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WWII as a Combat Engineer
with the 3rd Armored Division
Robert T. Gravlin
Co. B, 23rd Armored Engineer Bn
Written in 2006

Photos from the writer


In the following pages is a brief history of my participation in the great war, World War II. It has been compiled from notes that I had written down as we progressed through Europe, as well as a look into my memory. There are a lot of things which have been forgotten, as well as brief episodes which are too numerous to mention. However, I believe that the words which I have written will give you a little understanding of what we encountered in the many months in combat. In addition to the real combat with the enemy, we, of course, had the daily battle with the elements - the sun and dust in France; the rain and mud in the Ruhr in Germany; the fog, snow and bitter cold in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium; more rain and mud in the push to the Rhine River; and finally a combination of weather conditions on our final push to the Elbe River in central Germany. Fortunately God was good to me and I have lived to tell the story of that horrible war. - Robert T. Gravlin

In October 1943 I was working at the McDonnell Aircraft Company at St. Louis, MO, in the Experimental Dept. working on the XP67, an experimental fighter plane with six 37mm cannons mounted in its wings. I had already had a six-month deferment from military duty because of my aircraft work, when another six-month deferment arrived in our mail.

I wanted to enter the armed forces, so I contacted my draft board. They said they couldn't do anything about it but I should appear before the board at a meeting that evening and state my case. Bob Miller, who was working with me and lived across the street on Bircher Blvd. in St. Louis, also had a deferment and wanted to join the Army. So Bob went with me to the meeting. We were able to convince them that we were not essential and signed voluntary induction papers. That was Friday evening. On Monday morning our notice for induction arrived.

Bob Miller and I went down to Jefferson Barracks together. We received our physical's and were sworn into the Army on 20 October 1943.

Sixteen Weeks at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri

I could have gone in the Air Force, Navy, or Marines as a mechanic to work on aircraft but I wanted to join the army. Bob was sent to the Signal Corps. I was sent to Fort Leonard Wood, MO, for a 16-week basic and engineer training. Here we were trained in the use of all weapons, such as pistols, rifles, machine guns, bazookas, demolition and the use of all kinds of explosives. We received in depth training in all phases of bridge building and road building and repair.

We were taught how to lay and remove mines and booby traps. Our final training was crawling through an obstacle course with live ammunition, machine gun and artillery fire. We received training with poison gas, using our gas masks. The last day in training we went on a forced march of 32 miles with full field pack. The last 3 miles was up a long hill and they were burning creosote in smudge pots along the sides of the road, so we had to wear our gas masks. Some of the guys couldn't make it and were picked up by ambulances coming from behind.

While at Fort Leonard Wood, I experienced terrific pains in my right side. I couldn't even pick up my rifle because it hurt so bad. I went on sick call and the medic gave me some APC tablets (aspirin) and told me to get back on duty. The next day I couldn't get out of my bunk it hurt so bad, so finally they took me up to the post hospital.

At the post hospital a surgeon, Captain Miller, said he was going to operate on my appendix, but he said he knew it was not my appendix giving me the trouble. Late Saturday evening he operated on me. They gave me a spinal that didn't work, so they strapped me down so I would hold still and not fight them. I heard them talking during the operation and felt everything. After the operation was over, Captain Miller told me it was a good thing he operated when he did because my appendix was about to burst. I was a guinea pig in that operation, because he made a small incision and cut in a different direction than the accepted method. For days after the operation he brought different doctors in to see me.

He must have done it right though because on Sunday, Dad & Mother and two friends, Jack Brice and Jack Kehoe, drove on old Highway 66 on slick ice all the way down from St. Louis to see me. They couldn't believe their eyes - I walked to the door of the ward to greet them.

A short time after my basic training, I was given a "delay en route" leave of 14 days and instructed to report to Shenango, PA, to get assigned for overseas duty. After some weeks in camp near Youngstown and Niles, OH, during which we had the usual experiences of liberating pies out of the mess hall and sneaking into the officers mess hall at night, frying steaks and drinking the cream off the top of their milk, our group of combat engineers received our orders to move out. We went by troop train up along Lake Ontario and then down past West Point and Albany, NY, to Camp Shanks near New York City. We were confined to camp, but several of us managed to slip out of camp and board a train and subways into Times Square, New York City, where we saw the sights.

A few days later we received our overseas physical (the doctors were sitting on chairs in a big hall and we ran past them naked). That evening on a cold dark rainy night with a loud speaker blaring out a then popular song, "Long Ago and Far Away", we boarded a troop ship carrying full field equipment and duffel bags.

Convoy to England

The troop ship was the "George Washington." It was formerly the German "Bismark" captured in World War I. It was still the eighth largest ship in the world. We sailed south along the East Coast picking up ships along the way. When we finally headed toward England, we had so many ships with us that in any direction you looked you could see ships as far as you could see. It was one of the largest convoys to ever cross the ocean.

The ships were loaded with troops, planes, tanks, armored vehicles, guns, etc. The seas were fairly calm until we approached Ireland, when they got real rough. I think about half of the G.I.'s were sick. I didn't get sick or feel bad at all. We ate twice a day, a continuous line of troops waiting to eat. Twice our convoy was attacked by German submarines. They sank a couple of our ships and at least one sub was sunk by our destroyers accompanying the convoy. An English pilot boarded our ship and brought us up the river to port at Liverpool, England. Limey dock hands lined the docks yelling at us for cigarettes. G.I.'s threw cigarettes and pennies to them. We boarded trains at Liverpool and were taken to a British Army post near the town of Nantwich in Cheshire Province.

The barracks were crudely constructed wooden buildings with a cone shaped stove in the center of each building. The mattresses on the cots were filled with straw and not very comfortable to sleep on. At this camp we received more intensive combat training with live ammunition, machine gun and artillery fire. We had to scale cliffs and swing across deep ravines and creeks on ropes. We had some casualties on these maneuvers. After this training, we were sent to northern England near Newcastle. We bivouacked in tents around a lake on the grounds of the Kings Summer Palace. A stone wall, which was built by the Romans when they conquered the British Isles, surrounded the palace grounds, including the area of our tents.

The British were on "Double British Summer Time", which meant that it didn't get dark until about 11:30 P.M. at night. We went into town almost every night by crawling through a hole in the stone wall and sneaking into town. The G.I.'s on guard duty would let us in when we returned at night. We would take a double-decker bus into town, driven on the left side of the road on the narrow two-lane roads through the countryside. The cottages were quaint with thatched roofs. All the fields had hedges and trees lining the roads - it was very picturesque. We got rides back to camp by thumbing a ride on a British lorry driven by "Waafs" (British equivalent of our army Wacs). We would pile into those little trucks until the tires rubbed on the frame. While at this camp, a train bringing our rations was hit by German bombers, so we were short on food for awhile.

A large number of beautiful white swans were swimming on the lake. After a couple days with low rations, you could hear an occasional carbine being fired and see a small campfire in the woods. If you covered the swans with mud and built a fire around them, they cooked fairly well.

When you broke the hardened mud off of them, the feathers and all came off. The swans were tough but didn't taste too bad. Later on, when we were in France, I read in our G.I. newspaper "Stars & Stripes" that the British Government had demanded reparations from the United States for the killing of the royal swans. As far as we were concerned, the swans weren't worth 15 cents a pound.

We got word we were going across the channel and into combat. We boarded a British train and moved south toward Southhampton where ships were waiting to take us across the English Channel into France.

While traveling on the train looking out the window, I noticed a pasture with small hills and cows grazing. Suddenly some German aircraft appeared. One of the little hills opened up and anti·aircraft batteries appeared. The hills were camouflage for the anti-aircraft guns and the cows and other animals were not real either. Fortunately, bombs dropped by the planes missed our train.

As our train moved south, we saw tanks, artillery, halftracks and all kinds of military equipment lined up all along the country roads with camouflage protection over them. England was like a giant military supply depot waiting to be shipped to France.

Normandy Invasion

In late June 1944 we boarded an LST manned by British sailors for our trip across the English Channel. We left port at dusk. The seas were extremely rough and nearly everyone on board was sick. Fortunately, I didn't get sick. The only food they served was some greasy pork sausages which would make you sick without the rough seas. The British weren't known for keeping a clean ship and this ship was no exception.

About dawn we reached the shores of France and Omaha Beach. We went down rope ladders onto landing craft and waded ashore holding our rifles and equipment above our heads. There were sunken American ships and damaged military equipment all over in addition to knocked out German pill boxes, guns, etc. This was the remnants of the "D" Day invasion a couple weeks previous. As we filed up the hill from the beach, German planes came over strafing and bombing. All of our ships had large barrage balloons attached to them held down with cables to keep the German aircraft up at a pretty high altitude so our ships could use their anti-aircraft guns on them.

There was a large prisoner of war compound on top of the hill surrounded by barb wire. It was loaded with German soldiers taken during the "D" Day battle. Further down the road, trench diggers were digging long trenches and grave restoration services were dropping in G.I.'s wrapped in mattress covers in the rows of trenches. A bulldozer came behind covering the· trenches and behind that came a truck carrying white crosses which were being stuck in long rows.

We could hear the heavy artillery at the front a few miles ahead. Using our shelter halves, (two G.I.'s would pitch a pup tent together, each G.I. having half a tent) we pitched our tents in a replacement depot. We were strafed and bombed almost every night. After a couple days, we were issued more cartridges for our rifles and were given hand grenades. We were then piled in trucks for movement to the front.

I was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division, 23rd Combat Engineer Battalion, Company "B", 2nd Platoon, 2nd Squad, near the town of St. Lo. The first night with the 3rd it was pouring down raining so we just laid in a muddy field in our bed rolls and tried to get some rest. The sky was lit up with burning buildings, tanks, trucks, etc. Before dawn we got in our halftrack and pushed off toward the Germans. Periodically, we would pull off a road and our self-propelled artillery, 105mm guns mounted on tank treads, would zero in on German positions and fire volleys based upon grid maps of the terrain. After each bombardment, we would push off again, our halftrack following right behind one of our Sherman tanks. We would either attack down a road or through a field in an attempt to come from behind. We were constantly under small arms fire and from the all-purpose, German, long-barrel 88mm artillery guns. The "88" was among the most devastating and frightening weapon the Germans used. The shell had a shrill whining sound as it came in, but if you heard it you were alright. If you didn't hear it, it was too late because the sound arrived after the shell. It had a muzzle velocity of 3900 feet per second and could pierce our tanks and armor without any trouble.

Our Sherman tanks had a short-barrel 75mm gun with muzzle velocity of 3200 feet per second. Unless you hit the heavy German tanks in the side or rear, you couldn't knock them out with our "75". Our tank destroyers had a long-barrel 76mm gun with souped up ammo that did a better job. We used a lot of white phosphorus shells which would set the tanks and vehicles on fire if you got a good hit on them.

As we moved forward we would encircle the Germans, cut them off and let the troops coming behind us capture them and send them back to prisoner of war camps.

A German Surrenders

One day we had pulled into an apple orchard in Normandy, while our artillery was being set up to fire at the retreating Germans. I leaned my rifle against a tree and started urinating in a bush, a German came crawling out of the bush with my water all over him. He put his hands in the air in surrender. I quickly reached for my rifle and took him captive. He had a picture of his wife and children in his hand and kept saying, "meine frau und meine kindern"· I guess he thought I would be more merciful. I sent him back to the rear with the rest of the prisoners.

Every time we liberated a French village, the G.I.'s would look for cider. Normandy was full of apple orchards and the French made a kind of cider that was effervescent. It tasted like champagne. One of the fellows in our squad, Lucian Workman, from West Virginia, loved this cider. He would get too much of it and start hooting like an owl. We nicknamed him "hooter" and sometimes we had to help him back into the halftrack after he had found a barrel of the cider.

As we attacked the retreating Germans, they would pull off on parallel roads, trying to hide under the cover of trees, bushes, etc. We, or our close-support fighter planes above, could not see them. They wouldn't fire unless fired upon. They were hoping to hide until dark and move on under the cover of darkness. In addition to their tanks, halftracks and mobile artillery, they had some horse-drawn equipment, such as field artillery pieces. After each battle there were burning tanks, gas trucks, halftracks, troop-carrying trucks and dead horses laying around. When the firing stopped, the French civilians would come out of hiding and gather around the battle site. They picked up everything they could. They took clothes and shoes off the dead Germans and sliced meat off the dead horses.

It was really hot and dry in Normandy at this time and if the battle front became stalemated for a few days, the stench became almost unbearable from the dead soldiers (in some instances German snipers and field artillery observers were shot in their positions in trees, church steeples, etc.). Also dead horses and farm animals like cows and sheep. They would become bloated after a few days in the sun and blow up like a balloon.

Some Frenchmen were trying to bury a large bloated cow shortly after the shelling died down. One of the Frenchmen accidentally punctured the cow with his pitchfork - the spray shot out like a fire hose and soaked the Frenchman as everyone scattered. The stench was terrible.

