Biography of William H. Gieske
172nd Field Artillery Battalion
July 25th. The time up to now has been do your job and survive. There were many places and many events that I no longer remember. I do remember the events of this date. The day started out as any other day would but soon we had a lot more air activity. No one had informed us of what was to take place. The air was soon full of P51's doing their thing, dive bombing and strafing. We had excellent seats for the show, this is what it turned out to be, the air show of the war. The dive bombers worked over the flak guns real hard and we did several missions to help out. Later in the morning the bombers came over, all types and all sizes. The first group had dropped their loads and were on the way back before the last planes had taken off so large was the air attack. Even after the work out the fighters had given the Germans still were able to send up flak and knocked down several heavy bombers. We counted chutes and knew that some of the crew did not get out, it was hard knowing that these were our planes and our men that were dying. We were close to the lines, not as close as the infantry but close enough to have the ground shimmy and shake from the large bombs that were being dropped. Due to the smoke and dust some of the planes dropped a little short but we never heard if there were any of our troops killed. When we moved up we only stopped overnight in the first position. There were bulldozers digging large trenches to bury the great number of cows killed in the bombing. Cows were one of the biggest casualties we saw in all of Normandy. After the war I found out the fighter planes would use up the last of their ammunition strafing cows. The Germans used lots of horses and some times we would pass a dozen or so which had been left behind. Some of the horses looked like pretty good stock but we never got close enough to try them out.
July 28. The 183rd Battalion was the other battalion with the 4.5 gun. It was kind of a sister battalion and some of the men we had taken basic with were transferred to this battalion. We never found out who got killed but knew they were almost wiped out. Some of the divisions would bypass groups of Germans and leave a token force to contain them. If the Germans were diehards which many of them were this presented problems for other troops who were not setup to fight these groups as they battled there way through the unit. In one of our positions we were firing many yards away and still taking small arms fire in our area. In order to get to the mess truck it was necessary to do some tricks to avoid the fire.. In this area I found a small truck abandoned by the Germans, it had many egg type grenades in it. The fuse on all the German grenades was very versatile as it could be exchanged very easily to a different time fuse. This made it easy to make booby traps. For want of some thing to do I removed all the fuses so the grenades were harmless. While I was doing this two men came in, they were scrounging around German equiptment. They said there was another place close by so I said lets go. They had a jeep and we took off, we went down the road to some houses but they weren't too interesting. The next thing I knew I was in the front lines as these two Jokers were Lt.'s from an infantry platoon trenched in about one half mile from us to help contain the Germans. The Germans were finally taken care of by several tanks that were brought in and swept though our unit to take on the Germans. This made the area a lot safer.
Falaise Gap. We were set on a sloping field about two hundred miles from the road. When the Gap was closed we saw truck loads of prisoners being hauled out. I remember the funeral services for Sgt. Roy. We went over to Headquarters battery. The service was like one that would take place at home except it was held outdoors in a small clearing in the forest. It stuck me as being ironic that we could hold a service like this after all the dead we had seen before this who were disposed of like so much garbage.
One place we stayed several days was only a few miles from Paris but we never got there. We were not aware of the big shindigs going on as we made a hero of Charles DeGaule, what a farce. Many of our men left to form the Red Ball express needed because we were advancing faster than normal means could handle. General Patton was racing through the lower end and we were moving along in the Northern Area. We had a greater concentration of Germans to take care of and were further handicapped by the British who were on our Northern Flank. We entered Belgium with a big welcome by the people. I was driving the second jeep in our column and it was slow moving with the flowers and the kisses and handshakes and the kisses. We stopped for the night off the road in a small grove of trees. One of the trucks was missing so two jeeps were sent out looking for them. I drove with Lt. Sherman and Bill Merethew our record keeper in the control center. We had to go back near the border to find them, they said they broke down but the truck ran all right when they came out of the house they were in. We returned and were surprised by some of our men marching prisoners down the road. When we pulled in to the area we were told of the mornings events. I wanted to see the action so I and some one else slowly made our way through the rather dense trees toward the field on the other side. About half way in there was a burst of fire off to our side and shortly after more shots closer to us. After a halt we proceeded slowly and came upon two of our men who had just shot a German who had been laying in wait but they had seen him first. While we were there another of our men came to us and told us he was with Rouse when they were shot at and he could not locate Rouse, I think he was too scared to search by himself and came for help which was a smart move. We went up where he had last seen Rouse and started our search, very carefully going through the woods. It wasn't long before he was found, shot about twenty times in the chest, we carried him back to our unit so he would be taken to Graves registration rather than be left there in the woods. I went back and crossed the woods again and again but we saw no more Belgium civilians in the field who had armed themselves with discarded German weapons, we felt they were more dangerous than the Germans. During the night there was a big commotion near one of the gun batteries, numerous shots were fired. Early in the morning some one in the woods called out, he was told to come out and show himself. It turned out to be a German Major, the big prize was the Lugar he carried. I learned later it was taken by our Captain making the Sgt. rather angry.
