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
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
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 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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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