At every little creek or stream we had to put logs or something to get our tanks and equipment across because the Germans blew up the bridges as they retreated. On the larger streams we had to use our steel Bailey Bridges or treadways which were carried on the bridge by trucks coming behind us. On the wide rivers we used pontoons to build a pontoon bridge. The bad feature of bridging was that under almost all cases the "Jerrys" would have them zeroed in with artillery and small arms fire, so we had a lot of casualties while building bridges. They would throw a barrage of rockets at us; these were "screaming meemies" as we called them. They made a noise sounding like women screaming as you could hear them coming in. It sent chills up your back. They were high-explosive type shells with a lot of concussion and fine pieces of shrapnel. We lost quite a few men from those rockets.

We were on the southern tip of a pincers movement, with the British on the north. We moved through Marigny, Carantilly and Mayenne. We fought as infantry north of Ranes. We finally joined up with the British at a railway station at Putanges and sealed the "Falaise Gap", thereby surrounding thousands of Germans who were later captured by the infantry troops coming behind us.

After the Falaise Gap we pushed up toward Paris and went thru Favier north of Chartres. As we approached Paris, we had General de Gaulle and the Free French armored division following behind us. We pulled south and let de Gaulle go into Paris as a liberator for political reasons - so he could become the leader of France after the war.

Kisses from French Girls

As we swung south, we went through the outskirts of Paris, the French civilians lined the streets and threw us flowers, gave us wine, apples, etc. All the girls kissed us and the people cheered as we moved on - it was like a gigantic parade. Occasionally the retreating Germans would fire shells back at us and the civilians would scatter. We built a bridge across the Seine River south of Paris - a 540-foot treadway.

After we passed the outskirts of Paris we met some stiff resistance from rear-guard action by the "krauts" trying to hold us up so the main forces could get back behind the Seigfried Line in Germany.

We repaired and strengthened the blown out spans across the Marne River near Meaux. Our next objective was the city of Soissons, which was divided by the Aisne River. At Soissons we fought door to door to gain access to the approaches to the bridge crossing the Marne River.

As a German would fall to the pavement, French civilians would appear from nowhere and "field strip" the Germans - one would take his shoes, one his pants, etc., until he lay there practically naked. When we captured the bridge abutment, the bridge itself came under artillery and small arms fire. The center span was damaged so we had to repair it to get our tanks and equipment across. Quite a few men got hit while we put in some steel treadways in the span. French civilians would run back and forth across the river instead of staying under cover. Quite a few of them got hit also - French ambulances would pick them up and take them away.

We put two treadway bridges across the LaSerre River not far from Laons and a treadway across the LaBrunne river. We also put treadways across the river at Hary and one at Marie the same day - 1 September 1944.

We fought defending the town of Fourrnies where the Germans had a lot of their vehicles and artillery and transport destroyed. When the French towns were liberated and the shooting stopped, the French civilians would come out of the woods or wherever they were hiding - usually led by the priest from the village church and they would cheer us on. They would throw flowers, give us apples and wine. The girls would climb on our vehicles, kiss us and try to go along with us. One day an old lady kissed my shoes - they were so thankful to be liberated. As the fighting died down, we put a treadway bridge across the LaHaine river where the retreating Germans had blown the bridge.

We had to put colored banners "Identifiers" on top of our tanks, halftracks and vehicles - different colors every day. Otherwise, we would get strafed by our own fighter planes, which happened a few times.

German Air Attacks

All of our vehicles had our white star painted on the hoods and tops of the tanks, but at fast speed the pilots couldn't make them out. They could, however, see the banners. Unfortunately, so could the German planes when they appeared. The Germans would come in at low levels and strafe down our column until our P-47's would appear and then they would try to get back under cover of their anti-aircraft batteries. Dog fights broke out often and fortunately we saw more German planes shot down than our own. We took cover when those dog fights raged over our heads, because the bullets being shot all came down to the ground.

When German aircraft appeared without our planes in the sky, we opened up on them with our rifles, 50 caliber machine guns and our mobile anti-aircraft batteries. Occasionally we would shoot one down. In fact, the first jet airplane we saw, which was an experimental German aircraft, was hit by our 50 caliber mounted on our halftrack. One day we pulled off the road into an orchard of fruit trees while our artillery shelled the next town. A Sherman tank was in front of us with 36th Armored Infantry men sitting and hanging on the tank. We got the signal to move out. As we began to move, a twig of a tree hit the trigger of the 50 caliber machine gun mounted on the tank. It fired, hitting one of the infantry men in the head. The bullets narrowly missed us. There were quite a few casualties by similar things happening.

One day a tank in front of us had his cannon facing backward and accidentally fired a shell right over our halftrack directly behind him. It must have missed our heads by only a few inches. The flame and muzzle blast was so loud that our hearing was impaired for some time after that.

We saw a group of male civilians going toward the rear of our column one day. A little later on we searched a French farm house and barn for hiding Germans and found German uniforms hidden under the straw in the barn. We radioed back to the troops in the rear - they picked up the civilians that we had seen and it turned out that they were German soldiers that had put on French civilian clothing.

Len Supernaut from Bourbonnaire, Illinois, was one of our company runners. In an armored division the company runners drove motorcycles and they would race back and forth between the front and the back of our tank and vehicle columns. Len spoke perfect French and he was fearless, driving through hails of bullets, etc. He communicated with the Free French underground and found out where the Germans were hiding, where their ambushes were, etc.

From his information we came in behind the Germans, surprised them, caught them offguard and prevented many casualties among our outfit. He undoubtedly helped save many lives. Occasionally, as we pulled through the French towns, we would see the French men on the balcony of the city hall, shaving the heads of French girls and painting them red. These were girls they caught collaborating with the German soldiers and living with them. As soon as their towns were liberated, they would gather up the collaborators.

One night we bivouacked in the middle of the Argonne Forest, which was wooded with large trees, mainly ash. The Argonne Forest was the scene of probably the bloodiest battle in World War I. In fact, Uncle Gus was gassed with mustard gas in that battle. The outlines of the old World War I trenches still remained along with old German and Allied helmets, rifles and bayonets stuck in the ground. It was being preserved as a memorial of World War I. Carl Edwards and I were on guard duty in an outpost about 1/4 mile in front of our platoon - we had our rifles and a "BAR" (Browning automatic rifle.) As the night wore on, it got pitch black in the forest. We heard a German patrol coming toward us so we kept perfectly still. Edwards was kind of hard of hearing and he talked loud, so I made him keep quiet. It was so dark that you couldn't see them but by the sound there must have been 15 or 20. I was just abut to fire when they stopped walking, talked a little bit and turned around and moved away from us. They probably would have gotten us if we had fired at them.

Crossing into Belgium

Toward morning we pushed off again toward Belgium. We attacked toward Charleroi. The Germans were continuing their retreat but we were faced with bitter rear guard action from time to time and some times heavy artillery, mortar and tank fire. As we overtook German elements, they would be on the sides of the roads or in the fields waving white flags or white garments. We waved them to the back of our line where infantry units were coming behind us. We let the infantry take them captive because we had no place to put them. We crossed into Belgium and the first large city we attempted to recapture was Namur, which was divided in half by the Meuse River.

The Germans had blown out the center span of the bridge as they retreated. As we approached the bridge they began to shell us with I70mm shells along with their 88mm shells.

Our liaison cub planes in the air above us were able to pinpoint the German artillery positions and our artillery and P-47 planes wiped them out. Some of those liaison planes strapped bazookas to their wings and occasionally wiped out a German tank or vehicle. They were so maneuverable that when German aircraft tried to shoot them down, they could maneuver out of the way. One day I saw a Luftwaffe ME-109 crash into the side of a building trying to shoot down one of our liaison planes. Most of those planes were Lycomb's or Piper Cubs. A lot of aerial battles went on over our heads from time to time with German & American planes being shot down. During the artillery duel we got in the shelter of some large buildings. A kind Belgian who had been in WWI by the name of Alberte Counsin, invited me into his house after the shelling stopped and his wife poured warm water in their tub so I could take a bath - it had been weeks since I was able to wash myself.

We started to repair the bridge span with steel treadways, but the machine gun and sniper fire was so intense that we pulled back until our artillery could neutralize it. The buildings across the river were defended by the Germans. We spent the night sheltered in a gambling casino not far from the bridge. By early morning the machine gun nests were wiped out and we put the treadways in under occasional sniper fire. After we got our column across the river we had to spend considerable time weeding out the snipers from the buildings along the river. We fought along with the infantry units until the resistance was wiped out. On the 6th of September we pushed on toward Liege, Belgium, driving day and night. Resistance was light and we were moving good. We followed the two slit lights on the tank in front of us. You, of course, could not use your lights. It was pretty tricky driving on dark and rainy nights. In fact, we lost some vehicles from running off a road going down a hill, overturning. The European roads were so narrow and many were not in the best of shape.

One night it was pouring down raining and we were all huddled in our halftrack wearing our ponchos (a form of a raincoat) when our lead tank hit a mine, blowing off its tread. We immediately went up front with our mine detectors to clear the road of mines. Usually when mines were laid, the area was also zeroed in with anti-tank artillery and machine guns. Fortunately, that night there was none of that, but we found two German soldiers dug in on the side of the road. We took them captive and put them on the floor in the middle of the halftrack.

We found the mines and pulled them out and we moved out again. Thirteen of us including our truck driver (Howard Devore) and the two krauts sitting on the floor made up the occupants of our halftrack. It continued pouring down rain during this ordeal. Earlier in the day we had knocked off a German column and we had some bottles of brandy we got out of the tool box on a German halftrack. (That was the first thing we looked for after a battle.) We passed the brandy around to each one of us and also to the two krauts sitting on the floor. After a few drinks the Germans wanted to join us and fight the "Ruskies" (Russians). We appointed Wilber Moss (from PA) to keep the first watch on the krauts as we dozed off. He was sitting on a case of TNT facing the back of the halftrack. A little later on I was awakened by one of the Germans trying to wake up Moss. He had fallen asleep and his rifle fell and hit the German, waking the soldier. The German was trying to give the rifle back to Moss. These two Germans were "Wehrmacht" draftees and weren't interested in fighting anymore.

One of the problems with moving an armored division was getting gasoline and supplies up to us so we could keep moving forward. All of our gasoline and supplies were coming across the English Channel and/or coming from the U.S. into the Port of Cherbourg which was a considerable distance from where we had advanced. The Germans still held the ports, LeHavre and Calais in Northern France - so Cherbourg was the only seaport which could handle our large ships. The Quartermaster Corps drove night and day bringing up supplies but they were occasionally strafed by German planes and some were caught selling our gasoline and supplies in Paris. Sometimes when the fuel trucks would arrive, they would give us one or two G.I. cans of gasoline - each can held five gallons. The mileage on a halftrack was 2-3 miles per gallon; on a Sherman tank it was 1-2 miles per gallon. If the fuel didn't get up to us, we would be stopped, which happened a few times. Our "K" rations or "C" rations and "10 in l" rations were in short supply at times also. As we approached Liege, Belgium, about the 8 September 1944 we attacked a German post and captured a supply depot. There we captured a large quantity of gasoline stored in 5 gallon jerry cans. We used the gasoline but it was synthetic gasoline made from coal and the octane was very low. It knocked and clattered in our tanks and halftracks and every few miles we had to open a petcock on the bottom of our carburetor and drain out water.

Bridge Over the Meuse River

After some intense fighting on the outskirts of Liege, the Germans retreated and blew up the bridge over the Meuse River. We put up a treadway bridge with mortar and sniper fire around us. As we got into Liege, the center of the city had not been damaged too bad and the Belgian civilians came out in swarms welcoming us. A loudspeaker was playing "It's a long way to Tipperary", which is an English song from WWI. I guess they thought it was an American song. Just as they did in France and especially on the outskirts of Paris, they cheered us on and yelled "Viva la Amerique" (long live America) and "Viva la Prestone" (long live Prestone). All of our vehicles had stenciled on the radiators "Prestone 44", which meant Prestone antifreeze had been put in the radiators in 1944. I guess the French and Belgians thought it was our division name. A woman came out of a large Woolworth Dime Store and handed us ice cream sandwiches.

The First to Enter Germany

After Liege, our next objective was fairly light until we reached the German border. The Germans had steel "I" beams sunk in the concrete road barring our entrance into Germany. We attached cables around the "I" beams and hooked the cables onto a tank to pull them out. It was perfectly quiet at the time. No machine gun, sniper or artillery fire - almost like the quiet before a storm. With the "I" beams out of the way we moved onto German soil. We were the first American troops to enter Germany. As we moved through the small border town of Eupen, no one appeared. All the shutters on the houses and building were closed and it looked like no one lived there. There was a lone swastika flag flying from the Nazi headquarters in the center of the town.