September 16 I remember crossing the Siegfried line with it's dragon teeth. We had seen pictures of this defensive system for years and now we saw it first hand. With the return of our men from the Red Ball Express we are now back in business. I don't remember details of all the areas we were in when we arrived in Germany. I recall one position shortly after we were in on the outskirts of Aachen. We had an antiaircraft unit of two half-tracks with us. One vehicle had quad fifties in a cockpit like arrangement and the other was a thirty seven mm. with a pair of fifties. They did their own cooking as they were always on their own. One of them butchered a heifer and we in our ignorance took the round steak instead of the better fillets. We told the Germans it was wounded by shrapnel and we put it down. I went to the mess truck that night with a large steak overhanging my kit. What a shock to find out we were to have steak that night, the first we ever had over here.
I remember moving to Aachen very well. We were near Service Battery in a residential part of the town. Most of the houses were very nice and not damaged too much. Our guns were set up in what were gardens the Germans had and we were in a house across the street with our fire control group. Service Battery had a large generator and they tapped it into the main electric lines so we could have electric lights. One of the men asked me to run a line for him over to the gun position. I had a reel of the lighter wire we used and since he only wanted one light I ran that over. When I started I tapped it into an outside light but only tapped one side in case the generator was started. When I got to the end of the wire I went to cut it off the reel, that's when I found out it was hot. I cut into the wire and since I had wet feet and muddy boots I made a good path to ground. I hollered for him to get a stick and knock me free as I was froze to the wire, it was as close as I ever wanted to get to death.
Aachen was an inviting place to explore when we were off. One day after looking around I found a doorway sticking up in what was a barren area where a large building had stood. I went down and found a series of rooms which had been used as a hospital. I was ready to leave when I found another passage which led to a room with a big Diesel Generator. I knew we could use this so I reported it and we had our mechanic who knew nothing of diesel come to start it. After several hours they finally primed it with gas and it ran great. The army would not let us have it but in exchange for removing it with our heavy wrecker they gave us a generator with no engine. We got a motor from a wrecked jeep and Heinz turned a coupling for it with some primitive lathe they found. This jury rig was used for quite a while.
I remember that when we moved out of Aachen and back to our old area we were shocked at the increased number of units that had moved in. It was raining and muddy a good bit of the time and the streets and roads were rivers of mud. One night we were standing around listening to Bed Check Charlie which was what the evening plane of the Germans was called. We heard three pops not very loud, this was followed by a sound like a lot of rain. We all hit our foxholes in a hurry. It sounded like several strings of firecrackers going off very close by. We found out that there was an ordinance outfit near us in tents with lights on. They made a good target for the anti personnel bombs the Germans dropped. I think about thirty or more were wounded or killed that night. This was also the area where we saw our first V1 planes. These were flying bombs the Germans used, propelled by a pulse jet engine they shook everything as they flew over. They never flew very high and were easy to shoot down but exploded when they hit so sometimes it was as good to let them crash on their own. Our ack-ack was dispatched to shoot them before they got over Liege.
