To anyone who may be interested, the following is a chronicle of my World War II Journey. I hope at times you will get a laugh out of my experience or cry as I sometimes did in writing this. I guess you could say it was the experience of a lifetime. Sometime in September of 1943, a friend from High School, Bill Rode, and I decided to go to New York City for a weekend. We went by train on a Friday night and returned Sunday night. We spent the weekend walking the City; going to a Big Band Show at the Paramount Theater and walked by the Stage Door Canteen. Little did I realize that the following March I would again visit it on my way to England. When we arrived back at South Station on the train Sunday about 10:00 pm, my mother and father were there to pick us up. Bill’s mother also came along for the ride.My mother had an envelope containing my Draft Notice to Report to the Draft Board on Dorchester Avenue to be taken for a physical on Commonwealth Avenue at a former Chevrolet Automobile Dealership. I passed the physical after spending six hours walking around naked with probably 5000 other guys. The only thing we carried was a small bag with our personal belongings. After passing the physical, we received our orders as to when we were leaving, in about three weeks time.
October 24, 1943 – my nineteenth birthday
On October 25, 1943 I got out of bed at 5:00 a.m.. I shaved for the first time in my life, went downstairs and said goodbye to my tearful mother. My father then drove me in his 1940 Buick to Fields Corner to the Draft Board over the Post Office, then he left for work in Charlestown, Police Station 15.
After about 100 of us were assembled, we were taken by truck to the North Station where we boarded a train for Camp Devens. That was a Monday I believe. That afternoon we started, oh boy, we had to strip naked and put our civilian clothes in a bag to be sent home. As we went through the line, we were issued our army clothes, putting on one pair of each until at the end of the line, we were fully dressed and had two duffle bags full of clothes. Dinner at the mess hall was a new experience, at one point I wrote home and told them that the only thing that tasted like home was the canned pears we had for desert. The next three days were spent getting shots, taking classification and IQ tests, and viewing indoctrination movies. When the fifth day dawned so did KP duty, which meant reporting to the Mess Hall at 6:00 a.m. , spending the day at a large metal sink with a dozen other guys washing pots until 5:45 p.m. At that time a sergeant came
over to me and said “you’re all done except for one more job, open that cover under the sink”, I did, there was a foot deep trap full of thick gray grease, the sergeant said “down the bottom of that, find a screw cap and release the horrible mess”. My first thought was don’t do it, but in a split second I thought, if I don’t do this I’ll have to clean out the rest of the traps. So I said “Sure”, put my arm in up to the elbow and released the awful mess, put back the cover and was dismissed.
The next day, Saturday after breakfast, we dressed in our new fatigues. We were formed up and marched out to a field , given shovels and we spent all day, about 200 of us, digging a 6 foot deep by 4 foot wide trench. At 4:00 p.m. we but were told to stop digging by the sergeant. We got out of the trench and guess what ---we were to shovel the dirt back into the trench -- welcome to the army. On Sunday we were off, but wewere ordered to pack our clothes as we were leaving the next day for an unknown destination. We also got a few hours pass to Ayer, Mass ( the town outside the camp) my mother and father came up and brought Bill Rode who I went to high school with and we met them at the army reception center . On Monday morning we marched to a train which we boarded. The cars turned out to be Pullman’s, fairly comfortable and I slept in a lower berth. We spent four full days and four nights on the train arriving at Camp Hood, 100 miles south of Dallas, Texas sometime Friday morning. During the four day trip we passed through North Adams; Albany, New York; Buffalo, New York; Cleveland, Ohio; and Muncie, Indiana. The citizens of Muncie met the train with a box lunch, the only town along the way that did this. It surely was a nice gesture. It is a small world as my eldest son Bill and his wife Jackie have friends in North Andover, Mass and one of their friends’ mother, approximately my age, was one of the residents in Muncie who distributed the box lunches to us.
Getting back to our arrival in Camp Hood, Texas, we picked up our duffel bags and we were lined up on the train platform. At that time a large group of German soldiers that had been taken prisoner in North Africa were marched past us. These guys were the cream of the Africa Corps – Rommel’s Elite (Erwin W. Rommel) - Germany's number one Tank Commander, Commandant of the German Africa Corps). I think most of us wanted to run back home. They were the true Germans; blond, well built, and singing a German marching song. For them the war was over, they should have been happy, for us it was just the beginning. Funny as it may seem, in three or four weeks time these “German Supermen” were no longer scary, in fact one of our guys caught three of them that had escaped one night-he had a rifle, but no ammunition. So much for being in awe of the enemy.
Basic training lasted from November 2, 1943 until about March 12, 1944. During these sixteen weeks there was the usual marching, firing of every gun in the army, obstacle courses, landing nets, under the constant guidance and haranguing of Lieutenants Oleg and Repig (an American Indian).In retrospect these were two good guys. The Non Coms some were decent, but I can remember three complete idiots, including the first Lieutenant Company Commander.
Somebody told me once, and it may have been my father, “Don’t do anything to attract attention to yourself”. Back then we didn’t have name tags as they do today. This system worked for me anyway. We slept in double decker bunks with the two Non Coms in charge of the barracks at each end. I draw this diagram of the barracks to show how not being known worked for me:
Each morning we got up at 6:00 a.m. This Sergeant, now private, (he had been busted back to private for some infraction) would wake up about 15 minutes before and yell “Frizzel light the fire”. Every morning he did the same thing to the same five or six guys, but not me, he didn’t know my name. I never did anything to bring myself to his attention. Two weeks before the end of Basic, I was talking to him (he had become more civil now that the end of the training was near) and he asked me my name. I told him I would tell him if he wouldn’t call me to light the stove for the last two weeks. Actually, he got a laugh out of it and admitted I had worked a good system. He never did make me light the fire! The food was pretty good in North Camp Hood, where we were training. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners were very good.
On Christmas Eve, I was on guard duty on the edge of camp and over the PX loudspeakers I could hear the song “I’ll be Home for Christmas”. I think I cried the whole two hours while I walked the four or five hundred yards guarding about 100 tank destroyers (like tanks except faster). Little did I realize that one year hence, December 24, 1944, I would be in the “Battle of the Bulge” wishing I was back guarding the tank destroyers. A year after that, December 24, 1945, I was back home. Another incident about getting fires going in the morning and I only had to do this once. At 4:00 a.m. the furnace had to be started for showers for about 500 of us. The day I had this detail I went over to the shower building,-- the furnace room had a big pile of coal but no wood for kindling or paper and of course not smoking, I didn’t have any matches. I was standing stupidly looking at the furnace figuring what to do, thinking everybody gets a cold shower. Thankfully, after 5 to 10 minutes a Major came in (thank God) and asked “What’s the matter soldier”? I told him and I guess he felt sorry for the dumb green soldier. He told me to sit down and relax and he would be back. Ten minutes later he returned with wood, paper and matches he even started the fire and certainly saved my neck.