When we moved out of the town it looked like a peaceful setting in a German countryside with rolling hills, pretty green grass and clumps of trees. On the right side of the road was a small barn with a wagon wheel leaning up against it and roses climbing around the building. Steel "I" beams were sunk in the road and beyond, stretching up and down the hills, were "dragon's teeth" made of concrete. All of a sudden all hell broke loose. The small barn was a camouflage for a pill box which had the barn built around it. An "88" knocked out the first two tanks in our column and they sprayed us with machine gun fire. We dove into the ditches and crawled back behind a small hill. The tanks and halftracks backed up for protection behind a small hill and woods. Quite a few of the guys got hit. Our squad of engineers got bags of TNT out of our halftrack and we carried them on our backs and made our way through the woods toward the dragon's teeth and the "I" beams sunk in the road.

We were told that our infantry had been in the woods and had flushed out the Germans and secured that sector so we could put our TNT around the "I" beams and blow them up. We soon found out that the infantry had not been in ahead of us, as mortar shells and machine gin fire sprayed all around us. In fact, we were pinned down in those woods for hours. There was no way that we could blow up the "I" beams with all that fire around us. So we made our way back out of the woods. As we approached our lines our infantry men started shooting at us until we finally yelled the password for the day and made them recognize us. As we had thought, our infantry had not been in the woods as yet. Fortunately, all of our squad got back safely.

We started back through the woods again, this time behind our infantry. Again we received a lot of mortar, machine gun and artillery fire. Some of our tanks were able to maneuver into position to fire point blank at the pill boxes and by repeated firing of armor piercing shells they gradually poked a hole through the reinforced concrete which was 2 to 3 feet thick. Once they pierced a hole through the concrete, they fired high explosive shells into the hole killing the Germans inside.

Each pillbox was built so it protected another one, so they were extremely difficult to knock out because they had their 88mm guns in addition to machine guns which could cover a large area around the pillbox. In some cases, our tanks and tank destroyers were able to position themselves behind protective hills or gullies and eventually knock out the 88mm guns. A tank with a bulldozer blade mounted on the front would then scoop up dirt and cover up the slits in the pillbox and the machine gun positions thereby neutralizing the pillbox. In some cases, we would have to work our way around the "blind side" of the pillbox and use white phosphorus hand grenades dropped down their air vents or opening of any kind. Once our tanks were able to neutralize the front pillboxes we moved through the woods, placed our charges around the steel "I" beams imbedded in the concrete road and blew out the "I" beams. After the 88's were neutralized in the lead pillbox, our tanks with bulldozer blades scooped up dirt and covered over a section of dragon's teeth large enough to get a column of tanks over the top of the teeth. Our main forces were then able to move down the concrete road and move forward.

Cracking the Siegfried Line

Our next objective was to crack completely through the Siegfried Line and capture the city of Stolberg in the Stolberg-Mulbach area. The first half of September we were engaged in fierce fighting, both as infantry and as engineers. We had to demolish tank traps, help neutralize pillboxes, clear mines and booby traps, blow up fortifications, etc. We were under continuous artillery, mortar, small arms fire and had a lot of casualties. One day we dug in to hold the right flank after we hit some pillboxes. Our tanks and halftracks to our left were given the signal to pull back, but we were still holding our position. The Germans then threw everything at us. After some time we were given the signal to pull back and regroup. The field behind us was full of tall weeds. As I was running for cover in a creek bed, I stumbled over some guy laying there. I hollered to him to get the devil out of here, but as I got up I saw it was a German soldier with the top of his head gone and his brains hanging out. I remember thinking it was like a dolls head busted open with a thick skull. I made the shelter of the creek bed in a hurry.

We finally cracked through the Siegfried Line and reached the outskirts of Stolberg. We bivouacked in a field outside of the small town of Mulbach. Our artillery was dug in fields around us. The artillery continually shelled Stolberg and the surrounding area. The Germans would then shell our area trying to hit our artillery. We were dug in with fox holes to keep from getting hit. German planes would come over at night and drop small anti-personnel bombs on us; we took some casualties in that sector also.

The German V-1 "buzz bombs" were flying over us, headed for Brussels and Liege, and also for London and other cities in England. Each buzz bomb carried a 500 lb. bomb in its nose section and it flew about 300 mph. The V-1 would zero in on some radio wave length in a particular city and the Germans would put in just enough fuel so it could crash into the city it was going for. Occasionally one would malfunction and crash in our area and blow a big hole in the ground. There was a pulse jet on the aft section of the buzz bomb and it was very loud. If that little flame would go out, we would all dive in our fox holes, because in about 15 seconds it would crash. They flew low just a couple thousand feet above the ground. Some of our fighter pilots would fly parallel to them and get their wing under it and fly it back into Germany. One day I saw a P-47 flip five of them around sending them into Germany.

During this period in time that we were stalemated, we controlled the northern half of Stolberg and the Germans occupied the southern half. Our tanks and equipment were in bad shape from the long push from Normandy to Stolberg. The repeated battles and cracking through the Siegfried Line had taken its toll. Tank treads were shot; engines needed repair and overall; our equipment was in disrepair. So we had to dig in until new equipment could arrive.

The Ports of Lehavre and Calais were still held by the Germans even after we entered German soil. We had bypassed them to let rear action troops take them over later on. "Lord HaHa" and "Axis Sally" were broadcasting German propaganda to us. We would listen to them on our radios because they played good music - all the popular songs of that time. Of course, they would tell us that somebody was back in the states sneaking around with our wives and girlfriends and all kinds of things like that. They also would tell us that people were getting rich in the states while we were laying in the cold and mud, getting killed and wounded. They said if we would surrender, the Glorious Fatherland would take care of us and give us food and warmth. I don't know of any guys falling for their propaganda.

As a result of their holding those two seaports, all of our supplies still had to be brought by long supply line all the way from Cherbourg. During this time we were under constant artillery barrages and many aerial battles were taking place above our heads. An occasional jerry plane would slip in and strafe and bomb us. We would shoot anything we had at them from our anti-aircraft batteries down to our rifles. Occasionally we would hit one and knock it down. We captured a few German pilots who tried to parachute to safety.

Flame-Throwers in Stolberg

We had a rainy season and we were almost ankle deep in mud. In fact, as some of the artillery shells would hit, they would sink in the mud and less shrapnel would fly. One night it was pouring down raining and pitch black, our sergeant woke us up in our fox holes and our squad was given the assignment to go into Stolberg in buildings across the street where the Germans controlled the southern section of the city. Our assignment was to strap flame-throwers on our backs and spray flames into the German held buildings. The reason was "G-2", our intelligence, had received word that the Germans were going to counter-attack. By our use of the flame throwers, in conjunction with an artillery barrage, they felt that would thwart any counter-attack.

So off we went in our halftrack in the pouring down rain to burn down some buildings. We got into Stolberg with the Germans shelling toward the sound of our halftrack. With the flame-throwers, we made our way from doorway to doorway down the dark deserted streets. We had to hesitate at times because the Germans, suspecting something, would fire star shells or flares into the air, lighting up the streets like daylight. We finally made our way into holes in the cellar of the buildings. (Holes were blown in the cellars of buildings so the infantry could work their way down the block along buildings, flushing out snipers under the cover of the buildings.) The cellar was crowded with German civilians sleeping down there for protection from the artillery and small arms fire. We made our way up to the top floor of the four-story building. We all positioned ourselves at different windows and at the time signal, we heard our artillery open up. We shot flames across the street into the buildings - some small arms fire opened up at us, but we set the buildings on fire. German artillery started to zero in on us, so we left the area. I don't know if it was because of us or not, but the German counter-attack never took place.

We were dug in around our halftrack - it was dark and rainy with an occasional shell hitting in our area. We had "liberated" a radio out of a German halftrack and had wires running to each foxhole with earphones. The world series started between the St. Louis Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns. The announcer said, "Welcome to the Trolley Series. Its a beautiful day in St. Louis - a shirt sleeve crowd is on hand." We were laying in the mud with artillery shells hitting around us. I would have given anything to be back in St. Louis at the series.

One of our duties in addition to guarding an outpost during this stalemate, which lasted through the rest of September and most of October, was to guard the Division command post. Quartered in the Prym House, which was a huge castle on the outskirts of Stolberg, General Rose and his staff were in the building. But the General slept in his command truck parked outside.

While on guard duty I saw many top military personnel come and go, including General Marshall and General Eisenhower. German artillery was being lobbed over sporadically, and occasionally a German tank would infiltrate our lines and fire point blank in our direction. We had quite a few casualties during this time. One day a tank infiltrated and shelled one of our artillery mess lines while the men were lining up for chow. It was directly behind us; they took quite a few casualties.

The Prym House at Stolberg

A movie screen and projector was set up in the attic of the Prym House and occasionally they had movies for us. One day a British news film was showing pictures of battlefronts, including our sector and they said due to the repeated bombings "The Luftwaffe" (German Air Force) is fading out. No sooner had he gotten that statement out when a couple German ME-109's strafed across the castle and put holes in our movie screen. All of us got out of there without getting hit. Several times while on guard duty at night outside of the castle, incoming artillery was extremely heavy. Shrapnel flew all around and some of the fellows got hit.

One night we were on the alert for German parachutists that had been dropped behind our lines. It was pitch dark and we were ordered to shoot anything that moved. Inside the Prym House the officers were playing cards and drinking a little schnapps. There were German officer uniforms inside of the house that had been left by the retreating Germans. The Germans had also used this house for their command post. A warrant officer assigned to our command staff had a little too much schnapps and acting silly put on a German uniform as a joke. He came outside to go to the toilet. One of our men, seeing a German soldier shot and killed him. That was certainly very stupid to come outside dressed in a German uniform. As the stalemate wore on, both our side and the Germans kept bringing up heavier artillery. Our corps artillery brought up 240mm cannons which were dug in behind us. That, of course, drew heavier artillery from the Germans, who continuously shelled our area pretty regularly. Consequently, we dug our holes deeper and put logs and dirt on top of our holes. We were pretty safe in those holes except for a direct hit or when we were out of our holes.

One night I was walking across an open field on my way up to relieve one of my buddies in a forward outpost. It was pitch black as usual. I heard a jerry plane overhead and he dropped a flare lighting up the whole field. I stood perfectly still, hoping he would mistake me for one of the tree trunks still standing. He kept circling, getting lower and lower. That very day we had gotten in a new anti-aircraft battery with 90mm guns and the latest radar. I was praying and hoping they would open up on the kraut plane. The flare went out and I started running toward the outpost when he dropped another flare - again I stood still. Then I heard the new 90mm battery open up on the plane. The first volley got him - was I glad to see him come down in flames.

Another time the Germans moved up a huge mortar mounted on a railroad flat car. It was hidden in the side of a mountain. A locomotive would pull the mortar out, they would fire a few shells and then they would push it back into the mountain. We were standing outside of our foxholes when the first huge mortar shell hit. It hit in a field about 300 yards from us. The concussion knocked us down. They fired three shells before retreating into the mountain. We looked at the hole in the ground and you could have put a four-family flat in the hole. Fortunately, one of our liaison planes spotted the mortar and radioed the grid position to the 240mm battery. The next time the mortar was pulled out to fire, our 240mm artillery opened up and completely destroyed it.

Names of Squad Members

The members of our squad going into Germany were as follow: Howard Devoir from Chicago, our halftrack driver; John Schnoor - Iowa; Wally Burkhardt - Florida; Paul Schaeffer - Illinois (later replaced by Frank Muscarello - Louisiana - after Paul was wounded; Lucian Workman - West Virginia; Moe Campbell - Chicago (replaced by Frank Logan - New Jersey after Moe was hit); Carl Edwards - West Virginia; Wilbur Moss - Pennsylvania; Merle Hamann - Minnesota; Frank Spanholz - Illinois; Jim Nunnery - South Carolina; Melvin Wagner - Missouri; Daniel Rubner - Wisconsin (a medic who rode with us and myself). Maynard Dilthey of St. Louis was our company first sergeant. Ken Kagy was our 50 cal. gunner killed by a mortar.

During this period in time our heavy bombers were going over our heads, the B-17's had daylight raids and the B-24's and British Lancasters and Halifaxes were bombing at night. We were positioned on high ground so we could see the bomb flashes and the fires raging in Cologne, Dusseldorf, Dortmund, Essen and the other cities along the Rhine River in industrial Ruhr. The bombers would come over in groups of 1000 to 1500 bombers at a time. There was a steady drone of motors and as they came over they would drop shredded aluminum foil called "Chaff" to confuse enemy radar.

As they got past our lines the German anti-aircraft batteries would open up on them. You could see puffs of smoke as the shells burst around the planes. At night the bursts lighted up the sky. Occasionally we would see one of the planes get hit and see the American crew bail out in parachutes. After a period in time they would return over our heads, some of the planes limping along with motors out and holes in their wings, tails and fuselages. Some were flying at tree top level and occasionally they would crash land behind our lines.