It was in this position where a P51 dropped his bomb on the way home, it hit right in front of a foxhole that an ack-ack crew had dug. It was very visible as it fell so they had time to jump in. The longer you are in an area the more you dig, sometimes for want of something to do rather than for safety. No one believed they could survive this but when they were dug out they were fine. Of course it strengthened the already warm feelings we had for the airforce. We fired our 50,000 round on Thanksgiving day. It was sunny and rather nice to be with friends celebrating our holiday together. We all had feelings that now we were in Germany the end was in sight, no one dreamed of what was to come.
I remember another position, the one we were in before we left for the Battle of the Bulge as it was called. It was muddy and I had found an old pair of goulashes which kept my feet dry. Our gun positions were so muddy we moved into an old house on the outskirts of the muddy field. Near this house was a wrecked trolley car with the sign reading Aachen. We fired mostly at night. During the day I rambled around a large hill near us, I found a lot of ammunition from a heavy machine gun and stripped the belts and loaded my M1 clips. I shot into a quarry on top of the hill and became very good with this rifle. We received word that paratroopers were in the area and several personnel mines were found. When we received word of the counter attack it was not believed. Knowing of the progress we were making no one could believe a beaten German army was making the kind of advances that they were making. Everyone is on the alert not knowing what to expect.
December 21st we received orders to saddle up in the morning. We were all ready to go when it was usual Army, hurry up and wait. I remember we were clowning around in the old farmhouse when some one wanted to see if the piano would fit in the cellar steps, it didn't go down so we left it stuck half way down. Sometime in the afternoon we started to move, it was cold so instead of riding in the open truck I connived a ride in the mess truck. The stoves which were started later to make coffee made the truck warm but the fumes almost killed us. We rolled thought Liege with only blackout lights on while there were vehicles running with full lights on. Later we found out that Germans posing as MP's were splitting up convoys. A V1 bomb landed about a block from us as we went through town. A long ride later we pulled up late at night and waited for our forward party. The mess truck served coffee and every one slept or gathered around to talk. We were near a bridge over a small stream which was tended by several Engineers who had mined the bridge and would blow it if the Germans came. Our forward party located us late in the morning and we went into a defensive position overnight along a stream. Several of us were playing poker in the kitchen of a farm house when a Lt. and a Sgt. from some infantry outfit came in. The Lt. went to confer with our officers and the Sgt. waited with us, we tried to engage him in conversation but he was so petrified he could not talk, it was his first combat assignment. They went in position at the top of the hill putting us between them and the enemy, fortunately we got out of there in the morning.
We went into firing positions on the outskirts of Marche in a large field behind a rather modern brick house with a large double garage on the lower level. The garage became the mess hall and the house was a catchall, rest area and sleeping area for off duty men. It had tile floors all over on the first floor and I remember spending several nights sleeping in the house. We had the duty spit up so we all got some time off. These were very stressful times and we had special guards out always. The outfits along side of us got shelled so bad two of them got out. It was as though they were under direct observation.
December 24th Lt. Pritchard and Henry Isaac got hit while observing outside Marche, Heinz dragged them to a safer spot until the medics took over. Henry never rejoined us after that but Lt. Pritchard soon returned. The Germans are making strong attacks but are running into the best forces of the First Army not the untested outfits they had walked through earlier. The airborne was holding at Bastogne and more experienced troops were pouring into action. All night we manned roadblocks and any one going through had to be very quick with answers. We soon got to know some of the jeep shuttles going back and forth so we were kept up to date on the latest from the front. We were stopping the main thrust of the breakthrough so the enemy was giving his all. Most of the units near us had left and we got so many conflicting orders that Dede sent out the message to beware of submarines coming up the creek. We were setting along side a nice highway so if the tanks had broken through we would of set up in defensive position and fought it out as they had to be stopped.
