FINAL DAYS OF THE WAR
There were so many things happening. I can't even remember half of them. Some were pretty weird and some were serious. It was about this time that we took over the city of Verviers. When we got into the town square there was a motorcycle lying in the street. It was an American Harley Davison motorcycle. But it had German camouflage paint on it. They had overrun a British area and acquired this motorcycle. Well, anytime you find anything like that you worry for fear that it might be booby trapped. I went over and looked at it and kicked it a little bit, and raised it up and sat on it. I kicked the starter and it started right up. So I rode that thing for about six months. We used it as a liaison between the front and the rear of the column while on the move. Sometimes our columns were a mile long.
I put a windshield on it. My daughter Marian was born while I was gone. I hadn't seen here but we called her Mimi. I put "Mimi of Seattle" on the windshield.
The city of Verviers was bombed by American Planes when the American troops were all ready there. The servicemen mistook it for some other place they were supposed to hit. It only took them eighteen seconds. They knocked out all the power plants.
There was an old couple we got acquainted with that had two daughters. One of the daughters had been hit by a buzz bomb and part of her skull had been removed but she was young and she was still able to work in an office and do office work. I had Willie weld rod on top of the windshield on the jeep, to be used as a handle to grasp onto when you were standing. This way you could see whether the tanks were following you or not. We had a 30 caliber swivel mounted gun on the right side of the windshield and we had a 50 caliber mounted on the floor pan in the back. We were not allowed to use the jeep tops or put our tops up no matter how much it was raining because orders came down that in case of an aerial fight we couldn't come out of there fighting with the top up. We had to be able to see regardless. We never used the tops.
The Battle of the Bulge was in full swing. We weren't aware of what was happening except for "Axis Sally" the propaganda queen on the radio. She was telling us why didn't we give up because we had lost so many tanks today and so many tanks yesterday and we might as well give up and go home. I was in a little foxhole one day and things were a little rough and a guy came running up with a letter and handed it to me and ran away. I opened it up and it was from my brother Lyle. It said "Dear Don, boy this is the life. Am living in the royal Hawaiian Hotel swimming at Waikiki twice a day." I didn't think anybody could be living like that. It was just impossible. I think about 30 days later I got a letter that said "Dear Don. How are things going with you. Well, things are a little rougher over here " And that is all it said. That is how I knew things had changed considerably for Lyle by that time.
I think I first realized that the tide of the war was turning was when I came along on a section of road where giant howitzers were dug in. There was one about every twenty feet for a mile and a half. When one of them would fire it would blow you up off the seat of a jeep. I had decided then that things were about to change as far as the battle was concerned and for the better..
We came along where a column of trucks full of dead German soldiers were sitting bumper to bumper, burned out apparently hit by air strafes. The gooks trucks were in a line for distance of a mile and a half up over a hill. I was getting used to seeing dead people and congratulating everybody everytime we saw a dead German. We felt good about it because they were the enemy and if we didn't kill them they would kill us.
I was told to get my driver Willy and go up to the Rhine river to the town of Remagen. About two miles north was a little suburb called Dottindorf. We were supposed to go up there with the idea of holding the area, until our company could move up. The high cliffs on each side of the Rhine River were occupied by German troops. During the daytime they would look through binoculars over the activity on the west side of the Rhine.
Willie and I found a Ford factory in Dottindorf where there were 300 new Fords and some new Mercury's fully assembled with brand new "made in America" white sidewall tires. We hadn't been around a civilian car for almost two years. It was quite a thrill. We broke into the office, broke open the safe and there were hundreds of thousands of Deutschmarks. Of course we were told they were not good because we were to use invasion currency. Willy and I both stuck about four hundred thousand Deutschmarks in our pocket. We still used it when we went into civilian places. We got in one of these sedans and drove up the Rhine river. For about three days in the afternoon we cruised up and down Remagen. At night we had their artillery coming into our area and that was where we first head the "screaming mimi" which almost caused us to have a heart attack. After three days the company came up. They said "Lieutenant, your due for a 72 hours pass to Paris and we are going to have you take about thirty-six boys and go down there and I said "I am ready". I took one of the best sedans out of that factory and hid it behind our CP. I figured we would keep that in the company.
Willy and I and thirty-six others hopped on a train and went to Paris. I told you I had been in Paris previously while it was still occupied by the Germans when we were down south in Fountainbleau by Napoleons castle. Well this time we arrived at the Gare Du Nord which is a north railroad depot and the boys already had their billets given out. They knew where they were gong to stay and all officers were going to stay in a hotel.
