Category Archives: Veterans’ Stories

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Booby Trapped, and Other Tales

Mark W. Kistler, 4th Cav Recon Sq,  A Troop,  3rd Platoon
Mark W. Kistler, 4th Cav Recon Sq, A Troop, 3rd Platoon

After being drafted on April 10, 1943, Mark W. Kistler boarded a train to begin his basic in Florida. While at Camp Blanding, FL during boot camp, Mark was sent 2 separate telegrams from his family to go see his sick mother back home in Pennsylvania. His 1st Sgt. apparently had torn them up. Kistler never knew why. He finally got a letter from his brother asking him when he was coming home. Mark showed the letter to his Lieutenant and he told Mark to immediately head home, where he spent 2 weeks with his ailing mother.

When he returned, he discovered his 1st Sgt. had been busted down to Private and transferred out of the unit.

Kistler’s unit was shipped on the ocean liner Queen Elizabeth from New York in April 1944 to Scotland and then England. He landed at Normandy on Utah Beach on June 11th, 1944.

His first major combat mission was in Cherbourg, France where along with the 101st and 82nd AB, they were able to cut off and capture over 20, 000 Germans soldiers. His troop’s main objective was to find the enemy, get information, and to capture prisoners. They advanced so fast that often his platoon never had time to dig in to foxholes.

On September 11th, 1944, Sgt. Kistler was driving in an armored car with his superior officer, Lt. Thompson, when upon reaching an intersection near Spa, Germany, they came across a German patrol.  A German soldier hiding in a ditch by the side of the road, wielding a potato masher, hurled his grenade toward the jeep. Lt. Thompson turned and fired at the enemy, killing him. The gunshot threw off the direction of his grenade and it exploded near Kistler, wounding him, sending shrapnel into his legs. Sergeant Kistler believes that Lt. Thompson’s quick action saved his life.

After spending time in a field hospital, he was wounded again a few weeks later on September 30th, when he stepped on a booby trap trip-wire and the explosives blew up a tree nearby. He was thrown to the ground from the blast and wounded in the face and legs. After being taken to an aid station to get patched up, in three days he was back up on the line. His unit needed replacements so badly they sent him back, otherwise he may have stayed in the hospital. To this day he still carries pieces of the shrapnel and debris in his legs.

While passing through a small village, Sgt, Kistler was driving in his jeep and came cross a Frenchman, who came walking down the middle of the road with a large object in his hands. It turned out to be a large goose that he held. He walked up to Kistler and said to him, “This is all I have left in the world. I would like you to have it for liberating my village from the Nazis and the Italians.” The Frenchman hugged and kissed the Sergeant and walked on. Kistler really disliked the hash in the C-rations, and he accepted the goose and proceeded to tie it to the hood of his jeep. After advancing for several days, with the live bird still tied to the front of the jeep, his unit drove into a village where he met a French woman. He offered the goose to her to butcher and cook it for him and his men, in exchange for a bottle of wine. But unfortunately before they had the chance to feast on it, his unit was ordered to move out, and the goose was never seen again.

Fighting through the hedgerows, his unit came up through St. Lo,   where over 3,000 planes leveled the town. In September of 1944, his troop made their way north, near the town of Aachen, to battle the Germans in the Hurtgen Forest. For two to three weeks they fought through the thick mud and artillery shelling. The Allies suffered heavy casualties during this battle, Kistler himself almost becoming one again when an artillery shell landed at the very spot he had abandoned only moments before.

During the battle, an American reporter requested to go into the frontlines of the forest with Kistler’s unit. They took him through the enemy lines and returned him safely. That young man’s name was Andy Rooney, the future “60 Minutes” reporter.

Kistler will always remember the sound of the hob-nail boots on the road as the German soldiers marched past him on the crossroads in Germany.

Marching through Belgium, he was surprised his unit met so little  opposition from the German army. The reason was, they were amassing outside of Malmedy, preparing for the ambush that would soon be known as the Battle of the Bulge. Kistler and his unit had just been transported back to Liege, Belgium for R&R, but that was the same day that the Bulge began. No rest for the soldiers.

Mark W. Kistler received 2 Purple Hearts, Good Conduct medal, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Silver Service Star, WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal and a Presidential Unit Citation for efforts during the Battle of the Bulge.

—Submitted by Steve Savage, Lehigh Valley Chapter

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We Were the Eyes & Ears

Keith Davis
Keith Davis

by Keith F. Davis, 16th Field Artillery Observation Battalion

When the Allies planned the invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europe, they chose the Normandy Coast of France for their landing site and they were code named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. The English, French, Canadians, and others landed on Sword, Juno, and Gold, and the Americans landed on Omaha and Utah beaches.

I went ashore on Utah Beach and the beach was secure and the fighting was a few miles inland. We were near the town of St. Mere Eglise. We fought in the hedgerows, the towns and villages, and fought our way to the huge Nazi submarine base at Brest, France. The Artillery fired on this base from the land, the Air Force bombed it from the air, and the Navy fired on it from the sea. After much fire-power, the base surrendered.

I was in the 16th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. We were the eyes and ears of the Field Artillery. We fought our way through St. Lo, up to and through Paris, to the border of Germany. On Dec. 16, 1944, Nazi Field Marshall Von Rundstedt made a counter-attack on a 50 mile front in this area. He came through with the 5th Panzer Army, the 6th Panzer Army and the 7th German Army. We were right in the center of this attack. I was in the area of St. Vith and Bastogne. They really clobbered us. Thousands of Americans and Germans were killed in this breakthrough (later known as the Battle of the Bulge).

It took Gen. George Patton two days to bring in the 101st and 82nd Airborne and the 6th Infantry Division to help reinforce our position. One paratrooper asked me where the frontline was. I told him, “You are standing on it.”

The Nazis destroyed much Army material and killed many men. The German High Command sent an ultimatum to our Gen. McAuliffe at Bastogne, and told him to either surrender or be annihilated. Gen. McAuliffe sent a reply with one word: “NUTS.” The Germans did not know what to think of (or understand) the word “NUTS.” This was his American slang way of saying, “In no way will we surrender.”

The weather was very cold and the fog was over the whole battlefield. The Nazis pushed us back from the German border, back through Belgium, Luxembourg and into France. The fog was so thick, we could not tell if an American Sherman tank or a German Tiger tank was coming toward us. Two weeks after the Bulge started, the fog began to lift and the sky was clear again. At this time the Air Force sent hundreds and hundreds of fighter planes over the frontlines and they flew thousands of sorties, destroying supply lines, gun emplacements, infantry, tanks and everything they could see. We began to hold our position and slowly, very slowly, advanced again toward Germany. The Nazi SS troops captured the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. Our 16th FAOB was to meet up with the 255th,regroup and form a new battalion. This never happened. The SS herded almost 100 men of the 285th into a snowy field and machine gunned them down in cold blood. This was not war, this was murder. This was later known as the Malmedy Massacre.

One January 25, 1945, we were at the same position we were when the Bulge started on Dec. 16, 1944.

I was on an observation post in the city of Koblenz, Germany, and 12 Catholic nuns came up to me and in perfect English asked me to tell them when the war would be over. How would I know?