We stayed here until early January when we found out we were being replaced by the British. I was up in the house playing poker when the first elements of the British arrived, an officer and a noncom. The officer went to see our Captain and the noncom brought in a British mess kit or whatever. The first thing he wanted to know was where the officers mess was, not getting an answer he tried to locate the noncom mess. The Brits are great on formality and we were not. Most of the time the officers ate with the men in the field and I am sure any noncom wanting a mess for himself would of got something. A day or two later they came in so we moved our guns out of there place so they could take over. What a bunch of B.S. experts. This is not to say they did not do a great job for years in holding back the Germans but I think the best were gone by this time and the rest did not impress us. One thing that surprised us was a whole truck devoted to sports, uniforms and all. This is not to say we had nothing but ours was a sideline not the main event.
Before the British came in we spent Christmas here, a sober yet somewhat happy occasion. We were fed well as we had great cooks and a good mess Sgt. They always put out great grub and although we did go on ten in ones and C rations at times it was because of conditions not because of the mess unit. C rations during cold weather always seemed to consist of Eggs and Spam and always lemonade. Ten in ones were great and came with some neat stuff like a little gas stove, handy can openers and great chocolate bars made to carry a person several days as emergency rations.
The Brits came in and took over and we moved off to seek more of the enemy who was now being driven back. By now we had snow on the ground and the further in the hills we went the deeper it got. We spent one night in a location were a barn had burnt down leaving only the lower floor. We slept in there on scorched beets that were raised to feed the cattle, they smelled burnt but we slept well any way. When we pulled out one of the tracks with a gun went off the road and we were delayed several hours until he could get up on the roadway again. This was only done when the fifth section track went in and they pulled tandem style. It pointed out the need for snow cleats as we were on road tracks which are smooth. One place we had a tent up in the field and took turns sleeping in a little house with the Belgium family. This consisted of the grandfather, the wife and the man who was a shoemaker. They had one child and the house was only about twelve by fourteen in size so it was crowded with them and jammed with us. The old man took a shock of wheat and spread the straw at night and picked it up in the morning. About six of us slept downstairs and four upstairs. The Lt. and I went looking for stove pipe for our homemade stove, we drove over to some town about fifteen miles away. As we were returning we came up to the old man and a friend walking along the road. We found out he was the official grave digger, even had a hat with a skull above the visor as his badge of office. He had walked over ten miles to dig a grave and was on the way back. The weather was very cold and the ground was snow covered, we brought him back with us.
By now everyone knew about the butchery at Malmedy, the Germans made a big mistake here. All Americans would never surrender after this, and God help the Germans who would show any resistance. I remember Cp. Kida being killed, the shell blew up in the barrel one night while they were doing interdiction. His head was blown off and the other two were hit by the breech flying into their tent. We were in one location where the Germans had backed a Tiger Tank into the barn. It sat there in full splender but other than looking in to the interior no one climbed down, the Germans were too good at booby traps.
January 14. I remember this place very well. I had lost my overshoes and since I wore size nine boots I and a lot of others were waking around in the snow in leather boots . My feet got so cold I was really frustrated. We moved into an area that turned out to, be mined so very little exploring was done. One of our tracks hit a mine and some of the clothing in the side box got tore up but no casualties. We had a new blackout tent for our command post so we were in comfort for a change. It was heavy canvas and we could use lights at night. Mines were not the only thing lying around. The area was full of dead Americans, mostly very young and just off the boat. When the Bulge started everyone was shoved into action. Kids just coming over were sent into the line, I found out later that the ASTP program was closed and they were sent over. Right by our tent was a young kid lying in the snow and up the road in a woods no one dared go in were quite a few dead. Graves registration picked them up several days later, shoving them into trucks like frozen logs. Getting wounded in this cold weather was death if you didn't get tended to right away. After a little over a month the bulge was contained and with the Germans again in retreat we were pulled out of the line. The tubes on our guns were shot out and needed replacing. We had fired 50,000 rounds by Thanksgiving and during the Bulge had fired heavily, some missions were even fire at will until told to stop. Most of the missions were direct observation type but some interdiction firing was always done. I believe we got extra interdiction missions because of our accuracy and our reputation.
