Monday, November 30, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Eight of Nine

March, 1945

I’m back with the outfit again.  Seems like getting home.  Met quite a few of my old buddies still here.

You no doubt read in the papers how we spearheaded the 9th Army drive across the Rhine.  We came in shooting and they just couldn’t hold us...  [The papers] probably said “negligible opposition.”  It was, after we shot or captured everybody in our road.

I am sending Dick a belt from a Kraut who should have surrendered but didn’t.  Not only that, he made the mistake of shooting at somebody in A Company.

You have probably read about all the people we have set free. Soldiers of all nations (including U.S.A.) and Polish, Russ, French and other slaves.  And I do mean slaves.  These Germans had millions of slaves in farms and factories.  The English captured at Dunkirk 5 years ago were glad to see us...  All the Germans thought we didn’t have any army, and are surprised when convoys of men in trucks and tanks bumper to bumper for 80 or 90 or more miles roll into their town. They stay in their houses and pout and sulk, while the Poles and Russ are outside celebrating.  We have orders that nobody speaks to a Kraut except in line of duty, and we don’t steal their stuff or kill their kids (unless the kids shoot at us).  They don’t think it is so hot now that the shoe is on the other foot, and it is their towns being taken.  Whenever they try to defend a town we just call up the artillery and they remove the town from the face of the earth.

Here is a picture folder Janet can have.  Got it off a Jerry [German] P.X. truck going west that met a bazooka shell going east.

I wouldn’t worry about me too much any more if I were you.  It will soon be all over, and I ain’t going to get hurt in the last inning with the score in our favor and two out...  I could write a few atrocity stories, but all I will say there is that all of them are true.  These Krauts try stunts like putting 800 Poles and Russ in a barn and covering them with gasoline and setting fire to the whole works.  I saw that while it was still smoldering...  That is why I like to see dead Germans by the heaps.

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Seven of Nine

England, from a hospital
December 1944

I’m enclosing 2 money orders.  Put one in my account, and take the other one and see that everybody has a merry Christmas, with lutefisk and everything...  Dad, if at any time you can use any money for anything, just get it from my acc’t, as I don’t get any interest on it and it could just as well be in use.  Also if Helen needs any, just draw it out and use it.

Say, when I was hit, I had that little Bible from Aunt Ithel and my pictures of you in my gas mask, which I also kept a few grenades in.  I had my mask hanging on a post near my hole, and a westbound .88 blew it to smithereens.  So will you get me some of those pictures we took when I was a corporal.  Or some new ones if you have them.

I am sending my “German Sharpshooter’s Medal” (Purple Heart) home.  Let me know when you get it.

Now that I’m well, I realize I was “shaken up” worse that I thought.  Saw doctor’s reports.  Not so much the seriousness of each strain, sprain, and pulled ligament, as the number of them...  No, I’m not keeping anything from you, on my word. Next time I’m going to get myself a nerve injury.  I’ve seen several.  They leave a leg or an arm temporarily paralyzed, and they have to send you to the States to have an operation to connect up the nerve, and you get several months’ leave while it heals up again.

I passed an uneventful 22nd birthday the other day.  It seems funny to think I am that old.  I should feel more grown up, but everywhere I go they nickname me “Junior” so that may be why.  The Russians are going good...  They say they killed 295,000 Krauts.  That would be quite a heap.

February, 1945

Getting out of the hosp. today and a 7-day leave at a resort starts tomorrow.  Then back to my outfit.

I’m a son of a gun if [my girlfriend] Betty ever misses a single bet. She is sure after me, and I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but it is not mutual, and I wish she would quit.  I don’t want anything to do with girls until I have made my first million dollars, and not with her even then.  She is a good kid, but she is like her mother, and wants to run the works and eat with 3 forks and 4 spoons and cut glass every meal.

Dick, you make sure that you have completed enough arrangements so you can join the Navy before you even have to register for the draft.  Find out what you have to weigh for your height...  Stay the heck out of the Army, as the Infantry is too hungry for men right now.  I wish I could have you with me.  You could be my runner and carry my little radio and I could teach you and take care of you at the same time.

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Six of Nine

October 15, 1944
In a field hospital

After all that has been going on in the past few days I suppose you have been wondering if I was OK.  Well, I am. However, they temporarily have me back at a little field hospital.  Day before yesterday a big German shell came sailing in over my head and lit about 20 feet behind me, and knocked me down.  Kind of sprained my back, but nothing serious, and I’ll be back in a day or two.
(Note:  He had just been badly wounded but didn’t know the extent of his internal injuries at this point.  He ended up spending about five months in hospitals in France and England before being sent back to the front lines in March 1945.)