Many times during basic training, you have to run obstacle courses, crawl under barbed wire and machine guns being fired over you and exploding dynamite in holes as you crawl by. To show what a lousy soldier I was, maybe you would call it chicken, one night early in basic training, they marched us out to a large square tower about six stories high with a landing net on one side and straight up ladders on two of the other sides. We had to climb up the ladders to the top and roll over the edge and down the landing net. To say the least, I was scared stiff, but I did it! I vowed to myself I would never do that again. The next 10 or 12 times I hung back until I could merge with the others who had gone over it-I never did climb that tower and net again! Maybe a few others did the same thing also. About a month before training ended, we marched 20 miles with full pack to a special part of the camp for a three day Battle Conditioning Course which was very tough. One incident which is funny to me now but not then was when we had to cross a river about 50 feet wide on a rope strung from bank to bank, hand over hand with a full pack and rifle. First time over I got half way, guess what, I fell in! I swam back to shore and tried twice more and again fell in twice!! Stupid me I should have swam to the far shore the first time! I had to spend the rest of the day soaking wet. Every Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday we were off, but left the barracks, and went either to the PX, movies, service club, or just leave the area because if you stayed, they would surely find some lousy detail to put you to work.
Each Sunday I would get up, eat breakfast, leave and go to Mass and then the service club to put a call to home. This took about 4 hours to go through and you were limited to only 3 minutes as I remember it. You could hear the call going through various operators-Dallas, St. Louis, Chicago, Albany, and Boston. During the sixteen weeks of Basic, I learned to operate and do limited repairs on AM and FM Radios. I left there as a qualified radio operator.
Finally, the end of Basic came and we were all broken up. Only five or us from my company were assigned to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. An interesting fact that I found out about ten years ago was that Jackie Robinson the black baseball player was also in North Camp Hood at the same time. He was a Lieutenant. The Army was segregated at that time he was one of the few black men to become an officer. There was a black training battalion in the camp that he was assigned to. I left North Camp Hood about March 1, 1944 and spent four nights on another train. We traveled from North Camp Hood through Texarkana, Texas; Little Rock Arkansas; Memphis, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Atlanta, Georgia; Augusta, Georgia; Florence, South Carolina; and finally arriving at Fort Braggs, North Carolina at 6:00 a.m. about March 4, 1944. We spent all day standing on a drill field waiting for our assignments. A Major Lantz told us all outfits would be going overseas within a month. This did not make any of us too happy.
Later that day I was assigned to BTRY C 269th Field Artillery Battalion as the lowest radio operator. 90% of the enlisted men were from South Carolina and Tennessee. For the present time I was just “Damn Yankee”.
The radio section consisted of Sergeant Arend, Ohio; Corporal Lantis, Indiana; PFC League, South Carolina; Private McAbee, South Carolina; and Private Bannister, Massachusetts. Lieutenant Thompson, New York, was in charge of the radio, survey section and wire sections (communications).
Going back a paragraph, the officers and sergeants of the battery were as follows and my opinion of them, looking back:
Captain Kilpatrick (Ringland F.)
About 30 years old, Yale Graduate, lived on Sutton Place, New York City, money, easy going, highly intelligent officer. Was president of Madison Square Garden, his family owned it. Looking back, he really did me a lot of favors, but I really didnt appreciate it at the time. When he was appointed Battalion Executive Officer, about a year later he transferred me to headquarters to fill a vacancy as battalion clerk in the personnel section.
Lt. O’Dell ( David W.)
About 30 years old, Command of "A" Gun Section, good officer, somewhat aloof. From West Point, New York (Not College).
About 35 years old, former mailman, probably earned commission the hard way, command of "B" Battery, good officer, very good with the men, well liked.
Lt. Thompson (Ralph)
About 22 years old, competent officer, Recon Officer Command of radio wire & survey sections, did observation post. (Observed enemy movements, adjusted fire of our Guns from OP) not afraid of going into danger.
First Sargeant, good soldier, not too smart, from Tennessee.
Staff Sargeant, transportation, impressed with own importance.
Staff Sargeant, supply, good guy, great at getting supplies and food in combat.
Staff Sargeant, survey, excellent seargent, not too brave.
I got along very well with Klunk & Mengali. This 269th Field Artillery Batallion consisted of approximately 500 officers and enlisted men. It was arranged as follows:
- Headquarters Battery - 100 Men
- A Battery - 125 Men
- B Battery - 125 Men
- C Battery - 125 Men
- Service Battery - 50 Men
- Medical Detachment - 10 Men
Each battery consisted of two 240 MA Howitzers. Each firing a 250 lb. shell, approximately 8-10 miles, I believe the maximum effective range was about 15,000 yards. Being in a regular outfit was quite different than basic training. Everybody had a function and for the most part did it some with the prodding of the corporals and sargeantsThe hardest workers were the cannoneers who had to fire and take care of the guns. The food was also better because each Battery had only 125 men to be fed in their own mess hall. The cooks really did a pretty good job.
We in the Radio Section would spend time talking to each other jeep to jeep. However, I quickly found that two of the FM radios didn’t function. They were waiting for a headquarters Sargeant to open up the radio to correct the problem. I told Lantis, the Corporal, that I could fix them, but he said “Don’t let anybody see you, particularly our Sargeant Arend”. (Arend, He was easily upset and dumb) (My Opinion). Well, I pulled the inside of the radio out and was about half way through when good old (Ray J) Sgt. Arend, who in all fairness, turned out to be a regular guy, but in this instance he practically jumped up and down turning so red I thought he’d have a heart attack. Anyway, at that same time, Lt. Thompson showed up and wondered what was up. Ray J. told him I had committed a major sin by opening up the radio. The Lt. asked me if I knew what I was doing. I told him to give me five minutes and I would show him. Thank God, it worked. So he said “Great, Sargeant show him the other radio that doesn’t work and let him fix it; which I did! I don’t think the good ole’ sargeant was to happy with me but there wasn’t much he could do and to his credit he never held it in for me. Another staff sargeant (Alex Klunck, great name), found out I could type and seeing that our radio section wasn’t too busy, they let me work with him in typing up a manual he was writing. Klunck and I became pretty good friends, which lasted until I left C Battery and transferred to Headquarters Battery, one year later.
About March 18, 1944, I received a ten day furlough to begin March 20 to March 30. What a joy to get away, even though the train ride from Fayetteville, NC to Boston and back was crowded and took about twenty-four hours, each way.
Back at Fort Bragg on April 1st I went back to typing for Klunck. This of course was a soft job and seeing that I was bunking with the cannoneers I was subject to much heckling and comments, some of which I can’t describe here plus the fact that I was a “Damn Yankee”. These soldiers turned out to be a bunch of great guys, hard workers and they really came through in combat and eventually I was accepted, but it took about three months. For example, the first night I came into the barracks the guy across from me sits up in his bunk and says “ where you frum son” I said “ Boston”. He laid back down saying “Damn Yankee”. I was scared stiff. As it turned out “Bobo” was from the backwoods of South Carolina. He couldn’t read or write, but was a hardworking cannoneer and turned out to be OK even though I continued to be a “Damn Yankee”.
The Battalion was now preparing for movement to a port of embarkation. All of the equipment was packed up, cosmoline put in the guns by the cannoneers and by April 10 everything (equipment, trucks and guns) had been shipped. On the morning of April 13, 1944 we had a battalion picture taken and marched to the train. (We were not told where we were going). The next day, April 14, 1944, we arrived in New Rochelle, New York left the train, marched down to the water to a ferry which took us out to Ft. Slocum on an island about two miles offshore. We stayed at Ft. Slocum until noontime of April 19, 1944.