Many times the jerry planes would sneak in under our bombers and strafe and bomb us. We couldn't shoot back because our planes were overhead. Sometimes our fighter planes escorting our bombers would swoop down on the jerrys and knock them down. While on guard at night and looking toward Cologne and the Rhine River from the top of the hill in which we were dug in, we could occasionally see a white flash of light streaking from the ground straight up into the sky and then disappear. It looked like a shooting star going up instead of coming down. We couldn't figure out what it was until later on when we attacked toward the town of Duren in the direction of Cologne and overran their launching sites. They were the V-2 rocket which were hitting behind us in Brussels, Belgium and in London and other English cities. In October we assisted other divisions in capturing the German city of Aachen. It was the largest city in Germany to be attacked at that time. It was a city northeast of Stolberg and it had dragon's teeth running through the center of the city and reinforced concrete Nazi party building in the center used as pillboxes.

The Siege of Aachen

We surrounded the city of about 250,000 population. We had the hills around the city filled with artillery guns and tanks with their cannons raised to about a 45-degree angle. We used loudspeakers to demand their surrender; we gave them until 12:00 noon or we would open fire. About 11:45 A.M. waves of B-26 light bombers and B-17 heavy bombers began to fly over the city. At approximately 11:50 some German 88mm anti-aircraft guns opened up on our bombers and hit a B-17. The crew bailed out and as they were floating down in their parachutes, German guns opened up on them and shot down the parachutes. This was against the Geneva Convention Articles of War. Upon seeing this, our division commander gave the signal to open fire. The artillery batteries fired as fast as they could load their guns and wave upon wave of bombers came over dropping bombs. From our position on top of a hill, the trees were swaying back and forth and even our pants legs were flapping back and forth from the concussion. The noise was deafening. All you could see was fire and smoke. The shelling and bombing kept up until about 6:00 P.M. that evening when the signal to cease firing was given.

After the shelling stopped, an occasional white flag would come up from the rubble, but some guns from the pillboxes in the center of the city began firing at us. The pill boxes had not been completely destroyed. The signal was given to concentrate all our guns on the pillboxes and more heavy bombers were called in to hit the pill boxes. After about an hour of shelling and bombing, the pillboxes were neutralized and white flags began to appear. Tanks with bulldozer blades on the front had to lead the way through the city, making a path as they went. The city was completely demolished. If they had given up this wouldn't have happened. The prisoners we took captive couldn't even speak, they were so shell shocked. There were an awful lot of the German soldiers dead and under the rubble. In the center of the city we found caves full of wine and champagne. There had been a large winery in the city. The pink champagne really tasted good.

After the fall of Aachen we pulled back to Stolberg and completed the capture of that city with some fierce fighting. We then started some probing movements toward the town of Duren. We encountered a large mine field which we as combat engineers were called upon to remove. As always, the mine fields were zeroed in with German machine gun fire and artillery. The Germans had the habit of booby trapping some of the mines. Under a mine they would place a 'bouncing betty' which we called it. The 'bouncing betty' was an explosive can about the size of a can of condensed milk. It had a cone shaped charge that showered the immediate area around the mine with small steel balls. When you picked up the mine, an explosive charge would send this can into the air about 6-8 feet. It would then explode showering the area with the steel balls. We had a few of the fellows killed or wounded with them. One went off near us but fortunately it didn't explode. I guess from laying in the mud the powder had gotten wet.

Our next push was to the Roer River east of Eschweiler. We had a lot of mud, mortars and anti-tank fire to contend with and we were constantly clearing mines. The 8th Air Force heavy bombers helped clear a path in front of us and we finally reached the Roer River. Our division and supporting infantry division dug in; we controlled the high ground. Our company was called back around Stolberg again where we dug in again with deep foxholes and logs and dirt over the top. There was constant artillery battles and occasional raids at night by jerry fighter bombers.

During this period in time we had to be on a constant alert. Quite often the Germans would send patrols trying to penetrate our lines. At times, we would have pitched battles with them.

The Death of Ken Kagy

On one particular day, Ken Kagy and I were in our halftrack manning our 50 caliber machine gun which was mounted on a circular steel rail above the cab of the halftrack. We were taking turns firing the machine gun at German planes as they would come in attempting to strafe and bomb our positions.

On that day, many German planes were coming over. In addition to the planes trying to hit us, German artillery and mortars were coming in on us. Ken was firing the machine gun and I was standing beside him when mortars started falling. One of the mortar shells hit the steel machine gun rail, burning a hole in it and hitting Ken in the head, killing him. The explosion knocked me down, but outside of a few bruises I was unhurt.

The bad things about mortars was that you could not hear them fired and there was no sound until the shells hit. You could hear artillery batteries fired and shells screaming in on us. Our halftrack was damaged and had to be taken away for repair. The Division had an ordinance unit that would repair damaged equipment and return them to combat unless they were too blown apart to be salvaged.

Our halftrack was damaged pretty bad several times, but it was always repaired and sent back up to us. We were in "B" company so the names on the side of our halftracks began with the letter "B". The name on the side of our halftrack was "Black Beauty".

Our liaison plane was flying over the Germans dug-in positions in front of us and would give the German position to our artillery batteries which were directly behind us. Our artillery guns would then send volley after volley of shells screaming over our heads.

There were times when a "short" shell would land in our positions, killing or wounding our own men. It was raining most of the time during this period and the mud was ankle deep.

On Thanksgiving Day we took turns going back to a field kitchen they had set up. Turkeys had been shipped to us for a Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey I had, I think, flew over the Atlantic, it was so tough. Toward evening a German artillery observer had apparently spotted our field kitchen and German artillery hit the kitchen and killed and wounded quite a few. In early December it got quite cold and it snowed. The mud at least froze so we didn't sink in the mud. In Stolberg there were quite a few German civilians getting killed from the incoming artillery of their troops. In the side yard of a funeral home I saw civilian bodies stacked up along side the building; it was cold and they were frozen.

Battle of the Bulge

On December 16, 1944, German Field Marshall von Rundstedt attacked through the Ardennes Forest in Luxembourg and Belgium in an attempt to reach the North Sea and cut our forces in half. He attacked through the sector where the l06th infantry division had just been put in the line, fresh from the states. They had not seen any combat as yet. I remember they were training at Fort Leonard Wood when I was there. When the German "SS" troops with heavy armor hit the 106, there was mass hysteria. They broke and ran, not even firing their heavy artillery. When the word hit us in Germany, we were given the orders to pull back through Liege, Belgium and attack the Germans in the "Battle of the Bulge." We were the Spearhead of the 1st Army and we were to join up with the 3rd Army to our South in a giant pincer movement. Back through Belgium we went, driving day and night. The snow and bitter cold had not hit as yet. It was just misting and extremely foggy. We could hardly see the tank in front of us.

As we pulled south of Liege in the vicinity of Hotton, Belgium, we were trying to establish contact with the Germans. It was so foggy that we couldn't see anything, but as we would pull down a narrow country lane, mortars and artillery would hit us so we would pull back and try another way. We couldn't see them and we didn't know where they were. We couldn't have any aircraft spotters or call in air power because everything was socked in solid with fog. Finally we established defensive positions on a road between Hotton and Manhay in the vicinity of Erezee. There were large ash trees of between 3 and 4 feet in diameter lining the two-lane roadway. We put notches in the trees and wrapped explosive primer cord around the periphery of the trunks. When we exploded the primer cord, the trees fell on the roadway, blocking the road. We then laid mines in the fields on both sides of the road. We laid 1500 mines in those fields. We then set up anti-tank guns, bazookas, etc. (I was the bazooka man in our squad.)

As the German columns advanced, they hit our road blocks. Some of the tanks tried to go around the road blocks and hit our mines in the field. There was a terrific battle, tank against tank and a lot of artillery. The Germans fell back and we had finally established a line. The weather remained cold, cloudy and rainy for days on end so we slugged it out on the ground with them, no air power. We moved in around Manhay, and the Germans moved in behind us and cut us off. We were surrounded and were getting pounded from all sides. A young Belgian' family - mother, father and the cutest little girl and boy were real nice to us - we took shelter in their cellar during the shelling. I gave the kids a chocolate bar I had and they sang a Belgium song to me. Later on, when we came back through this town after the battle of the Bulge was over, I saw their house completely burned down and destroyed. I often wondered if they were still alive. The Germans had a scorched earth policy to burn and destroy everything - so we couldn't get any shelter or provisions.

During this time when we were surrounded, we couldn't get any supplies or ammunition, so we used them sparingly. I, fortunately, had put some "D" ration bars in my field jacket pocket so I had a little something to tide me over. "D" ration bars were a kind of a semi-sweet chocolate bar about 1/2" thick by 3" x 5" wrapped in brown khaki colored thick waxy paper. Many times I went for days with only a couple bars. Finally we were able to radio back our position and our 105mm and 155mm artillery pounded the German lines, and we were able to break through.

About this time six of us were on patrol, we went into an isolated Belgian house to check it out. As we were leaving, we saw a large German force coming up the road. They had cut us off from our lines. They were coming into the house so we went down into the cellar. We hid behind a stack of logs. The Germans came down the cellar but didn't find us. They went upstairs and occupied the house as their C.P. (Command Post.) Our canteens were empty but there was a cistern on an outside wall that we dipped our canteens in. The water was greenish so we put the purification tablets in the canteens with the water - the water tasted horrible. Later on we found out that sheep were walking around above the cistern. We were down in the cellar for about 18 hours until our forces broke through the German lines. We thought sure we would be captured. The weather turned real bad then, blinding snow began to fall and it got down to zero and below.

Mail from the USA

Our mail came up to us and Mother sent me a warm woolen khaki sweater and Dad had put a pint of Southern Comfort Whiskey in the center of the package. I was really thankful to get that. We had not received equipment for the bitter cold weather.

One of my buddies gave me a wool khaki colored hood to wear over my face with just holes for your eyes and mouth. His grandmother had knitted two of them and he got them in the mail. We were fortunate to get them because the next day the Germans overran our APO (Army Post Office) and captured everything. We captured some Germans and a supply truck the next day. We cut German blankets in strips (they were a dark grey color) and wrapped them around our legs and bodies and put our uniforms over them. We also used paper layered under our clothes which helped. We wrapped blankets around our shoes because we didn't have winter shoe packs.

At night you couldn't dig in because the ground was frozen. The forests were all pine trees, so all you could do was scrape the snow aside and lay pine branches down and get in our thin nylon bed rolls or "fart sacks" as we called them, with all our clothes and shoes on and move from one side to another as you got cold. I remember my eyeballs would pain from the cold. An occasional mortar or artillery shell would hit and the shrapnel would skip off the frozen ground and a lot of guys got hit at night. It got as cold as 18° to 20° below zero at night. The water in our canteens was frozen, so we would put snow in our mess cup and heat it over a blow torch to make a cup of coffee with a packet of Nescafe from a "K" ration package. You couldn't build a fire because the Germans would see the smoke and start shelling. As the Germans retreated from a town they would burn it down so we had no shelter.

The sky had not been clear for weeks on end, just snow and cold, so we couldn't get any air power to help us and it was difficult to get supplies to us. We would occasionally get replacements up to us for the dead and wounded. I remember when Frank Muscarello from Hammond, LA, came to us. He had no combat experience. That morning we had just pushed off to capture some hills not far from Lierneux. It was snowing so hard you could only see a few feet in front of you. As we were walking single file along the side of a narrow road, a German machine gunner opened up on us. We all hit the ditch along the side of the road. Frank just stood there frozen. I grabbed his leg and pulled him down and explained to him that they were shooting at him. The next time I didn't have to remind him. In fact, he beat me down. One fellow came to us as a replacement, I can't remember his name, but I called him "Honest Abe" because he reminded me of Abe Lincoln. He had been with the 1st Armored Division in the Africa and Sicily campaigns. He was shell shocked and should never have been sent up again. Whenever shelling began, he would hide under the halftrack, a tank or something and you couldn't get him to come out. After this battle he was sent back. Some of the replacements would get hit, wounded or killed before you could find out their name.

We lost so many of our buddies in the Bulge; they were being killed or wounded at an alarming rate. Others were getting frozen feet, hands, etc. As a result, the Army was sending a lot of inexperienced and undertrained replacements up to us. As we used to say, "If they were warm and could move, they would send them into battle." As I looked at these kids, my thoughts went back to when I first went into battle, just a scared young kid six months ago. I guess now I was considered a seasoned veteran.

I remember one day a young replacement was brought up to us and, as I shook hands with him, I heard a German shell coming in. I yelled, "Hit the ground!" When I picked myself up, I saw the kid with the top part of his body gone.

Murdered Civilians

One of the Belgian towns we had just gone through was recaptured by a German group breaking in behind us. We attacked and retook the town where we found Belgian civilians, men, women, and children laying dead in the snow. German prisoners told us their SS officer had them killed because the children were crying. That was just some more of the many atrocities the SS troops committed. Many American soldiers who tried to surrender were deliberately murdered by these same troops.

As the soldiers fell, they would freeze solid from the bitter cold and get covered up with snow. In addition to the hardships we encountered, our equipment many times would fail. Due to the weather tanks wouldn't start, vehicles froze and our guns misfired. These were undoubtedly the worse possible conditions in which to wage battle.

