. The streams in that area were very clear. We could see carp swimming three or four feet deep in the clear water. Someone suggested maybe they were good to eat. There was no fishing equipment but someone suggested maybe we could throw hand grenades into the water and the explosion would kill the fish. They started throwing hand grenades into the water. At first they were taking cover behind trees but later they quit taking cover because the shrapnel appeared not to come out of the water. I don’t remember if they got any fish. If they did, they probably didn’t eat them because they had no way to cook them. They did make the water muddy.
Another story somewhat similar to these occurred at a crossroad near Metz, France, a few days after our division started combat. To lay some foundation to the story, we had several people in our unit that were from the larger cities, generally the eastern cities, They considered themselves somewhat superior to farm kids from places such as Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. This one Greek whose name was Angelo something or other had previously told me that he thought I would not be much good in combat because my background was such that I would be cowardly. I had told him I thought that I would be as good as anybody else but we would wait and see and maybe we would talk about it again sometime.
About the second day of our combat experience, we were approaching a crossroad to set up our anti-tank gun. As we approached the crossroad we saw some American dead lying just off the road. A rifle company had been shelled as they passed through the crossroad area earlier that day. This was our first experience of observing bodies of Americans killed in combat. We had unloaded from the truck and the driver was trying to maneuver the gun into a field nearby. We saw an American tank coming up the road at a high rate of speed. It had a hole in the turret and the tank commander’ s body was hanging out the top of the turret with his upper body and arms hanging over the edge of the turret. The tank nearly ran over some riflemen beside the road. They jumped out of his way. He barely missed our truck. We were a little nervous from what we were seeing.
We got our gun into the nearby field and got it set up which took a minute or two. We had been trained to immediately start digging holes for our personal protection, which most of us were doing. We were generally pretty tired, so some of the guys had taken some time before they started digging. My hole was pretty well done. Suddenly some German shells started coming into our general area. They were not coming very close. I jumped into what hole I had. I looked out and saw this guy running around looking for cover. There was none for him. He came running by my hole. It was the guy that had all the things to say about me and farm kids. He had a terrible scared look on his face. He looked at me in the hole as I looked at him. I guess I laughed at him. He ran off down to the road about one hundred yards away and got into the road ditch for a while. I saw him later that day. He said that I would laugh at anything and had to be crazy. I had a few words of wisdom for him too.
Our truck driver was trying to get his truck away from the corner area. Instead of using the path that we came in, he tried to drive the truck down a steep road bank into the road. When the front wheels hit the ditch, the back wheels were still high up the bank above the road. Even though the truck was a six-wheel drive, he couldn’t move it. A funny thing, after everything settled down a little the truck backed out easily. Later some of us speculated that the driver may have tried to back the truck out without having power to all his wheels.
Around January 25, 1945, we started back to the battle area. We moved west through Wiltz and Bastogne to St. Vith. The whole area had been cleared of the German army. Northeast of St. Vith we set up our gun.
St. Vith had been undamaged before the Battle of the Bulge started. It had a very large railroad terminal. Before the battle started several trains loaded with supplies had been parked there. These trains were all painted green with the word “Allied” painted on the boxcars. The Germans passed through this area so quickly they captured all these trains undamaged. After the Germans captured them, the Air Force bombed the area and completely destroyed the town and everything there. Nothing was left. All buildings were gone. All the boxcars were completely destroyed. The railroad tracks were so completely destroyed the rails were pointed every which way. The number of rail boxcars had to number in the dozens. While we were here, the order came that all anti-tank companies were to be disbanded. We were all sent to rifle companies as bazooka men. I and a soldier from our squad were sent to company C as a two-man bazooka team. Very few of our guns had ever been fired in combat. I’m not aware that the whole company had ever lost a man killed. Probably several of the rifle companies had over a hundred killed. I have no idea what they did with all our anti-tank guns.
Starting at this point we found what combat was all about. We were attacking the Siegfried line. In this area it was all pill boxes. These pill boxes were made of concrete with walls about eight feet thick. The most of them were underground and had beds that hung out from the walls. About a platoon could live in some of the larger pill boxes. Above the sleeping area, there was a concrete turret that could be fired from through little openings on all sides. Their walls were also several feet thick. The funnel shaped openings had little ledges on their sides in the concrete, so bullets from the outside could not be funneled into the turret. The pill boxes were mostly underground except for the turrets. The entry way to the pill box was below the surface of the ground and you entered into the sleeping area. The sleeping area was ventilated by a hand-operated system that operated by turning a handle. The ones I saw had no provision for large guns. They could only be used with machine guns and rifles. They were pretty good protection against artillery and small arms fire. In our area, the Germans did very little fighting out of the pill boxes. They slept in them but fought mostly out in the open. When an American tank rolled up to the turret of one of them, the people inside were sitting ducks.
American troops slept in German pill boxes a lot. They were safe from artillery fire and warm. It was a good place to get out of the snow. One problem with sleeping in pill boxes was getting lice. A lot of Germans were lousy. They did not have DDT, which killed lice. We thought DDT would not harm humans so we used it a lot. Americans kept free from lice that way. We put it in our hair, in our clothes, and in our blankets and didn’t seem to have problems. If the army did that nowadays, the government would be paying billions in disability.
Sometime after I was transferred to Company C, a soldier who had had a slight wound returned to the company. He had been in an aid station for about two weeks. His wound was in the muscle between his shoulder and neck. A bullet had entered the front and come out about three inches away in back. It didn’t look like it was fully healed, but I guess they were hurrying everybody back to the battlefront as quickly as possible.
He described the way he was wounded as follows. A guy next to him suddenly collapsed. He saw immediately that he was shot through the bottom part of his helmet just above the eyes. About that time he felt a sting in his shoulder next to his neck and there was blood on his shirt. He ran into a nearby house. A tank immediately started machine gunning and shelling some houses two or three hundred yards away. He remarked that the Heinie must have been a good shot. Heinies were what we usually called German soldiers. He said the wound didn’t hurt at all for awhile. Then it really started to hurt. A medic had bandaged his neck with the bandage from the packet that we all carried on our ammunition belts along with a canteen of water and ammunition. The packet also contained a couple of wound tablets. He was given one of these tablets. Within a few minutes he felt like he was floating on air. He felt so good he wanted to dance and sing. He was told the tablets had morphine in them.
The 87th division took several cities east of St. Vith in heavy fighting including Schoenberg, Stadtkyll, and Prumm. At Schoenberg we were pinned down by small arms fire just short of the railroad tracks where two unpaved roads joined together, then went down a steep little hill and crossed a railroad track. The roads came from somewhat opposite directions running somewhat parallel to the railroad track but higher than the tracks. The roads were eroded deeply but were much higher than the tracks. They were pretty good protection, but rocky to the point that it was nearly impossible to dig in. We were trapped in a position such that we could not escape before darkness. So many mortars were coming in and some of them were hitting in the road.
I was asked to go up the right prong of the road and shoot my bazooka at a house where a machine gun might be located and an observer might be. I took the loaded bazooka and one other round up to where I thought I could get a shot at it. I set the distance gage at the distance I thought the house was. The projectile went clear over the house and exploded about fifty yards past. I put the other round in and set the distance shorter and shot it. The projectile hit just short of the house. I guess the Germans had seen me because some bullets whizzed by. One was so close to my head it made my right ear ring. I immediately got down and started crawling back to where the road was deeper where everybody was. About a minute after I got there, a mortar shell made a direct hit on a soldier named Smith who was about ten feet from me. My bazooka assistant was lying about five feet from me between Smith and I. The fact that he was a big man being six foot five inches and weighing 260 pounds probably saved me from serious injuries. Our remaining bazooka ammunition on the other side of him also exploded. Smith was blown to bits. The biggest piece of him I saw was a shoe with part of a foot in it. My assistant bazooka man’s body, whose name was Kalajian, was so torn up that his shoulders were near his hips and his stomach and chest stuck up in the air like the inverted letter V. The stock of my carbine had some damage and my left forefinger had a cut on it. Otherwise, besides ringing ears, I was all right. Another man on the other side of Smith was badly torn up and killed.
Earlier in the day, I had shot six clips of carbine ammunition at the windows of houses on the hillside across on the other side of the railroad. I held two clips back in case we came under direct attack. A clip holds fifteen rounds. If the Germans started moving in on us I wanted something to shoot. I think some of the guys had shot up all or nearly all their ammunition. Our squad leader whose name was Sam Maggio was also wounded badly. We had several other injured that were from my platoon but not from my squad.