I was still expecting a physical that would keep me from going overseas. Although I wanted to be in the service, I did not want to go overseas. Little did it enter my mind that I was in as good or better physical condition than anyone else! Back at Fort Bragg the medical doctor, Captain Scwartz, said nobody would flunk the physical we had at Ft. Bragg and of course he was right as he called the shots. He went beserk the first night in combat and had to be restrained.
The few days we spent at Slocum were pleasant. We had nothing to do, the food was very good and we got a pass to go into New York City from 4:00 p.m. to midnight one day. We could call home and other than getting a couple of shots, things were good.
I went into New York City with McAbee, League, and a couple of others. We took the train from New Rochelle into Grand Central Station. Arriving on the lower level these guys, all from South Carolina, said the station was bigger than their whole town back home. When we got outside the station, they were all gawking up at the tall buildings. We all called home, went to the Stage Door Canteen, walked around and went back to Fort Slocum. I think my South Carolina friends were afraid we wouldn’t find our way back. I was glad I called home from New York City as the next day we couldn’t call out as we were cut off from the outside world.
Being a fan of the Big Bands the “Glen Island Casino” was right at the water’s edge in New Rochelle which I got a big kick out of seeing. On April 19, 1944 we departed Ft. Slocum after lunch on a large ferry boat. We were given a box lunch. It was a beautiful, warm April day. We sailed down the east river around the Battery (Lower Manhatten) and up the Hudson to Pier 90. This was a very pleasant trip. On the dock, Pier 90, the Red Cross gave out coffee and donuts and we boarded the awaiting Queen Elizabeth going to God knows where. We were led deep down in the ship to the lowest deck where we were to sleep on canvas bunks 5 high. The next morning we woke up to the ship’s engines, rushed up on deck, land was nowhere to be seen. We went back downstairs, had a breakfast of oatmeal, fruit and coffee.
We had two meals a day, I think there were 23,000 GI’s on this ship and being the last unit on board, we did not receive any details. We spent all day on deck walking around or sitting on the life rafts. All ships going to Europe went in convoys with Navy Destroyers protecting them from submarines which were very active at that time. The Queens, Elizabeth and Mary, went alone. Due to their speed they would be sitting ducks as they would have to slow down, so they sailed alone. It evidently took a submarine 8-9 minutes to aim and get off a torpedo. The Queen’s changed course every seven minutes thus making it almost impossible for a submarine to sink them, it worked because neither of these ships were sunk, and they made many such trips during the was.
I spent the days on board with Sgt. Mengali. I was not too comfortable but Mengali was so scared he didn’t want to go below for fear we would get sunk. From living here in Boston, I knew that the blimps from South Weymouth Naval Air Station followed these ships, Elizabeth and Mary, for 24 hours then left to go back to South Weymouth. Mengali watched the blimp, I told him it would leave in a day, he didn’t believe me. When it did leave he really got nervous!
Actually the voyage was calm, sunny and it was really enjoyable. Eventually we were told we were going to England.
About a day before we arrived in Scotland we were told to go below deck and we could hear guns firing but never found out what went on. On April 27, 1944, we arrived in Greenock, Scotland and debarked at 2:00 p.m. onto barges which took us ashore where we boarded another train which took us to Packington Park Warwickshire, England. Between Birmingham & Coventry, England, closer to Birmingham, this trip on the train was great. The Scottish countryside was beautiful until we had to blackout the windows to light the lights in the train. We were now within range of German Bombers. The train took us to Birmingham where we left the train and trucks picked us up. It was so weird because of the blackout and the headlights and tail lights were all painted black except about an inch square which let a little light out.
We arrived in Packington Park on April 28, 1944 at about 4:00 a.m. and were assigned to barracks which were Quonset Huts with very small bunks (double deck). We were let sleep until noontime, a rarity in the service.
From April 28 to June 15th we remained in this camp. It was small. I think we were the only army unit there. The food was OK, maybe I was just getting used to it. Each morning we marched through the several small towns, down winding roads returning to the camp for lunch. These were very pleasant marches and the weather was great. Then in the afternoon we marched to a lake, did an hour of calisthenics until about 3:00 p.m. , then just lazed around, played ball and watched British spitfires and typhoons buzz the lake. I guess they were practicing strafing. All in all it was a fairly pleasant few weeks except for the usual KP and guard duty which once again was not bad. D Day came, we were read “Ike’s” message to the troops. We all felt we should have been there also, but a month later we would be there. From what I now know how lucky we were not to go initially. Because it is just “the luck of the draw”.
During our stay here we used to get passes to Birmingham or Coventry.We could walk to Birmingham in about an hour. I went there a few times just to see the city. I only went to Coventry once. It was about a half hours bus ride. Coventry was a mess as it had been bombed relentlessly by the Germans.
One interesting event happened that could have affected me was all of the radio sections had an extra man, I was that extra man in C Battery. A test was to be given to all from Master Sgt. in headquarters down to the lowest, me. I got a lot of remarks that I would soon be a cannoneer from my southern friends.
The day of the test arrived, given by one of the HQ Lieutenants (Lt. Bowen). About 25 took this test which they said was three hours long. The classroom for this was on the ground outside one of the barracks. I sat down and who sat beside me, the HQ Master Sargeant who was the one who should have fixed the radio I fixed back when I first arrived at the outfit in Fort Bragg. Well anyway, the test as far as I was concerned was fairly easy thanks to the training I had received back in Camp Hood, Texas.
I finished the test in about 2 hours. As I was on the last page I noticed out of the corner of my eye that my friend was about ½ way through the test. I stood up to pass my test in, my master Sgt. said “where are you going?” I told him I was finished, passed in the test, and left. I really figured I would get stuck as a cannoneer no matter what I got for a mark on the test. About a week later my Sgt. Arend told me Captain Kilpatrick wanted to see me. So with my heart beating fast I went to see the Captain. After the usual salute and at ease he congratulated me and told me that I got the highest mark in the battalion and that I would remain in the radio section. I thanked him and left. I was tempted to ask him how the Master Sgt. did but I kept my mouth shut. I went back to the barracks and the radio Corporal Lantis asked me what happened and he was glad I was staying as we had become fairly friendly. It wasn’t long after this, on June 16, 1944 that we left on manoeuvres in Wales. We fired the battalions six guns from June 17, 1944 through June 22, 1944. We then went to a different position and stayed overnight on June 23, 1944.
One June 24, 1944 we left Cirencester and arrived 1 mile northwest of Bulford, Wiltshire. We were bivouacked on Salisbury Plan. We had firing problems both day and night until July 3, 1944. It turned out that we were being tested to determine which 3 heavy artillery battalions would go into Normandy first. We came in second so I guess that expedited our shipment to France.
An interesting thing happened on Salisbury Plain. When we arrived we had to pitch our pup tents all exactly in a perfect row, fine, but when I and the rest of the battery looked at the ground it was beautiful grass but the brown dirt underneath was moving! There must have been millions of earwigs. The United States did not have earwigs prior to World War II. We had to sleep on this ground and of course we were so tired that it really didn’t matter. They didn’t really bother us except to shake about 1000 of them out of our blankets the following morning. So much about that!