January 24 we moved to billets in Belgium while new tubes were placed on our guns. We were billeted in various places, I lucked out and with about six others was placed with a Belgium family so I practiced my French at night around the stove in the kitchen, We slept in the house but ate with the unit. The old man had hidden a shotgun away during the occupation but only had a few shells. The ground was snow covered and cold but I went rabbit hunting any way. With so few shells I had to have a good shot, and being too cautious I ended up with only a walk in the snow. Some times at night we would see forty or fifty rabbits cavorting in the moonlight, it was as we called it a rabbit square dance. The time here being too pleasant went fast and soon the snow cover started to melt and we were on our way back to our job of killing Germans.
We returned to Germany and prepared for the battle to cross the Roer River. We were in several positions before we ended up near the River itself. I remember one position over looking the river where we stayed in an old fort. This may have been along the Rhine tho. We did a lot of firing mostly at night. When we got near the river we had heavy missions at night so the infantry could jump off at dawn. One morning some one else and I made plans to walk up to the bluff overlooking the river to watch the attack. I wanted to pick up a German haversack I had seen in the woods near our position. Spring was coming and the snow had melted leaving the ground soaked as there was still some frost in the ground. We were near the Bluff walking across an open grass field when we heard an incoming shell. We hit the ground, sliding about five feet in the wet and cold grass, lying still waiting for the shell to go off. After we waited and nothing happened we decided it was a dud but most likely the worlds largest shell and we were very lucky as it landed close by. We got up wet in the front and walked up the hill to the OP. There were a few guys there from Headquarters Battery and after we exchanged the usual GI bull one of them asked if we had seen the P51 drop his gas tank. No we had not, but that was why we were still wet in the front.
I remember crossing the Roer River and going through the town we could see from the OP. There was very little left of the town, piles of rubble with the roads through the town bulldozed so we could travel. We were in several places that all run together with only slight memories of some locations. I remember being in one area firing thousands of yards ahead and on our side was a pack 75 outfit which could only shoot a short distance. The Germans are putting up strong resistance as we are on the Motherland. They are also paying the price for their stubbornness. We experimented with six gun batteries for a while. This was as we approached Cologne and in Cologne. I remember one location on the outskirts very well. We were in a very nice house at the end of the street, it had belonged to an architect so he had a large second floor work room we used as our CP. Some one located a distillery and brought back two Jerry cans of cognac, ten gallons. Lt. Sherman asked who wanted to bottle it, Brewster the second cook and I said we would if some one got bottles.
We set up in the kitchen with me as official taster which soon turned into official drunk as I was tasting from a water glass. The more we bottled the more I drank and the more I hid. I know I hid some in a chest of drawers and in the morning there was not a single bottle. We finished the ten gallons and I went down to the basement to see the gun crew. They were in the basement with the gun in the backyard by the cellar door. I opened the door to their quarters and because they had a hot fire going in their stove I passed out almost immediately. I woke up about three they had a hot fire going in their stove I passed out almost immediately. I woke up about three morning all I could find were the three bottles I had put in my sack. Ce Le Guerre.
This was also the area we put on the big wire theft. We could not get any field wire and we were running low. There was lots of wire in use along a nice straight road leading to Cologne. We tried to bribe the signal corps outfit near us for wire but they claimed a shortage too. In England we had welded a bike sprocket to the pickup reel, it was brutal work but left us retrieve wire at thirty five miles per hour. Five of us set out until we were on the outskirts, one man reeled and another controlled the wire and when we were ready one jumped off and cut what looked to be the best and clearest wire. Fastening it to the reel we took of like the bandits we were, one mile later the reel was full and we cut it off and drove up the road looking for the next piece as soon as a new reel was mounted. I believe we picked up about four miles that afternoon. We waved at the signal corps as we passed them on our way back replacing what we stole.
More moving, more firing. We were attached to another outfit sometime in March and that was different. We had moved during the day and now we moved at night which we believed was more dangerous than day moves. The Germans were flying around with a new jet plane that was so fast most of our planes ignored it. I guess that was what started this trend but the jet never came down to low levels but bed check Charlie was always around. Being in a convoy during an air raid can get exciting, first you have no hole along, second what goes up comes down and most explosive shells miss so they hit the ground and explode. Some time it was like being the target for hundreds of hand grenades. The fire works could get pretty fierce at times and I can remember chunks of shrapnel flying too close especially after the nineties came in as our ack ack.