I watched the Army Engineers build a pontoon bridge over the Rhine River. The river was fast, deep and over a mile wide. It was scary to watch our heavy Sherman Tanks and Heavy Artillery guns being pulled by large prime movers and Army trucks loaded with supplies and soldiers cross this bridge. The bridge held, and supplies and men continued to cross the Rhine River.

I was at the liberation of the Ohrdruf Nazi Concentration Camp, just near Ohrdruf, Germany. The sights we saw were horrible and the smell was only a smell that can be made by torture and death. The Nazi guards fled the camp and machine-gunned many prisoners in the courtyard. I looked closely at a naked body with four bullet holes in it, with not a drop of blood coming out the bullet holes. They were starved to skin and bones. Bodies were stacked like cord wood. The live ones, with large eyes and sunken stomachs, reached out to us.

We fought our way through Nuremberg, and the smell of death was everywhere. We zig-zagged back and forth through Germany and fought in the Sudatenland, and fought our way into Czechoslovakia, where we met the Russian army. This is where we heard the war in Europe was over on May 8, 1945.

From the time I went ashore on Utah Beach until we met the Russians in Czechoslovakia, I was on the frontline. I know that “Freedom is not free.”

To listen to a BBC audio interview with Keith Davis, go to: bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02f8lvh

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Glad He Wasn’t Navy

Claude Davis
Claude Davis

by Claude Davis, 119 AAA Bn, HQ Battery

The threat of war in the early forties made every young man fear entering the service. I did not desire to be in the Navy, so I hoped the Army would draft me. I failed my first physical, but eventually got another notice to report.

We embarked from New York in the fourth largest passenger ship in the world, the Mauritania—it held 16000 of us. I never knew water could go so high! We went up and down, waves so big they could hide the whole ship. I had the top hammock of four that would swing back and forth with the pitch of the ship, Eating was an adventure, where we would hang on to a pipe with one hand and eat with the other. 50 gallon barrels were placed every few feet for the guys who got seasick and could not hold their food. Man, I was sure glad I didn’t get the Navy!

While in England preparing for the trip to France, we set about the task of waterproofing our trucks. That was sure a chore. While I was there I had a trailer fall on my hand, breaking four fingers. There was no hospital around, so we just wrapped them up and kept going. When I finally got to a hospital, they had to rebreak them and set them in place. I had to fight to get back to my outfit and headed to Normandy with a cast on my right hand.

We left England on four LST’s and landed on Utah beach 30 days after the initial invasion. We arrived at 6PM and waited in the dark there. We heard planes overhead and could hear gun fire in the distance. We disembarked and had to keep our lights off, following the truck ahead. It seemed hours before we stopped for the night nearby a bridge we were to protect. The Germans bombed and strafed us all night. I tried to sleep to no avail. I spent most of my time trying to take off all of the waterproofing that I had installed.

The next morning, I saw my first dead German. He had been laying not 50 feet away. He wasn’t more than a kid …… but then, I thought …. so am I. As a scared young man, sleeping under the trucks and in dug foxholes, I found myself wondering why I was there. It didn’t really seem to be my fight and these guys looked the same as me. The war was a cruel, confusing thing.

We rolled through France and found ourselves by a farm when the Germans found us. They strafed us and blew the tires on my trailer, which had 500 Ibs of TNT in it. The first time they came at us, I got as far as the ditch. The second wave hit the ditch and took out the man next to me—the bullets went right by my side. So, you can imagine that by the time they got back, I was across the farm and into the woods for better protection. It was there that I realized it was kill or be killed. 4 to 6 inches and I would not here today to tell this. After the strafing, I ended up dragging that trailer for some 35 miles before we stopped for the night.

I recall one time when we stopped after dark and we were told to park our trucks for the night. I found this lane with trees on both sides that I felt was a better, secure place and settled in under the truck. In the middle of the night, the Germans hit us with all they had. Their 88s were clipping the tops of the trees that were not that tall. One shell whistled through the canvas back of my truck. It didn’t take me long to roll out from under that truck and run down the hill to better protection. We then got our chance to shoot back with our 90s. We lobbed shells back and forth.

It was about that time that my hand began to itch and smell. I went to see the medics and the doc there got angry—the cast should have come off weeks before. The cast was cut off and I regained use of my hand and fingers but boy, were they stiff. It was months before I got full use of them.

We moved up the Mosselle River in the direction of Belgium where we took part in the liberation of the town of Verdun where WWI ended. The name of our outfit is on a monument there. It was here that we were given a 7 day leave. I went to Paris and into Southern France to an old castle called Mont Saint-Michel.

We then began shuttling infantry to the frontline and prisoners back into France. Most of the prisoners were just happy that they did not have to fight anymore. We did this under the cover of darkness, watching the tail lights of the truck ahead. So, if they went into the ditch, so did you. One truck hit a landmine, killing some and injuring others. We loaded them into our trucks and kept going, leaving the dead behind to be picked up later. I broke down and when they fixed my truck, they kept my co-driver. I had to drive in the dark in unfamiliar territory by myself. It was scary, but I made it.

We were then sent back up to the front during the Battle of the Bulge, where the Germans made one last push back to Belgium. It was a hard and dirty fight, with some Germans dressing like us and driving our rigs. It was hard to know who the enemy was.

On one trip, one of our planes was shot down and landed in a motor pool that I was close by. The plane carried two thousand-pound bombs. The explosion blew a hole in the frozen ground 35 feet across and 15 feet deep. I dove under a trailer and things fell all around me. One of the plane’s motors dropped a few feet away from me. When I got my wits about me, I helped with the wounded. Eight ambulances took away the injured. When I got back to my truck, I found a bullet lodged in the padding of my driver’s seat. I have kept it all these years.

We crossed the Rhine on pontoon bridges that were just like big rubber rafts. They had metal rails laid out between them around 4 feet. These tracks were just wide enough for our tires and as we pulled out trucks with big guns across the half mile stretch, the trucks pushed down on the rafts so hard that they nearly went under. All this under enemy fire with shells coming down all around us. Somehow we all made it and were now in Germany. We crossed the Danube on Mayday of 1945 and moved into our last position. On May 9th, the firing stopped … the war had ended.

After the war, I didn’t have enough points to go home so I was sent to Metz, France to oversee a gas station there. Truck-loads of dead people were shuttled through that station. I had a detail of German prisoners who were tasked with running water and garbage to and from the kitchen. One of the prisoners did not want to be discharged, as he said he had no home to go to.

Finally, it was my turn and I was sent home with four of my buddies. After sailing to New York, we were lined up to go on a plane, but the line stopped some 35 ahead of me and I had to go by train. We later heard that the plane went down near Billings, killing all aboard. On Dec 18, 1945, I was discharged, arriving home before Christmas.

In those three years in Europe, I drove a truck more than 27,000 miles through England, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and even Spain. I had three stripes on my sleeve (one for each year,) five battle stars for five major battles, and several ribbons, but the best being an honorable discharge.

I am Tech Corporal Claude Oliver Davis, a proud member of the “Bend Band of Brothers.”

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Reconnecting with a Belgian Friend, 72 years later

David Hubbard with Louise (left) and Edmée Van Eppen (right), March 1945.
David Hubbard with Louise (left) and Edmée Van Eppen (right), March 1945.
by David Ray Hubbard, HQ Co, Adv Section, Comm Zone, Signal Section

The beginning of a very enjoyable few days with two very lovely Belgian sisters, Louise (20), and Edmée (18) Van Espen, as described in the letter below, written to my Father while my unit was stationed in Flawinne Barracks, Namur, Belgium for several months in 1944-1945. Units under our command supplied all support functions required by the advancing Armies, beginning on D-Day.