One bazooka round was loaded with phosphorus. It was simmering after the mortar shell hit. It suddenly popped, showering burning phosphorus into the air. Luckily it had been blown far enough away that the burning phosphorus did not fall on the wounded. When the phosphorus round exploded we all ran down the road a little ways.
A friend of mine from Blackburn, Mo., who was a squad leader, James Tieman, said that we needed to go back and see if we could help the wounded. We had all run down the road a little ways after the mortar shell did all the damage. I heard one guy say he wouldn’t go back up there for a million dollars. Tieman wanted some one to go with him. We had no medics in the company that were still with us. They had all been killed or wounded. I went with him. Three appeared to still be alive. Our acting squad leader, Sam Maggio, appeared to still be alive. We couldn’t feel any pulse but he appeared to be breathing a little. A big piece of shrapnel had hit him in the lower part of the chest and upper abdomen. Two people from other squads in our platoon were hurt but couldn’t walk. Another guy had his hands over his face and eyes and wouldn’t remove them. His body was shaking real hard. We took the bandage from his belt and talked to him about taking his hands from his face to take a wound tablet. He did take his hands away and he swallowed the wound tablet with some water. He had been hit in the face just below his left eye. A piece of shrapnel had crushed his cheek bone in quite a ways. He covered his face with his hands again but he wasn’t shaking as much. We covered them with blankets and left them until darkness came. We made stretchers from poles by wrapping the edge of blankets around each pole and rolling them up part ways. By holding them tight so the blanket wouldn’t unroll, we made a pretty good stretcher. We carried four guys from our platoon that way. The other two platoons carried several guys too. Company B had taken a few houses at the edge of town. The Germans still had most of the town. A paved road away from the town was available to haul the wounded away on jeeps. A medic on one of the jeeps told one of the guys that Maggio was dead but they took him anyway. A book I have on our regiment lists him as killed in action.
About six weeks later, nearly all the way across Germany a guy from a burial unit came and talked to me about the dead we had left there. I told him where we left them. He looked at his records and said they had looked there. He thought maybe the German people had buried them someplace and they were checking that out. I told him that they probably hadn’t buried Smith because his body had been blow pretty much to bits, but the others were intact. They are listed as missing in action in the book I have.
Company C occupied one of the houses at the west edge of town. Germans had most of the town. While some slept, others were on outpost. I was given duty the early part of the night for three hours. The company had four outposts with four men each. The Germans pretty well knew where we were. They were shooting flares over us. They would light the whole area each time one would go up. The Germans were shelling the whole area. They were doing it with what we called walking artillery. About 10 shells would hit in one area close together. Then they would change the direction of their guns a little and the same number of shells would fall in another area. They would continue doing this until the whole area had been covered. We could guess with a great deal of accuracy where the next shells would hit. Our outpost had no injuries from the shelling, although we got some mud blown on us from a shell that hit about forty feet away. Having guessed when the shells would come to our area, you might guess that we were pretty close to the ground. We had not dug holes yet. It was early in the night and we had not been there long and we were very tired. We started digging after the first shells fell. The next group that came on duty had some shallow holes.
The outpost next to ours got a direct hit among the men. One was killed outright another got a very serious wound. He was screaming with every breath. It sounded like “aaii aaii” over and over again. I learned the next day that he had his chin and some of his lower teeth almost totally blown away by a large piece of shrapnel. The medics who hauled him away on the back of a jeep thought he would live, but they always tell you that. Maybe sometime later we hear that they have died. We didn’t hear anything else about this guy.
People that farmed didn’t live on farms as they do here. They lived in the villages and farmed around them. Each farm home had one main building, which had the house and barn in the same building. The walls of the building were made of bricks and mortar. They were about one and one half feet thick. Each building could almost be a fortress in battle. They had tile roofs and the building would probably last some hundreds of years. The basement of one of these was especially good protection against light artillery fire. We stayed in these basements when we weren’t on outpost or guard duty. At times one could look out the window at the top of the basement and see bricks falling when a shell hit the top of the building. There was generally a small building, usually wood, where a car, and tools could be stored. It sometimes had a loft with small windows.
The next morning the men who had done the first outpost the night before were put on lookout. We were placed so all areas could be observed at all times. As we moved around to various locations, only two of us had not been placed. I was pretty sick and had been vomiting a lot. As it happened I was vomiting when it came time to place someone in the top of one of these buildings outside the main building. The other guy got up there. My place of observation was in the barn part of the main building, looking out the window. Soon an artillery barrage hit our area. One shell hit the ground near the base of the storage building. The man in the loft was wounded badly. He had fallen out of the loft and was begging for help. When the shelling let up a little, two guys ran out and dragged him into the barn where I was on guard. They were talking about the bleeding some and were working on it. He was given a wound tablet and he settled down some. We were waiting for a jeep to take him out, when another bunch of shells started coming in. The other two guys and I dove into the corner of the barn. A shell hit the roof of the barn directly above him. Shrapnel from the exploding shell passed through the floor of the barn loft, hitting him and killing him immediately. When darkness arrived that evening, we left the part of the town that we controlled. I don’t know whether we were relieved or pulled back and let the Germans have the town. We left the town almost in a jog. Flares would go up in the part of town the Germans held occasionally. When a flare went up, we would immediately squat down and try to look like a rock or a bush beside the road. By doing this, we drew no artillery shells as we left.
When we arrived at headquarters area, we each picked up a sleeping bag and went to sleep. In the three platoons of our rifle company, we had about thirty men left on foot. We had about seventy when we left a few days before. One full strength platoon is forty men. Our squad had four people killed. There were eight of us when we started the attack. Two of the remaining four received purple hearts but did not have to go to the hospital. This was the only time our squad had anybody killed while I was in the squad. We had others wounded during the course of the war. The next afternoon I awoke, ate, and went to an aid station and had my finger doctored and bandaged. It was infected some. They filled out forms for a purple heart and told me to stay there and rest for a few days. I lay down to rest but kept watching the wounded come in. I went to a captain and told him I wanted to go back to my company. He said that was fine and he thought I might want to do that. The company was resting almost next door anyway.
We left this rest area about four days later. We had a lot of rest and some replacements more than doubling the number in the three platoons. We were back up to about seventy people. We were to relieve a company that had taken a hilltop in the forest about four miles away. They had a lot of casualties and were in pretty bad shape.
As we approached the hill, we had to cross another wooded hill. My part of the company was almost over the hill, when we were hit by a mortar barrage. I was at the edge of the steep hill. Shells were hitting and exploding in the trees. At first I hit the ground as everybody else did, but then realized that was the wrong thing to do. I looked above me and about thirty feet to my left. A shell exploded there. I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t hit. I started rolling down the hill which was very steep. This got me about sixty yards from the top of the hill. I got up and ran across a small creek and was with the lead part of the company that had already cleared the hill that was being shelled. We went on to relieve the company that we started out to relieve about one half mile away. I heard later some people had been killed and wounded on the hill that was shelled but not many. I didn’t know any of them.
We arrived at the top of the hill we were to take charge of. Holes were already dug, but not covered. The hilltop was covered with fairly large trees so we had to cover the holes with logs to protect against shrapnel from tree bursts. So we covered the holes with logs and piled brush containing pine needles on top of the logs. We would leave one end open to crawl in and out. We slept under the logs that night. The next morning two shells came in but didn’t hit very close to our location. A large piece of shrapnel traveled about eighty yards and struck a lieutenant in the back. It didn’t penetrate his clothing but it pretty well crushed his shoulder blade. He fell on the ground then managed to stand again. He had to leave to go to a hospital. We never saw him again. I was standing about ten feet from him when he was hit. That left us with only one commissioned officer. It seemed that medics and commissioned officers drew shrapnel. We were always without them.