I went to my hotel and of course it was really plush. It was strictly nice by Parisian standards. We were invited to go to our rooms and clean up. We had individual rooms. They said that dinner would be served at 7 o'clock in the evening. We went down to this lovely big room where they had potted palms sitting around and about a thirty-six piece orchestra playing in the corner and all of these beautiful tables with all the silverware and everything. Of course I sat down at a table and became acquainted with three other officers. Our dinner lasted for 2 1/2 hours. It was absolutely the finest meal I have ever had. They had about seven different kinds of wine and all kinds of French dishes. Finally dinner was over. Some of us went out in the lobby. I had by this time gotten acquainted with a captain from Florida, I believe and a First Lieutenant from Oklahoma. The lieutenant says "What are you going to do?" I thought I'd take a walk and the Captain says "This is an opportunity. I am going out to Pigalle. You now we call it Pig Alley. I decided to go to Pigalle too. The Captain says "It is just exactly what it sounds like. I said "I don't know where it is?" So the three of us decided that is where we are going to go. Apparently the captain had been there before because he said "We have got to get on the metro. The Metro was the underground. Of course it was one of the finest underground arrangements I have ever heard of . It had about seven different levels. It was very clean and sanitary. All the rooms underground were done in white ceramic tiles. You could be in any part of Paris in about five minutes. You may have to take three different levels in three different directions. Anyway we came up out of the underground. This was supposed to be Piggalle. We were met right away by two French girls who walked right up against us and said "you sleep with me tonight, baby." And the old Captain says "Nah, I think I'd look around a little bit." Well this is a new experience for me. I am not used to that sort of thing. The Captain said "Well, you guys go by yourself. I am going by myself. You guys do what you want to do." So we lost him and we wandered around and there were a lot of night spots. Finally we decided we would go in a big place called the Bal Tabarin. It was a place kind of like a big saloon where we sat down and had some drinks. Both of us decided we had to go to the bathroom. We went down a beautiful wide staircase with red carpet going downstairs with chrome banisters. It looked like something that might have been on the Queen Mary or over in Windsor Castle. At the bottom was a cute little usherette type French doll sitting there with her cute little outfit on. On the wall in French it says that the men turn to the left and the ladies turn to the right and there is a little box that says to put in ten centimes. So you drop ten centimes in the box. We only took about four steps and there was a slate wall that had a trough with water running down it. Well it was kind of embarrassing you know because the little girl, the money taker, was sitting right behind you. The ladies rooms wasn't any further on the other side. Well the French look at things like that a little differently. The fact is after you have been there a little while you get used to it. Then we went back upstairs and the show was continuous. Thirty six lovely females in a musical. It lasted about an hour and the grand finale was they all wound up naked.. It had gotten a little late and I decided that two o'clock in the morning was late enough for me. My buddy said he was going to look around a little bit. I was going to get the Metro to go back but it was too late. The Metro stopped at one in the morning. So then I looked for a taxicab. The only thing available was a bicycle cab. A tricycle bicycle with a little top and the guy pedaled. They wouldn't talk to me. The only thing they would do it for was two cartons of cigarettes. Well I didn't happen to have two cartons of cigarettes. I told them I would get them. when I got back to the hotel. Well, no he had to have them now. I had a red cross map. I started walking and every time I came under a lighted lamp post I'd look at the map and try to figure out where I was. Finally I got back to the hotel at four in the morning. The next day I went to the Louvre and to the Notre Dame Cathedral. I also went to Napoleon's tomb and down on the Seine River. I sat down on a park bench and immediately a lady came over. She has a coin machine hanging on to her middle like an old street car conductor. She wanted ten centimes for sitting on a park bench. I gave her the ten centimes and by the way, I still have the receipt. Some people don't believe that but I have the proof. I also went up in the Eiffel Tower and visited a couple other museums. I even went to Harrys New York Bar. By this time two more days had gone by. Furlough or leave was up. I had told the men I would meet them at the Gare Du Nord at a certain time. I got there at the time agreed upon and counted noses. There were three men missing. Pretty soon it was time to board the train to go North. We boarded the train and the three were still missing. Funny part of it was by the time we got back up to where the train ride ended the three boys were on the train. They were all there.