October 19, 1944
(letter written on American Red Cross stationery)

Now don’t get excited, I ain’t hurt.  They got tired of having me at one hospital, and shipped me back to this one, so you can quit worrying about me for a while...  All that is the matter is that my back hurts, and they taped me up and won’t let me walk around...  It has been released and published in the papers, so I can tell you I was in the Battle of Mortain in France August 4-10...  That was really quite a fight.  I have been in so many others since that it would take a book to tell about them.  Now that I am back where it’s safe, I don’t see how my luck ever held out. 

The way I got it the other day, my platoon was shelled...  I thought they had finished, and went out of my hole to see if anyone was hurt...  Then s-s-s-s-s-s I heard it coming, and thought I could make it to a hole just in front of me.  I took 2 steps and Blam the thing lit about 20 feet behind me and exploded and blew a hole in the ground 8 feet across and 5 feet deep.  It sent me rolling, and I thought I was killed, but the concussion just hit my back.  Darn inconsiderate not to give me a little piece of shrapnel for a souvenir.

I have a belt buckle I’m going to send home.  When I do, save it, as I got in a personal fight with a Jerry sgt. at about 10 paces range and shot him 6 times and cut off his belt buckle and insignia.  Here is the insignia.

France, from a hospital
November 1944

You read about Mortain, the Limey air force set fire to 167 big tanks with rockets.  We had those tanks covered by small arms, so they had their choice of staying in their tanks and burning up, or trying to get out and getting shot.  We were mad at them because they had been shooting at us with 88’s, and were testing out their flamethrowers at us...  Not one got away, and as fast as they came out of their burning tanks we would pick them off...  The outfit, which I have not been able to tell you before, was the “1st S.S. Panzer-Grenadier Division” also known as the “Adolf Hitler Division...”  But my unit stopped them cold...  The fight lasted 5 days, and I didn’t get a wink of sleep for 4 nights.  I was getting a little weary when it was over, but we darn near liquidated one division of SS men.   

About your cattle, Dad, since you asked, I’d not sell them before spring, unless the market goes up...

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Five of Nine

France – in combat
June, 1944
Liberating France

…Don’t worry about me, though, I’m OK.  It will take more than these Nazis are dishing out to bother me.  This is pretty country here, if that will help any.

I haven’t had any mail yet.  I hope it is getting out better, and I am sure it is.  We don’t gripe about not getting mail either, because for every mail bag they leave behind, they can bring an extra case of ammunition or something, and then we can win the war sooner.  Guess Jerry is learning that it doesn’t pay to monkey around with the U.S.A.

In the last war Dad said the French were quite hospitable, etc.  Of course now they have nothing to be hospitable with.  In fact they don’t even jump up and down.  The kids do, of course, but the grown-ups just stand in their doorways, with a kind of half-smile on their faces and tears in their eyes, and the look that they give you would more than pay for whatever the war might cost.  They look up at us as they would at a vision.  They think we are angels, or gods, or something, I guess.  We Americans do not realize in what high regard we are held.

September 1944
In combat

The kids have started back to school by now I suppose.  I wouldn’t mind being in school myself this fall instead of here.  Be sure you get some apples this fall, and make some apple sauce, and we will finish the Nazis off and I’ll come home and eat it.

September 1944
In combat

Just a line to let you know I’m still OK, and pretty handy at staying that way.  I don’t think they can get me, because I have been shot at by every known German weapon and not hit yet to amount to anything...   Those fool Germans still think they can stop us, I guess.  They keep shooting at us and we keep exterminating them.

Well, this war is still on, and we are still winning, so guess that’s all we can expect.  When this one is over we’ll fix it so they can never start another one.

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Four of Nine

Camp Fannin, Texas
Winter, 1944
Dad was an instructor, preparing men for combat duty overseas.

Have carbine firing this week, and I’m in charge of all carbine instruction for the 66th Battalion...  I sure hope none of them shoot each other.  If all 850 of them shoot 50 shots each without anything happening, I’ll be very happy.

I seem to be doing quite well here.  Moe continues to assign me jobs of greater responsibility, although he continues to call me “Junior.”

Ft. Meade, Maryland
June 1944
Preparing to be sent overseas, shortly after D-Day

Just a note to let you know that I am still OK and at this same place on the east coast...  I am getting a lot to eat, and not working too hard, and feeling OK.  I don’t think that there is another soldier in this camp that feels any better about going over than I do.  I am so independent, and have even quit worrying over Dad being able to run his business. That comes of not having any girl or wife to worry over like a lot of the boys do.  Not that I am taking a fatalistic view of the deal.  I fully expect to come out OK, and all in one piece. 