We figured more shells were coming and they did. Probably more than a hundred came in during the next few minutes. Tree tops were falling on our holes from tree bursts. We were fairly safe under the logs and tree branches. Almost at the same time the shells were coming, German machine guns opened up on us. Our hole was behind the edge of the hill. About half of the troops were dug in at the top edge of the hill. The machine gun fire was so intense that small limbs were falling as the bullets clipped them off. Someone at the top edge of the hill went to yelling that the Heinies were coming get your heads out. They all got their heads out and started shooting. They killed three or four of them. Some were less than fifty yards away. The shooting stopped and we could see German soldiers coming our way with their hands in the air. Americans were slamming them with rifle butts and kicking them. I was afraid somebody might start shooting and they would all be killed, but they didn’t. We had about twenty prisoners. Most of them were crying. Two wounded ones came in later wanting help. We could hear other wounded out there someplace. Nobody worried about them. We thought that if the shooting had started sooner before they got so close, most of them would have escaped. We were all hunkered down because of the artillery and machine gun fire and didn’t know they were coming until they were so close they had to surrender or be killed. The way it worked out, they were wiped out. There were other Germans out there but they did not attack any more. We had one casualty. I didn’t realize we had any until we saw some guys pulling someone from under the logs and brush over one hole .He had one leg completely cut off and the other nearly cut off by a large piece of shrapnel. He didn’t realize how badly he was hurt. He asked the people taking care of him how bad it was. Someone finally spoke up and told him he had his million dollar wound. Nothing else was said. A million dollar wound is one in which the combat experience of the individual is ended but he will live. Other wounds according to value are the ten thousand and one thousand dollar values. A ten thousand dollar wound is one in which a relative gets the ten thousand dollars in life insurance that each of us carried. A one thousand dollar wound is one in which the recipient goes to an aid station or the hospital for a while then returns to combat. I don’t know the value of the wound I got. I don’t know the value of a purple heart. That is all I got out of it.
It was fortunate that we had our holes covered with logs and brush. There was evidence that several pieces of shrapnel had hit the logs over our hole. I am sure most of the others were the same. The soldier that lost his feet probably lost them because he didn’t have all the cracks closed between the logs. Most of the limbs were blown off the trees in our area.
That evening our squad was selected to go on patrol to see if the Germans were still there. We checked to see if there were any German wounded where we had thought we had heard sounds from them. There were three dead Germans that we found, nothing more. We couldn’t imagine what could have happened to the wounded that we had been hearing during the day. Guessing, one could imagine that they were carried away by German medics. They were out at least one hundred yards and we might not have seen them being carried away in the brush. If we would have known they were carrying their wounded away, I know we would not have shot at them.
Early the next morning, the company left on attack. We moved through where we had gone on patrol and on through a lot of small evergreen trees that had been planted in rows. The trees were thick and hard to get through. We couldn’t see more than fifteen yards ahead. I was scared because we could walk into an ambush, but it didn’t happen. It seemed like we went through miles of this. Finally, we came to a clearing. We crossed a road and entered some large trees and started to dig in under the trees. Suddenly some shells started hitting the trees near us. Then about five guys from the front of the group came running through where we were. As they ran, they were shouting that there were a bunch of German tanks coming. Then the rest of the group ahead of us came running and yelling about tanks. We decided we had better go with them. I had my bazooka but wasn’t stupid enough to take on a bunch of tanks. We ran through the edge of the thick short evergreens and on across a stream. It was very disorganized. An officer got us stopped under some taller trees on the slope on the other side of a stream.
We started to dig in as fast as we could. The tanks stopped at the edge of the short thick evergreens. It is pretty dangerous for tanks to enter a place with thick brush. A bazooka man could ambush it. The tanks started firing at the trees where we were. Some officer was shouting for a bazooka team. We were pointed out to him. The second lieutenant came running over and ordered us to go shoot at the tanks. It looked like a suicide mission to me. Those tanks weren’t out there by themselves. There would be infantry all around them. If we approached the tanks we were sure to be killed. We got our bazooka and ammunition and started walking across the stream to the thick short evergreens. I was thinking that someway I wasn’t going to get very close to those tanks. Then we heard someone else yelling at us about where we thought we were going. I yelled back that we had been ordered to go fire our bazooka at the tanks. He said that artillery had been called on the tanks and we would get killed by our own artillery if we went far out there. It was an officer I had never seen before. I never knew who he was, hut I was glad that he was there. Our artillery started hitting in the area where the tanks stopped. I’m not aware that we had very many injuries. We had none in our company.
That night, about ten of us were told to go to an area about a mile or two behind us where headquarters had moved to and get some food for the company to eat the next morning. It was cloudy and very dark. We were to find our way by letting a telephone wire that had been laid between us and headquarters slide through our hand as we walked along. We were supposed to keep quiet because German patrols might be in the area and might ambush us. Everything went well until we arrived at headquarters, got the food and started back. Guys were getting angry with each other, claiming others weren’t carrying their fair share. When we left, it seemed to be divided evenly. Someone in the group was yelling and swearing. Others got to yelling back at him. My partner and I were carrying five gallons of coffee in a can that usually held gasoline. It had a handle on each side and though it was heavy it was easy to carry. We took out ahead of the others. We decided if we walked real fast, we could get ahead of the others and not be close to the ones that were making all the noise. We were both strong, so we were soon out of hearing distance from them. We were back at least thirty minutes before the rest arrived. The next morning the cooked food was cold, but better than the packaged rations we normally had. There were times when we did not have any food for fairly long periods. One time it was three days.
The date was around the first of March. We had broken through the Siegfried line. The Germans were in full retreat to the Rhine and Moselle rivers. We moved into a town about 25 miles inside Germany. About eight of us stayed in a house together and were there for about ten days. A German family remained in the house. He and his wife looked to be more than sixty years old. There were three children that he said were his. They ranged in age from eight to a little skinny girl that was eleven years old. The German could talk English a little so we could understand each other. He said that he had five older sons that had been killed in the war. A couple of times he brought some milk that his wife had boiled into our rooms. It was hot and didn’t taste bad. We trusted the German people more than people back home would expect that we should. We suspected the three children really were grand kids.
One day the German came into where we had our bedrolls on the floor. He was pretty upset about something. We couldn’t understand what he was trying to tell us. Finally he made a motion for us to follow him. Two of us went with him to a kind of community barn that housed several cows. Several Americans were staying in the barn. Somebody had plunged a bayonet into a cow’s udder. There were several men standing around. I asked who did it and one idiot standing there was pointed out. I told him that it was a stupid thing to do. He muttered something about these people and their food. I told him that this guy had three little kids and he had shared some of the milk with us. The guy seemed kind of ashamed about it. I think the cow’s udder probably healed in a few days. It was only one wound and it didn’t look that bad.
We had a sergeant in our company named Jones. He was capable of about anything. He had been awarded a silver star because he had killed sixteen German soldiers with a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) in combat in the Battle of the Bulge. I become acquainted with a guy that had been there but was wounded and in the hospital for quite a while. He told me that Jones had killed them, but they were trying to surrender. Some were getting out of a disabled German tank and others were infantry with the tank. When combat is severe, people do things that are pretty bad and maybe this could be a factor in Jones’ actions. Possibly it didn’t happen that way.
Jones would come by the house where we were staying and stop and visit occasionally. His line of talk let one know pretty quickly that he was no good. He saw the eleven year old girl and went to talking about having sex with her. He said that she was old enough to enjoy it. I told him maybe he had better forget it. He could get in a lot of trouble. He never talked to me again after that.
Jones was the one who said he was going to turn Tieman and me in for citations after we took care of some wounded and other things at Kronenburg, Germany. I don’t think he was smart enough to do the paper work. We never heard anything from it.
Once while we were in the anti-tank company about one or two weeks before the anti-tank company was broken up, we were moving through the snow to set up our gun. The snow was probably about three feet deep, but had partially been removed from the road by a tank with a bull dozer like blade attached to it. There were a lot of frozen German bodies in the snow that had been pushed off the road. I would guess that there were more than one hundred in a one half kilometer stretch of the road. Some had been run over and flattened under the track of the tank. An idea was circulated through the American army that the German army did not take airborne prisoners alive. They generally shot those who tried to surrender. Likewise paratroopers did not take many German prisoners alive but shot most who tried to surrender. These German bodies were very bunched up. In one place there were as many as fifteen bodies in a ten yard stretch of the road. Our division was relieving the eighty second airborne division in this area. We guessed that, from the way these bodies were bunched, they might have been shot by members of the eighty second airborne division after they had surrendered. The American soldiers in combat are trained to maintain about fifteen foot intervals at all times to avoid more than two or three being killed by a single shell. I think German soldiers are trained the same way.
We ate our meals in an area about three hundred yards from the house where we were staying. Early one morning I was walking to breakfast by myself. Suddenly out of the bushes jumped a German soldier with his hands up. He was dirty and hadn’t shaved in two or three weeks. He had a German uniform and a German overcoat on. I made a motion with my carbine the direction I wanted him to go. I turned him over to the headquarters people at breakfast. I never heard anything about him again. I suppose they fed him the same breakfast the rest of us received, then took him to a stockade someplace.