On July 4th we left Bulford and arrived back at Packington Park (our camp) at 4:30 p.m. that afternoon (about 125 miles).
From July 5th to July 14, 1944 we made preparations to move to southern England for our short sea voyage across the English Channel to Normandy, France. On July 15, 1944 we left Packington Park and arrived at St. Giles Dorsetshire at 11:45PM. The first night we camped in a forested area, I remember waking up about 4:00 AM and as I was sleeping beside a road many tanks were passing along this dirt road about 2 feet from those of us who were lying along side the road. Now we were in a holding pattern with thousands of others heading for the battle. Incidently, we had been assigned to Third Army commanded by General Patton. Finally, on July 22, 1944 we departed to Portland Harbor, boarded our LST and left for France about 1:00 p.m. Each of us had been given two large paper bags in case we were seasick as the English Channel can be the roughest body of water in the world.
The journey across was uneventful. The sea was calm and we landed on Utah Beach at 10:00 p.m. One of the sailors on this LST was from Shepton Street, Dorchester. We talked for a couple of hours. That night we slept on deck under a truck as German planes strafed the beach. I slept through it! The next morning the doors opened on the LST and a large bulldozer plowed up the sand so that our trucks, tanks and guns could drive off. We went to a temporary bivovac area about one mile south west of St. Germaine, Normandy. These areas were really hedgerow surrounded fields. There was an opening we entered this field and we were walking in an out of this opening. About 4:00 p.m. that afternoon, a GI (not from our outfit) stepped on a mine at this entrance and was killed. The first dead American we saw. That night a Lt. and 4 or 5 of us were in a ¾ ton truck and I can’t remember why but we got lost in the pitch black. The Lt. decided to sit where we were for the night. So we sat up all night on the hard wooden seats of the truck. The next morning we found our way back to the battery.
The following day we moved to new bivovac -- area 1 mile east of Bricquebec, Normandy. We stayed here a little over a week. Had stacks of hot cakes (pancakes) loaded with syrup each morning. This was due to the efforts of Sgt. Klunck who ranged far and wide looking for flour and other goodies like bacon. He would be gone for a day and come back loaded with goodies. He probably stole it from some distribution area. Things were pretty fluid at that time. I would try to write a short note each day. One day I wrote that one of the guys had a rabbit. All mail was censored but I guess a rabbit was of no importance. We could not tell in any correspondence where we were. Strangely enough the same day on the front page of The Boston Globe was the story of a GI in Normandy who had a pet rabbit. So they knew I was also in France which probably worried them more. I also went to Mass here in a large French church on the Sunday we were there.
While we were in this position a French woman came looking to wash clothes. A few of us took advantage of this. I said to her (I spoke in my fluent French)"vous washy washy -- demain cigarette-chocolate merci beaucoup. She washed these clothes in a cement hole in the ground in what looked grey thick tomato soup,but anyway they came back clean and smelling perfect.
On August 6, 1944 we left Brecquebec, France at 5:00 a.m. and went through St. Lo, Countances, Granvile to Avranches arriving about 3:00 p.m. and traveled over 100 miles. That night the Germans tried to retake Avranches but they were turned back. A few German Paratroops landed in field near us. That trip was really a lesson in history. Each side of the road, without exception, was completely littered with destroyed German trucks, tanks and other junk. The wrecked equipment seemed to be 90% German and 10% GI. I also saw my first dead German. He was lying beside the road in a French town and was being completely ignored by the local French civilians. The smell of death was overpowering. I will never forget the tremendous amount of destroyed equipment of the German war machine along this road. Also, the destroyed towns that were just piles of rubble particularly St. Lo.
On August 6th we departed the Avranches area at 5:30 p.m. Somewhere along the road we had a great view of Mont St. Michel, a catholic shrine on an island connected to the mainland by a causeway. We arrived at 10:00 p.m. in our first combat position 2 ½ miles south of Chateauneuf Brittany, France. In the pitch dark, we dug foxholes to sleep in and I had guard duty from 12 midnight to 2:00 a.m. with Harold Turner. We started or were told to walk a certain area but after being almost shot by the cooks we decided to stand against a tree. It is amazing how dark it can be when there aren’t any lights and no reflected lights from adjacent towns or cities. That night one of our guys shot himself in the leg. A couple of our guys killed three German soldiers and our brave medical officer Captain Schwartz, went beserk and they had to tie him up and gag him to shut him up. The next day he was on his way to the states. Cannoneers worked all night getting guns set up (took four hours to emplace one gun).
We spent August 7, 8 & 9th firing on St Malo when the mission was concluded and this pocket of German Resistance was cleaned up. August 10th to the 17th a new mission firing on the Citadel at St. Malo until ordered to leave and prepare for long motor march on August 19, 1944. We departed Chateauneuf, France and arrived 2 miles northwest of Lesneven, Brittany, France. On August 21st departed Lesneven at 7:00 pm. and arrived Coat-Meal Brittany, France at 10:30 p.m. The next day guns emplaced and firing batteries fired for registration (to see if the guns were hitting the target). Actually, the guns when set and surveyed properly, one gun could register and they would all be on target. On September 14, 1944 we left Coat-Meal Brittany, France as Brest was now taken over by the American Army and we moved to Pleumoguer, Brrittany, France to fire on the Crozen Peninsula. It was here that we slept within ten yards of a sixteen inch shell fired from some naval guns the Germans had taken from a battleship and installed in protected emplacements covered by massive steel doors. The doors would close and our shells would bounce off the doors. We finally got them. Brest was highly fortified by the Gernmans. I used to stand on a hedgerow on a slight rise and watch our B 17’s bomb the area. A lot were shot down and sometimes the guys got out and parachuted down but others exploded in mid air. The German 88’s in this area were many and they knew how to use them.
It was at this point in time that Sgt. Mengali, who was in charge of the survey section, the group that went ahead of the battalion to select the location of the Battery when we went into firing position, asked me to join with them. I was happy to do this as still being an extra radio operator all I was doing was helping distribute the mail each day. So I became a member of the survey section. Behind the front a group from army HQ continually ran surveys in circles so that we had a reference point to begin. We used the usual transit and measuring tape. There was also math involved as we had to figure how to get back to our original point. This also included, when the battalion moved, you had to go with the advance party to the new position which was close to the infantry and usually the area was in the process of being taken over by our infantry and tanks. In a couple of instances we had to go house to house looking for hiding German soldiers. Anyway, I now had a permanent spot in the battery organization.
In this location we were transferred to the ninth U.S. Army from the third U.S. Army. The Brest Area was now in the hands of the U.S. Army. We left Lesneven at 1:00 p.m. on September 25, 1944 to Huelgofft, France, September 26th to Jasselin, France
September 27th and arrived ½ mile southwest of La Houssay, France about 10 miles from Rennes. This trip from Lesnevan was horrible. It poured rain. In combat, all vehicles cannot have their tops up and each night sleeping our blankets got wetter and wetter. It didn’t matter as we also were soaked. The army raincoat only “strained the rain”. Also in the area we passed through had extensive mine fields as the German submarine base at Lorient was close by the area we went through. All of the fields were strung with barbed wire with the word “MINEN” printed on signes attached to wire. Anyway, when we got to the Rennes area it stayed sunny and beautiful. We got a chance to dry out, got passes to go to Rennes for six hours. Rennes did not sustain much damage and it seemed quite normal. The Front now had moved east of Paris so we were in peaceful times again, but we would soon catch up.