23 February 1945

Dearest Daddy,

Want to tell you about the most wonderful experience

I’ve had while on the Continent. It came by sheer luck, I guess. Yesterday was my afternoon off and I spent it with my newly found acquaintances from a nearby hospital (Derrick is from Johnston, S.S. and is a very good friend of the Steadmans. The other boy is from Philadelphia). We had tramped around all afternoon taking pictures and had just sat down in the Red Cross Club when one of the American RC girls came over and asked the three of us if we’d like to visit in a nice Belgian home for the night. She pointed out the young girl who was there with the invitation and this convinced the three of us that we’d be delighted to accept the invitation. Directions were given to us and 7:30 was set as the time that we should make our appearance. From the very moment we stepped in the house, we were entirely at ease because of their very good hospitality. Both M. &. Mde. Van Esman speak fluent English—in fact they speak much better than lots of Americans I know. The two daughters, Edmée, who is 18, and another whose name I can’t recall (she doesn’t interest me because she’s engaged to be married) is 20. Both speak very good English, especially since they couldn’t speak a bit prior to our arrival in the city.

All in all we had a most enjoyable time, since there was absolutely no trouble to converse with them and we learned many very interesting facts that we did not know previously. The three of us plan to return tomorrow night since there is a standing invitation for us to come at any time we wish.

I have about three other letters that I must get off tonight, so I’ll sign off for now and will resume again very soon.

Lots of love, David Ray

P.S. The picture is especially for you.

Where it all began: The American Red Cross Casino Club in Namur, Belgium, 1945, where Hubbard and 2 other American soldiers were invited “to visit in a nice Belgian home for the night.”
Where it all began: The American Red Cross Casino Club in Namur, Belgium, 1945, where Hubbard and 2 other American soldiers were invited “to visit in a nice Belgian home for the night.”

Through all these years, I have often wondered if the Van Espen sisters were still alive. I had kept pictures and memories of the pleasant times my buddy, Jim Derrick and I spent with these lovely girls. Mathilde Schmetz and her husband Marcel have established the Remember Museum 39-45, located in the Belgian town of Thimister-Clermont. This museum is recognized as one of the finest World War II museums in Europe. At our December 2016 meeting of The S. C. Chapter Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge at Fort Jackson, SCI Matilde was our featured speaker, in which she gave many details of the Museum. Afterward, I asked if she could possibly check on any information concerning the Van Espen Sisters. She eagerly agreed to help, since she and Marcel have a son living in Namur. Through the efforts of Mathilde, from Belgium, I was able to get in touch with Edmée. I have been thrilled to regain the friendship that began 72 years ago. Modern means of communication, such as e-mails, have made this possible.

I had asked Edmée to write a synopsis of her life, and posed some specific questions. Her response follows:

It is me behind the desk in the picture at the Red Cross Club. I really don’t remember when we met in the Club. You know, I met thousands of GIs while I worked at the Club. We were there to give informations when the soldiers asked what was interesting to visit in town, or what films to see in the cinemas, and how to go to the Citadelle, for instance. Louise and I went only two times walking at the Citadelle with you and James. And another walk with John S. Twaddell and Ralph K. Younger. I still have many addresses from GIs I met at that time. Maybe I hoped to go once to the States and meet some of them!

Louise got married in 1947. With a “pharmacien” druggist or chemist. They had 2 children, a boy Philippe and an girl Chantal (she still lives in Montreal (Canada.) She got married and adopted 3 children, one girl and 2 boys. I never saw them but I know they are colored. Philippe got married and has a boy Nathan and a girl Nina. He divorced, and he just had, a few months ago, a baby girl Clara. He lives in Brussels.

Louise’s husband died (cancer) in 1987. And she died in June 2016. My brother Roland died in 1995—he was young, he was born in 1928. I don’t know the story of the Citadelle. It is a fortress build many centuries ago. To protect the country I suppose. One of the architects is French Vauban. And soldiers lived there—German during the last war, then the Americans and Belgian after the war, and still now, I think.

I got married in 1951 to an architect. My husband died in 2005. We have 5 children: Michel, Dominique, my daughter who died in 2014 in a plane crash in Mali, Etienne, Olivier, and Jean Paul, who lives in London. He is Blue Badge Tourist guide. I have eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

That’s all I can relate to you about me and my family. I hope you will get this mail soon.

Sincerely yours, Edmée

Mathilde Schmetz (left) found Edmée Van Eppen (right) for Hubbard in early 2017.
Mathilde Schmetz (left) found Edmée Van Eppen (right) for Hubbard in early 2017.
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An Unforgettable Night

by Raymond LaCasse, 87 INFD, 345 INF, 1 BN, CO C

I was one of the original members of the 87th Division, which had been reformed in December 1942, and started basic training at Camp McCain Mississippi in February 1943. We were mostly 18 – 19 year-olds from all over the country. By the time we sailed for Europe in October 1944, many of the original members had left us to go over as replacements, and we had received an infusion of Air Force and ASTP members for infantry basic training. Below is an account of a memorable experience: “An Unforgettable Night.”

I was a squad leader in a rifle platoon of C Co. 34Sth Inf. Reg’t., 87th Inf. Div. in Dec. 1944. We were engaged in the Alsace region, poised to attack the west wall about Dec.16th or 20th, when the break-through occurred up north on Dec. 16th. We were one of the Third army divisions that Patton swung 90 degrees north to attack the underbelly of the Bulge. We were pulled off the line and after a long freezing ride of about 200 miles, settled into a bivouac outside the city of Rheims.

On the 29th of Dec., we were trucked to an assembly area near Libramont, Belgium, arriving late afternoon in a pitch black forest. Seems that we had barely finished digging in, when we were called to “hit the road until you run into Germans.” Our officers were upset because we were not given time for a reconnaissance. We were in a column of companies in the approach march, when contact was made with elements of the German Panzer Lehr and 26th Volksgrenadier divisions. As we approached the village of Moircy, we came under machine gun and artillery fire. In the ensuing action, a flanking movement to the left, my platoon was ordered to clear a hill on our right flank. We no sooner got there when we came under mortar fire that wounded myself and several others. When the firing lifted, the wounded were helped back to a farm house in the village. Battalion medics were able to evacuate some of the wounded as fighting continued in the village, and we were counter attacked by tanks. Unknown to us, our Battalion commander had ordered a withdrawal of all elements in Moircy, and he called for heavy artillery including corps (the big stuff), in an attempt to break up the counterattack. We had lost contact with Battalion, so we were trapped in the farm house, and for what seemed like forever, underwent a heavy and lengthy barrage, which did break up the counterattack. Medics returned early the next morning and evacuated those of us who had remained overnight.

My unit endured heavy fighting in the following days, and on January 6, some of my platoon were captured and spent the remaining months in a German prison camp, while I luckily spent 3 months in a hospital in England. On my release from the hospital in early April of 1945, I was classified for limited duty and never returned to my unit.