Occasionally we would have reserves fresh from the states come up to fill in vacancies in the infantry, artillery, tank outfits, ;or whatever their specialties were. Sometimes when one of them thought he was about to go into combat he would put the end of his rifle barrel in the top of his G. I. boot and pull the trigger. This would make him unfit for service as it destroyed the foot arch. He would then be evacuated from one hospital to the next until he would arrive back in the states. It would be the duty of an assigned officer to make a full report of the incident including a personal interview with the G. I. involved. The last one I had was evacuated from hospital to hospital so fast I never did catch up with him. I went back as far as Verviers, but he was already in England by that time.
Another incident was when Willie and I were leading 12 tanks along a narrow dusty road and there was a general with his driver trying to pass our column. We didn't know he was back there and there was no way that the road was wide enough to accommodate him. We finally had to make a halt. He drove up with his face full of dust and made certain that I was in charge and threatened me with a court martial. I made no remarks.
One other time I was with three tanks in some woods that were full of Germans. We were very tired and I told the guys to park their rigs, close the hatch covers and rest inside their vehicles. One of the men hooked up a trip wire to a couple of flares which surrounded the perimeter of the area where we were parked. He didn't tell everyone. One member, who had to relieve himself, crawled out of the tank and immediately tripped on the wire sending two lighted flares way up in the air and Schmeiser machine gun fire started coming in from all sides. The flares produced a light that seemed brighter than day. I am sure he relieved himself but not the way he liked. After the flares went out he got back in his tank. When daylight came we decided to fire one of the tank guns into the woods. We fired, but the round stuck halfway out the 75 mm tube. We didn't know what to do with such a serious situation. About this time our artillery officer caught up with us and we explained our problem. He said, "Here is what we will do. We will put in a round of H. E. and we will find out if there are any Heinies in the woods." We asked him if the gun tube wouldn't burst with a round already stuck in the middle, but he said, "No." When the tank crew was ready to fire the rest of us went a distance away. They fired and both rounds ejected with a big explosion in the woods. Immediately there were hundreds of Germans coming out of the woods with their hands in the air. We just pointed for them to go down the road.
Every company had some mess trucks that would stop, when possible for the cooks to make hot food instead of K-Rations. Our #1 mess truck had found a big 6 x 10 hardboard map of Europa. Whenever a stop was made they would lean the board against the truck. They had pins stuck in the map showing the eastern front and the western front which they updated each day. Anyway on this particular day a very old little stooped lady with a crooked stick, stopped in front of the map. In order to see she almost rubbed her nose on the map. She said, "Das iss alles propoganda!"
Shortly after the bulge, we ran into some storage cellars for V-1 Buzz Bomb Juice which was pure alcohol. It was kept in large glass jugs about four feet high and the two and a half in diameter. The bottom half was protected by a tightly woven reed basket which adhered to the jug. A 6 x 6 t5ruck could haul just about six of eight of these. We usually had two trucks of Buzz Bomb Juice traveling with the mess trucks. If we had evening chow, orders were given that each man should receive one to two inches of Buzz Bomb Juice in his tincup. Invariably, George would say to Jack, "Here, you can have mine. I don't care for it." Walt, Hank, Al, etc. would say the same thing to Jack. Inside of twenty minutes Jack would be lying on the ground, singing songs, and feeling no pain.