We were not with our VII Corps any longer as the war was falling apart. We were headed for the Roer Valley and the last of our role in combat. The Roer valley was a lot like home, coal mines, steel mills, a strong production center for Germany. The war went fast up here and soon we were turning our guns and preparing for a new role. April 14th we turned in all our guns and heavy equipment and became security guards. I made a mistake I would regret the rest of my time in Germany, I turned in my old faithful M1 and retrieved my carbine from storage.
The first guard duty we went on was Gottengen, a large town. The German Army except for the units in Berlin fighting the Russians had collapsed. There were times we did not take prisoners, waving them down the road. When this took place many of the soldiers disappeared returning home or going into hiding. No one knew how many or where all these soldiers were. Another great problem was the vast numbers of displaced people or D.P.'s that were in Germany, left over from the Nazi programs of slave labor and killing. We only stayed in Gottengen about a week and while we were there I guarded a school house where some work on Atomic secrets had been done. Across the street was a hospital. It must have specialized in Amputee work as all of the German soldiers there were missing one or more limbs. It was not hard to look at them and see yourself. Being mean and tough we delighted in keeping the German people away from these soldiers as they were officially P.O.W.'s.
We left Gottegen and went to Nordhausen. Shortly after we arrived about twenty of us were loaded up on a Jimmy and we headed out into the country side. At one of the stops six of us were dropped off in a little town of about thirty homes at a crossroads. We left two to guard our equipment and in groups of two we checked every house and brought back all young men who we were certain had been soldiers. One of them was wounded and needed medical help so we released him although we debated if he would get better help in the P.O.W. camp. We had been dropped off with food and our personnel things and extra ammunition and grenades so we would be self sufficient for a while. We told the women who lived in the house we chose as our headquarters to find another place as she had one hour to get out. That night Lt. Pritchard returned with three hard case prisoners, one of them had drove cab in New York. He handed me his Thompson and left to check another group. I never was enthused about Thompsons and would of rather had my M1 but the size of the barrel seemed to bother the one German, a Captain. In this area we had about ten Holland men who all spoke good English. We also were on the fringe of several DP camps and had them running around the area at night. We were also aware that there were groups of soldiers that had not come in yet. We stayed at this outpost about one week and one time a day some one would come by to check on us or bring supplies.
I went back to Nordhausen and was free for several days. I learned how to make the best use out of the fluid they flew the V2's on. It was a toss up if it made better lighter fluid or when cut with grapefruit juice, booze. We had people from other groups boarding with us and one had a big German Cycle so I used to borrow it to ride around the country side. I rode at night sometimes with no lights except a small light clipped to my jacket. After a short rest I was sent with three others to guard a large German warehouse. It took up a city block with a wall around the perimeter. When we arrived there were Germans who were the guards and while we looked it over they left. I raised hell as it was their food and told the owner that the next day they better be prepared for twenty four hour duty as we were there as armed guards but it was their food and we would only act when needed. We picked an area for our own and every night I would go out and check the DP's heading home after a day of looting. I would check what they had and extract my duty which soon gave me a nice store of cognac and beer. One of our men who was guarding a slaughter house up the street about four blocks away came down and told me that some one wanted to retrieve the whisky from a burned down building and had given him a sample. He told him he would have to refer it higher. We visited the site, it could be gotten to by crawling through a tunnel filled with drunken DP's mostly women. They had dug down to one of the hogsheads and were pumping out the whiskey with stirrup pumps. We milked about six bottles out of the owner before we left by saying we were working our way up the chain of command. I spent several nights with another group who were at the rear of a DP camp. The Dp's were always raiding at night and they passed out whistles so when we heard a whistle we rushed to the area and laid down a volley of fire. We never got anyone but I guessed it helped keep it a little more peaceful. Back in town with Mayday coming up the communists were making promises that they were going to celebrate. We said we would provide the fireworks if they did and reinforced our group at the camp. We had a half track with two, machine guns brought in which made our promise more potent. We had about ten thousand in a camp for one thousand as we did not let them run around until we checked them out. German SS sometimes hid out and not all the DP's were lily white. Back in town we were conducting a raid on known communist leaders. Early one morning we raced up steps, crashed through doors and rounded up about thirty. We put them on a jimmy and took them to B Battery where we had a better prison. Some were reluctant to get on the truck but one foot of carbine injected in the rear area soon persuaded them it was more prudent to load than resist. No one in our unit was bashful about showing their strengths against the Germans, the word was to make sure they knew they lost, we used this as our goal. I rode in the truck with the prisoners to B Battery and saw where the radio controls for the V2 was made. The Germans used salt mines as work areas and storage facilities. At Nordhausen there job was assembly of V2's and there were some laying around. We had a lot of camps in the area but no death camps with the ovens that we knew of . We had plenty of evidence to show what was going on as there were a lot of living skeletons still walking around. When you get that skinny it takes a while to recover.