As you moved through the snowy forests and fields, many times you would stumble over frozen bodies, both German and American. Horses and cows were wandering around in the forests and fields in the blinding snow. Their barns were destroyed and burned down. They would get hit by shell fire or freeze or starve in the snow.

The Ardennes Forest seemed to favor the German Army as they fired barrage after barrage of artillery and mortar shells, the trees were being hit and shrapnel was flying everywhere. We had no air cover and were unable to dig foxholes because of the frozen ground.

Terror in Darkness

Nighttime presented even more terror. It was difficult to distinguish our troops from theirs in the blinding snow and darkness. Star shells would light up the snowy sky during their brief burning period before plunging back into the blackness of the forest.

It was impossible to sleep nor was it advisable under these conditions. You would brush the snow aside under a fir tree and lay some evergreen branches down for a bed. You would dare not fall asleep and you and your buddies would keep each other awake.

Some American soldiers were found frozen with their hands tied behind their back and naked - they had been shot in the head. Belgium civilians were also found, men and women and children murdered by the Germans. The main German force we were facing was the 1st SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Panzer Division, Germany's elite division. After seeing the German atrocities we were told to be very careful taking prisoners.

One night about 2:30 our lead tank hit a mine covered with snow in the road near Pont de Lorrain. Our platoon was called upon to clear the road of mines into the town. We were told that our infantry units were in the town and had it secured. We pulled up quite a few "s" mines and as we got into the town it was dark and snowing. There was a little light from a tank burning off in the distance. I saw a figure by the side of a building and I called out to him. "Hey Mac, what time is it?" He just ran away. A little farther down the main street of this small town, I saw another figure by a doorway. I called out to him. "What outfit is in this town?" he yelled "Americaners - Americaners" and he ran down the street. We got out of the town and radioed back for artillery. Our 105mm showered the town with white phosphorus shells and set most of the buildings on fire. We then attacked with the help of our tanks which had pulled up behind us. After we took the town, the German artillery battered us very heavily.

Sometimes the Germans would pull out of a town and leave it deserted. As we would search the houses for snipers, the Germans would have a booby trap attached to a door or something. When we opened the door, it would set off a charge in the attic that would start a fire. This would be a signal for the German artillery to open up on us. We lost quite a few guys from those shellings.

In that same town we found so many "Anti-Personnel" traps. The Germans would put them in with a coal pile so that if you would try to shovel coal, they would explode and kill or wound someone. Some were even made to look like a match box that would explode when opened. Fortunately, there were some good deep cellars and a bomb shelter that we were able to get in for protection because the Germans shelled us heavily for several hours. We would just about get ready to bed down and try to get a little sleep when we would get the word to move out again.

Sleeping with the Enemy

The weather kept getting colder with heavy snow and it was almost impossible to keep warm. My feet were so cold that I could hardly feel them when I was walking. I knew that I had to get the blood flowing in them so I would not get trench foot and have them amputated. It was nightfall and we had pulled into the edge of a small town. We set up our outposts and I saw a barn that had not fully burned down. I climbed up a ladder and got under some hay that was in the loft. I took off my shoes and began to massage my feet to get some circulation in them, when I heard a familiar sound. It was a German flashlight that was operated by pushing a little handle - it contained no batteries and would shine only when the handle was squeezed. It was about 10:00 p.m. and pitch black. I heard one of them say, "Wir mussen schlaffen jetzt." (We must sleep now.); they crawled up the ladder into the loft where I was. Of course, I was under the hay and it was dark. One of the Germans lay down next to me and bumped me. He said "Es warm in hier?" (Is it warm in here?), I said, "Ja, sehr warm." (Yes, very warm.) - fortunately I could speak a little German. The same voice that I had heard when they first got there said, "Schlaffen schnell." (Sleep fast.). I presumed that he was their sergeant. There must have been a dozen of them.

They all fell asleep and I could hear them snoring. I couldn't get out because I would have to crawl over them to get to the ladder. So I just lay there with my finger on the trigger of my rifle. It must have been about 4:00 a.m. when I heard the voice say "Raus, wir mussen gehen." (Get up, we must go.). I said, "Ja, ich komme." (Yes, I'm coming.). They all climbed down the ladder, but of course I didn't go with them.

That same group of Germans attacked one of our first-aid stations down the street and killed some wounded Americans and had a big gun battle with our troops before most of them were killed.

We captured the town after some fierce gun battles and the usual booby traps that the retreating Germans always left behind. Of course, as they retreated they had the town zeroed in with heavy artillery so we suffered a number killed and wounded again, as well as a loss of equipment. Our maintenance units coming behind us were kept busy around the clock with repairing the tanks and other vehicles that were not completely destroyed and could be put back in service.

The next day we had a tremendous tank battle as our tanks approached an open field - the German tanks were in the woods at the edge of the field which was about 3/4 of a mile wide. We pulled our halftrack behind a hill and lay behind a creek bank. From early morning until late at night the shells, armor piercing and high explosive, spun over our heads. Tanks and vehicles were burning everywhere with their shells exploding inside. Some tankers would come crawling over beside us - if they were lucky enough to get out alive. My canteen was empty so I dipped some water that was trickling down the creek from melting snow. I put in two halogen tablets that we had with us to kill bacteria and drank the water. When it got dark we crawled back up the creek bed to get back behind our lines. I noticed the water was running over some dead horses and dead Germans and I had drank the water. I guess the halogen tablets killed the germs.

The next day we attacked toward a small town in the driving snow. When we reached the town, the Germans had already burned it down and there were a few horses and cows stumbling around in the snow. "Doc" Hamann and I found part of a barn still standing and some hay left in a corner. We led the animals in the shelter and threw them some hay. That night I laid down next to a cow and laid against her belly and got a little warmth off of the cow. I remember thinking if that cow rolled over during the night it would smash me.

You would never see any Belgians in those small towns. I don't know if the Germans had killed them or they had fled before the Germans got there.

On Christmas Day we pulled through Lierneux. There was a large church there and mass was going on so I went into the church and attended mass.

We cut the Marche-Bastogne Road and set up road blocks around Soy. We had two Sherman tanks on the side of buildings where the road dead ended into another road, a "T" intersection. We set up our 57mm cannon facing down the road and I dug in with my bazooka about 50 yards further down the road.

Germans Dressed as Americans

The Germans were still attempting to infiltrate our lines dressed like American soldiers and driving 106th Division vehicles. We had just dug in when an American jeep with four men with American uniforms came up the road. I got up and yelled "Halt." They kept going but a machine gun on the other side of the road started firing. The jeep stopped and we went up to them with our guns pointed. The driver and the two in back showed us their dog tags, but they didn't speak. Next to the driver was a first lieutenant. He showed us identification but he spoke in King's English. I asked him if he thought Detroit would win the World Series. He said no, but they would put up a bloody good fight. We pulled them out of the jeep because the World Series had been between the Cardinals and the Browns. It was discovered they were Germans in U.S. uniforms. We sent them back to our G-2 intelligence group.

A little later on we heard the steel treads of a German tank coming down the road. As it got closer we could see it was one of Germany's largest tanks - a Tiger Royal. As it got close to the roadblock, our 57mm opened up on it. It was like shooting peas at it - those shells just bounced right off. It continued to rumble toward us. When it got alongside where I was dug in, I fired my bazooka at it. I hit the tank on its turret and that shell didn't penetrate either - I think it just made them mad. The tank stopped and began to rotate its 88mm gun toward me. Fortunately, I had cut the wire of a barbwire fence behind me, so I left the area The tank fire a couple shells in my direction and then moved forward.

As it approached the "T" intersection, our Sherman Tanks with their 75mm guns opened up on the Tiger - their shells didn't fare much better than my bazooka or the 57mm shells. The 75's bounced off the tank. The Tiger opened up on our Shermans and knocked them both out. In fact, one of the 88's went in one side of a Sherman and out the other side. When the Tiger got up to the "T" intersection it was too large to fit around the corner and as it was trying to maneuver around, we called in our artillery from our 105mm self-propelled guns and their shelling with white phosphorus set the German tank on fire. As the German tankers bailed out, we captured them.

The bitter cold weather stayed with us - cold and snow, so no air cover. As we moved down the roads or fields attacking the Germans, we would stay by the rear of a tank and get a little heat from the exhaust pipe. The only bad feature of that, however, was the Germans would zero in on the tanks with anti-tank artillery and machine guns. Our light tanks were equipped with a short barrel 37mm and machine guns, so they were no match for armor. They were used against infantry and ground troops. The Shermans were a match for the German Mark Series tanks but not the Tigers. In one sector we surrounded a large number of German troops. They were mainly Wehrmacht (draftees) but they had "SS" officers commanding them, so they didn't give up until they were almost demolished.

We lined up the prisoners and G-2'd them (G-2 means search them.). We took everything out of their pockets and threw it on a pile. An SS officer with them told me I could not search him because I was not an officer. I took his officers cap off and threw it on the ground. Then I proceeded to search him. He needed a haircut - I saw a scissors on the pile so I hacked him all up. A regular Wehrmacht soldier standing next to him began to laugh. With that, the SS officer looked at him and he wiped the smile off his face and came to attention. If that officer could have had a chance to kill me I would have been laying on the ground. Many times in battle the SS officers would shoot their soldiers if they tried to retreat.

That evening my buck sergeant, John Schnoor and I visited his brother in one of our 105mm self-propelled artillery companies. They had moved in behind us. In the edge of a little town nearby, we saw a butcher shop. We went in and asked him if he had any steak (in our broken French.) He said, "Oui, si fait."; (yes, yes indeed.) He went out of the back of the shop and soon appeared with some large red steaks. We gave him some Belgian Francs for them and took them back to our squad. Using the blow torch and a large frying pan, we had liberated in Germany, we fried the steaks - they really tasted good. It had been a long time since we had fresh meat. Later on when we moved out of the little town into battle again, we saw where he had gotten the steaks. There was a knocked out German field artillery piece with two dead horses pretty well carved up laying in back of the butcher shop.

Missed by an 88mm - Barely

After another big tank battle the next day, toward dark I climbed up on one of our Sherman tanks with the hatch open on top of the turret. I was checking to see if anyone was alive inside. Just as I got on top and looked in the open hatch, an 88mm from a German Tiger tank fired point blank at my head - the tank was just about 10 yards from me behind a bush. The concussion from the 88 blast knocked me off the tank, even though the shell narrowly missed me. I moved pretty fast getting out of there. After those huge tank battles the fighting settled down to slugging it out in the forest hills and valleys. It was still bitterly cold and more snow fell. Our bombers and fighters still could not get airborne to help us.

The Germans were counter-attacking and we were dug in around a valley which they were attempting to come through. We had dug holes by using dynamite and TNT to break the frozen crust. We had to stay awake because some of the infantry troops assigned to assist us had fallen asleep in their fox holes and the Germans snuck in and slit their throats at night. That is one of the most miserable feelings when you are so tired but you dare not fall asleep. We hadn't slept for at least three days and nights. We could hear German tanks starting their motors in the distance so we laid mines and concertina (concertina was barbwire rolled in coils) in the valley where they would attack. Later that night they did attack. Their tanks hit the mines and their infantry got tangled up in the barbwire and were cut down by our machine guns zeroed in on the valley. As they came to our positions, our artillery fired star shells in the air, lighting up the whole area. Finally the sky cleared up and our bombers came over dropping us provisions and catching the German columns lined up bumper to bumper, or tank to tank, on the roads. From dawn until dark our heavy bombers from the 8th Air Force and our fighter bombers assigned to us, bombed and strafed the German vehicles and troops. Cheers went up from all of us at the sight of our planes. Fires and dense smoke went up from the tanks, halftracks, gas trucks, etc. The Germans could not maneuver their tanks on the narrow roads with forests lining the road, so they had nowhere to go.

The next day clouds moved in, so no Air Force, but they had knocked the heart out of the German drive. We then pursued the retreating Germans with occasional rear guard action from them.

We joined up with the Third Army toward the end of January and pulled back for a rest and re-equipment in the town of Durbuy, a kind of a resort town in peace time. Here we stayed in a big hotel with no heat or plumbing. We dug latrines behind the hotel and used a blow torch turned on a radiator for heat. But it was a welcome relief to get out of the bitter cold and a roof over our heads. Those of us who were Catholic went to mass in a little stone church. The mass was said by a Belgian priest who spoke a little English. The Battle of the Bulge was undoubtedly, one of the worst battles of the war. I came out of it pretty good - I had a finger and toes frostbitten and my sinus had my nose so stuffed up I had to breath out of my mouth. I ate sulfa tablets like candy to keep my fever down. In Durbuy, I was able to see an Army doctor and he treated my sinus and said I was on the verge of pneumonia and gave me some kind of medicine. Of course, at that time we didn't have any of the wonder drugs - sulfa was about the most powerful and your system became immune to it. So it was pretty much survival of the fittest.