The Rumagen bridge was shot up and finally collapsed and we built a pontoon bridge across to the other side. We started moving real fast and Hitler was complaining over the radio that we were sight seeing in our tanks and driving two hundred miles a day. I remember we went by quite a few old castles on the east side of the Rhine up on the high plateau. We went in a lot of them. A lot of the infantry boys demolished what was left.. Only thing about it was there were a lot of booby traps. In particular all the pictures hanging on the wall had booby traps behind them. The Germans had defecated in a little pan, put it behind the picture and when you touched it, it would blow human excrement at you. I remember one place where there was a garden and there were a lot of green onions growing. Of course we hadn't eaten anything fresh for a long time. We were living off of K rations and a couple of boys in this one place saw these onions, and went in there to get them. The Germans rigged up a trip wire around the garden and so we were pretty careful. I remember I would have given $500 for a green onion. I just had a craving for something fresh. We got in an area, I think it was called Geisen. We still had this sedan that I had confiscated from Dottendorf and the mud was deep from all these tanks. We were just kind of regrouping so we could move on. One of the majors, Major Anderson, came over and said, "Say, you know that sedan you've got here?" "yeah, what about it?" We can't keep it. He says "I want you to take a tank, drive over it, do away with it and smash it." I said , "Wait a minute, it is a brand new car." He said "you heard me-that is an order, do it." I went to one of the tank drivers and told him what I wanted. I said "See that little stunted tree down there. I am going to take that Sedan down there and I want you to drive over it with that Ford tank." He replied "What is the matter with you, are you crazy?!" "No," I said "that is an order." He made two passes at it and it wasn't anything more than two feet high. It really hurt me to see this happen. About that time we found a little convertible-a turquoise convertible made by General Motors and we also found a Tatra made in Checkoslovakia. I would say that car was ahead of its time. It was perfectly streamlined. It looked like a dirigible. It had a stationary rudder on the back, automatic transmission and it had an air cooled V-8 in the back. We took a ride in it and it was really a pleasure. It made no noise and it glided over the bumps. We had just come back from taking a ride in it when the General came by. " I need a couple of your men to take that over to my headquarters." He also took the little Opal convertible and that was the last we saw of that. We were still wandering around in the mud. A guy walked in the area having come by with a driver in a jeep. It was Lyle's wifes uncle who was a representative of Ford Motor Company out of Chicago and Detroit. He was over there to see that we weren't having any trouble with our new Ford tanks which we got after the war was just about over. I had quite a visit with him. His name was Mr. Bjelland. He was sick and tired of this war and said he was going to go back to Paris and tell the General that he wanted to go back to the states! It was crazy but you know he could do that . That is exactly what he did. After he saw us he went back to Paris and told the General he was ready to go home-so he went home. We started moving and then we got involved in what was known as the Ruhr pocket. The Ruhr pocket was north of where the Battle of the Bulge was in an industrial area of East Dusseldorf. As a matter of fact it was the home area of the Krupt munitions works which was two hundred years old. Anyway we finally wound that thing up. When the Germans surrendered, we asked one of the Generals if he had any remarks before he went to the POW camp. He said yes, he had one request. He would just like to see our artillery because he had never run up against a bombardment like that in his life. We showed him that all it was, was dug in tanks right next to one another for about ten miles. He just couldn't believe it because you know they were short on vehicles, they were running out of gas, they were running out of food. Wherever they had a tank or a gun, they only had one, where we had fifty, one right behind the other. If one got shot up we just sent another one up and kept going. Then we started moving toward the Baltic. The war was about ended. Everybody was dreaming about going to Berlin. We were told at one time we were going and then somebody else was told they were going. We got up to the Elbe River. Willy and I were driving along in a jeep and we were not just sure where the German army was or what was going on and I had a radio in my lap, a portable radio, and some German announcer in Hamburg was really ranting and raving in German and all of a sudden there was silence for about half a minute. Then somebody says " this is BBC". The British have just taken over the town and the radio station. Well, we were overrunning Germany by this time. The only place the German's had left to park some of their fighter planes were along the highways. They chopped out some trees and made little stalls on both sides of the highway and also some for their trucks. We finally were coming along up by the Elbe river where there were a lot of planes and trucks on both sides of the highway which they had set on fire. Most of their messersmith fighters were made of lots of Magnesium. Magnesium engines and fuselage burn real well. There is nothing left but an ash.. One of the things was they didn't have an assembly line as such for anything. Every truck they made was different than the one before. We came in there so fast there were trains sitting on the side loaded with no where to go. They tried to destroy some, and they tried pouring sand down the cylinders. They put sugar in the carburetors but we moved so fast they didn't get very many of them. We rounded up everything we could. By this time we were in Braunschweig. Then we went a little farther to a town by the name of Schwerin where we met the Russians. I had these tank retrievers. I think I was down to about five of them with crews for each one and there was no room in the town for them because the Russians were in there having a giant party, just like Disneyland. We were hugging them, they were hugging us, and they had Vodka. We were offering one another drinks. We couldn't speak their language, they couldn't speak ours. The boys with the Retrievers didn't have any place to park them so I told them to park out by the city reservoir. Everytime we took a town from the Germans we always asked them where the towns liquor supply was. In Schwerin the boys had asked the Burghermeister where the towns liquor supply was and he said "well, your infantry took it all". Anyway the boys are parked out around the reservoir and it was a nice warm day in May. I don't know what the temperature was. Maybe it was about 65 degrees. They were sunning themselves with nothing to do for a while. One