This might be a good place to mention that we were finding that although being in combat was scary and unpredictable the thing that was physically tough was the weather. The rain, mud, snow and cold you never really get used to these conditions you live under. You do get sort of acclimated to them. Things were always easier when the weather was decent. October 15 ordered by 9th army to move to the Maastricht area of Holland, a 4 day journey. This was to put us in with the 9th army which was poised to hit the Siegrfied Line and cross Northern Germany. The armies North to South consisted of the British and Canadians, 9th U.S., 1st U.S., 3rd U.S. and 7th U.S. Army (Close to the Swiss Border) and the French. Being now part of the advance party we left the day prior to the Battalion on October 16, 1944. The heavy equipment, guns, tanks and 3 cranes were to be shipped by rail to Tongeran, Belgium. As I said we left the morning of October 16, 1944 traveled through Mayenne Le Mans and Chartres to Versailles, just west of Paris (About 150 miles). Spent the night in a large empty barn like building. The next morning October 16, 1944 Major Lantz who was commanding the advance party told us to break up and drive separately into Paris to see the City and we would meet at Meaux 30 miles east of Paris at 2:00 p.m. He told us that we should not be in Paris but if we were stopped by the MP’s to ask where the Y highway was and once they were out of sight go in the opposite direction. Anyway, we stayed in Paris until 1:30 p.m. and due to traffic did not get to Meaux until after 2:00 p.m. and missed the rest of the advance party. Five of us were in this ¾ ton truck, Street was driving, Cpl. Behrens, Haskell Metz, Libra and me. We soon found that within a mile outside of Paris the road east was stopped for miles (as far as we could see).This was due to so many vehicles moving up to the front probably some hundred mile, maybe less, to the east. What a target if the German Airforce was active but our fliers had them pretty well bottled up.
Behrens the Corporal said lets not stay here and looking at the map there was another road about a mile south also heading east so, we turned around and went south which was empty of traffic. We had it made. It didn’t take long to realize we were on “the Red Ball Highway”. Now this highway was established to expedite supplies to the front. It also had a pipeline where fuel was piped from the beachheads to the front. We followed this road (luckily no one stopped us). All of a sudden we looked ahead and a B24 Bomber was ready to take off on the same road we were on. We drove under one wing and continued on. The plane then took off. About 5:00 p.m. (we were now off of the Red Ball Highway) moving along a back road. We stopped at a small barn where we decided to spend the night. As we were low on gas Street & Behrens took off in the truck to steal some. In basic training you are told not to steal from your fellow soldiers, but in combat you may steal anything you need from other outfits. In about 2 hours they returned with enough gas to get us to where we were going. While they were gone we cleaned out the barn floor, which was covered with chicken manure and it was a good thing because it poured rain all night. Had D ration for dinner. This is a 4 oz. Chocolate bar that is very hard and takes about an hour to eat. That is all we had for about five or six days, three times a day.
The next morning we got going. We got to some pretty good roads, not much traffic. Got stopped for speeding, Behrens had to pay a $25.00 fine as he was in charge of the vehicle. I believe this was in Namur, Belgium. Sometime this day we stopped to take a break on the Meuse river. It was a very pretty spot. The town was Dinant, Belgium. We were only there a short time when a Belgiun who evidently owned the shop across the road brought us over an ice cream cone each. We offered to pay him but he refused. Later that afternoon we arrived in Tongeren, Belgium. We found a schoolhouse where we could sleep. It also had stall toilets which we hadn’t seen since leaving the LST in Normandy. It took us two days to get to Tongeren. It took the rest of the outfit five days, so we had three days to laze around, still eating D rations but we could buy ice cream. Finally, the rest of the Battalion arrived and the train unloaded the heavy equipment. On October 22, 1944, we went into position in Haanrade, Holland. Between our two guns (C Battery) was an old farmhouse which we were able to sleep in. Sgt. Arend, my former radio sargeant, Paul Allen the gun mechanic and I slept in one room in the cellar, but we felt safe from German artillery fire. There was 4 inches of water in the cellar but it also had wooden milk cartons which had about six inches of straw on top, great! But when we went to sleep that night the mice kept moving around in the straw. We would whack the straw a couple of times so we could go back to sleep.
I didn’t know it, but my friend from back home was killed by morter fire on this day, in the vicinity of Metz-Nancy, France, about 100 miles south of where I was. We had been exchanging letters which only took about 3 or 4 days. He had arrived the middle of September and already he was dead. On October 24, 1944, my 20th birthday, I received a letter I had written to Ken back marked “Killed in Action”. This was a big blow to me. Actually, the army did not notify his mother and father until November 1, 1944 by telegram. I still have that telegram in my army stuff.
We received a lot of German artillery fire. This was the start of the 9th army’s push through the Seigrefd line and on into Central Germany. Many of the tanks and infantry moving by us by day and the tanks would pull back at night, near us. One disadvantage of the survey section was after the guns were in position we had to run an alternate survey in case we received too much counter battery fire so that we could relocate the guns if need be The day we had to run this survey we had to go through a crossroads to our right and closer to the front as we were getting a lot of artillery fire. We all kept one eye on our survey job and one eye on the ditch to dive into. Also in this position I filled in relaying the firing commands to the gunner sargeant during some of the fire missions.
During this time the guns were continually firing. A lot of air activity, Germans dropped anti personnel bombs. A sargeant in HQ Battery got a rear end full of shrapnel. He was in the hospital for a few days, then came back. Many German buzz bombs were flying over us on November 19, 1944. They made an earth shattering noise and looked like this about the size of a small plane. A lot of German prisoners were being taken by us in trucks back to POW camps. Also a lot of captured German heavy equipment was being pulled back to ordinance companies in the rear. German planes came over at night dropping bombs and flares. Nobody was hurt. They wouldn’t dare fly in the daytime as our air force controlled the sky. November 23, 1944, Thanksgiving, had a good dinner, turkey and all the fixings. Although eating out of the mess kit is not the best, we all enjoyed it. Actually we did receive hot meals except for the D rations coming through France. There was a lot of rain during this period. Fields muddy and roads with plenty of mud on them.
We left Haanrade, Holland on November 24, 1944 (the advance party) to survey the new area where the guns were to be emplaced. We were moving further into the Seigfried Line taking up our first position in Germany. The town was Siersdorf, Germany. We took over a farm house (partially destroyed) but at least we were inside. We had one room on the second floor that wasn’t blown apart. We had a broken down ladder down to the ground there was about six of us sleeping in this room. Our #1 gun was just outside in a deep sandpit. The cannoneers were down in the sandpit, some had dug holes into the sides of the pit which was about 40 feet deep. It was great protection for the gun. Some enemy planes were around and our anti aircraft guns were firing off and on. It was on one of these occasions that one of our guys was killed by shrapnel from our own anti aircraft guns (his name was Wallace). He was a cannoneer in the second gun section. We used to kid each other about what I don’t remember now but, about two weeks before he was killed one of the units we used to heat water to wash the mess kits in had to be lit and as they were gasoline fired unit’s they used to start with a “woosch” he didn’t stand back far enough so he lost his eyebrows and the front of his hair. I kidded him about it for about a week until the same thing happened to me although not as bad. I got the same kidding in return. I will never forget him. Every once in a while I say a prayer for him.