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The Battle of the Colmar Pocket

Arnold Cascarano
Arnold Cascarano

by Arnold Cascarano, 291 Infantry Regiment, 75 Infantry Division

Recently I have read many stories by veterans of World War II explaining how the battles were fought and of troop movements. I was only a PFC so Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, Smith, Hodges and Patton never called me into their meetings and asked me how to move armies. All I knew about our progress was what I read in the Stars and Stripes. It wasn’t until years after the war that I was informed how the war was fought. When you are in the infantry, you are confined to your immediate area. So I only knew of 50 yards to my right and left, and 50 yards behind me. That was all.

There has been a lot said about The Battle of the Bulge. Books have been written, movies made, and documentaries have appeared on television, etc. Being a veteran of The Bulge, I know well the carnage that took place, and we should NEVER forget this great battle that cost us so many lives.

However, there were other battles we fought that did not get the attention of The Bulge. As a former infantryman, I can tell you if someone is shooting at you with artillery, mortars, machine guns, etc. it is a big battle.

During the last part of The Bulge, about January, 26, 1945, my division, the 75th Infantry, was shipped to Rhineland, France, to support The American Seventh Army and The French First Army. We were in need of rest, replacements, and equipment, but we were not given rest. We boarded the box cars called “The Forty and Eights.” (I believe this term was first used in World War I). They put 40 men and 8 horses in one box car. Remember, the horses were not housebroken. We traveled for two days to arrive in Alsace-Loraine in the bitter winter. We had no time to really dig in and we had many casualties. This became known as The Colmar Pocket.

We fought with the 28th Infantry Division and the 3rd Infantry Division. We finally pushed the enemy across the Rhine. By the way, this is the battle for which Audie Murphy earned his Congressional Medal of Honor.

While waiting to get shipped to Holland, for some reason my company was given the worst detail, which had a profound effect on me. It still stays with me to this day. We had to go into areas and pick up American bodies and bring them out to the grave registration people at their trucks.

It was then that I realized how many stories will never be told about our very brave boys. We found four Americans’ bodies that were close to each other, and there was one body draped over a machine gun. The other soldiers had a M1’s. As we went further out, we discovered about 40 dead enemy soldiers. Of course we had no way of knowing what took place here, but we tried to piece this together. It seems these four men killed about 40 enemy soldiers and then were killed themselves. What bravery!! This is only one of the many stories we will never know about. There have been many stories like this one.

So the Battle at The Colmar Pocket, as it was called, took many casualties. The mission may not have been spectacular, but the fighting was. I do remember how well the French First Army fought to take back the City of Colmar. That was their city, and they wanted it back from the Germans.

Chevalier Cascarano earned two Bronze Stars, Combat Infantry Badge, three Battle Stars, Victory Medals, and Army of Occupation.

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Eyewitness to Malmedy Carnage

Member Clearsy Mullins was going through the papers of her late husband Chester Mullins, 7 ARMDD, 38 AIB, Co A, and came across this startling letter, dated May 28, 1998:

Chester Mullins,  7 ARMDD
Chester Mullins, 7 ARMDD

Dear Mr. Mullins:

I just received my May [1998] issue of The Bulge Bugle and was reading it, when I came to page 13 and your [inquiry] concerning the 7th Armored Division and the Malmedy incident. I was there, and so was my brother Edward, who was with the 291st Combat engineer Battalion.

First, let me tell you about myself: I was a communication sergeant with Company C, 33rd Armored Engineer Battalion, 7th Armored Division, with CCR. We were through the bulge from December 17, when we came from Holland, and pushed the Germans back to Germany until the end of the war. VE Day was my birthday! It was a long push, but we did what we were supposed to do, and we lost a lot of our buddies.

About the Malmedy incident, I can tell you where I was and what I saw. We were moving around in the bulge to many places. One day we got orders to move, so we’re on the move and came to this crossroad, continued about 100 yards or so until we saw this field to our right. We saw all these GIs laying there, and couldn’t figure out what that was. We took a good look and saw that they were all dead. One guy said it was a graves registration collecting point, but we had seen such points before, and they had laid out all the dead GIs side-by-side in rows. What we saw here were the GIs laying in a scattered manner in an open field. We couldn’t make out what had happened.

Sometime later, we were walking through snow that had fallen the night before, and we recognize the same field. We saw that the bodies were covered with snow, and saw a hand or two sticking out of the snow.

I am one of five brothers who served in World War II—three of us were in Europe. My brother Edward, 291st Combat Engineer Battalion, was in Trois Ponts when the bulge began. His company was called to the Malmedy Massacre site to help the graves registration. When they started to move the bodies, they found that some bodies were booby-trapped, so they called for the engineers to help them. My brother was one of those who had to sweep the snow off of the bodies, and tie a rope to the leg to drag them to a safe place, so that the graves registration could examine them and tag them for removal. A few days later, we found out all about the Malmedy incident; how they were brought to that field and stood there to be machine gunned, killed in cold blood. It got us scared and had us thinking about what it would be like to get captured; to have to stand there and be machine gunned by the enemy. But I guess the Lord was with us, and it didn’t happen. Thank you Lord.

So Mr. Mullins, I hope my little story would be of use to you. Bye for now.

Yours truly,

Henry S. Runbacki

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Germans in Our Uniforms

by Bill Armstrong, Service Battery, 263rd Field Artillery Battalion, 26th “Yankee” Division, Third Army

BELGIUM, 1944. Bob Zelmer (co-driver of our ammunition truck) and I had a chance to go back to Service Battery for a hot meal because the guns (105 howitzers) were not going to move that night. But, when the 1st Sgt (Laing) saw me, he told me that I had guard duty from midnight to 4 AM and to take “Porky” with me. (Porky was one of our cooks.) The temperature was well below zero, which meant I had to put on every stitch of clothing I had. Also, I knew that Porky wasn’t going to be very reliable—he’d often wander off, claiming he had to go to the toilet, but I’d find out later that he’d been hiding. (I knew he was afraid of the dark).

When I heard the sound of a jeep coming from the East, Porky said, “I’ll cover you from the barn,” and he hustled off. I knew he wouldn’t be able to see me from any part of the barn but it was too late to say anything—he had already disappeared. I stopped the jeep, but when I saw the American Officer’s uniform and the glint of medal on the
“Officer’s” shoulder, I knew immediately that they were Germans in our uniforms. Our officers never wore metallic symbols of rank in combat, because it would be too easy for a sniper to see. There was someone in the back seat, who had a cover pulled up to his neck and I strongly suspected that there was a gun under that cover—a gun that could be used on me. Knowing Porky was out of sight and not able to cover me, I was faced with either being a dead man or letting them go. But before I let them go, I needed to challenge them, because if they were truly Americans, they might think I was the German.

I first asked for the password. The “Officer” in the front seat said that he wasn’t able to learn it before he left “Headquarters.” I asked him who won the World Series in 1940, but he claimed he didn’t follow baseball. I was anxious to get rid of them before I got shot, so I asked him where he was from. “Oakland, California” he replied. “My gosh,” I exclaimed, I’m from right next door—Berkeley!”

For some stupid reason that puzzles me still, I asked him where the best place to go in Oakland for a hot dog. “Why?” he asked. Then he said, “Casper’s, across from the roller rink on Telegraph Ave, down by Lake Merritt and out on East 14th!” I knew he was right, because I had gone to those places myself. “Heck,” I said, “Go ahead, you’re Americans!” “What, did you think we were—Krauts?” Then they drove off. The driver never looked at me once. It was obvious he didn’t speak English.