of them decided he was going to take a swim, so he stripped off on the trailer and dove in and comes right out of the water yelling and holding up a bottle. He had found the towns liquor supply. Anyway about fifteen minutes after that the Burghermister heard about it and came out with orders to stop us because it belonged to the city. Of course we just laughed at him. I became acquainted with one Russian Major. I learned one word in Russian and that was Tovarich which means Comrade. So for the next few days we went exploring especially in those trains that are sitting on the tracks. I remember we broke one boxcar open and it was full of table radios, and telephones. Another car was full of leather briefcases. You didn't know what you were going to find. We were staying on a big estate that belonged to a former Prussian officer (an old timer), one of the real German Prussians. He welcomed us to his big estate. It had many buildings and lots of acreage. The place had not been damaged at all. He wore leather puttees and had a mustache. He was a real "died in the wool" military man. He was a very kind to us. He said he was glad to see us. So for about three days we were there. Everytime we stopped we had to censor the enlisted mans mail which was something I hated very much. I remember one letter. This boy had taken some teletype paper. It is an endless sheet of paper like toilet paper. It is a little wider of course and finer but he was writing to his girlfriend in Santa Monica California and he kept reminding her of all the good times they had when they were on the beach and how they hugged one another and all this and that. The letter was a sheet of paper about 14' long, written in longhand and he had counted the words after he got through. I think it had 8065 words. Well that is great. He was such a great lover we found him out behind a straw pile with a German Fraulein the next day. I always remember that. You couldn't believe anything anymore. At this particular time we had three PW camps of Germans. About 80,000 in each F.D.R. had been dead about twelve days.
There was no more chasing the Germans. They have given up. Funny part of it was, for a while there we were losing a lot of our men at night, due to fights amongst themselves. Lots of the old time "died in the wool" Germans would invite the GI's in for Snapps. I remember one night we had two MP's that went out on their motorcycles and they came back and crawled in the sack and in the morning they were dead. They had some kind of poisonous Snapps in town. We had to keep the men active because we were all planning on going to Japan. That was the deal, and we came out with what was known as the information and education program or the I & E program. It got to be my job to lecture twice a day to usually about three hundred man at a time. It might be in a house, it might be in a schoolhouse or it might be in a drill hall. The idea was to keep them occupied and my job was to tell them about the I & E program before we jumped off for Japan. It was probably one of the hardest jobs I ever had because when you are speaking to three hundred men and they have their jaws stuck out. They are looking pretty serious and they are thinking when are they going to get to go home. You had to tell them all about the I & E program. Well in order to keep the officers occupied we had a combat training school which we all had to attend. That lasted two weeks and then we had to get all of our equipment ready to turn in. We had two Negro trucking outfits attached to us and they had just gotten back from taking two thousand GI's to Checkoslovakia. All their 6 x 6's trucks were back and the general grounded every one of them. He said not another one of these vehicles would move until they had some service. The colonel told me that I had to get two black out tents and six mechanics with all their tools and go down to one of the trucking areas to set up the tents and start servicing these vehicles so we could turn them in. We should do this on a twenty four hour basis. In other words we have one crew working for twelve hours and another crew taking over the next twelve hours. Well I got to the area and I was looking for somebody to talk to. Finally I got a hold of big motor sergeant-a black boy. He was about 6' 6". I told him who I was and why I was there. I told him that the general said there would be no more vehicles moved until they were serviced. He said something to the effect that he didn't know about that. I said, "They are worn out." He said truck #13 had head trouble! We got our tents set up, started our operation and found out there was hardly anything left of the trucks. The tires were shot, the brakes were shot. The transfer cases were worn out. The engines were using oil, leaking and I almost felt like telling the general we should drive them into the Baltic Sea and forget it. We worked on those and finally got some others to help us. Then we moved to a fairly big city by the name of Kothen. They had an air base something like Boeing Field. Here they had all kinds of B17's that had been shot up and that they were checking over and dismantling and then putting them together. They had two or three ready to roll. They had taken parts off of different planes and made new planes out of them. This was in the zone the Russians were supposed to take over cause we went too far too fast according to Churchill's agreement with Roosevelt and Stalin. So we were in Kothen about a week when we moved south to the city of Halle. The Godfried Linder Fabricken factory complex was located here. It was like a Boeing Plant Two or bigger where they built aircraft, guns, and streamlined aluminum trains. This is where we started reconditioning our other vehicles. They entered one end and came out just like new on the other end. We had three paint spray booths. We were using glycerin to thin the paint. We hired the German civilians. We paid them $.35 an hour and all the chocolate candy, beer and food they could consume. This was on a twenty four hour basis. One midnight one of the messengers came forward and said that the whole line had stopped because the painters walked off the job. They couldn't take it anymore. They had masks on but if you have ever painted in an enclosure that is locked up with glycerin for a thinner you don't last very long. We found out that the factory had a garage with twelve black Mercedes sedans sitting in it. One of the lieutenants working with me from Los Angeles ( his name was Caveleros) went over and broke a lock and got one of the sedans out and we went on a ride to Leipsig. We came back and went to bed that evening and the next morning one of the old directors wanted to talk to us. He said "you people took one of the company sedans out. You can't do that. They are the property of the factory." And Calvedos (Caveleros' nickname) looked at him and said "look if you don't like it we will take all the sedans and turn them over to the doctor in Halle who needs the transportation." That cooled him off real fast and he didn't say anything more. He didn't like it.