Although we had several wounded in the Battalion Wallace was the only on who died from a combat related wound. On that count our battalion was very lucky. One day while in this position we were watching several B17 Bombers go over when one of them left the formation and dropped his whole load of bombs in the field next to us. All six of us went down that ladder at the same time to get into the cellar. We found out later that the pilot was having engine trouble and had to jettison his bomb load. Here again we were lucky as we used this field as a latrine.
While in this position I used to watch German and American tanks sparring with each other. At this time we (the U.S. Army) were trying to consolidate our forces and lines (I think). One other day (it was pouring rain) I was walking back to town to get my lunch (which was about ½ mile back) when I noticed another GI approaching from the opposite direction. He looked just as dirty and wet as I did with a carbine slung over his shoulder. As he came abreast of me I saw the two stars under the camouflage net on his helmet. I said “oops, sorry sir”, saluted and he said “that’s OK son, lousy day right” and he moved off.
This was Major General Gerhardt, commanding General of the 29th Infantry Division. We now were supporting his division with our guns. His division was one of the original divisions to attack on D Day in Normandy. Another night I was operating the telephone for #1 Gun. Why I don’t remember but anyway in the middle of the night I got a call that we would have a fire mission shortly and I had to wake up the gun crew. Got up, went down the ladder and what we did in daylight was to get down to the gun in the sand pit we would jump over the edge and slide down the some 40 feet to the bottom. This worked but this night I tripped at the top, went all the way down headfirst and was glad nobody was awake to see me. I was unhurt.
About this time we were issued canvas cots to sleep on as we were in houses most of the time now until to the end of the war. Gave them back upon leaving Nancy, France to head home. On December 16th the Germans hit the first army probably 25-30 miles south of us which was later to be known as the “Battle of the Bulge”. We were unsure what was coming. The usual passwords which were changed daily were stopped and questions about back home were asked
On December 21, 1944 we moved south to the northern edge of where the German Army had broken through to a town called Monschau. Upon arriving here we had to run the usual survey to set up the guns. We ran this from a pick up point through a field behind the town and across the main street to the guns and back to the initial point. We thought this was a good location as we had houses to stay in. It was very cold and the ground was frozen solid. There was snow around. Later some engineers came through and removed mines from the field we had walked through.
While in this area we decided to wash our own long johns (underwear) these were 100% wool and were really warm. They were two piece. The kitchen got different items in cans about 1 foot square and 2 feet high. We filled these three quarters with water, cut up soap and boiled the underwear in these tins for quite a while. Needless to say when we dried them they had shrunk to about half their size. But we stretched them out by putting them on - a little tight for a while but eventually loosened up.
On December 23rd some of us were told we were going to man 6 German 105 Howitzers up closer to the front. Of course, now our battalion had been given 18 of these guns and each battery had to supply the men to fire these. On December 24, 1944 we had cots and a house to stay in at this location we had to leave them and go out in the snow and into foxholes again. We were brought up to the new location. All of the trees on the road leading to this position had dynamite tied to them in case the Germans over ran the front in this position. This new location was surrounded by the German Army on three sides. We were shelled by the Germans every 4 hours exactly. The Germans had dug great two man foxholes here with sand bags and logs over them so in these we had a fair amount of protection. Many dead German soldiers all over the place. Over a stone wall in front of us in a mine field were probably 20 dead Germans. One was just a head but he still had his helmet on. One morning a German plane strafed the area. Another day a German Tiger Tank came down the road behind us, but we later found out it was being manned by American GI’s. One of the guys stepped on a mine here and lost a foot.
The weather had been bad, snow, rain and for the most part, the Air Force was grounded due to the weather which worked in favor of the German drive. But on Christmas Day the weather cleared and the sky was once again full of planes. This was the beginning of the end of the Battle of the Bulge. About a week or so later we moved to another position and put the six Germans guns in position again until the 16th of January 1945. This was a bad position, snow, sleeping in the middle of the Huertgen Forest. They did bring hot food up to us in metal containers. We stayed here until January 16, 1945. Another outfit took over the German guns.
We returned to Monschau. We continued firing into the Huertgen Forest and on Dams on the Siegfried line until January 29, 1945. On January 30, 1945 we left and returned north to a town called Puffendorf. This was in preparation for the crossing of the Roer River. A lot of “Buzz Bombs” flying over us headed for Belgium or England. On February 22, 1945 our artillery opened up in preparation for the crossing of the Roer River. Every gun opened up. This continued for four hours non stop. It was one of the heaviest barrages laid down by the army.
On February 27, 1945 we moved across the Roer River. The destruction on the other side of the River was tremendous and we traveled to Erkelenz where we had to go from house to house looking for hiding Germans. As we, the Advance Party, arrived here just behind the infantry and tanks. After going through the houses we were standing along the main street watching the German prisoners walking down this main street in sporadic single file. A U.S. Army Medic with all his red crosses on, a carbine over his shoulder, has a four foot square oil painting of Hitler laid down in the middle of the street and as each German came down the street he was making each one pee on the picture. Some just laughingly did it. Others balked but the medic jammed the rifle into their stomachs and they did it. Watching this I thought I’m glad it wasn’t me. I certainly would have got shot as I never could have done it. Few combat missions fired here as the front was moving to fast for us to keep up.
The next move March 5, 1945 took us to Utfort, Germany on the Rhine River which would be our last position before crossing the Rhine. We also had to go house to house looking for straggling Germans. It was in this position that Victor O. Jones of the Boston Globe showed up which resulted in the Globe’s story about me of March 14, 1945. Also at this position I got a call one day from Captain Kilpatrick who was now battalion executive officer. As the major had returned to the states. HE told me that one of the clerks in the battalion personnel section had volunteered for infantry officers candidate school and that I could have the job if I wanted it so I took it. The next day I went back a couple of miles to service battery who the headquarters’ personnel traveled with. Reported to Mr. Kenealy the warrant officer in charge of personnel. This turned out to be a soft job. No more orders, KP or Guard duty and everybody was congenial.
These were the guys I would be with until we were almost back to England; Mr. Kenealy, T/Sgt. Altshuld, Sgt. Helreigel, Pvt. Hageman and me Pvt. Bannister. The battery clerks were also part of this unit: HQ Cpl. Burriss, A Btry Cpl. Nelson, B Btry Cpl. Bass, C Btry Cpl. Wood & Service Btry Cpl. Benson. My duties in this section were to type up the morning reports and take care of the files. This was a box about 4 feet long. The morning reports took about an hour each day. Filed about 3 pieces of paper per day. You can see this was a very trying job. We really had it made.
The artillery shelling across the Rhine was tremendous. Never before had so many shells been fired in the history of the Battalion in any one day. The Rhine was crossed on March 23, 1945. The day of the jump across the Rhine, American troop carriers and airborn planes filled the sky in the largest airbourne operation ever seen.