About March 13th we loaded onto trucks and went about ninety miles to Rubenach, Germany, where the Moselle River joins the Rhine River across from Koblenz. The Germans had moved out of the area near Belgium very quickly without any resistance and set up a line of resistance on the east bank of the Rhine and Moselle rivers.
We unloaded west of Rubenach and walked to the Moselle River. We carried bedrolls and some rations. Having bedrolls indicated we would be in Rubenach a few days. We moved our bedrolls into a house at the end of a bridge across the Moselle. We were to have an outpost at the end of the bridge. It was very dark. We were told that there would be a spy or messenger slipping across the Moselle sometime that night and he probably would come across that bridge. We were very nervous because we knew Germans were at the other end of the bridge. If somebody came across they might be German and we would want to shoot, otherwise we didn’t want to kill someone on our side. If they came across on our bridge we sure hoped they would know our password, I went on guard at midnight. I was supposed to be relieved at 2:00 A.M. At 2:00 A.M., nobody showed up. Somebody had overslept. We could never leave our post, so I had to stay on. At 4:00 AM. nobody showed to relieve me. Finally, at 6:00 A.M., someone came. It was starting to get light. We looked at the bridge. The middle span was blown and was under water. Nobody could have crossed that bridge. There was really a mix up someplace. I was pretty mad because nobody had showed to relieve me from guard duty. I had put in a hard night.
Our 87th infantry division was supposed to cross the Moselle south of Koblenz, then take Koblenz. The shelling of Koblenz and the area across the river around Koblenz was starting, but it was a few days before the attack actually started.
We were supposed to keep out of sight all we could. We wanted the Germans to guess where the main attack was coming from. There was a castle on the east bank of the Rhine River across from Koblenz. There was a road along the east bank of the Rhine between the river and below the castle. Closed horse drawn vehicles were continually moving along the road. We were watching all this from the top floor of the house we were staying in under strict orders not to shoot at anything, Finally artillery fire was directed at the road. Soon one of the wagons was hit. The horses were killed and about ten German soldiers jumped out and ran. Two German women came running down the road and carried a wounded soldier to safety. The shelling had stopped. They came back and got another one. We thought they might not be women because they were carrying those men awful fast. If they would have been men I don’t think they would have been fired on anyway. If wounded were being helped I am sure we would hold our fire. There were probably a dozen or so Americans looking on at this action. No more wagons or carts came down that road.
We were reminded again and again not to shoot anything even though the Germans were shooting our way. That evening about sundown they opened up in our direction. Machine guns and rifles fired hundreds of bullets our way in about five minutes. We hunkered down in a basement. At least five bullets came through the window at the top of our basement room. Nobody was hurt. We did look out the window a little to see if German soldiers might be coming across the river. I guess they didn’t care to know if we were there that badly.
That night, which was the second night we were there, we set up four outposts of two people each. Our artillery was shelling Koblenz a lot. They were also shelling the bluffs and castle above the road on the east side of the Rhine. The shelling was so intense that at times it was almost like continuous thunder rumbling. We could hear some of the shrapnel coming down on our side of the river. We had two men that were supposed to rove between the four outposts. I was involved in that. We had been told that there was the possibility a German patrol had crossed the river and was wandering around on our side. That made us pretty nervous. We would approach where our guys were and very quietly call a password until we got an answer. Then we would come on in. We came to one outpost and started calling the password. Nobody answered. The outpost was located under a camouflage net about forty feet by forty feet in size, which the Germans had left. There were some short trenches under the net also. Our guys were supposed to be standing in those trenches. They didn’t appear to be there. At least they weren’t standing. The guy with me thought they weren’t there and suggested we get out fast. I told him I would take a better look, then we would go. I went around on the other side of the net and called the password again. There was no answer. Finally, I ran under the net and jumped the trench they were supposed to be in. I ran to the guy with me and told him that they weren’t there and we were getting out of there fast. We went immediately to our platoon leader and reported the guys were missing. They went to the outpost and checked. The two guys were lying in the bottom of the trench. One of them said he saw somebody jump over him but he didn’t know where he went. They said that so much shrapnel was falling from the artillery barrage on the other side of the river they thought they had better lie down. There was a little spent shrapnel falling, but it wasn’t dangerous. Everybody agreed that they were probably asleep but nobody knew for sure. If someone had actual proof and somebody wanted to push charges, they would have been in a lot of trouble. While writing my experiences during the battle of Koblenz, it seems to be only three or four days. I just read about it in a book I have about our regiment, the 346th infantry. It turns out to be about nine days. The other two regiments, the 345th and the 347th did most of the fighting. Our regiment did very little of the actual hard fighting. We were considered reserve.
The 345th and the 347h also initiated the crossing of the Rhine River on Sunday March 25th at Boppard, about ten miles up the river south of Koblenz. One of those regiments, I am not sure which, tried to cross that morning and was driven back with heavy losses. The other crossed that evening after a lot of shelling all day, and their men held at the base of the bluff along the river . We crossed the next morning. There were a lot of barrels with something burning in them to produce a smoke screen. I didn’t think it was effective. The wind was blowing the smoke away almost as fast as it was produced. The only German gunfire we experienced was a semi-automatic 25mm anti-aircraft that was firing in our general direction. I guess the smoke kept the Germans firing it from seeing exactly where we were. It didn’t hit any boats, but it did scare us pretty badly. When we landed, we ran through the other regiment that had landed the evening before. We climbed a fairly steep bluff going through a lot of vineyards and went on out into the countryside. There didn’t seem to be any Germans around. That afternoon we stopped in a small village and spent the night.
Early the next morning there was enough rain to make it slightly muddy. We started moving out about daybreak shortly after the rain stopped. We came to a village where there were supposed to be several German soldiers who we were going to attack. Our company was to go around the east side of the village and cut off the road north of the village. We were moving at double time. Companies A and B were to attack the town straight on. These two companies along with our Company C made up the first battalion of the regiment. Our heavy weapons were thrown into the battle, which made a lot of machine guns and mortars. We were running through the woods about as fast as we could move. Suddenly, to our left we heard all the machine gun and rifles open up on the village. Bullets were whizzing through the trees around us. We thought the Germans were shooting at us. We would lie down in low spots when the bullets were the worst, then get up and run again. Finally we crossed the road about one half mile north of the village. There were a lot of fresh German tracks in the wet ground moving away from the town. The Germans wore shoes that had large nail heads that stuck down from the shoe soles. The American shoe soles were smooth. This made a difference in the tracks of Germans and Americans. We called the nail heads sticking down hobnails. The Germans had all left town before we started the attack. All those bullets whizzing through the trees over our heads were probably ricochets off the tile roofs from our people attacking the front of the town.
We moved back into the village and met the Americans that had charged into town. They had really shot up the town and there wasn’t a German soldier in the town. They had even thrown some hand grenades into some of the buildings which killed some horses and cows in the buildings. At this point we felt lucky that no one had been hurt by our own firing. Then artillery shells started falling into the town. We could tell by the sound they made coming in that they were coming from west of the Rhine River where the American artillery was located. We had some people hit by shrapnel from our own artillery. We lost one killed that way. They managed to get it stopped in a few minutes but a great deal of damage was done.
We left this town headed east. We stopped early in the afternoon for the night. The first and second squads of the first platoon were selected to go on a patrol to see if there were any German soldiers between us and the Laun River. The Laun River runs west into the Rhine somewhere near Koblenz. We had to walk three or four miles north. We reached it at a small village called Bad Ems, which was across the river from us. Bad Ems was a few houses scattered along the other side of the river with a steep hill or bluff behind the village. We had twenty men in our patrol. We could see several German soldiers on the bluff. They had one or two white flags out.