As we were in the area that the Russians would soon take over we knew we would be moving. When we had left Kothen to take over this factory, which was part of the town of Merseberg, we had just gone to the nicest area of homes, told the people to move out, and we moved in. I picked a nice townhouse for my group. There was an elderly couple living in the unit I wanted. The lady was an image of my Grandma Hansen. I told them I wanted them out of there right away. She wanted to know how much time they had and I told her, "Exactly fifteen minutes!: She started to cry and wanted to know if I had a family. I told her I had a wife and a baby girl. She turned to her husband and said, "See Papa, how terrible war is." Orders came down for "Calvedos" and I to take some troops to another area by air as it was some distance away. We were to gather at a makeshift air strip just outside the city of Halle which was a fair sized city. A major was awaiting us and there were tow C-47's over in the corner. The Major asked for a show of hands from those who were familiar with and had flown C-47ll's. There were some airforce men in the group and five hands went up. Major pointed and said, "You and you take plane #1 and you and you take #2." He told the rest of us to get in-load up. There seemed to be very little pre-flight checking. They got the engines going and we took off. Well, we made the trip without mishap.
We were continually being asked by the civilians as to when the Russians would be taking over. We would tell them that we didn't know. They would say, "You, Ober-Lieutenant. You know. Ya wol!: About three days before the Russians took over and we pulled back, the ladies were busy sewing making Russian Flags.
Quite a few Russian soldiers were from Mongolia and seemed to have little respect for one another or material things. They would flip a vehicle for shelter, used vehicle fuel to start fires or even their own flags. Every German house or apartment that I was in that had been occupied by Russians more than a few days always had a pile of rotten potatoes in a corner of the floor. This was about the time I noticed metal rollshutters on the outside of windows controlled from the inside. A lot of places had the shutters blown to pieces with the glass still intact.
We now received orders to pull back to a very small farm town by the name of Hirschlanden. We moved into some old buildings and barns causing its citizens to double up. Here I got a bad case of Diarrhea. For a week I was in bed drinking Pepto-bismal or running to the toilet. We interviewed each and every citizen including children and issued them ID cards. Word came from our intelligence that there was an SS Storm Trooper in our little village and that he should be caught immediately. We were given his identification and his mothers name. One morning at 4:30 AM we had an infantry battalion approach the town from all four sides. They routed everyone out of bed to check I.D.'s. He was not present. That evening we had four men approach the mother's cottage-two at the front and two in the back. The mother came to the front door and stated that she did have a son "Wolfgang," but on account of the war she had no idea where he might be. While she was at the front the two in back came in. They found a door in the floor under a carpet and yanked it open. There was Wolfgang crouching in a basket in a hollowed out place in the ground underneath the house. Both the son and the mother were taken away by the M.P.'s. Before they left the mother kept saying she would pay whatever amount if we would leave them alone.
There was a farmer that hauled cow urine in an old barrel type wagon that leaked with a team of a cow and a horse. Anytime he was on his way out to the field and a tank passed him, throwing dust in his face and frightening his team, he would shake his fist and yell, "Swine!" So, one day we had a detail clean off a small area in the middle of town. They smoothed it off with gravel, put up a big flag pole, and installed a US Flag. Then we called the farmer into the CP and informed him that from now on whenever he came by the flag, he would remove his hat as he went by. He was very angry. From then on he chose a different route, but we did not hear anymore "schwein" calling.