On the first of April, 1945 our battalion crossed the Rhine to Bottrop where our combat positions continued. One of the batteries moved into a beer producing plant. The MP’s arrived the next day and made them leave. It was in Bottrop that the army put on the movie “Going my Way”. A bunch of us went to see it. Half way through they stopped the movie and announced that members of the 269th FA BN were to return to our outfit as we were moving immediately. I never did get to see the rest of the movie until many years later on television. We moved to Hontrop on April 13, 1945 where before the guns could be fired, the front had moved beyond our range. This was the town where just as we moved into the central square a German sniper was killed. It turned out to be a woman. Very little firing was done after this as the front was moving to fast. The Germans were surrendering in large numbers They did not want to be captured by the Russians.
On April 16, 1945 we left Honthrop and moved to Detmold, Germany the first day of a trip of over 250 miles. Sometime during this trip our column of guns and trucks was held up due to the appearance of 2 German tanks which delayed us about 2 hours until they were disposed of. That night we stayed in a huge courtyard with another field artillery outfit. It was here that I got 3 brand new German flags. The owner, a German, claimed "me Polski”. But anyway he was making German flags. Later on I gave two of the flags to the two lieutenants that flew our spotter planes. The next day we started traveling again and subsequently went through Minden and Hanover to the Braunschweig, Stuckenbruck Area. Stuckenbruck was merely a rendevous area as we did not put the guns into position. We were here on the 20th of April exactly one year from the day we landed in Scotland.
In all the almost ten months of combat we really only had one week of rest when we completed firing on Brest and moved to Rennes, France. Although there were many times you were in dangerous situations and scared stiff it never entered your thoughts of getting killed. It seems funny now that I look back on it but it just was that I guess that it always happened to the other guy and not to you.
We still couldn't write home about our whereabouts, but from here I casually mentioned "remember the hotel where Grandpa Bill used to give me peps when I was little." My mother didn't get it, but a girl I used to know was at the house and said what was the name of the hotel. My mother told her the Hotel Brunswick. She said "there, he is in Brunswick, Germany!
Eventually we got to the Magdeburg area and we were stationed in a small town of Klein Muhlingen on April 21, 1945. (Little did I realize that six years hence on this date would be my wedding day to Dottie Donovan who I didn’t meet until February 1946 after I was home almost 3 months) This town was on the Elbe River where we were to wait to meet up with the Russians. The Elbe is about 50 miles west of Berlin. We were in this location until the war ended on May 8, 1944. At this location we slept in a "hall like" building which was pretty good even the kitchen was set up in this building. We set up our office in a building that must have been a kindergarten. This was a very pleasant location. The weather was nice and of course it was a great relief that the war was over. It was also here that I needed a haircut. Joe Cacciatore, who cut some hair, said "why don't you get a whiffle"? and I did. Kept it very short until I got home. During this time (there was a railroad track through town) German prisoners were passing by. There must have been thousands of them standing up, packed in like toothpicks on the trains. Trucks full of prisoners also being brought to the rear. They were all fleeing the Russians to get to the American lines.
On May 9th, we moved back to Behnsdorf about 42 miles from Brunswick, Germany. Guns taken to 9th Army Proving Grounds at Hillersleben to be calibrated and turned in along with the prime movers that pulled the guns and the cranes that put the guns into position.
In Bensdorf we took over a lot of houses to stay in. It was in this house that I found sheets which I slept on all the way back to the states. This was an easy time, not too much to do. Everyone adding up his points to see how quick we will get discharged.
On June 3, 1945 we departed Behnsdorf on a two day trip south to Marbach, Germany near Stutgart. On the night of June 3rd, we stayed in a pasture outside of Oberhof. This was a beautiful area. The next day we arrived at Marbach and a few surrounding towns in which our batteries were quartered. This was sort of occupation duty.
We took over for the Headquarters Group a beautiful doctor's house which was surrounded by a high fence and about 20 of us lived in this house until July 2, 1945. During this time I was able to apply to OCS and spent one day going in an army ambulance to an army hospital about 40 miles away for a complete physical, which I passed. Sgt. Logan (the Colonel's clerk) and I occupied a large room with twin beds and private toilet. Not much work, was kind of a lazy time. Charlie Helriegel (Sgt) found public baths in the center of town. What Charlie thought was great was that, if asked, a woman would come in and wash his back..This was made up of many private rooms with a bathtub, hot water, and could be used for, I think, 10 marks (about $0.25). This was the first bathtub I was in since I left home. We were also now starting to transfer men in and in and out according to their point scores. This made additional work for me issuing the orders.
One day about 2:00 in the afternoon Benson the Service Battery clerk asked me to take his guard post for about twenty minutes, which I did. One of the privates in Headquarters Battery staggered past me (drunk) and continued on down the street. He approached an elderly German man walking towards him and punched him in the face, breaking his glasses. Suter, the private continued on his way. The German walked past me and disappeared up the street. The next thing I knew, somebody told me that Captain Quackenbush was looking for me. I went to the Battery command post and (the Duck) Captain Quackenbush had the German with him and a Corporal who incidentally was a friend of Suters, who had punched the German. This Suter was a mean individual particularly when he was drunk. Word had it that he had killed an Englishman the day before we had left Packington Park, England over a girl. The Captain asked me who had hit the German and as I had the guard post at the time of the incident I was obliged to identify him. To be honest I was afraid of what this guy might do, but as the Captain said he would assemble the whole Battery if I didn’t identify him, I told him who had hit the German. Surprisingly, this guy was as nice to me from that time until he was transferred to another outfit to go home some time in the following August. I often think that he must have ended up in jail sometime after he got back to civilian life. He really was a bad actor particularly when he was drunk.
On July 2, 1945 we left Marbach and traveled through Heilbrunn (completely destroyed from one end to the other, from allied bombing), then through Heidleburg, a beautiful City on a river, then Saarguenines, Germany which I don't remember. We then crossed the German-French border and arrived at a Bivouac area where we stayed overnight at in large tents.
The Battalion was assigned to pick up wire that had been laid down by the army units during combat. This encompassed a 20,000 square mile area between Nancy, France and the Swiss border. One battery was stationed in Mulhouse on the Swiss border.
Our Headquarters Group was quartered in a four story apartment house just off the main square of Nancy. I had my own room on the 5th floor (attic), this was great. We had our personnel office on the first floor. We didn't even have to eat at our own battery which was about five miles away. The army had established "transit messes" throughout Europe and one was about a ten minute walk so we ate there and the food was pretty good (I could have been getting used to it). We use to get a haircut at a French barber shop about a 20 minute walk. I use to work in the morning (9 a.m.-12 noon), go to lunch, come back, have nap, read until 5:00 p.m. and go to eat again (tough life)! The weather was great all summer. A lot of transfers in and out. It was during this time that the final papers were to be put through for two of us to go to OCS but by the time it was completed, Japan surrendered so we cancelled out.