The second lieutenant in charge of the patrol was saying that they wanted to give up and surrender. The bridge across the river had been blown up but the iron sides stuck up above the water. Their tops made two flat paths that we could crawl across on. This was the only officer we had in our company. His name was Anderson. He told us we had to get across, so the German soldiers would give up to us. He said to follow him and he took off crawling across the bridge, He and about ten others were across and two or three others were on the bridge when some Germans started shooting at us. I hadn’t been too thrilled about getting on the bridge because I didn’t trust the Germans that much, so I waited to be one of the last to get on. When the shooting started, I jumped behind a pile of dirt for protection. One guy on the bridge had the end of one of his fingers torn nearly off. He froze up and wouldn’t move. He just stayed in one place on the bridge. The Germans were shooting at him. Finally Dave Eaby of Salt Lake City crawled out to him and told him he had to get off the bridge or get killed. He got off then. Eaby got a silver star for his help. The guy had a bullet hole through the canteen hanging on his hip, but wasn’t injured other than his finger. One guy across the river was killed immediately. The man from Blackburn, Missouri, that I mentioned before was in a hole about six feet long and three feet deep. He motioned for me to come over to the hole he was in. I had practically no protection where I was. I could lookout and look directly at the top of the hill where the German soldiers were. So I ran over to the hole which was about twenty five feet away. I found that he had been shot through the neck. The bullet had entered the left side of his neck within about one half inch from his esophagus. It came out about an inch from his backbone. Blood was squirting out from his neck. We were both low enough in the hole that the Germans couldn’t see us. He was losing blood awfully fast. I knew that the flesh around a wound could be pinched or squeezed and bleeding could be controlled sometimes. I tried that but couldn’t get it to work. I knew he wasn’t going to be alive long the way he was bleeding. Finally I put my finger over the hole and pressed. My finger slipped into the hole a little and the bleeding stopped. His clothes were pretty bloody and I had his blood on mine. He was conscious and could talk but his voice was very hoarse. My finger was about one fourth inch into the hole. He said his legs were so numb he couldn’t feel them. After about ten minutes I withdrew my finger and it didn’t bleed much. I would raise my head every few minutes and look around then get down quickly. At times I would hear bullets go over the hole we were in after I got down. Things seemed pretty bad. Then I saw a jeep west of the bridge, and further west there were some tanks and infantry. The Germans saw them too and immediately came down the bluff and started surrendering to our people that were across the bridge.
I crossed the bridge and ran up to the jeep and told a captain that we had someone across the river that was badly hurt. Somehow we got a medic across the river to help Tieman. A jeep appeared from someplace. They loaded him on the jeep and left. The Americans who came up the river were from the 69th infantry division. I heard later that Tieman bled to death on the way to their aid station. I understand that they named a new VFW hall for him at Blackburn, Missouri.
I crossed over the bridge to where the German soldiers were gathering to surrender. We had one hundred and twelve of them. Most of them were fifteen or sixteen years old. They were about the same age as high school freshmen or sophomores. We told them to cross the river on the destroyed bridge. About half of us crossed ahead of the rest, so we would have somebody there when they started arriving across the river.
We started them back along the road by which we had come to the destroyed bridge earlier that afternoon. On the way back we kept about four of our guys in front of them, another four behind and four on each side. About an hour out, we were passing a livestock tank that had water overflowing. The water came from an iron pipe sticking out of the hillside. One of the prisoners asked if they could get a drink of water. Our second lieutenant in charge said they could and made a motion indicating that they could get a drink. The tank was about fifty yards away. They started walking toward the tank. Some of them started to run then they all started running as fast as they could to get to the tank. We ran on each side of the group. We thought some might try to escape. I and about six other guys ran to the hillside above the tank of water. It was still light enough to see what was going on. If any of them would have tried escape, we would have killed them without hesitation. Those were the Germans that had started shooting after they had put some white flags out. There was no attempt made to escape. They must have been pretty thirsty because they appeared to drink a lot of water. The water looked clean. We wouldn’t have drunk any of it without treating it. We had halizon tablets that we were supposed to put in a canteen of water and wait a few minutes before drinking it.
We arrived back with the company about nine o’clock that night. The prisoners were turned in at a place where they were keeping others. About three the next morning we were awakened to get moving. We walked all day moving east. We were so tired we couldn’t walk very fast. We stopped at eight o’clock in the evening at a pretty large town on the Laun River called Limburg. We had covered thirty three miles that day in about sixteen hours of walking.
Limburg was on a highway, which was part of the German autobahn system of highways. They were similar to the interstate highways we have in this country now. They were much better than the highways we had then. A huge bridge carried the highway over the Laun River down stream from Limburg. The bridge must have been at least fifty feet high. It had been destroyed with explosives. The concrete and rocks in the bridge had dammed the river such that most of the town was flooded.
We slept in a field near Limburg that night, then stayed a few more days. Finally, one day they loaded us on trucks and moved us northeast to a field near the large city of Kassel. We had bypassed thousands of German soldiers in the breakthrough at the Rhine River. They were wandering around in groups trying to get to an area that German troops still held.
The first day there, we set up pup tents and had a company review. The company met in formation. The officer that led our patrol being the only officer we had left, was our company commander. He told the company what a great job our two squads had done. He said we had captured one hundred twelve German soldiers and lost only two men and that was a pretty good trade. Some way this kind of talk may have sounded good to the rest of the company but it didn’t sound that great to us. He had led us into a trap. We would have all been killed if the unit of the 69th division hadn’t shown up when it did. We were very lucky. His line of talk was that these German soldiers all want to surrender and if we see any German soldiers we need to move right in and give them the opportunity to surrender. We kind of thought they might have wanted to surrender, they had their white flag out and it looked that way; but when we were dumb enough to move to a position where they could kill us they would do that first then maybe surrender.
One day, a patrol came running into camp. There had been some shooting but none of the patrol had been injured. This lieutenant we had for a company commander went to yelling for the first and second squad of the first platoon. The group that reported the incident said that there were a hundred or so Germans out there. It occurred to me that two squads consisting of about twenty men would not fare too well against two hundred German soldiers. He told us the Germans would surrender without a fight. If we ran across them we would not shoot at them, but just move right in among them and they would surrender. It seemed to me that if they wanted to fight we were dead because they would have the advantage of numbers and position. We were doing some talking among ourselves. We were sure no unit from the 69th division would be available this time. My thought about the situation was that they would like to surrender but if the opportunity to kill Americans presented itself, they would do that first.
Our two squad patrols left immediately. First, we went to where the other patrol had contacted the Germans. There we found a wounded German officer. Another German had stayed with him. The officer had been shot in the leg near the ankle. A bone was broken. We left them while we looked for the rest. For about three hours we wandered around in the woods. I am sure the Germans were there. We just couldn’t find them. The woods stretched out at least two miles in both directions and were very dense. We could have walked within ten yards of them and not seen them. Their tracks were everywhere. We went back by where we had left the two Germans. They were still there. We went back to camp and sent a jeep to pick them up.
That night, we were on an outpost on a railroad that ran near camp. We heard some yelling at another outpost about fifty yards away. One of the guys at that outpost came to ours and wanted help. There were four people on each outpost. The other outpost had halted several people. Our people were yelling at them to come on in. They wouldn’t move. They just stood there saying some stuff we couldn’t understand. It was pretty dark, but we could see their outlines and it looked like they had their hands up. We decided some of us had to go out and bring them in. Another guy and I said we would do it. We had a machine gun at the outpost. We planned to go out about fifteen yards on each side of them until we got past them, then come together a little, but not get behind them because we wanted to leave that open for the machine gun if anything went wrong. On the way out, I could see him a little across the way. I walked within a few feet of them and they still hadn’t seen me. They were all looking toward the tracks where we had our machine gun set up with their hands up. I finally gave a little yell and that got their attention. Nothing happened so the other guy and I walked up to them. They were unarmed and the war was over for them, which was what they wanted.
There had been no action for about two weeks. We finally moved out in an east southeast direction headed toward Czechoslovakia about one hundred miles away. We traveled about ten miles each day mostly walking sometimes riding on the outside of tanks and sometimes some rode trucks.
The second day we were walking early but in the afternoon we were riding tanks going up a small river. We were approaching the town of Elsennach. There were high hills on each side of town with most of the town along the stream, Suddenly a German machine gun opened up at us. We were clustered all over the tanks. It probably took about two seconds for everybody to dive off the tanks into road ditches. Tanks generally have somebody with their head out of the turret with a machine gun mounted in front of him at all times. They immediately opened fire at the machine guns located at the top of the hill on the south side of town. The Germans quit shooting in about fifteen seconds. We entered the town and started looking around.