One of our men came in the CP one day and announced that there was a dead man in the third house down. We all rushed over there. There were two elderly ladies with fifteen eight to twelve year olds living there. We climbed up a ladder to the loft where a bearded old gentleman with a cloth sack over his head had been lying dead for several weeks. We asked, "What is the meaning of this?" The two ladies said that it was Grandpa and that they just hadn't gotten around to burying him yet. We told them that if they didn't see that he was buried with in the hour, we would! In approximately forty-five minutes a funeral possession came by with a coffin in the lead and every member of town including babies walking to the cemetery.
The Burgermeister of Hirschlanden had a twenty-three year old son that was driving one or another of two cars in and out of the village during the day with his girlfriend. As there was no gas available for the civilian populace, we wondered where he was getting it. We nabbed his cute little girl friend and brought her in the CP for questioning as we had been unable to catch him. We asked her where the gas came from, but she just played dumb and would always say, "Nix forstan." Finally, we were able to get him in the CP. He was an expert liar and gave us a different answer each time we asked. One of our tank commanders was in the room listening and said, "Let me have him. I'll get him to talk." Finally, it was stated that one of the Staff Sergeants was trading our gas for Snapps. Our Staff Sergeant was rounded up and he admitted his mistake. For punishment he was ordered to pitch his shelter half in the street and sleep in it for two weeks.
All those little kids living in that third house were nice kids even though they were dirty and couldn't keep clean. One day a black G.I. brought a truck to us for repair and sat down on a bench to wait. All the kids ran over to the GI as they had never seen a black person. I have a picture of him trying to break away from them while they were trying to peel the black off his face.
While we were in the E.T.O.(European Theater of Operations) we had the old style light tanks with twin Cadillac V-8's. And our medium tanks were Shermans with Continental Radial Aircraft engines. We received some Shermans with five Plymouth engines engaged to a big bull wheel or gear. If one of the five engines did not run well, you could tell very little difference. Also we received some Sherman's with propellers in the rear. These were supposed to be for crossing rivers such as the Rhine. The Shermans had the old 75 MM guns which most GIs referred to as "pop guns." After Metz when we joined the British in Holland we found that we had furnished them with twin Jimmy Diesel Shermans under the lend lease program. I spent a lot of time with the engine grill covers open so I could be down between the two engines while someone was driving trying to adjust the linkage. This was practically impossible as one engine just loafed while the other one did all the work.
We had one medium tank that went all the way from Normandy to the Baltic Sea and was never in combat. I don't remember where the tank commander was from, but he had a beautiful mustache that he kept waxed and curled about twelve inches on each side of his nose. Every time we sent him with his crew up to do battle, he would come back with some excuse such as: the Gyro doesn't work, the radio doesn't work, the breech is jammed, and dozens of others. He had sod (grass) growing in front of his tank, hoping it would disperse a round of H.E., if he got hit.
My groups job was to retrieve shot up tanks, decontaminate them, make repairs, get a new crew and send them forward.
The German 88 gun was bigger than our 75 and had a much greater velocity. They used it for everything; anti-aircraft, anti-tank, etc. I t had no trouble at all of penetrating our tank armor. It could enter at any angle, so through the entire hill and out the other end leaving a big hole melting the inside and burning the crew to an ash. Our little 75 shell just bounced off their tiger tanks. A tiger weighed seventy some tones. We did first echelon maintenance. In other words, when it came to radial engines, we replaced. We did very little repair work. I had a crew that could change a radial engine in a tank in five hours which was considered a record. We usually emptied one of those big four foot fire extinguishers when we put in another engine because invariably there would be a fuel line that wasn't tight enough that would leak and catch fire. A lot of replaced engines on the first road test would break the super charger impeller shaft and we would have to put in another engine again. Actually the radial engine was underpowered. In case of ice or deep snow, we put grousers on the tank track. They were heavy steel grippers that bolted on. After the "Ruhr pocket" we started to move faster over longer distances. Hitler was on the radio complaining that we were sightseeing with our tanks. We called it "the Battle of Bogey Wheels." The Bogey wheels inside the tank track were hard rubber tired and going too long too fast changed the hard rubber to liquid. The tanks had a door plate in the floor to be used as an escape hatch. Very few crews who were hit were able to use them.