Later that night, a bridge over a stream was blown up. I bet my Oakland “friend’ and his companions had something to do with that.

Also later that same miserable night, Porky thought he saw something coming toward us past the barn. I thought it was simply a fence post or a stump of a tree, but Porky kept insisting that it was moving toward us and kept saying, “Shoot it! Shoot it!” At night when there’s snow on the ground, dark objects really stand out. Finally, Porky had me believing that the thing was moving. I called out “Halt!” the required three times and then took aim and fired three shots. The dark object didn’t fall down!

Our Captain came running out of the farm house wearing his long johns, untied boots and with his ’45 in his hand. “What the hell is all this firing about?” he demanded. “Sir,” I replied, “We thought that object out there was refusing to halt at my command, so I shot it!” “You idiot,” the Captain shouted, “That’s a fence post! I don’t want to hear any more shooting tonight!” and he turned around and stomped off.

I got a lot of ribbing the next morning: “Yah, yah, yah, Armstrong shot a fence post!” I had the pleasure of pointing out that I hit it with all three shot—and in the dark too!—and from at least 100 yards! I was the only member of the Battery to ever fire his weapon in ‘combat’!

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A Miracle 
at St. Vith

John Coyne (right)
John Coyne (right)

by John R. Coyne, 634th AAA AW BN

After leaving Easton, PA for basic training at Fort Eustus VA, I was sent to England with the 1st Army, 634th AAA BN. Next, I landed at Omaha Beach on D-day.

It was around the 3rd day of December, 1944, about a week and a half before the Battle of the Bulge. We had just cleaned the 40mm gun. The weather was clear on a beautiful day when  Cpt. Wilmount and Col. Rachs came to me and asked me to be the Col’s aid. At first I said, “No sir, I want to stay with my gun crew.” But, after more conversation, I accepted the offer.

This decision saved my life. My gun crew were all killed by Tiger tanks, and D Battery was captured. Later, when going through Malmedy, we came upon a field where a massacre had taken place. It may have been the men of the 634th D Battery who were killed there. This was my miracle at St. Vith.

Afterwards came the bridge at Remagen, where we crossed before the bridge came down.

Later, I was in northern Germany, and with the 3rd Army, 443rd AAA BN in southern Germany, where another soldier and I captured 60 high-ranking soldiers of the German Army.

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Two Brothers in the War

Brothers V. L. Auld and Joe Bailey Auld, in Piccadilly Square, London.
Brothers V. L. Auld and Joe Bailey Auld, in Piccadilly Square, London.

When Joe Bailey Auld entered the Army, he was trained at Sheppard Field, Texas, as a glider mechanic to serve in the 434th Troop Carrier Group, a C-47 transport unit for operations with the Ninth Air Force.

In August 1943, when he was stationed at Alliance Army Air Force Field in Alliance, Nebraska, his Group moved to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and prepared for overseas assignment. They boarded the Queen Mary and sailed from New York on 9 October 1943 for the British Isles, landing in Scotland. All their supplies and the Gliders (in boxes) were loaded on trucks and moved to RAF Fulbeck, England, and they were assigned to the 53rd Troop Carrier Wing, 71st Troop Carrier Squadron, 434th Troop Carrier Group.

From November 1943 through 14 May 1944, they engaged in an intensive training program with the 101st Airborne at RAF Aldermaston, England, in preparation for the invasion of northern France. On 3 March 1944, Joe received flying status, serving as glider co-pilot.

In February 1945, Joe’s unit moved to Mourmelon-le-Grand Airfield, northeast of Paris, France, where they were stationed until the end of the war. His list of battles and campaigns included Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe.

Joe’s brother, V. L. Auld, served as Liaison Pilot with the 909th Field Artillery Battalion of the 84th Infantry Division. His training began at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, where he received basic training and completed the Field Artillery Officer Candidate School. After completing the Liaison Pilot Course at Pittsburg, Kansas, his training continued at Ft. Sill and at Camp Howze, Texas. Then, the Division participated in the “Louisiana Maneuvers.”

In September 1944, the 84th Division received orders to report to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, for overseas embarkation. The 335th Infantry and units of the Division Artillery boarded the Sterling Castle, an English ship. They were in a collision with another ship at sea during the first night out and had to return to port for repairs. The accident ripped a hole in the bow about 40 feet high, and all 7,000 soldiers went back to Camp Kilmer while the ship was being repaired. Then, they re-boarded the ship and headed for Southampton, England.

Since Joe was still serving in England when V. L. arrived, they met in London for one weekend. They stayed at the Savoy Hotel and managed to locate the Piccadilly Square, the Queen’s Palace, and other points of interest. They did not see each other again until they returned to Tishomingo, Oklahoma, at the end of the War.

After arriving in England, Liaison Pilots became the Air Section of the Division Artillery Headquarters, and V. L.’s job changed from Battalion Air Officer to Assistant Division Artillery Air Officer. The Liaison Airplanes (L-2s) arrived in England in crates. After assembling, they had only ten airplanes, but they had eleven pilots. The Division Air Artillery Officer, Major Paschall, did not want to ride an LST across the English Channel, so they gathered up parts from all over the United Kingdom and put together the eleventh airplane so all could fly across together.

First units of the 84th Division landed on Omaha Beach, France, on 1 November 1944 with the remainder arriving the next three days. The Germans had put up long poles on the beach to prevent the L-2s and gliders from landing. The L-2s landed on a road. However, the wind was too strong for V. L.’s plane to land, so two jeeps were sent out to help. They ran along beside his plane and grabbed the struts to pull the plane down.

Most of the units of the 84th moved through France into Belgium in less than 48 hours. They became a part of the Ninth Army and worked with the British, the 2nd Armored, and 102nd Infantry Division in the capture of a section of the Siegfried Line. After breaching the Siegfried Line, the 84th was closing in on the Roer River when the Germans launched their biggest offensive, the Battle of the Bulge.

The air strip for the L-2s was moved several times during this battle. At one point, they moved back from the front to a place just outside of Liege, Belgium, and occupied a chateau with about 20 bedrooms. The Germans were trying to hit the big ammunition dump close to Liege, and this chateau turned out to be right in the line of fire of the buzz bombs. The chateau was not hit, but one bomb landed about 15 feet from V. L.’s plane and twisted it up like you twist a newspaper.

From the Roer River to the Rhine River, it was move, shoot, and communicate. V. L.’s air strip moved several times, reaching the Rhine about 5 March 1945. Then, the plan was for the 5th Armored to drive toward the Elbe River, with the 84th Division close behind. As they moved forward, German POW Camps and camps for displaced persons were literally starving to death. General Eisenhower had made an agreement with the Russians to allow them to take the territory on the other side of the river, so the 84th sat there for several days, since they beat the Russians to the Elbe.

The war ended 8 May 1945, and the Division moved to an area near Heidelberg, Germany, and began a phase of military occupation. The Air Section (L-2s) became a courier service, more or less. In November 1945, V. L. was assigned about 200 men, and they were sent to Frankfort, Germany. From Frankfort, they traveled in boxcars to Marseilles, France, where they boarded a ship for home.