We left Nordhausen and went to Eschwege, I was with a small group nearby in Grosse Almerode. This was a farming community and there were about thirty houses grouped in a little village but their land surrounded the village. The women would bake bread one day a week at the community oven. The men worked together to farm, sometimes the women went to the fields to help. There were no tractors or horses so they used cows to pull wagons and I saw them mow hay with cows. The mower was driven by a gas engine but it was pulled by a cow. We guarded the county border as they were checking all transients. The best part was the hunting. I got to know the local hunter whose house was at the edge of the forest. We hunted deer but I had shots at Elk and also shot several rabbits which were larger than domestic rabbits. I missed a large buck, the horns of these deer were great but the deer were small. I acted as interpreter for the Lt., alto we used the German whose estate we had taken over. He was not aware I could speak german so it was a surprise to him when I caught him lying. Our headquarters was about ten miles away and we had a telephone line installed. Sgt. Mozek came over one day to repair the line. I saw him briefly before he left. I was taking a German couple to the doctor in a company vehicle. We started down the road when we came upon the helper Sgt. Mozek had with him. The weapons carrier had run off the road and overturned pinning Mozek underneath. I crawled under and saw he was still alive, we hooked up a winch line to raise the truck and pulled him out. We rushed him to the medics but he died on the way in.
Shortly after this groups of us were transferred out because of redeployment. We were to join outfits that would go to the Pacific theater. About seven of us were transferred to another artillery battalion. I do not remember the number of this outfit. It was the sorriest group I ever soldiered with. One of our group was put on the switchboard all day. With nothing assigned to us we played pinochle all day and Smitty and I worked up enough signals that we could beat anyone. We started pulling guard duty around the area and then were assigned to a road block on the road from Frankfurt to Fulda. When us newcomers went there for the first time it was hard to believe they left this get so out of hand. In several days the local people wanted to know who were the soldiers with the big A on the shoulder which was the insignia we wore. We put the fear into them and ran the road block as it should be, completely under our control not a mob scene. We were here when the Atomic Bomb was dropped and the Japanese surrendered. One of our guard posts was a salt mine storage area being worked by Italian prisoners of war. All sorts of things were stored there and it was a good source of black market goods. I went to Holland for ten days just before they closed up to stabilize the currency. I took a bolt of satin like cloth, a quilted winter jacket like the ones from the Russian front, cigarrettes form some other fellow and some other items. I did good with the sale and did better by converting to Belgium and selling that money. I had a roll big enough to choke the proverbial horse and we had us a great time. I was giving the band seventy five bucks to play a couple of songs and had them at our table during the break for drinks. The band was from Belgium and were great guys. Holland was very nice being clean and not torn up like most places we were used to. A little later Some of us were transferred to Karlsruhe to help run a hotel. This was great duty, maid service, our own beer hall and great meals in the hotel dining room. We could go right in but the GI's who were going or coming from Switzerland had to line up. We had waitresses and a head waiter, typical German martinet. We also had a German band in the dining room and one in the beer hall. The standing gag was to request Lily Marlene which we had heard thousands of times. The duty we did was only a few hours a day and kept us from getting bored. It was difficult to leave even when we were told we were scheduled to go home.