We were all looking for any German soldiers and food. When we were on the attack, food was always scarce. Others were looking for some liquor. Wine was always available, Schnapps was a favorite of our drinkers because it contained more alcohol. Some were looking for German women. Most German women always got out of town before an approaching army got there. Many times what happened was nothing but rape. In war most soldiers involved in this kind of thing seldom got into trouble. When we would leave a town there were a few soldiers that were always missing because of their connection to drinking or women. Most of the German women that remained in those towns were the kind with questionable character. These guys would show up in the company a day or two later, then sometimes would report on sick call with a sexual disease. We had rules that were strict, or supposed to be, but it always seemed that these characters always got out of trouble some way.
We left this town at dusk. We went over the hill south of town which was the direction the tanks were shooting earlier. At the top of the hill an old German truck was still burning. The driver had either been trying to pull the gun out or back it in. He was dead in the burning truck. The gun was an eighty-eight mm cannon. If they could have gotten it set up, it would have been a problem for our tanks. One machine gun had two dead. There was one at the other one. Each of these Germans had been hit numerous times with bullets. We had no casualties.
As we traveled east from the town it was getting dark. Some of our soldiers thought they saw some Germans moving in the trees to our right, which was south. The machine guns on the tanks opened up on the trees. The cannon on the tanks fired several high explosive shells into the trees. We then continued on to the next town where we spent the rest of the night.
The next morning we were leaving early. We saw some old German men watching us leave. The Americans were trying to yell at and joke with them. They were feeling pretty cocky. They didn’t know any German but they were yelling anything they could think of. One of us yelled “burgomaster” at them. On older gentleman that was pretty heavy set and pretty well dressed smiled and waved. We all waved and had a laugh. It was generally agreed that we would see no German soldiers for a while; If there were German soldiers and Americans were there, civilians became pretty scarce, We crawled on the tanks and moved along pretty fast for a while.
That afternoon, some jeeps from the heavy weapons platoon with all our company mortars and machine guns moved out from the company as a jeep patrol. They were led by our company commander, who was always talking about how the Germans were so willing to surrender. We think they drove through some towns pretty fast. They came to a town that looked clear enough, so apparently they just drove on into town. They were ambushed and all killed. Apparently, these Germans hadn’t heard that all German soldiers were willing to surrender if given a chance. Another battalion from our regiment found our burned out equipment. He is listed as killed in action in the book on our regiment which I have. I am very thankful that he didn’t take the first and second squads of the first platoon with him on that patrol, which he may have thought about. I understand he was awarded the distinguished service award posthumously for leading the patrol when we captured one hundred and twelve prisoners of war .
One day while on this drive, someone at the head of our column had received word that the ninth army had crossed the Elbe River and was twelve miles from Berlin and moving rapidly toward Berlin. We expected to hear shortly that Berlin had fallen to the Americans because we thought that the Germans would rather the Americans took Berlin than the Russians. The Russians were a few miles east of Berlin at that time. It didn’t workout that way. The Germans threw everything they had available at the American column including the new tanks they had in reserve. The American column was practically destroyed. What managed to escape was driven back across the Elbe River. The American high command decided to let the Russians take Berlin and save a lot of American lives. Many thousands of lives, both Russian and German were lost in the fighting before the Russians managed to take Berlin.
Somewhere I need to write about the two new second lieutenants we got the day we started this drive. Neither had ever seen combat. A full strength company has a second lieutenant as a leader of each platoon and a captain for company commander. These two guys had come out of some officers training school back in the United States, had never seen combat and knew less about firearms than the average private that came out of advanced training back at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The one we got in the first platoon never said anything to anybody. He was very frightened at all times. We called him the platoon follower because he never got away from the back of the platoon when any action might happen. His name was Simpson and he was from Mississippi. The other one was the second platoon leader. I think he did more leading our platoon than Lt. Simpson. I guess he thought that since Simpson was not leading our platoon; he would. The problem was he was continually making a fool out of himself because he did not know much about firearms. I don’t remember his name or where he was from. We had ten different second lieutenants in Company C while we were in combat. Most of the time I was in combat with Company C, we had only one officer of any kind, and he was a second lieutenant. We lost three of four the first month I was with the company.
That night, we passed the town that we think was the first town that our company commander and patrol passed through before he was killed. We stopped just outside of town to spend the night and dug small holes so we could lie below the surface of the ground. Suddenly some shells started coming in. They were falling where our holes were. Our platoon had one casualty. One of the holes almost had a direct hit by a shell killing the guy in it. We got about thirty shells and then it ended. They must have run out of ammunition. We heard they did not have much left.
During the next day or two we crossed the Saale River at Rudolstadt. There was some small arms fire there but the Germans retreated without much resistance. One of our men fell off a partially destroyed bridge and drowned. That night we walked up the river south to Schleiz and spent the night on beds in some kind of housing unit for the German youth. The next morning we walked back to Rudolstadt and headed southeast through Plauen.
Plauen was a city that was totally destroyed by a bombing raid three or four weeks before. It was a fairly large city of around two hundred thousand people. Several cities in Germany during the late winter and spring of 1945 were almost defenseless and were hit with bombing raids dropping thousands of tons of bombs on them. I guess these destroyed cities were a kind of a monument to the German war effort. In a lot of areas in Plauen, all buildings were flattened. In some areas a few walls were still standing but nothing that was usable. There was a strong odor of decaying flesh we thought were mostly human bodies. Our battalion walked over the rubble of Plauen that day. In some areas there were no streets to walk down.
About twenty miles past Plauen we came to Falkenstein. We arrived there in the morning. There was word that one battalion of our regiment was pinned down at Treuen to the northwest. We had passed just south of Treuen. Most of our company loaded onto about twenty tanks and headed for Treuen. We came into Treuen from the southeast. A few Germans surrendered to us as we passed through going to the northwest in Treuen. When we were at the northwest side of Treuen we could see a few Germans under trees about one half mile west.
They realized they were cut off and headed north into an open area. We went north to keep them cut off. The field north of us was a freshly plowed hillside. At the bottom of the hill was a railroad track along a small stream. The railroad track was running east and west. The track had been elevated about six feet. The houses at the top of the hill at the edge of plowed field had fenced backyards. One or two had gates that led to the field. We went out one of these gates and headed across the field moving pretty fast to keep the Germans west of us. We had moved about seventy-five yards when a machine gun opened up on us sending a bunch of bullets all around us. We started to run for the gate. It looked like we were all going to arrive at a three foot wide gate at the same time. I was carrying my bazooka along with my carbine. It made quite a load. I fell down near the ditch made by the plow as the farmer had finished plowing his field. The ditch or plow furrow was about one foot deep. It looked like pretty good cover, so I rolled over into it and lay there while about thirty guys fought with each other to get through the gate. Tracers were flying all around, and it was a mess at the gate. Some were knocked down and others were running over them but somehow they all made it without any apparent injuries. All the time bullets were whizzing overhead. I couldn’t understand how he managed to miss everything. I waited a couple of minutes. There was no further shooting. I got up, left my bazooka and headed for the now empty gate. There wasn’t a shot fired my direction. Even though the field was plowed it didn’t take me long to get there. There wasn’t a bullet that came my way.
About five minutes after getting to safety, someone was shouting for a bazooka man because a German tank was down there. I looked out a window and sure enough, a German tank was creeping along the other side of the railroad tracks. All we could see was the turret of the tank. I didn’t have my bazooka. It was out in the plowed field toward the tank. If I would have had my bazooka I would have fired at the tank but I probably could not have damaged it even if I would have been lucky enough to hit the turret. The tank crept slowly along the tracks until it reached a road that took it around a hill away from the tracks. When it reached that road, it increased its speed, went around the hill and was gone. I felt a little strange, having left my bazooka in the open field. No one could have gotten it without getting killed.
Getting back to the Germans who were headed north the last time we saw them, three of them didn’t go very far north, but headed east across the side of the hill on the other side of the railroad tracks. They were probably about one-half mile away. A friend and I in one of the houses at the edge of the plowed field got to shooting at them. At that distance we were not coming very close to them. It hadn’t rained recently so the fields were dry. We could see where the bullets were hitting because dust would pop up when the bullets hit the ground. We were making corrections and we were getting pretty close to them. They stopped, threw down their rifles, and raised their hands. We quit shooting. After a while, they started walking east again. We decided to shoot in front of them and see what would happen. They stopped again, stood there a little while, then started walking our way. We didn’t shoot any more. When they reached the railroad tracks, they surrendered to some of us there. I don’t know what happened to the rest of them that were headed north. They probably escaped.