V. L., as Liaison Pilot, took part in three major battles, including the Battle of the Bulge. With an observer, he flew over the frontlines, spotted targets, and directed Artillery fire, flying 123 missions over the enemy lines.

—Submitted by Mrs. V. L. (Lorene Walker) Auld, Member 

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5 InfD’s 
Sauer River Crossing, January 18, 1945

5th INFD patch
5th INFD patch

High Praise from General Patton

A month before his tragic death in an automobile accident, General George S. Patton sent the following letter to the Officers and men of the Fifth Infantry Division on their return home. At the time, he no longer commanded the Third Army, but was postwar commander of the Fifteenth Army and all US Forces in Europe. 

HEADQUARTERS FIFTEENTH U. S. ARMY
Office of the Commanding General
A P O 408
17 November 1945 

To the Officers and men of the Fifth Infantry Division:

Nothing I can say can add to the glory which you have achieved. Throughout the whole advance across France you spearheaded the attack of your Corps. You crossed so many rivers that I am persuaded many of you have webbed feet and I know that all of you have dauntless spirit. To my mind history does not record incidents of greater valor than your assault crossings of the Sauer and the Rhine. 

Concerning the former operation, I showed the scene of your glorious exploits to a civilian for whom I have the highest esteem. After looking at it for some time he said, “I did not believe there was enough courage in the world to achieve such a victory.” Knowing the Fifth Infantry Division, I was sure you would achieve it and you did. Now that peace has been re-established I am sure all of you will continue through the remainder of your lives to stand for those great qualities of America which in war you so magnificently demonstrated. 

With affectionate regards and sincere congratulations, I am as ever;
Your devoted commander,
General G. S. Patton, Jr. 

Crossing of the Sauer,
by the Fifth Infantry division

Roland Gaul is the founder and recently retired Director/Curator of Luxembourg’s National Museum of Military History in Diekirch on the River Sauer. He is a professional military historian and Battle of the Bulge guide and has written an expert battlefield study of the 5th ‘Red Diamond’ Infantry Division’s Sauer River Crossing which so impressed General Patton. So he was just the right person to explain it to me. Here is a summary of our discussion. If you visit the National Museum, you can see a dramatic recreation of the “Sauer River Crossing” in the form of a life-size diorama. (Note: A 5th ‘Red Diamond’ Infantry Division tour is being planned for 2018. See “Tours,” p. 13)

On December 16, 1944, three German armies invaded the Belgian and Luxembourg Ardennes and soon created a 70 mile westward ‘Bulge’ in the Allied front. The Battle of the Bulge had begun.  

But Third Army Commander, General George Patton, had already anticipated the German attack and was able to react fast. On December 20, in a technically difficult and very daring maneuver, Gen Patton swung six Third Army divisions northwards from France to attack the southern shoulder of the German Bulge. He sent three divisions to liberate and secure Bastogne in Belgium from the German Fifth Panzer Army, and three divisions, one of which was 5th Inf Div, to contain and push back the German Seventh Army in Luxembourg. At that time, 5th Inf Div was on the French-German border in the middle of attacking Saarlautern in Saarland, about 50 miles southeast of Luxembourg. The 5th Inf Div immediately disengaged and within 24 hours was in Luxembourg. 

After initial tactical successes and territorial gains in southeastern Luxembourg December 16-22, German Seventh Army units were stopped in their further advance by 5th “Red Diamond” Inf Div and 4th “Ivy Leaves” Inf Div, and had to retreat to the northern bank of the River Sauer (or Sûre), which flows eastwards through central Luxembourg. 5th Inf Div and 4th Inf Div then formed an unbroken line of defense along the southern bank of the Sauer. Its pleasant river valley among forested hills is a formidable natural barrier along which the German-American frontline and southern shoulder of the Bulge was stabilized in late December 1944. Winter 1944-45 was the coldest in 100 years, and the temperature dropped to minus 15 degrees Celsius (minus 5 Fahrenheit) during the day, and even to minus 22 Celsius (minus 7.6 Fahrenheit) at night. There was thick snow everywhere.

But once Bastogne (Belgium) had been liberated and secured, it was time for Third Army to break through the southern shoulder of the Bulge in Luxembourg. Since the 5th Inf Div was considered the expert river crossing unit, it was tasked with crossing the River Sauer, recapturing towns in the river valley such as Diekirch and Bettendorf, retaking the heights on the northern side and cutting the Germans off from reaching the Our River (the Our is a tributary of the Sauer) and thus the safety of the Siegfried Line and Germany.

The Sauer River crossing was a nighttime action by 5th Inf Div’s three infantry regiments, 2nd, 10th and 11th, jumping off at 0300 on January 18, 1945, without any artillery preparation (not to take away the element of surprise). They were augmented with specialized battalions, namely, Engineers for bridging and ferrying, Field Artillery, Medics, Tanks and Tank Destroyers and Chemical Mortars. 2nd Regt’s crossing sector was Ingeldorf – Diekirch. 10th Regt’s crossing sector was Diekirch – Bettendorf. 11th Regt was held in reserve on two-hour call. 

By nightfall on January 18, the 5th Inf Div’s bridgehead was 1.5 kms (about 1 mile) deep with a front of 6.5 kms (about 4 miles). Each regiment had successfully crossed all its battalions. The Germans had been caught by surprise. Despite enemy fire and the terrible winter weather with its snow and mud, the Engineers had been able to throw one treadway bridge, two Class 40 bridges, two assault boat bridges and two foot bridges across the river, enabling Sherman tanks and M-10 tank destroyers to cross the icy waters of the Sauer.

By January 28, all the assigned regimental objectives had been achieved. After a few days of much needed rest, 5th Inf Div changed sectors in early February to take part in Patton’s Third Army strike into Germany on an 8 km (about 5 miles) front northwest of Echternach, once again across the Sauer River, but this time its lower reaches, directly facing Germany. This was the beginning of the official “Rhineland Campaign” on February 7, 1945, and the invasion of Germany.

—Submitted by Patrick Hinchy, Military Historian and Tour Director

Click here for information about an upcoming  5 INFD Tour and other planned tours of Bulge sites.

Tribute To Frank Wooldridge

Presented October 6, 1998 to The Central Mass. Chapter, VBOB, by Cliff Duxbury, historian

American assault troops move onto Utah Beach, 6 June 1944.
American assault troops move onto Utah Beach, 6 June 1944.

Frank Wooldridge is among a few WW II veterans who upstaged the draft by at least 4 years. It was in 1939 that he joined the National Guard’s 181st Infantry, 26th “Yankee” Division in Worcester and became a medic. It was a time when the Guard had limited finances, a modicum of equipment, and something less than a formalized training program.

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the status of Worcester’s Guard unit changed. By December 7, 1941 the 26th Division was as Federalized and Frank’s medical detachment was sent to Camp Edwards for basic training and soon after was mobilized for assignment to Coast Patrol duty to keep a watchful eye on the East Coast ranging from the Cape to Northern Maine. It was at Edwards that Frank was raised in rank to a staff sergeant. Later moving to Sacco, Maine, Frank was among a group that established an infirmary there. He moved again to Camden, Maine where he was assigned sergeant-in-charge of another infirmary.