While at this rest camp, we had steel plates welded on the front and sides of some of our Sherman tanks. On others they put reinforced concrete in an attempt to repel the German 88's. After a short stay in the rest camp, our equipment was repaired and a few brand new Pershing tanks were shipped in to us. The Pershing was a heavier tank with a 90mm gun with 4200 feet per second muzzle velocity. It was a match for the German heavy tanks. We were given the directive to move back into Germany around Stolberg and go on the attack again.

During the time we were in Belgium and the Battle of the Bulge, the Germans strengthened their defenses and moved up more and heavier artillery and mortars. They also blew up the Schwamanuel Dam and flooded the plains around Duren to keep the plains muddy so we couldn't move our tanks through the area.

Our commanders made a decision to take our own road with us. We would build a corduroy road and go over the mud. So for a week and a half we cut down trees of about a foot in diameter. We cut them in lengths of about 9 feet, and wired about 5 or 6 together to make a flat section. We then attached sections to each side of our tanks, halftracks, personnel carriers, etc. What we were doing was taking our road along with us.

The Push to Cologne

On February 26th, slightly before dawn, all of our artillery began to fire and waves of bombers - B-17's and B-26's bombed in front of us and three columns of armor pushed off toward Cologne. Our company ran beside the tanks and vehicles and laid down the logs in the mud and our columns rolled over them. The Germans were taken by surprise - they didn't think we could get through the mud. We captured Duren and hit the Erft Canal the next day. On the 27th and 28th of February, we put a Bailey Bridge across the Erft Canal under intense artillery and small arms fire at the town of Kerpen. This section of Germany was a coal mining area. Coal mines were all over the place.

We called this attack toward Cologne "The Battle of the Hen Houses." Each platoon tried to beat the other one in taking a town to get the hen houses and fresh eggs. Some of the German civilians were friendly to us, but others were arrogant. One day I was searching a house for hiding jerrys. A man in the house refused to unlock a padlock to a storage room in the cellar. I put my bayonet on my rifle and he changed his mind in a hurry. When he unlocked the door, I looked inside and he had nothing to hide - he was just arrogant.

Every little town in Germany put road blocks of timbers sunk in the road and large stones in the center of the 6 to 8-foot wide barricade. Each town had their 88mm guns for aircraft which they lowered to fire at our armor. We shelled the towns with white phosphorus shells and set them on fire and knocked out their 88's. When this was complete, we tore down the barricades and rolled through the towns.

In one of the towns an old lady stood in the center of the street and fired a Panzerfaust (a rocket with a cone shaped charge), at our lead tank, a new Pershing and knocked it out. It burned a hole right through the turret. It looked like a welding torch did it. The tank behind cut the old lady down. Some of those people believed the propaganda from German propaganda minister Goebels, that we would murder and rape civilians when we came into Germany. The retreating Germans had blown out the main bridge over a stream not far from Cologne but a railroad bridge had only the center span blown, so we pulled the tracks off the bridge and laid a steel treadway down and got our tanks across.

That day we surrounded some German troops dug in by the stream and took them captive - our squad had three of them. The artillery and mortars got real heavy. We had the three Germans dig foxholes for us. At first they refused, but we convinced them they better do it. I often wondered if they thought they were digging their graves. These soldiers were from the Wehrmacht and one of them was 60 years old and had been a professor at the University of Berlin. He said we would never cross the Rhine River - that Germany had a secret weapon. During some of the fierce fighting the next few days, we thought he may be right. We finally broke through their lines and they began to retreat toward the Rhine River.

We reached the suburbs of Cologne and the retreating Germans pounded us with their rockets and heavy artillery. When the shelling died down, we ran down the streets flushing out snipers. I looked into the front room of a small house fronting on the sidewalk and I saw and old lady dressed in black sitting on a rocking chair with a little girl kneeling at her lap - she also wore dark clothes and black stockings. Both of them had rosaries in their hands and both were dead. They had been killed by their own troops' shellings. It brought tears to my eyes and over the years I have dreamt about it several times.

We holed up in a cellar of one of the buildings that night. We found a crock in the cellar half full of eggs covered with water. We tried frying the eggs and they were good. One of the guys said they put some kind of a solution in the water that kept the eggs fresh. There were piles of potatoes and onions on the floor of the cellar also. So we had fried potatoes and onions. That was a welcome relief from the "C" and "K" rations. The Germans had all that food down there because they spent an awful lot of time in their cellars during the constant bombing during the war.

A Bridge Across the Rhine - but Blown Up

During the night something ran across my face and I heard some squeaking noises. I turned my flashlight on and there were about a dozen very large hairy rats on the top of the potato pile. We proceeded to pick them off with our rifles. There were an awful lot of rats all over Europe, and I guess the bombing and shelling helped to bring them out. We occupied Cologne on 7 March. There was still sniper and mortar fire, but the Germans fled across the Rhine River on the Hohenzollern Bridge near the large and beautiful Cologne Cathedral. As the Germans retreated, they blew up the bridge. A column of black smoke rose high in the air as the bridge was blown.

The city had been severely damaged from the bombing, shelling and tank battles. There were knocked out tanks all over, both ours and theirs. It took a while to clear out the snipers and machine gun nests after we entered the city. We were the first Americans to reach the Rhine River. I was talking to a German lady in an apartment building and she showed me a stack of leaflets dropped from our bombers that she was hiding. She said the leaflets told the truth, but on the German radio, they were fed a pack of lies. We couldn't cross the Rhine at this point because the Germans had the shoreline zeroed in with massive artillery and rocket fire.

We then began to move southeast to cross the Rhine near Bonn. We received word that the 9th Armored Division to our south was able to get some of their troops and some of the 1st Infantry Division ("The Big Red One") troops across the Rhine on the Ludendorf Bridge at Remagen. The Germans had explosive charges on the bridge but some G.I.'s stormed the bridge and cut some wires so all of the charges didn't explode. The bridge was badly damaged so you couldn't get any tanks, halftracks or self-propelled artillery across. The 1st and 9th Divisions were able to establish a small bridgehead at Remagen.

Pontoon Across the Rhine

The Rhine was very swift and wide and a pontoon bridge was needed to get our division across. We didn't have enough equipment in our division to span a river of this size. We only carried three bridge trucks with each combat command, so with the four combat commands and headquarters equipment we could only span small streams; so 7th Corps and First Army equipment was brought up to us. We began to build the pontoon bridge. We had already gotten a line across the river to tie the pontoons onto. After we attached the first three pontoons, German artillery blew them up on us. Each time we would put in new pontoons, German artillery came in on us. We were suffering casualties and getting nowhere.

The Germans had observers in the hills across the river. We then pulled back from the river and smudge pots were brought in. We filled that whole valley with dense smoke and moved downstream near Honnef. We then began to build the pontoon bridge. We kept the smudge pots going so the Germans couldn't see us. The Germans kept shelling all up and down the river but most of the shells were not near us, because they didn't know where we were. The bridge was completed on 21 March in less than ten hours. The span measured 1380 feet. We immediately began moving across the bridge - our halftrack was right behind the lead tanks.

We got across the river and up a steep hill. There we saw an autobahn, which were beautifully wide, divided highways put in by Hitler to move his troops. As soon as we reached the autobahn we were hit with intense rocket, artillery and mortar fire. We were wearing our gas masks because our intelligence had found out the Germans were intending to use poison gas - fortunately, they didn't use it. As the intense bombardment began, we hit the ditch on the side of the road. Volleys of "screaming meemies" came in on us. One hit next to us - it threw me up in the air - I had my gas mask torn off and a big piece of shrapnel tore part of my field jacket and shirt off. I looked up at Jim Nunnery from South Carolina and I yelled, "Let's get out of here!" He was laying on his back and gasping for air. I could see where shrapnel had gone through the back of his helmet. I helped the medic, Danny Rubner from Milwaukee, lift him into a medic halftrack.

Then I picked up my rifle and ran up a hill to a stone farmhouse. Down in the cellar were a bunch of other G.I.'s. We looked each other over to see if we were hit anywhere. Sometimes when you get hit the shock deadens the feeling. Fortunately, I wasn't hurt but my rifle wouldn't fire. A piece of shrapnel had gone through the stock and had broken off the follower arm. It's a funny thing - you had a superstition or something, but you wouldn't dare take a dead G.I.'s rifle, so I took the follower arm out of some guy's rifle and repaired mine.

The heavy bombardment kept up all that day and night. We were on the side of a hill taking cover behind some tanks. The Germans were throwing 170mm shells and rockets at us. Some of our tanks were knocked out and our halftrack had been hit. We were able to get a replacement halftrack. A tank retriever took our damaged halftrack behind the lines, it was repairable; two weeks later it was brought back up to us.

Our artillery and air force kept up the bombardment on the German forces day and night and the Germans threw everything they had at us. On the 26th of March the German lines began to crack and we inched forward. Our halftrack got stuck in the mud. Normally we could wench ourselves out of the mud if we could put our cable around a tree and pull ourselves out. In this case, all the trees had been torn apart and the Germans were sending volley after volley of shells and rockets at us. We hooked our cable on the back of a tank moving forward and he pulled us out - we ran along side the tank. I don't know how any of us escaped that bombardment. Later on that day we began to move along a narrow road when volleys of "screaming meemies" came in on us. I jumped over the side of the halftrack and hit the ditch. My knee hit a big stone and I could hardly walk for awhile. To this day, I still have a "trick" knee from that.

Trapping 374,000 German Troops

Finally the Germans began to retreat and from the hills behind us came division after division of our troops, I thought we were alone at the front, but I never saw so many men coming behind us - what a beautiful sight - truckloads of infantrymen. The 1st Division, 84th Division, 36th Division and others. When we finally cracked the line, we joined up with the Third and Ninth Armies. We were known as the Spearhead of the First Army. Later on we were told that 374,00 German troops had been sealed off by our pincer movement. It was called the Ruhr Pocket!

We left the infantry divisions behind to clean up the Pocket - everywhere you could see white flags of Germans surrendering, and we pushed off again. Our next major objective was Altenkirchen, a town that had been bombed pretty extensively. We were assigned to the 83rd Reconnaissance Company to move forward and flush out the enemy. We had been assigned to them before. They had light rubber-tired armored vehicles with 37mm guns mounted in a turret. They were a match for infantry troops only.

We moved forward of our main combat command columns and were wide open for ambushes and anti-tank guns. We met only light resistance as we moved forward toward Altenkirchen. About halfway toward our objective we met resistance in a small town. Our lead vehicle was blown apart and we took a lot of small arms fire. We called upon our artillery behind us and they neutralized the town. As we moved through the town, a few of our armor were destroyed along the side of the road. But I'll always remember the German jeep on the side of the road. The driver was laying on the steering wheel dead and on the passenger side an officer was getting out of the jeep. He had one hand on the back of the jeep and one hand on the top of the door. One foot was on the running board and one foot on the ground. He was standing there without a head. I guess a 37mm shell got him. A few days later I saw an American officer in an almost identical situation.

As we moved forward, we were continually called upon to remove mines. The retreating Germans were trying to delay us. Germans gave up as we moved into the towns and Belgium, French and Polish slave laborers were walking along the sides of the roads cheering us as they trudged toward the back of our column. You could see Hitler's Germany coming apart at the seams. It really made you feel good - I guess it was a feeling of pride knowing you were taking part in the defeat of Germany. We hit quite a bit of resistance at Altenkirchen and a lot of mines that had been laid in a hurry but they laid them so fast that they didn't have time to camouflage them properly. Once we broke through Altenkirchen we raced forward. The roads were strewn with smashed German vehicles and bodies everywhere.

We reached the Nister River where the Germans had blown up the bridge. It was dark and we were called upon to construct a treadway bridge. The Germans were shelling the area and it was zeroed in with machine gun fire. We sent infantrymen across the river in boats to knock out the machine gunners. We were working on the bridge when a German fighter-bomber came over and dropped some bombs, narrowly missing our bridge. Another plane came over from behind us. I was in the center of the road carrying a bridge part when this plane started strafing me. He was firing 20mm cannon shells; they hit in back of me and in front of me and as I write this I can still see in my mind's eye the sight of the rear gunner firing back at me as the plane rose up in the sky. Fortunately for me, they didn't have the rapid firing guns of today or I would have been riddled with bullets. After completing the bridge, we moved forward meeting light resistance.

On 29 March we raced from Marburg by passing fortified and barricaded towns all the way to Ober Marsberg, a distance of 101 miles, the longest one-day advance in the history of warfare. We caught the Germans by surprise. As we moved through small towns, German soldiers and civilians were sitting or standing in front of houses. When they saw us, they just threw their arms in the air in surrender.

The Race to Paderborn

As we rounded a large hill, across a valley was a railroad track and as we came around the hill a German train loaded with soldiers and ammunition for the front was steaming back toward the way we had just come. Our tanks, tank destroyers and anti-aircraft guns opened up on the train and blew it off the tracks. The ammunition on the train burned and exploded fiercely. That night as we ground to a halt one of the G.I.'s stood on a tank and played the tune "I'll Walk Alone" on his trumpet. He was really good - sounded like Harry James. He had played in the "Red Narvo" band before the war. Brigadier General Boudinot, our commander of Combat Command "B" walked by and said, "That's just like an American; we're in the middle of nowhere; Germans may be waiting for us just around the bend and he plays 'I'll Walk Alone.'"