Suppose you have the hay down by now.  Hope you don’t get any rain on it.  Don’t break your back on it, Dad.

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Three of Nine

Ft. Benning, GeorgiaOfficer Candidate School - Part Two
Fall 1943 – excerpts from several letters
Those who made it to graduation became commissioned officers.

We were firing machine guns on the range today when they gave “cease firing” -- “unload” -- “clear guns” -- “atten-shun” -- “about face” and then they read us about Italy’s surrender.  It drew a good hand.  Most of the fellows here are married or engaged and don’t want to go across.  (Not that I don’t want the war to be over, but I want in it.)   

I’m still here and everything’s under control for the time being.  They kicked out 55 more men today, so our ranks were thinned a little...  Now when I get kicked out I’ll at least know some darn good men went before I did...  They tell us they’d rather kick out 5 good men than let one through that wasn’t a perfect combat officer.

I’ve gotten 2 letters from [my sister] Helen.  I think she writes because she’s a little homesick and wants letters.  Be sure to write her even if you have to neglect me to do so, as she’s young and a girl, and has absolutely no acquaintances there...  I sent her ten bucks.  I told her it was her own, and to do as she pleased with what I sent her, so if you can afford it, just pretend I’m not sending her any, and then what little I send will be extra.

Boy, am I ever a hot anti-tank gunner.  I made expert on the range.  165 out of 200...  If they would pass us on grades in tests and scores with weapons, I’d be a general.  But those little intangible things that I can’t do anything about will knock me out.  Age, for one thing, and size.  (Note:  On his army ID card he was 5’7½”  tall and 147 pounds.)  If I don’t make it, I’ll be the best non-com in the army...  

Nobody in our class has been hurt to speak of.  I got stabbed a little (don’t get excited) the other night.  A messenger and came down a path where I was fusing some mortar shells, and his bayonet caught the side of my helmet and glanced off and cut a little gash...  I bandaged it with a piece of tape and it’s all healed up now.

The dangerous part of this course is about over.  We didn’t have a single accident on the mortars.  They had been having quite a run of bad luck, but guess we broke their jinx.  Everything that happens here doesn’t make the papers.

Only 4½  weeks to go until I know one way or another about this deal.  Commission or no commission, they’ve made a man of me down here.

2½ weeks to go.  The strain is terrific.  We have started having boards at every odd hour of the day...  The 2nd one, when I walked in alone to meet one Col., three Lt. Cols., a Captain, and a 1st Lt., don’t think I wasn’t feeling like Daniel in the Lion’s Den...  I reported and they put me at ease, and told me to sit down.  The Col. asked me a few routine yes or no questions, and suddenly said:  “I’ll give you one minute to prepare a 5-minute talk on night fighting.”  I looked down for a couple of seconds and asked if I could start.  Yes, he said, so I put over a good talk...  He said, “I’d say that was right good.”  Then he said, “Do you think you could lead a night raid?”  I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “What makes you think you could?”  Me: “Because I know my stuff, sir.”  Colonel: “Could you instruct men?”  Me: “Yes, sir.”  Colonel: “Could you lead a platoon in combat?”  Me: “Yes, sir!”  Colonel: “That’ll be all for today.”

1½ weeks to go, and I’m still here...  18 men out of 50-some left in my platoon.  I think I may make it...  If I graduate, I will be the proudest boy on earth.

(Note:  He did graduate from Officer Candidate School, and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant.)

To read all nine parts from the beginning, click here.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Backing Up the Files

29,420 files backed up my computer this afternoon...  Wow, that's a whole lot of (mostly) genealogy stuff!

(And yes, it's all arranged in folders and subfolders, with each Word Doc, JPG, and pdf file properly labeled.  It's easier to keep up than to catch up, as they say.)

Friday, November 6, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part Two of Nine

Ft. Benning, GeorgiaOfficer Candidate School - Part One
Fall 1943 – excerpts from several letters
Those who made it to graduation became commissioned officers.

I’ve talked to some ROTC boys from NY and other places who are in their 7th week here.  There are 56 left out of 250, and they have 10 weeks to go.  One nice custom they have developed of late is to pull out about ½ of the survivors on graduation day...  But I’m just going to work, and not worry, and if I get the boot anytime, what the heck.

I’m in!  Start tomorrow a.m...  This is going to be rough, and more than likely will lead to nothing.  For instance, the other day a boy back from overseas was booted for “inefficiency on the bayonet course.”  Incidentally, he had been cited in New Guinea for spearing 3 Japs in one M.G. nest.  So you see...   