In October 1943, he left the 181st and was sent to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey where he joined the 315th Medical Battalion, 357th Regiment, 90th Texas-Oklahoma Division. Departing New York in March 1944, the 90th reached England and Cardiff, Wales by April 9.

Intensive training followed for the infantry covering mine detection, village fighting, road marches and obstacle courses. “Invasion Fever” gripped the 90th and true to the nature of their preparation, the division moved across the Channel on June 6, 1944 —“D Day.”
Frank recalls that it took 5 long hours from Southampton before he touched down on Utah Beach with the 357th Regiment. On arrival Frank commented that the opposition on the beach was minimal but the intensity of German shelling in his landing zone continued and the medical ranks too casualties. On D plus 1, the 315th Medical Battalion set up a temporary aid station about 1/2 mile inland where casualties kept them fully occupied.
In the earliest days of the invasion, the 90th was given the mission of containing German forces trapped in the northern tip of the Normandy Peninsula. Fighting was heavy and casualties were many. The 315th Medics were kept overworked. By the end of June, however, Cherbourg, the major Normandy port in the upper peninsula, fell and the area was cleared of Germans.

At the end of July, one month later, St. Lo, Coutance and Avranches were behind the 90th. The Germans were pushed from Normandy totally and the 90th was among several divisions that reached the plains of France where a “war of Movement” began and continued almost without interruption.

Movement, heavy fighting and land advances followed for American forces when the formidable events of the Falaise Gap took place. In mid-August, 1945, it was at Falaise that German forces of the 7th Army began a full retreat and attempted to squirm through a narrow valley remaining open. The only remaining door located through the French castle town of Chambois was their chosen route. It was here that the 90th Division established road blocks to keep the Germans contained. Divisional artillery, 11 battalions strong, fired relentlessly on the bogged down Germans—inflicting heavy casualties, disrupting counter-attacks and simply pouring a hail of steel on the reeling German remnants.

And into this storm the unarmed medics of the 315th Medical Battalion performed their tasks under fire, evacuating American casualties as well as enemy wounded. A truce was eventually called in order that the wounded might be attended under less harrowing conditions and removed from the field of battle. Frank’s 315th, in spite of sniper fire, (clearly a violation of the truce terms) carried out their mission with gallantry. Working with unit doctors, Frank administered morphine to settle casualties in severe pain and administered plasma, as well, to those men who were suffering continuing blood losses. Additionally, his duties involved general first aid to GI’s preparatory to their movement to rear area hospital for more specialized handling.

By August 20, 1 944 – the Falaise Gap was closed on the bulk of the German 7th Army. 13,000 Germans surrendered to the 90th in a period of 4-days.

When in mid-December, the “Bulge” began in Belgium and Luxembourg, the 90th was ordered to disengage from the Saar River. On January 5, 1945, the division made a 50- mile convoy trek to an assembly area in Luxembourg. And in bitter, bitter cold began an assault along the perimeter of the attacking 7th German Army’s salient on the extreme southern flank of their offensive line. Fighting in an area just south and east of Bastogne, the 90th’s speed and power of assault surprised the Germans. On the 4th day of battle, the T/O division had fought their way onto Belgium soil along with the 35th and 6th Armored Divisions at their sides. The salient had been liquidated.

By January 16, the 90th straightened out their lines looking Eastward and by the 29th of January, 1945 stood on German ground for the 2nd time.

From the Bulge, battles bristled along the Siegfried Line, across the Rhine in March to points along the Czech border. On May 7 a final combat mission set to rescue Prague, the Czech capitol, was postponed when Divisional Headquarters was notified that the German High Command had surrendered.

Frank was returned to the States in Fall, 1945 to Ft. Devens where he was discharged on October 26. He rejoined the National Guard 7 years later when the Guard was looking for experienced veterans to fill their ranks. He served an additional 3 years and left the military behind him for good.

Our thanks to Frank Wooldridge for his long, faithful and vital service to his fellow GIs during World War II.

—Submitted by John McAuliffe, President, Chapter 22

A BROTHER’S LETTERS HOME

My dad, William J Flynn, was a Staff Sergeant with the 106th Infantry Division, HQ Co. I wanted to share some of the material I found related to his war experience.

Here is an excerpt of a letter William sent to his brother Ed, dated February 8, 1945 and titled “SOMEWHERE IN BELGIUM.”

Flynn in front of the house where he and other soldiers stayed in Belgium, February 1945. 
Flynn in front of the house where he and other soldiers stayed in Belgium, February 1945.

“After the big German Dec. offensive had been stopped, we pulled into a village in Belgium and it has been more of a rest area than anything else. Man, we really appreciated it. As Mother has probably told you, a buddy of mine and myself are sleeping in a home on a feather bed. Man, I mean it’s the best go! It won’t last long, though, as we will probably move back again in a few days. They don’t let a combat infantry division rest very long. There were a couple of girls in the home where we stay and I really have a lot of fun. These Belgian gals are not bad at all . . . .

“Oh well it’s a lot of fun and we sure needed a little of it after the hell we went through during the German offensive. Ed, everyone was called on to help stop that big push. We were taken to a hillside at night and had to dig foxholes in the dark. You couldn’t see a thing and you couldn’t even think of lighting a match or flashlight or anything else. We spent several nights in those holes and I’m telling you I [almost] froze. We also knew the Germans were all around us, and that didn’t make you feel any better. Buzz bombs going over, airplanes fighting, artillery and machine guns firing, the sky full of flares and tracer bullets. It was like nights in hell. I saw sights, Ed, I can’t write about and I may see more before this mess is over, but I hope not. Believe me, Ed, when I say “war is really Hell.” When fellows you have known a long time are killed, wounded and taken prisoner, it really gives you a funny feeling. You will never know until I come home how close I was to being among some of those. Ed, the Germans are just as bad as the Japs. There isn’t anything they won’t do. I know, I’ve seen what they have done. I’ve talked to these Belgian civilians and heard their stories. I’ve seen dead Germans laying around frozen stiff, but it just doesn’t affect you like it would seeing a dead person in the States. Especially when you know what they have done to your buddies and then, too, if it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be over here. I could tell you a lot of stories about them, but I guess I had better not.” The letter is signed “Love to a swell brother, Bill.”

And here is an excerpt from another letter Dad sent from Germany on April 28, 1945. His Division had been assigned POW duty in the Bad Ems area. The Bulge was over, of course, but I found the first person observations to be interesting:

“Well Ed, I am now in Germany. It is really pretty through the rural districts, but a lot of their towns and cities are really leveled. The country reminds me of the States, with the pretty farms and neat homes. We do not associate with the civilians in any way. We do not even speak to them. We have to be on the lookout all the time and we always travel in pairs. The people try hard to be friendly but we know that in their hearts they hate us, and we are not taking any chances with these babies. Every one of their books and magazines has Hitler’s picture in it. Yesterday we raised Old Glory over this place and our band played “The Star Spangled Banner.” They just stopped and stared as our Flag waved in the breeze where the swastika once flew. They really thought they were a super-race, and it hurts their pride when we have conquered them and then just ignore them. They just gaze in amazement as tanks, trucks, jeeps, guns and other vehicles of war rush by, while overhead great fleets of bombers roar. They all symbolize the might of America and the downfall of Germany. These people don’t look like the people of France and Belgium. They are well fed, well dressed, and seem to have plenty of everything. Their homes are nice and are nearly all modern. We often take over one that is intact, with all the furniture, including dishes in the kitchen and coal in the basement. We build a fire, cook a meal, and take a bath. In this particular place, there is a washing machine in the basement and that comes in handy for laundry. As we pass through towns and cities, there are white flags hanging from the windows. Germany is really getting a taste of what She dished out to other countries. She will be a long time recovering from this.”