We were approximately 20 miles from our next big objective - Paderborn. It was the location of the Germany's Panzer Training Center, the principle place for training troops in the use of armor. It was the Fort Knox of Germany. It was commanded by Hitler's elite "SS" forces. As we approached the outskirts of Paderborn the road went through a valley with steep wooded hills on both sides of the road. As we moved forward, mortars, Panzerfausts and machine gun fire began to hit us. They were dug in holes in the hills. We did not have any cover so we took quite a few casualties. Our tanks fired 75mm point-blank at the holes and raked them with machine gun fire. We were able to get up to the top of the hills while our tanks kept them down. We used hand grenades and small arms fire and finally were able to either get them or pull them out of their holes. We discovered they were just boys, members of the "Hitler Jugend". Most of them were between the ages of 10-14 years. They acted like animals; they would spit, scratch and try to bite you. We kicked them in their butts and sent them back as prisoners.

After we got through the valley we pulled in a field on the side of the road. There were hay stacks in a field on the other side of the road. Moe Campbell from Chicago and I were going across the road to check out the hay stacks for hiding Germans. As we started across the road a German halftrack came roaring down the road toward us. As it got up to us, some Germans standing in the back started shooting at us. Campbell pulled his 45 caliber pistol and hit the German standing in the center of the halftrack. The kraut fell in the center of the road with a hole through his belly. One of our anti-aircraft batteries with four 50 caliber machine guns knocked the halftrack out as it went alongside our vehicles.

Later that evening about dark the Germans shelled us pretty heavy. We laid behind a stone wall near a German house. There was a flock of sheep in the field behind us. As the shells hit, shrapnel was flying all over and the sheep were getting hit. They cried and it sounded just like little children. Campbell got hit, a middle finger knocked off, so he was evacuated. After the shelling died down we heard some yelling and crying and a German was yelling, "Hilfe, ich bin wunde." I went through a hedgerow of trees and saw a German soldier laying there. I bent over him and he was crying. He took my hand to show me his wound and put my hand in his chest - the hole was as big as my fist. I got our medic and gave him first-aid, but I doubt if he lived.

Attack on Paderborn Airfield

At dawn we attacked the Paderborn Airfield. It was well fortified and the Germans were dug in. The battle lasted all day, tank against tank and we finally had to roll hand grenades in their fox holes. In Paderborn we found a "baby factory" - it was a large hospital where German girls would give birth to children for Hitler. This was one of the policies Hitler had established. He would force the girls who had reached 18 years of age to have relations with his "true Aryans", the blonde hair, blue eye, SS panzer troops. The girls would then be sent home and when they were ready to give birth, they would go to this hospital and give birth. The child would then become owned by the state. The girl was given a "Deutsche Mutter" (German mother) medal and sent home. There was a regular campus setting, as these children were billeted in building according to their age. They were taught to kill or be killed and the products of this place were the young boys we had encountered on the outskirts of Paderborn. The hospital had pregnant girls running around all over the place. When we reached the hospital, the retreating Germans shelled us, including their own hospital. They knocked out the electricity so we hooked up a portable generator (which was back in Division headquarters) so they could use their operating and delivery rooms. That evening we laid down in some beds in empty rooms. It was a long time since we had been in a bed - it was still rather cold outside and these were warm feather mattresses and spreads.

We had just laid down when big Tiger Royal tanks and German infantry attacked down a road leading to the hospital. The first shells they fired came right through our room. We got out of there in a hurry. They caught us off guard and knocked out all but one of our Sherman tanks and all but two of our light tanks. We were on top of a hill with one Sherman tank, two light tanks, and a 3/4 ton personnel carrier. The Germans were digging in all around us in the hills. They had caught our infantry support with devastating fire and an awful lot of them were killed or wounded. The 3/4 ton personnel carrier had just gotten to us when the Germans counter-attacked. The personnel carrier contained mail for our troops and hot food for the infantry. The headlines on the "Stars and Stripes" newspaper read: "Chrysler tank arsenal on strike - workers demand 18 cents an hour increase". Here we were on a hill surrounded with our tanks knocked out and they were striking back in the States. We would have given anything for some new Pershings. That really knocked our morale. We at least got some hot food though, because very few infantry were left to eat it.

We called back by walkie-talkie to our artillery, which was a couple miles back. We gave them our grid position. They opened fire with white phosphorus shells with proximity fuses. The shells explode about 6 feet above the ground. They cut all the trees in half as the shells moved up the hills killing most of the Germans in their holes. The white phosphorus lit up the sky as they hit. Our artillery saved us - we were able to pull back off the top of the hill.

We received word that our division commander, Major General Maurice Rose was killed by a German machine gunner in a Tiger tank on the outskirts of Paderborn. They were ambushed and cut down. Brigadier General Doyle O. Hickey assumed command of the 3rd Armored Division after General Rose's death. Later that day, two of our 703rd tank destroyers with 76mm long-barrels smashed three tanks including the Tiger that had killed General Rose.

Link Up with "Hell on Wheels"

On April 1st we joined up with the 2nd Armored Division at Lippstadt; our artillery liaison planes from both the 3rd Armored and the 2nd Armored kept track of our movements so we didn't shoot at each other. By joining with the 2nd Armored Division ("Hell on Wheels" Division), we sealed off the entire industrial Ruhr area and trapped many thousands of German troops and panzer forces. This Pocket sealed off was renamed the "Rose Pocket" in memory of our General. Troops coming from our rear had the job of neutralizing the Pocket and many fierce battles were fought with remnants of Hitler's panzer units. The Quartermaster Corps units bringing our gasoline and supplies were ambushed by sniper and bazooka fire and we had short rations from time to time until the Pocket was finally wiped out.

We had to attack a town to our rear one day because a German panzer force moved in after we had passed through. In this particular town, we left a medical group to care for our wounded. We knocked out their tanks and recaptured the town. One of the medics said as soon as the Germans had captured the town, a German girl told the German troops that the medic had raped her so they would shoot him. He said he had never seen her before. That was one of the tricks German girls would pull so Americans would be killed. The medic was really happy when we retook the town.

We regrouped our forces and our company ("B", 23 Armored Engineers) moved forward with General Boudinot's Combat Command "B". We were with the task force commanded by Colonel Welborn. We pulled south of the town of Kane and captured a strong point at the town of Heerbruck. I remember this town, as we were advancing through it, I kicked open a high wooden fence surrounding a house and I saw an old lady and an old man standing there with a little boy about 4 years old. They were crying and they told me "please shoot them but don't shoot their grandchild." German propaganda had convinced them that the Americans would kill them when we invaded their country. I told them I wouldn't harm them and I gave the little boy a candy bar I had in my pocket and gave the old man some cigarettes. I asked them if they had some water for my canteen. They hurried and got me some nice cold water out of their well and kept thanking me. They were so happy to find out we wouldn't harm them. We encountered some of the remnants of a panzer force outside of town with 128mm tank destroyers and some pitched battles were fought.

On the 6th of April we reached another river to cross - the Nether River. The bridge was blown so we crossed it with a treadway bridge we constructed. We finally reached the Wesser River on April 7th. All of the bridges were blown by the retreating Germans. The town was Herstelle. We got hit with direct fire from both sides of the stream. Fierce battles raged but finally most of their guns were knocked out. We had captured a total of 22 towns in the drive to the Wesser. We were able to put a regiment of infantry across the river under cover of darkness, so we proceeded to construct a Bailey Bridge. We completed it - 465 feet long. We attacked across the river and proceeded to capture town after town. We hit the barricaded towns with white phosphorus and set them on fire. Where we could, we cut through fields or pastures. Most of the fields were clear because the Germans didn't have time to mine them.

We strengthened a bridge over the Leiner River near Gottingen on 10 April - it hadn't been entirely blown - some of their charges didn't go off. We received fire from across the river at every river we came to. Our next river we hit was the Oder River on 11 April. Here we again constructed a treadway bridge under concentrated fire. After crossing the river we captured a V-2 rocket assembly plant at Kleinbodungen. Slave laborers had been working on these rockets. We freed the slaves. They had an assembly line of rockets with a number of them completed except for the warheads. An underground shaft was discovered that let to caves dug deep into the clay and sandstone formations. The caves were loaded with high explosives of all kinds. Coming behind us for mop up operations were elements of the 1st Infantry Division, 18th Infantry, 19th Infantry, 47th Infantry and the l04th Infantry Divisions. These were all crack doughboy units and they gave us close support when we hit heavy resistance.

Liberation of Nordhausen

On the outskirts of Nordhausen, a city that had been heavily bombed, we got pretty heavy resistance. Toward the top of a wooded hill, a Tiger tank fired at us. One of our tank destroyers knocked it out. It was well camouflaged and had infantry support around it. We discovered a cave entrance by the tank. Inside the cave were huge rooms carved out of the rock. There was assembly lines of V-1 and V-2 rockets. These were rows and rows of milling machines and lathes. The ceiling had rows of neon lights, lighting the underground factory. We later learned that this was operating with slave laborers. The underground factory was called "Dora". In the factory they were experimenting on a "V-3" rocket which had not been perfected as yet. This was some kind of a secret anti-aircraft weapon. We also found out that political prisoners worked on the V-3 and they were murdered periodically so they couldn't give out any secrets on it.

As we got into Nordhausen, we noticed a terrible odor, the further we got into the city. We ran into a huge concentration camp with slave laborers who were political prisoners from all over Europe. The concentration camp, which the prisoners called the "death camp", was the former "Kaserne Hoelcke." It was very similar to the hell holes at Maidenek and Buchenwald. The entire camp was surrounded by tall and deep barbwire fences. As we approached the main gates to the death camp, we saw prisoners in black and white striped uniforms laying, crawling and trying to walk toward us. They were emaciated - nothing but skin and bones. They hardly had the strength to move. One of the inmates came crawling to me. He spoke English and said he was from Brooklyn, New York, and was trapped in Germany when the war began. He said they put him in the concentration camp for no reason at all. I started to give him a "K" ration but a medic took it away and said "Don't give him food like that, it would probably kill him." They would try to nourish them back to health and probably most of them would die.

Further back in the camp were steel and cement barracks and in the barracks were piles of sunken eyed skeletons of humans. Some were barely living, but most were dead. In one building was a huge pile of bodies with a little lime sprinkled on them. Occasionally, you could see an arm or a leg twitch. The smell was awful. Behind the building was a railroad track on which hopper cars rolled to cart the bodies to furnaces at the other end of the camp. The German guards fled the camp as we were approaching and were unable to burn a lot of the bodies before we got there.

These slaves were used to work on the rockets on 16-hour shifts. When they were unable to work anymore, they were cremated. Their rations were 4 ounces of black bread and a liter of weak soup each day. There were thousands of bodies in the camp when we arrived there.

Between Nordhausen and Osterode we met town after town which was fortified and equipped with 88mm anti-aircraft and ground batteries. We used our P-47 Thunderbolt fighter-bombers assigned to give us close support and a lot of white phosphorus artillery shells. After seeing the atrocities at Nordhausen we were mad and determined to wipe out the krauts. After hitting these towns with our barrages, white flags appeared very soon and the Germans themselves removed the barricades in the road to let us through the town.

DP's (Displaced Persons) Celebrate

Our next big objective was the town of Sangerhausen which we rolled into on the 12th of April. While flushing out hidden Germans we ran into a large group of DP's (displaced persons) holed up in the basement of a large building. These people were Polish, Russian, Hungarian and from other eastern countries. They were brought into Germany almost like forced labor to work in Germany's war effort. They were drinking and celebrating our arrival.

After Sangerhausen, we kept up the attack and pushed forward - we passed through the town of Eisleben with no opposition - it had been declared an open city. Near Eisleben was the small town of Polleben where we overran a prisoner of war camp which contained mostly British prisoners of war. Many officers and enlisted men were liberated here. They embraced us and were really happy to see us. Many had been captured in the desert in Africa and Crete. Others were captured at the time of the landing at Dunkirk that failed long before "D" Day. Some of the British wanted to join us to fight the Germans.

We reached the Saale River on the 13th of April. As usual, the retreating Germans had blown all the bridges. At the Saale River, we came out of the Harz Mountains and reached flat plains. Our infantry crossed the river in pontoon boats under heavy fire from the opposite shore and secured a bridgehead. We then worked all night and put in two pontoon bridges so we could attack in a two-pronged thrust. In the cover of a dark and cloudy night, the German artillery couldn't zero in on us. On the 14th of April we crossed the Saale River and began to meet heavier resistance from some of Hitler's crack troops pulled back to defend Berlin and the surrounding area. We kept up the attack and cleared an airport near Kothen. The airport was littered with damaged German fighter planes.