Later that day we got back with our tanks and rode them back to the rest of the battalion. We never saw the battalion that was pinned down. We were sure we had accomplished our mission. We were sure they occupied the town shortly after we left.
We had moved about one hundred miles in less than ten days. It was April 17, 1945. We paused to wait for the war to end. The Russians were twenty-five kilometers east of us. The Germans didn’t surrender. On May 6 we moved to attack the town of Rodewisch. We were pinned down by a few mortars and machine fire at the edge of town. The tanks stayed with us. Sometimes they would pull back a little ways when shooting started. Our smart second lieutenant from the second platoon came crawling down the road ditch. He asked me why I wasn’t firing my bazooka. I told him I didn’t think I had a target to shoot at. We only carry five rounds. We might really need them sometime later that day. He said to shoot at those houses over there and pointed to the right. I told him there isn’t any enemy there and there might be some of our people there. He told me to give him the bazooka and he would fire it. I handed him the bazooka and got a round of ammunition from my partner and gave it to him. He didn’t know how to load it. He told me to load it, so I did. He stood up by a tank, kind of aimed it at the town and pulled the trigger. The projectile traveled about thirty feet and struck a utility pole about ten feet above the ground blowing it in two just above where some of our soldiers were lying in the road ditch. The guys were sprayed with wood fibers. They had no idea what had happened. They had been pretty scared by the explosion. I am pretty sure they thought an enemy shell had hit the post. He held the bazooka out and told me to take it. We were together in the company about three months. During that time he never said one word to me after that.
The other new second lieutenant was our platoon leader named Simpson who always followed the platoon instead of leading it. He was with the platoon when we were pinned down. The firing had stopped and we were starting to move into town. No one knew where Lieutenant Simpson was. Finally after the tanks started and we had moved a ways someone located Lieutenant Simpson. He was sticking his head out of a ditch over by the houses that the other second lieutenant was wanting me to shoot at. How he got there nobody knew. He had to have run down there when the machine gun fire first opened up. I was surprised he wasn’t killed.
As we moved through town, the road we were following started following a small river. Nearly all the town was built along this stream with houses and businesses on both sides of it. There was a fence along the river bank made with concrete posts and about two inch iron pipes running through the posts. Our platoon would normally have been leading as we went through the town except we had a bunch of eighteen year old kids in the company that had just come in as replacements. This was the first day of the attack and it was our time to lead. The war was about over and I guess these guys were trying to make a name for themselves before it ended. The river and street and line of buildings curved left at about forty-five degrees to what we had been traveling then curved back again about two hundred fifty yards further. These guys went right around the curve and right into a machine gun ambush. My squad was just behind the building on the curve at the time. It was amazing the amount of bullets coming up the street. Bullets were chipping away on the concrete posts on the bank of the river until two of them were cut completely in two just above street level and were just hanging there by the iron pipes supported by the posts next to them. Those posts were chipped up some too.
Standing safely behind the building, we knew that some of the guys that had gone around the curve were dead. The street on the other side of the river also curved. We could see the houses up ahead on that side pretty well. We noticed a German soldier sticking his helmeted head at times around the corner of a building two or three hundred yards away. Three of us agreed to have a little game. We would draw a bead on that spot and when he stuck his head around the building again one of us would say “ready aim fire” which we did. His head disappeared and didn’t reappear. We probably didn’t hit him, but we scared him a little.
We entered the building we were hiding behind through a back door and looked out of the windows on the other side. We shot at windows up ahead with no return. A tank moved his front around the comer and fired his machine gun and some shots from the large gun he had, with no return. We saw four guy’s bodies that didn’t move outside the windows. We started moving on. I didn’t look at the dead guys. We let medics do that. One reported that they had been shot at least a dozen times each.
Before we started this last attack, I had received by letter from home that my brother Vernon had been killed on April third. He was in the second armored division, which had a shoulder insignia that had the words “Hell on Wheels” under it. The second armored was the spearhead division for the Ninth army which was north of us. General Bradley was the commanding general of the Ninth Army. I think the second armored was the division that crossed the Elbe River and tried to race to Berlin, but was driven back with heavy losses. My brother was killed about three weeks before this attack. I think the second armored was involved in the mopping up operation of several divisions of Germans that were surrounded in the Ruhr Valley at that time.
As we moved away from where the four had been killed our platoon had to lead now. Our squad was the lead squad next to the river. The river bank had been covered with a layer of concrete that had a slope of about forty five degrees. The river about ten feet below had about a foot of water flowing in it. I decided if they opened up on us like they did at the curve in the river, I would slide down the concrete wall to get away from the street. After the experience of combat, one is always thinking ahead on how to take quick cover in order to avoid getting killed. Luckily no shooting like this occurred.
We came to a point where the river went to the right. The street went straight ahead up a steep hill for about seventy yards. At the top of the hill, there was a park that had a lot of dense shrubbery on the left and buildings on the right. Someone needed to get in the house on the right side of the street, go upstairs, and see what was out there before we would take a chance on going over the hill. That didn’t appear to be very dangerous, so I agreed to do it. We had to smash the door to get in. I found the stairway and I also found a German woman hiding in the house. She was crying. I went upstairs and she went too. I tried to get through a door so I could see out the other side. It was locked. I rattled the door and pointed to the lock. She didn’t do anything. I started to shoot the lock with my carbine. She hollered something and ran to the door and opened it with a key she had with her in her hand all the time. There was an open window that I looked out and could see nothing that would be dangerous to us. I think someone had been in that room and had gone out the window when I came in. It was unusual to have a window open at that time of the year. The ground on that side of the house was only about four feet below the window. There was a building in a back yard that had an open door. He had probably gone out there.
I came down stairs and reported seeing nothing. We started up the hill with me in front on the right side. A German soldier entered the road from the right side running across it. I fired at him three times. The first shot I had a little bit of an aim but the other two shots I aimed my carbine hardly at all because I was firing before the carbine got down from the recoil. I missed him completely on those shots. He ran into the shrubs at the top of the hill. A tank in back of me opened up with a machine gun but by then I am sure he was over the hill and gone.
As we continued through town, we went over the hill and passed the park where the shrubs were. Going up the hill it suddenly occurred to me that if I had shot and killed him, I would be walking past where he lay. That would have bothered me. I felt glad that I had missed. I have thought about it many times and the result is always the same. I am so glad that I missed. After spending the night sleeping on the floor of a building we were out the next morning with the tanks getting ready to continue the attack. A jeep came driving up. The announcement was made that the war was over. The time was about 9:00 A.M., May 7, 1945.
I understand that the celebrating was something pretty great back at headquarters, with the artillery companies, with quartermaster and other groups behind the front, but there wasn’t any celebrating for us. We went back inside the building where we spent the night and took a long nap. We had some hot food at noon. Then we worked at getting a camp ready for the Germans that we were expecting.
The Germans started coming the next day. It is hard to believe what sad condition the German army was in. They had horses pulling wagons to cook their meals. Most of their trucks looked to be at least ten years old and didn’t look military at all. It is unbelievable how well they fought with the equipment they had left. Our company was guarding at least one thousand of them. When they started coming in, we thought the end would get here soon, but they just kept coming for about two days. They had their own food, which they prepared and they seemed to have enough to eat.
We were told not to talk to them but we did. They wanted to look at our rifles and other equipment. I saw guys hand their loaded rifle to them to look at. They believed that after a period of a few months, they would join us in a war against the Russians.
The day after the German surrender we were given the opportunity to visit a concentration camp where a lot of Jews had been kept. I had read about it in “The Stars and Stripes,” the newspaper distributed to members of the armed forces. I didn’t go but more than half of the company did. The pictures showed piles of human corpses all over the place. I have never heard anyone that went ever say a word about it.
The next day I was told that ten people from our company had been issued passes to Paris I was one of them. At various times during combat when we weren’t actually in combat, our personal stuff would catch up with us. Ours had just become available, so I got together some clothes and things from it and left the next morning by truck. We rode trucks more than three hundred miles to Brussels, Belgium, and then rode a train to Paris.
In Paris our food and hotel expenses were all paid for three days. We had free passage on the subway to any place we wanted to go. We could go in groups or go alone. I don’t remember all the places I went, but there were several, such as Notre Dame Cathedral, Palace of Versailles and a lot of other historical places.
When we got back to Belgium, we were a little behind schedule. There were not any trucks available in Belgium for transportation back to eastern Germany. By the time we arrived there all the German soldiers were gone. I heard they were each given a little money and told to go home the best way they could.