Then they play tricks.  They inspect morning and afternoon.  If they can’t find anything wrong, they do something like unbuttoning a button on a shirt hanging next to the wall, or they cock your rifle on the rack...  Day before yesterday he pulled my bayonet out of the scabbard and inserted it wrong side to, but I caught it in time, so I didn’t get gigged.

Yesterday they took us out along a road, and dumped us out at intervals, in pairs.  We had to march through real thick swamps and jungles on a compass bearing and come out within 3 degrees of the destination.  Waddington and I went about 2½ miles without seeing a soul (except a coral snake, which we killed) and came out one degree to the right of perfect.

You’ve never seen such efficiency as they have here.  For example, in a demonstration on a machine gun section, the lecturer (outdoors in a grandstand) would say, “In case of air attack...” and just as he finished saying it, here would come 5 P-51’s at about 500 MPH over the hills.  It’s done by radio and perfectly timed.

I haven’t got a gig for 2 days...  Some of the fellows take it to heart, and I can see what it does to them.  For example, the last class here, a fellow got kicked out at the end of 12 wks. and came into the barracks and pulled out his bayonet and stabbed himself.  Luckily he missed his heart...  I’ll never take anything that seriously.

Man, am I getting so I sit up straight when I eat.  They watch us all the time, so I never bend my back.  Mom, you must not have used the proper training methods.

There were drills where they have expert shots representing enemy snipers.  It is quite a thrill to have a bullet smack into a tree 3 feet from your head when you expose yourself too much.  There is no danger, though, since they never have hit anyone yet.

I still don’t know about getting through.  Somebody has to, I guess, but what a bunch of big bruisers, all of them smart, and all born leaders, I have to compete with.  I myself thought they kicked out better men than me on the first board...  Just now had mail call.  Got your letter.  Don’t build the kids up on my getting a commission.  I’ll try like the dickens, though...  Sure glad to hear the crops are OK. After that late planting I was a little worried.  How are the steers and pigs.  I suppose the pigs aren’t so good if we had our usual luck with raising young ones.

To read all nine parts from the beginning:  Click here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Dad's War Letters: Part One of Nine

Ft. Riley, Kansas—“Boot Camp.”
Summer 1943 – excerpts from several letters. 
Dad was 20 years old at the time.

I’m still at it, and we’re starting to work hard.  Today I:
Taught gun drill 4 hrs.
Drilled on Foot 1 hour
Played cageball 1 hour
Had 1 hour calisthenics
Ran 5 miles over high hills and rocks (4 miles of it thru woods) in 45 minutes
Had 1 hr. marksmanship training
Had parade.
It is now 9:45 p.m. and I think I earned my $2 today.

I wish I could bring a Garand [rifle] home for you -- You could set it on top of the barn and shoot the neighbors’ cattle up in Frank’s cornfield.  They are sardines to keep clean...  We come home, clean ALL the oil off them, and then we go back and pour oil on them again.  We do that every day...  The captain has the cleanest hands, and oil shows up on them.  Wish they’d use clubs instead of rifles in this war.  I’m wearing it out taking it apart and putting it together.

I qualified as a sharpshooter.  I would have liked to have made expert...  It takes 180 out of 210 points for expert, and I got only 174...  At least I learned to shoot right- handed.  (Dad was a lefty.)

I came within an iota of having to do extra KP next Sunday.  I don’t think corporals should have to absorb so much sass from sgts...  The mess sgt. got to griping at me and another fellow about the way we were doing things...   Anyhow he kept on about 5 minutes, and said something about college graduates not knowing anything, and I broke -- I said, “We didn’t learn this stuff in college.  The profs. told us we could hire any dummy for $20 a week to cook and wash dishes.”  That got him...  It was worth the 4 extra hours of KP just to say that one thing anyhow.

We had horse meat for dinner again today, which is nothing new.  But tonight they ground it up and we had horse-burgers.  Fort Riley has to eat 30,000 lbs. of it per day.  It’s not bad, kind of tough and dark and coarse.

They don’t think we are snappy enough, so this week we get up at 4:45 as punishment.  I don’t get the logic.  I get about 5 hours sleep.  Pitching hay bales would be a vacation.

Heat and humidity, and 12 unconscious at the side of the road Monday.  Nobody died, however...  We have been shooting the Garand.  There was never such a weapon in history.  I put 4 straight shots into a target 18 inches in diameter and 500 yards away.

I’ll be glad to get out of here.  I’ve not wanted to worry you, so I’ve never told the truth about this place.