Autobahn to Dessau

We reached the Mulde River on April 15th to find more blown up bridges and received heavy artillery fire from the opposite shore. We encountered many fanatical civilians who used Panzerfausts and abandoned weapons on us. To our rear, our supply lines were continually attacked by stray groups of German troops which had hidden as we passed by. We were controlling about a 40-mile-long front with many uncleared and bypassed towns in the area. Our task force pushed to the north through a densely wooded area and reached the autobahn running into Dessau, with the bridge over the Mulde River destroyed. We attempted to put a bridge across the Mulde under intense and observed fire. We kept putting structure in only to have it blown up. We were getting a lot of casualties and losing our equipment. We were facing three crack German divisions of 4,000 men in each division. We were short of infantry and were getting our supporting artillery knocked out. Finally on the 17th of April we were ordered to abandon the bridge site and pull back from the river, which we gladly did, our ranks were being decimated.

Behind us in the Harz Mountain area, we had sealed off an estimated 90,000 German troops. Our supporting infantry was busy in mopping up operations. Our task force command post in the town of Thurland was overrun by a force of German infantrymen early in the morning of 17 April and we fought with the 83rd Armored Recon. Battalion all day to retake the town. The Germans continually counter-attacked with tanks and infantry. They were defending Dessau and the bridge approaches. Fierce battles with tank against tank and continuous artillery and mortar fire day and night were raging.

Finally on 22 April all of Dessau was cleared, but we were not allowed to cross the Elbe River because of a stupid treaty made by Roosevelt during the Yalta Conference with Stalin and Churchill. All of eastern Europe was to be given to the Russians. We were only about 40 kilometers from Berlin and we could hear the air raid sirens coming from the suburbs of Berlin as our fighter planes flew over.

After capturing Dessau, we were ordered to pull back and dig in, which we did. It was 25 April. Our artillery and the German artillery across the river pounded each other for days until the Russians finally took the east bank of the Elbe River. We were dug into sandy soil, and as shells hit, sand continually fell into your foxhole. I remember my nerves were shot, every time a shell hit close to me, I shook all over and a cold sweat came over me. The other fellows said they experienced the same thing. We had been in continuous combat since Normandy and I'm sure we couldn't have taken too much more.

The Paderborn to the Elbe River drive was 145 miles. In the 145-mile drive 23,879 prisoners were taken, boosting the total German prisoners to 75,000 taken during the more than 10 months in combat. That was five times the official compliment of men in the 3rd Armored Division.

Germany Surrenders - May 7

The word came up to us on 7 May that the Germans had surrendered. That very same day, Lt. Hannegan, who had just received a battle field commission, was looking up over a small hill toward the German positions and got a bullet in his head and was killed. Even after the surrender there was sporadic shooting by fanatical Germans, so we remained armed and continued our sentries and surveillance.

The Russians immediately put up roadblocks and sealed off areas so nobody could see what they were doing. As part of the treaty that Roosevelt agreed to, the Russians were dismantling complete factories and moving the equipment back into Russia. We later learned that they were kidnapping German scientists and taking them to Russia. Some of the scientists escaped to our lines and gained political asylum to America - Werner Von Braun, the rocket scientist, was one of them. He later became an American citizen and helped us in our space program.

After some period of time we were ordered to the city of Darmstadt to guard the Merck Chemical Plant in the suburbs of Darmstadt, in Arheilgen, not far from Frankfurt.

We were billeted in German homes near the Merck Chemical Plant. While there, we began to get our equipment ready for the CBI (China, Burma, India theater.) The war with Japan was still going on and the plans were for us to attack through China to reach the "back door" of Japan. The city of Darmstadt had been hit by 2,000 U.S. bombers in a daylight raid and it was completely demolished. Just shells of buildings were still standing. Approximately 30,000 people were killed in that air raid. There was a tall pedestal, about 150 feet tail, still standing in the center of the city in a downtown square. On the top of the pedestal was a statue of Paul Von Hindenburg, a German general and president. When the bombing first started the statue was facing west, and after the bombing, the statue faced east.

The Merck Chemical Plant was hit by 1,000 flying fortresses one day at noon with fire bombs. Everything above ground was pretty well burned out, but they had extensive facilities underground, including a very modern hospital and operating room with the walls, ceiling, etc. painted with fluorescent paint. When the lights went out, the room stayed bright for at least a half an hour so they could complete and operation. While guarding the plant, we slept in the hospital section. We had to guard the plant because vast stores of chemicals were stored there including tons of sugar and grain and wood alcohol.

A rigid curfew was placed on the German population and anyone out after 8:00 in the evening was subject to being shot. Occasionally, fanatical Germans would snipe at us at night or stretch a wire across the road at a height where a man driving a jeep would get his head cut off. We welded a steel angle on the front of the jeeps sticking up to break the wires - this was successful.

Guarding the Merck Chemical Plant

There were tall guard towers situated around the barbwire enclosed Merck Chemical Plant. We manned the towers at night and we had powerful spot lights positioned on the towers. At the sound of any noise, we could light up the area. We also walked sentry duty around the outskirts of the compound.

There were large numbers of Russian, Polish and other Eastern Europe civilians staying in bombed out buildings in Darmstadt They had been in Germany as "detained" laborers during the war. They were armed with German weapons they had obtained from railroad box cars that the German Army had shipped in to give to civilians to use against us. These people tried storming the chemical plant several times to obtain the alcohol and other chemicals. We had some real pitched battles with them. One night one of my buddies and I were pinned down with machine gun and small arms fire from these civilians. We were rescued by a couple buddies in our halftrack with the 50 caliber machine gun breaking up the attack. We confiscated a lot of weapons by pulling surprise raids in the middle of the night. We would surround a town with our halftracks and go from house to house getting everyone out of their beds. We would then search their houses. We found many weapons this way. By our raids and treating the people firmly but fairly, the sniping and animosity gradually disappeared.

While in our billeted houses in Darmstadt-Arheilgen, we learned of the atom bombs being dropped on Japan. We had never heard of the atom bomb, but when Japan surrendered on 2 Sept. 1945, we breathed a sigh of relief. We wouldn't have to fight in Asia. The atom bomb had saved our lives.

When President Truman came to Potsdam, Germany to ratify the "Yalta Agreement", the bad decision by Roosevelt, he stopped by to review our Division. All of us from Missouri acted as an honor guard for him as he reviewed the troops. He was there with Secretary of State Byrnes and other dignitaries.

Shortly after Japan surrendered, our Division was broken up into separate units and we were sent to a town called Aldelmansfelden. Here we assisted in guarding and maintaining order in that section of Germany. We were billeted in a German aircraft factory which was in pretty good shape with very little damage from bombings. It was a Messerschmidt Plant that manufactured the ME-109 fighter planes for Germany.

Post-War Travels in Europe

While at this plant, I took advantage of any passes or leaves to see the rest of Europe. My travels included Paris, France; Heidelberg, Germany; Heerlen, Holland; and Nueremburg, Germany, where I attended the G.I. World Series baseball game in the famous former Nazi stadium where Hitler had held his huge party rallies. I also took a tour to the town where Martin Luther was born and raised. The Catholic church where Luther was baptized in 1483 was still standing and in perfect condition. I also had a ten-day leave to the Riviera in southern France. I stayed in the fancy Ruhl Hotel in Nice. The U.S. Army had taken over the hotels for the G.I.'s to stay during their leaves. The room I stayed in was Churchill's suite when he used to visit the Riviera.

I brought a duffel bag of dried out coffee grounds to sell at the Riviera. I sprinkled a pound of fresh coffee grounds on a plate, and then I positioned myself on the street outside a couple of restaurants. I yelled "coffee". The restaurant owners ran out and started bidding against each other. I sold to the highest bidder. I don't remember how much I got for the coffee grounds, but I had a big roll of French francs to spend during my leave. I also sold some cigarettes at $40.00 a carton. I had only gotten $30.00 in Paris, but I did have silk stockings, brassieres and panties which I sold in Paris. I liberated them from the cellars of Nazi officers' houses. They had stolen them from France, Belgium and Holland when they conquered those countries. While at the Riviera I took a bus to the principality of Monaco and down to the border of Italy. I also walked through some of the small towns at the top of the mountains. This was the path Hannibal had taken when he crossed the Alps. These little towns had narrow walkways or streets. You could touch each building by stretching out your arms.

Shortly after this, the 3rd Armored Division was deactivated and each unit was sent to a different division, preparing for our schedule to be sent home. I was transferred to the 2nd Armored Division in the town of Bad Orb, Germany. Bad Orb was a resort town with mineral springs where people came with arthritis and heart conditions for rest and recovery. While in Bad Orb I signed up to take some courses in the Army I & E (information an education) program. These courses were taught in a German university in which we were billeted. I took French, German, Accounting and business math. Here I got $100 for a carton of cigarettes. I met a German in a cemetery every week on Tuesday when we got our cigarette rations.

Hospitality of the Trogele Family

Our next move was east of Stuttgart in Wurtenburg province. We stayed in "Unterkochen", South of Aalen. Unterkochen in German means "under the mountain". On the other side of the mountain was the town of "Oberkochen" which means "over the mountain". In Unterkochen I became acquainted with the Trogele family. We were using their bedrooms for sleeping quarters and they used their kitchen for their meals. They stayed at Mrs. Trogele's mother's house. Papa Trogele worked in a paper factory in the town. When the Nazi's took over Germany, they sent their storm troopers into that area of Bavaria to take over the towns and factories because the people there did not back Hitler. Papa Trogele spent the war years in a concentration camp and Mama Trogele had to wait on the German soldiers. They had three children whose ages at the time were - Julie 16, Martha 12 and Paul 6. They had some pretty rough times during the war and they were happy to see us.

There was a Catholic Church built of stone, on the top of a big hill. It dated back to about the 14th century. When the storm troopers moved into the area they took the two priests and six nuns from the church and put them in concentration camps. One of the priests and two of the nuns died in those camps. I went to mass on Sundays with the Trogele family. I remember they were happy to have me going with them. The men all sat on one side of the church and the women the other side. I brought leftover food for them from the mess hall as they didn't have very much to eat. They were very thankful for it. I also gave them clothing that the quartermaster was going to throw away. I learned a lot of German from them. I sat in their kitchen in the evenings talking to them. When I left, Papa Trogele wouldn't let me carry my duffel bags as we walked to the Army trucks. Mama Trogele had a big bag of apples and onions that were real sweet, which she gave me. They stood in the road waving and crying as I left. Papa Trogele died in 1974.

We went by truck through battered towns and around broken bridges and finally we arrived in Nancy, France. Here we were loaded in box cars for our trip to Marseilles. We traveled along the Rhine River and through tunnels under the Alps and arrived in Marseilles.

At Marseilles we were put in steel corrugated barracks waiting for a ship home. There was a large corrugated steel building which was the movie theater. It was named "May Get Inn". It seated about 8,000 soldiers but if you didn't stand in line early you wouldn't get in. I saw some good USO shows there. While in Germany after the war, I saw Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Benny and other top stars. I had also seen the Lawrence Welk, Shep Fields and Glen Miller orchestras.

A Liberty Ship to Home

Around the middle of January, 1946, we were loaded on a liberty ship, which was a cargo ship built during the war by the Kaiser Ship Yards in New Orleans. They were welded steel ships and some of them were known to break apart in storms. We started out of Marseilles and hugged the coast of Spain past Gibraltar and headed across the ocean. The seas were calm and there was a continuous crap game going on in the bottom of the ship. There were piles of money in the pot.

Just north of the Azores, we hit a North Atlantic storm. The waves looked like mountains and our ship tossed around like a cork. You had to strap yourself in your bunk to keep from being tossed around. Almost everyone was seasick - I was dizzy but never got seasick. They couldn't prepare food for the well ones, so we ate crackers and cookies. You could hear the propellers spin as they came out of the water. We began to take on water from a crack that developed and a destroyer stood by us to take on survivors in case we went down. Some days we didn't gain any distance - one day we lost a few knots. Finally we reached New York Harbor and saw the Statue of Liberty - what a wonderful sight to see after all we had been through. There was a dock strike going on in New York and they wouldn't let us dock, so we had to come down on rope ladders into Army tugs to get to shore. We walked about 2 miles to a railroad siding and got on the train. The guys were pretty burnt up about them not letting us dock.

We were taken to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where they had a big steak dinner with all the trimmings, including apple and pumpkin pies and ice cream waiting for us. Boy what a treat that was!

They gave us new clothes, got all our records straightened out, gave us physical's, etc. In a few days I received my orders to report to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, for my discharge. Our group boarded the train and journeyed to St. Louis. On 9 February 1946, I received my Honorable Discharge and I was a civilian again. My mother and dad were waiting for me.

Ending comments:
My years in the service are something I will never forget. I felt it was my duty to serve my country and in my heart I can be proud of what I did. I can truthfully say I would not like to relive those many months in combat, nor do I feel that I would be capable physically of withstanding the rigors of combat. I thank God for having spared my life and I know that without His help I would not have returned.

Robert T. Gravlin

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