In our tank outfits we had drivers just like any group whether it be trucks, trains, planes or cars. Some of them would go down the Autobahn at 25 miles per hour. As for accidents there were lots. If a tank was moving and the track broke there was no steering. If that happened you could go through a barn, a house, land in the river, or hit another vehicle. Up at Lueback by the Baltic, the land was very mushy and you stayed on the road clear off the shoulder. We had a crew road testing a new engine and the driver was paying too little attention where he was going. He got too close to the right shoulder. Once that happened it pulled harder to the right and started sinking. By the time they stopped the right side of the tank hull had sunk to the turret. They came back to the area to get two twelve ton wreckers with blocks and a mile of cable. There were trees of fairly good size on both sides of the road. With one wrecker as an anchor and cables and blocks fastened to trees, the other wrecker proceeded to try to pull the tank back up on the road. As the tank moved it dug in more and sunk deeper. After gouging a deepening trench for a quarter mile, the hatch with the turret top was the only think in sight. We decided to abandon the tank. So, somewhere between Lueback and Schwerin there is a thirty-four ton Sherman tank buried beside the road.
One would think that a tank, being hit, would not burn. Some of the hottest fires I've ever seen were tanks. As we knew the war was about to end, we received some new bigger tanks with 90 MM guns, thicker armor, and bigger more powerful Ford engines. Our specialty was tanks, not half tracks or armored cars.
After being there a while we had to start turning our tanks back and it was my job to lead tanks down to a town on the necker river to Heidelberg close to a castle. Anyway about every two days I'd take 18-20 tanks down there. We stored them in a field. There were over five thousand of the them stored there. When we left I even took a picture of it. Now orders came down that said we are going to arrange for you people to go home. By this time we found out we would not have to go to Japan or at least it didn't sound like it. They had dropped a couple bombs over there. So they said some of you guys have got a lot more points than the others and you are due to go right away. Well I had the most points earned in my outfit so everybody came to tell me good-bye. One officer said be sure and tell his mother in Boston hello. But I think most of them got home before I did. First we'd go on a train for a ways. Then we would sit in a tent for a week, then we'd go in trucks for another hundred miles and do the same thing over again. When I first started out I had two Mauser rifles. I had a Schmeizer pistol. I had a P38. I had a luger pistol. I had a German field telephone and they said, now you guys, if you have any contraband material you had better get rid of it because there will be a shake down inspection. Well everytime they said that I'd get rid of something, but you know we never did have this inspection. I could have kept all of it and brought it home. I did bring a luger and a German hospital chest to put tools in.
Anyway we finally got to camp "twenty grand" down close to LaHavre. There were thousands of soldiers there, all waiting for transportation back home. They had a lot of transportation when we were going over. They didn't have much when we wanted to go home. We had a major take a command car every day, drive it all the way to LaHavre and see if the ships had come in yet. Every night about dusk he'd come back and say "nothing there today boys" so in the meantime we'd go to Rouen and go shopping. Rouen, of course, is Joan of Arcs old town and in France you don't go to town to do any shopping on Monday because that is the same as Sunday.
Well I had a bad case of the scabies. I
had been bleeding in my pants for about four weeks.
I didn't set down in the jeep any more because I was bleeding so bad.
My seat would get full of blood and so would my clothes.
Everytime I'd go in the shower they'd say "get out of here".
I'd wait till everybody else got out and then I'd take my shower.
Of course I was going to the dispensary, but what they were giving me was
absolutely worthless. My old bedroll was alive with maggots and bugs.
Finally we got on this liberty ship in the port of LaHarve.
I remember the first thing I did was I took my bedroll to the fantail and
drop it over the side. It slid into
the water very slowly and quietly. Then
they announced we could go and see our staterooms. The officers had staterooms!
I couldn't believe it. I
went in there and here I've got a bed with white sheets on it.
I just took my clothes off and crawled in and laid there for about an
hour. It felt so good.
Then they announced that we could go to the mess and have something good
to eat. They said we have salads
for you guys and we have a fresh
quart of milk for each man. We also
have ice cream. So we all ran down
there and had all that to eat. We
were finally under way to return home. Of
course the voyage was real pleasant. The
weather was fine. We weren't
surrounded by anything like submarines or enemy boats.
Eventually we were going up past the Statue of Liberty in New York
Harbor. I remember when we went
overseas one man in fifty had a camera. Coming
home I think every man had at least two cameras.
We were going up the Hudson River and all the apartment houses had ladies
waving white sheets from the windows. All
the fireboats were squirting water and blowing horns.
All the soldiers were taking pictures.
I could see all these passenger cars going zip zip zip on the freeway. I couldn't believe my eyes that this was the way things here
had been all the time while I was gone.