This is probably a good place to write something about the displaced people in Europe during and after the war, because they became more noticeable at this time. Hitler had brought in a lot of people from Poland, Russia, Czechoslovakia, and other countries they had occupied to work as slaves in his factories to keep the war supplied. They weren’t paid and were given very little food and other things thought to be commonly necessary. Many died because of their working conditions and in allied bombing raids trying to stop production of war materials.
We first noticed them when we arrived in France. Any garbage we would throw away, some people were going through it and eating parts of it. Probably the first time I really noticed them, we were staying in a building that had been a school or something similar near Metz, France. We were eating stuff out of packaged rations, which were not very good to start with, so a lot of it was getting thrown out of one of the doors. It piled up until it was two or three feet deep. Guys were urinating out the door on it, so it was pretty filthy.
One day we decided to haul it off, so we shoveled it onto a truck and hauled it to a place about mile away and started to scoop it off beside the road. First I noticed two or three people digging in it with their hands and sorting out some crackers and other things that were wrapped in wax paper and eating them. Within two or three minutes there were at least twenty people practically fighting with each other over what we were scooping off. I didn’t know anybody was even around when we started to scoop, and then suddenly they were there.

Home to the United States
And Discharge

About June 10, 1945, we left the area near Czechoslovakia to make the long trip back to the area around LeHavre, France. Some soldiers rode trucks. Some of the railroads were in operation at that time. Our company was loaded into boxcars and we traveled across Germany in forty and eight boxcars. “Forty and eight” stands for forty men or eight horses. We moved very slowly and stopped for long periods of time on sidings. Railroads were not in good working order yet. About the second day of the trip about twelve of our boxcars were parked on a siding in a small town. A train loaded with displaced people was passing through. It was overloaded with standing room only in their boxcars. People were riding on the top of the boxcars also. Instead of passing by us, it got switched into our last boxcar striking it going fifteen of twenty miles per hour. I was standing watching it pass when it collided with us. Our boxcar was jerked backwards so fast that I was hurled into the end of our boxcar. I managed to get my hands up to break the force of striking the end of our boxcar and was not hurt. The only injury I saw was a bloody nose on one guy.
Our boxcar that was hit by the engine of the other train was crushed, killing two of our people. Some of the others were injured and went to a hospital some place. Two of the displaced people riding on top of the other train were thrown off and were probably killed or hurt awfully bad. Several others were thrown off but didn’t appear to be hurt badly. This was hard to believe because they fell from the top of the train but they were all up walking around. It was several hours before we were on our way again. When we ate, we ate packaged emergency rations the same as if we were in combat, which wasn’t much different than what we had just experienced.
On July 9, 1945, we were back at LeHavre, France, which was the same place we landed the previous October. We loaded onto the Frederick Lykes, a liberty ship. That day, a partial eclipse of the sun was occurring as we got on. The port hadn’t changed much. Before, there had been nothing but sand and destruction. We still had the sand and destruction but now we had a ramp wide enough for one person at a time to walk onto the boat from the dock. Our regiment, of around three thousand individuals loaded that way.
The Frederick Lykes was a very small ship compared to the Queen Elizabeth, the boat we came to Europe on. The waves really tossed us around. We were all terribly sea sick, but it was still good to be going home. Many of us that had come to Europe weren’t returning. The first six or seven days were really tough. We had barrels to vomit in but many didn’t make it to the barrels. The floors were slick with vomit. Troop ships of this type are really crowded. They are built with narrow walkways between beds that extend out from the iron posts and are spaced about two feet apart all the way to the ceiling. There isn’t room to do much of anything but lay in bed. A lot of people can be moved in a small space this way. I guess we got used to the waves and the smell of vomit because the last three days of the voyage weren’t bad at all, even though the waves were still pretty rough.
On July 19, 1945, we landed in Boston and boarded a train to Camp Miles Standish, Mass. On the train to Camp Miles Standish we were being served coffee and donuts by some girls. One guy jumped up and grabbed one of the girls and kissed her. He said “thank you” and sat down saying he had promised himself that he was going to kiss the first American girl he saw on American soil. The girl acted like she didn’t mind.
One day later a small group of us was on a train to Jefferson Barracks near St Louis, Mo. At Jefferson Barracks we were given thirty day leaves to go home. For most of the thirty days I spent at home, I was doctoring sore feet that had been frostbitten during the previous winter. Bad sores had developed on them. I had been to aid stations with them several times. One doctor told me that if I didn’t take care of them I could lose them. He gave me a light duty slip for two days. After the two day period, my feet were a little better and I was back doing regular army duty and my feet would get sore again. This was shortly after the war ended in Europe. Our division was scheduled to go to the Pacific theater of operations after our thirty day leaves were up. President Truman authorized dropping the atomic bomb and the war ended in Japan before my thirty day period of leave was up. I reported back to Jefferson Barracks and was sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia, where the 87th division was deactivated August 27, 1945. I was transferred to Fort Dix, New Jersey, where I worked as a clerk/typist at the army separation center until my discharge December 17, 1945.

Some of My Ideas about the Kinds of Units
Where Casualties Are Likely to Occur

Some casualties occur in what is called rear echelon, but not many. These were people that brought ammunition, food and other supplies to the front. Some were killed when a truck ran over a land mine or was hit by a bomb, shell, or strafing from an airplane but not many. Most of the names are the same on unit rosters at the end of combat as the beginning. Maybe the percentage of casualties was a little more in artillery units but not much. We had practically no casualties while I was in anti-tank company even though it is considered a front line outfit. Our anti-tank company went through some of the most severe combat of the Battle of the Bulge in the six weeks before they broke it up with practically no casualties.
Rifle companies are made up of four platoons. The first three platoons of a rifle company contain three rifle squads each. This is where most of the casualties occur. The fourth platoon, which is heavy weapons, suffer some casualties but not as many as the three rifle platoons. The names on the rosters did not change much during the war. Even in company B, which was classed as totally wiped out, it was the three rifle platoons that were lost. Headquarters and heavy weapons were not lost.
A book I have on my regiment shows 486 names that were in combat at one time or another in company C. Those present at the time of deactivation numbered 166 names. Most of the other 320 names probably passed through the three rifle platoons. Quite a few of the 166 at deactivation had been wounded, several more than once. It seemed that casualties were most likely to occur among new recruits, officers and medics. New recruits seemed to get killed the first few days of combat. Usually they did nothing foolish that resulted in their death. If someone got killed by a direct hit in their foxhole, more likely than not it was someone that had just finished basic training and been in combat less than a week. We had four new recruits that were killed the day before the war ended but they did a very foolish thing. Officers seemed to attract shrapnel. It seemed that if four guys were standing up when a shell hit near by and one was an officer, the officer was the one that would get hit. I mentioned medics as getting hit often but it is hard to tell why. We only had one medic while I was with company C and he was wounded a few days after I joined company C. We did get two new medics about two weeks before the war ended. During the three months I was in combat with company C we had a lot of casualties. We usually took care of them the best we could.
I often think about Vernon. He came over into the armored infantry as a replacement. He was taking somebody’s place who was either killed or wounded. Considering the record of the Second Armored Division, people in the armored infantry didn’t last long in combat before they were either wounded or killed. I am sure they continually poured replacements into their different units in order to keep producing their victories. I am sure there are people in the Second Armored that went through a lot of battles with them, but I wonder if there are any people in the individual squads of the armored infantry that were around long, I don’t think so. I don’t think Vernon stood much of a chance. I think his only chance was to be wounded and survive the wound. He wasn’t lucky enough for that to happen. He wasn’t with the Second Armored very long, but I would guess he was around at least as long as the average in the kind of unit he was in. War is a terrible undertaking, especially for those who bear the brunt of the fighting.

A Later Experience

Some six or seven years ago, around 1994 or 1995, I was asked to be a part of a program at Circle High School, Towanda, Kansas, in which several veterans were asked to talk to some high school students about their service and war experiences. I was able to wear my old army uniform as I have always been thin. One particular class containing several senior boys asked me if I had been involved in combat where people I knew were killed. I looked at them. They looked about the same age as some kids I saw get killed. Suddenly it seemed very unfair that I was able to be lucky and survive, have a good life and a great family and the kids I saw killed never got to experience that. For an instant I thought I was going to shed tears in front of them. I looked out the window for an instant and got control of myself. We had a fine discussion.

Mitch Teemley

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