—Submitted by Bill Flynn, Associate

Claude Barnett Motley Sr (1922-2005)

Claude Barnett Motley Sr
Claude Barnett Motley Sr

Claude Motley’s record from the  Official Roster of South Carolina Servicemen and Servicewomen in World War II documents his brief participation in World War II. What it does not do is capture the details of this short  but eventful period in Claude’s life on Earth. The record notes that he was born in Blaney (now Elgin), South Carolina on 1 November 1922. He still lived near Blaney when he entered active duty in the Army on 8 August 1944. He served overseas in the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater from 8 January 1945 until 12 June 1945. He was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with service stars for the Rhineland Campaign and the Central Europe Campaign, and the World War II Victory Medal. He was honorably discharged as a corporal from Company M, 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division on 13 February 1946.

 And now, the rest of the story: Claude enlisted in the Army on August 8th, 1944. Claude went to basic training at Camp Blanding near Starke, Florida and arrived on August 18th. He trained as a member of a heavy weapons company and trained on heavy infantry weapons, the heavy machine gun, the 81 millimeter mortar, the rifle, the carbine, the pistol, and grenades. Claude completed his training and moved to Fort Meade, Maryland to await transportation to Europe in early January of 1945. In Europe on January 8th, he was assigned to Company M, 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division. He was assigned to a machine gun platoon. When he joined the 30th Division, they were engaged in the final days of the Battle of the Bulge. On January 13th, the 30th Division launched a counteroffensive and began their push east toward Germany. On February 23rd, the 30th Division crossed the Roer River. On March 24th, they crossed the Rhine River in Germany. On April 12th, the 30thDivision reached the Elbe River forty miles Southwest of Berlin in eastern Germany. On April 13th, Company M crossed the Elbe River near Grunewalde. The Germans mounted a counterattack and captured 22 members of Company M including Claude, his Company Commander, Captain Romulus Mann, and his platoon sergeant, Technical Sergeant Paul Schreck, as they took cover in the basement of a farm house. Claude was imprisoned in Stalag IIIA near Luckenwalde, Germany. Like other prisoners at the end of the war, Claude suffered from poor nutrition and care. Rumor in Stalag IIIA was that the Russians were about to liberate the prisoners. Claude managed to get a map of Germany and he and a friend, Wilton Outlaw, escaped on May 5th. Their plan was to reach a crossroads and to use the map to find their way west to American lines. The plan hit a snag when they reached the first crossroads, because the Russians had come through the area and had changed all the road signs to Russian, which was unintelligible to Privates Motley and Outlaw. They revised their plan, put the map away, and simply headed west. They were given a ride for part of the way on a wood burning truck by people they could not communicate with. Claude returned to the 119th Infantry. Victory in Europe was achieved on May 8th when Germany surrendered. On 12 June, the 30th shipped back to the United States aboard the RMS Queen Mary ocean liner. After a visit home, Claude was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington ,where he served as a driver until his discharge on February 13th, 1946.

Post war, Claude returned home and to logging and farming. He also taught agriculture in a veterans program for a couple of years. He raised a family, was active in his community and his church. He was truly one of America’s greatest generation.

—Submitted by his proud son-in-law, Nelson McLeod, Associate

A TEENAGER IN THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE

by Julian Lee Gelwasser, 90 INFD, 358 INF REG, CO B 

World War II started in 1939 when I was 13 years old. When Pearl Harbor was attacked Dec.7, 1941 I was in high school, age 15. Our home room teacher said it would be over in 6 weeks. Sure. Three years later in 1944 I turned 18, graduated and the draft board was waiting. Before that my classmates formed a Victory Corp. , bought “uniforms” and tried to prepare ourselves for service. There was an urgent need for trained riflemen in the army so I was inducted at Ft. Meade and took basic training at Camp Fannin, Tx. I quickly learned to use the M1 rifle, Mi carbine, BAR, 60mm mortar, 30cal MG, Bazooka, grenades and bayonet. We marched 25 miles with full packs in 100 degree weather. It was perfect training for the future snow and cold of the bulge. We should have trained in Alaska. In a matter of months I was on a troopship that landed in Marseilles, France. The bulge started Dec.16th and I was sent north as a needed replacement to the 358th of the 90th INFD. I became a platoon runner for LT. Julius Hebert. He and his non-coms were a wonderful group of men. My teenage mind was still active when Lt. Hebert let me carry his Thompson SMG. Wow, a Tommygun just like the ones carried by G-Men! I also carried his handy talkie radio.

There was much slogging through snow and cold. Food came in small K ration boxes. We were lucky to replace our boots with waterproof shoe pacs.

I was soon introduced to the nearness of death and I began to wonder if I would ever see my 19th birthday. At one time shots were zinging overhead. Lying prone next to a soldier, I poked him to get his attention. I got no response and realized he was dead. Another time, we were working our way through a wooded area in a fire fight when I was blocked by a smoking Jeep. The driver was lying on the hood bare footed. The Germans had taken his boots to replace their own.

After weeks of this we were near Wiltz, Luxembourg pushing the Germans out of a large farm house. To get out of the snow and cold we entered the barn. Big mistake. The Germans had zeroed it in and dropped a mortar shell on top of us. A large piece hit me in the left leg and another one of our men in the platoon was hit in the arm. We both started shouting, “MEDIC!” (I had a compound comminuted fracture and went into shock.)

I was soon covered with a blanket and put on a litter which went onto the fender of a Jeep. First stop was an aid station in ArIon, Belgium. I just missed an amputation. Next I was sent to a hospital in Paris where a Red Cross lady wrote a letter to my parents. This followed with a cross channel boat trip to England on the St. Olaf. At a hospital in Cheltenham I was put in traction for over a month, after which I returned to the US via a C54 hospital plane by way of the Azores, Newfoundland and Mitchel Field, LI. Months of rehab followed in Virginia until I could walk again.

I thought the medical treatment was very good, for those times. I was one of the first to get penicillin in the field.

Sad note: I had written Lt. Hebert a letter and it came back marked “DECEASED.” Nice man — I still think of him.

I received my Honorable Discharge just as the war ended in 1945. The GI Bill was in effect, so I received a college education.

There is an interesting side note to my story. Some 14 years after the war ended, I was 33 and had risen to a mid-level position in the defense industry. I became involved with a major sub-contractor whose chairman of the board was Five Star General Omar Bradley. So former PFC me had a friendly chat in his office with the general. I invited him down to the Cape in Florida to witness a test firing of a prototype missile, after which he sent me a very nice thank you note [shown below] which I have kept all these years.

In retrospect, we 18-year-olds were very patriotic. We loved our country and were ready to fight for it, in the face of fanatical German Nazis who were terrorizing so many people. We did what we had to do to end their threat and end the war.

Hard to believe. Those of us still around are in our 90’s.

Letter from Omar Bradley
Letter from Omar Bradley