Shortly after we arrived in Nancy, orders came out that one man per month could be given a one week furlough to Switzerland. In Mulhouse, France The Captain of one of our batteries (Mulhouse was the army's facility processing the furloughs) told the Colonel that he could send four men a week and get away with it. The next week the Colonel, Mr. Kenealy and 2 sargeants went. No problems. A week after Staff Sargent Kimball and I went. A 3/4 ton truck took us to Mulhouse where we stayed that night. The next day we boarded an old beat up French train into Switzerland (Basel), changed to a Swiss train like going from night to day, even though we traveled 3rd class it was pretty good. Just think, this week cost $39.00 for transportation, 3 meals a day (these meals were in the hotels so they were good), and 7 nights in hotels. We could only take $39.00 to spend. I still have these items in my home.
From Basel the train went to Geneva where we stayed 2 nights, walked around, saw Mt. Blanc in distance-went through the League of Nations Buildings and just enjoyed walking, going into shops, and sightseeing. Went to nightclub in Geneva. Singer sounded just like Bing Crosby-except he sang in French. Next went to Lausanne and stayed in Montreau. Went through Chillon Castle on Lake Geneva and went to nightclub in Montreau. Beautiful building, all marble, little kids there with parents. Between 8:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. drank 15 Cherry Brandies. Never drank before in my life. Never affected me at all. Dick Kimball made me walk straight line coming out in the marble foyer. I could. Felt fine. Got up next morning, no ill effects. Went from there to Lucerne. On one of the train trips went through the Rhone Valley.
Just beautiful. When we got to Lucerne we had to take a lake steamer about 6 miles to Weggis where we stayed three nights. This was a beautiful guest house right on Lake Lucerne. We ate on the porch overlooking the Lake. We spent the two days walking and shopping Lucerne. I bought my mother a music box, a crucifix, a pair of earrings a scarf and a cuckoo clock. I blew my $39.00 in Lucerne. One day late in the afternoon we went to this very nice bar -first time I had everseen a girl bartender.
Next we went through Bern and I think we stopped for three hours. We walked around. Three teenagers asked us to let them buy us a beer. They wished to talk. They spoke excellent English, but they were interested in learning the English slang. From Bern we went back to Basel changed trains and went back to Mulhouse where we were picked up and went back to Nancy, France. Went to Paris for a weekend. Stayed in hotel run by army. Visited Napoleon's Tomb, Notre Dame Cathedral, Eiffel Tower, rode on subway and went to Mass Sunday morning in Cathedral (Madeleine). Went back to Nancy, France.
Finally, orders came and we left Nancy, France on October 24, 1945 (my 21st birthday). Drove, in convoy, to Camp Baltimore near Reims, Frances. Most of our guys had been transferred out. There were only a few of us left that came overseas with the Battalion. On November 11, 1945, we left Camp Baltimore by train at 4:00 a.m. Stopped for lunch at a mess hall set up by tracks. Sat at table with three lieutenants on my side. All I had on was unmarked OD's. Three sargents (two First and one Master) sat down across from us. They sir'd me through the meal! After the meal, the sargents left and the lieutenant sitting beside me asked "What is your rank"? I said I was a Corporal. He got a big kick out of it. Rank had really lost its importance. We arrived at Camp Philip Morris in the middle of the night. Picked up at station and driven on flat bed trucks to camp (large tents).
On November 15, 1945 we left Philip Morris at 2:00 a.m. and went by trucks to LeHarve. As we walked carrying our duffle down the dock the gangplank looked about 100 feet high. Anyway, we boarded the French ship "Marshall Joffre". Left LeHarve at 1:00 p.m. arriving at Southhampton, England. On November 16, 1945 at 12:30 a.m. we boarded a train and arrived at Tidworth, a British army camp at 2:30 AM.. We were quartered here in brick barracks until November 20th. These were fairly good quarters, food was good. Got a haircut by a German prisoner. The army had set up a large shop with about 20 barbers (prisoners). Could have gone to London (80 miles) but was afraid I'd miss the ship. Sent telegram home from here.
On November 20, 1945 we left Tidworth at 7:30 a.m. and took a train to Southhampton and boarded the "Queen Mary". At 10:30 a.m. Battalion was given KP on ship for entire trip. I think we left the next morning. After KP and breakfast that morning I went up on deck and watched as we passed landsend. Got out of KP the rest of trip because I told the personnel Lieutenant that I wouldn't do the morning reports if I had to do KP. He got me off.Slept in cabin with one other guy on this crossing. Very rough trip. The second day out nobody ate breakfast on whole ship except about fifty of us. I think there were about 15,000 troops on board. I ate that morning went up on deck and watched the Queen almost bury its bow in the waves. For some strange reason I did not get sick. The Secretary of Labor, Mrs. Perkins was on board. I saw her once.
About the third day out, the sea smoothed out somewhat and the rest of the trip was uneventful. Oh yes, we had departed on Thanksgiving Day, had frankforts and sauerkraut for dinner. Woke up November 27, 1945, ate breakfast, went on deck about 9:00 a.m. and we were sailing just off the coast of Long Island, New York. Seemed we were moving slow. Incidentally, six hours after we left Southhampton, the aircraft carrier Enterprise (also carrying troops) crossed and beat us (the Queen Mary) to New York. The "Queen's" crew was not too happy about that. It was so good to see the Statue of Liberty. We docked at Pier 90 about 12:00 noon. The same pier we had left on April 20, 1944. Spent most of the afternoon on deck watching the troops disembark and looking at the New York skyline. Other ships docked near Pier 90 were: The Ile De France, The Bremen (captured from Germany), and The Normandie (later burned).
We finally disembarked at 8:00 p.m. On the dock was a band and we were given coffee and doughnuts by the Salvation Army, I think. We then boarded a ferry to cross the Hudson River and we were put on a train to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. Arriving there at 10:30 p.m. Assigned barracks, were fed, and went to bed around 2:00 a.m. The next day, November 28th getting ready to go to our respective separation centers. Went to phone and called home. Jim League called home to South Carolina, talked to his mother, hung up at the end and said to me "man she sounds funny". "See," I said "now you're talking like a Yankee"!
On November 30, 1945 we left Kilmer for Ft. Devens. Boarded the train about noon and thought we would get there by 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.but guess what, the train crawled all night long and got to Devens at 8:00 a.m. the next morning December 1, 1945. We were delayed becuse they didnt have any barracks to house us in until that morning.
Papers processed on December 1, 1945, got shots, called home to my mother. Had to wait until morning of December 3, 1945 to be discharged. Took train at 10:30 a.m. from Ayer arriving at about 11:30 a.m. I was met by my mother and father. I had been away about 21 or 22 months since my furlough in march of 1944. My mother wondered where my clothes were as I only had a small hand held bag. Some other GI's had their full duffle bag, I told her I threw them all away. Now I wish that I had kept some of the clothes.
Fort Devens: October 25, 1943 - November 3, 1943
North Camp Hood: November 5, 1943 - March 1, 1944, Co.C 138, Tank Destroyer Replacement Training Center
Fort Bragg, NC:March 5, 1944 - April 10, 1944, 269th FA BN
ETO: April 3, 1944 - November 21, 1944, 269th FA BM
November 21, 1944 departed Southhampton
Arrived New York November 27, 1945
Discharged December 3, 1945 Fort Devens.
When I left for the army in 1943, I didn't know it at the time, but my mother promised the Virgin Mary that she would say the Rosary each day for the rest of her life if I could be safe and return home at the end of the war. She did this until she was unable to when she passed away on December 14, 1948 at the age of 50.
William F. Bannister