It was along ride back to the other area and a wait of several days and then on a truck for the ride to France. We went to Metz an old fortress town and spent the night there. No one went to town alone as the place was full of the dirtiest hard looking French soldiers we ever saw. These were Moroccan and Algerian troops, having seen the dirty French in Normandy and else where these still shocked us. If the others were dirty these were filthy and dangerous looking beside. They wore a little fez with a tassel which looked like a good souvenir but even though we were offered them they were to dirty to want to touch.
We saddled up and left the next morning for the camp where we were to spend over one month in while we waited to get shipped out. While we were there we could go out on a pass anytime. I went to Rheims and saw the Cathedrals and the champagne caves with gallons of bubbly. We could go to Paris for a short pass or for a week pass. Our room and board were taken care of but entertainment was expensive so money became the problem. While in Paris on one of many trips I went to the Louve, Versailles, Cathedral site seeing and of course up to the nightclub area. This area of Paris was named after the main thorough fare that ran through it, Rue de Pigalle or Pig Alley as it was called by the GI's. This is where the night life was. The Bal Taberin, the Follies and loads of bars were here. We would get on the subway and ride there, it was easy to get around on the subway as it was one thing the French did right. We usually had to walk back as the power was cut off at ten o'clock at night due to a fuel shortage. There were two night clubs for GI's, one was the Eiffel Tower. I walked up to the top one night as we did not know if we could bring our own cognac. I learned that I could have used the elevator but it was too late. With funds running short we sold clothes, blankets and cigarettes if we could spare them, there was always a market as the black market was alive and well. Back at the camp it was sheer boredom, sleep with nightmares, eat and movies. In order to see a movie it was necessary to gobble your supper then run to the tent and get a place to wait about two hours for the show to start. There were three shows but too many GI's to get to get there late. I guess it was done with good intentions but never the less it almost set off a riot, some one thought we should be brought in line and started us on close order drill. One morning of that was enough to convince them it was a bad idea.
At last came the day when we were sent to the staging area. These camps were named after cigarettes. We only were in this camp a short while before we were loaded on another banana boat. We found out that the delay was caused by a strike on the docks and a shuffling of the point system. When we crossed over the first time it was in a convoy, this time we were alone. It took fifteen days to cross and when we reached the outskirts of New York we ran into another storm. We had a sick man on board that the Doctor could not handle so we were brought into the harbor instead of being held outside. I was on deck when the Pilot Boat came out, the swells were that steep there were times he went down so far I thought he was done for. We unloaded and were transferred to Fort Dix N.J. which was close to the docks, all this with no band playing either. After several days at Dix and about when I was ready to go AWOL we were shipped to Indiantown Gap and several days later after processing I was out of the Army. I was given a ride to Lebonon by the parents of one of the GI's and took the bus to Bethlehem and home.
The First Army under General Hodges was the invading army that went into Normandy. The Seventh Corps under General (Lightning) Joe Collins was the corps we were under and we landed on Utah Beach. This beach landing was the one carried out with the fewest casualties. Our Battalion was Corps artillery which meant that we supported whatever division needed us. As corps artillery we had the most accurate gun on the continent so we were usually in demand. We were the first artillery to fire on Cherbourg the first large city in France to fall. This was a port city and very important to the invasion. It was the Seventh corps that opened the way at St Lo for Patton's third Army to break through. Our casualties were very light and for a long time I credited to being lucky. I later realized that it was not all luck it was as much the training level and use of the experiences we had. During the war we used code names for our unit designation, our code was Jello. The batteries were lemon, lime and orange and to this day I still think of this whenever I see Jello.
--- William H. Gieske, 172nd Field Artillery Battallion
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BATTLE ACTIVITIES LOG, Submitted by William H. Gieske, 172nd FA Bn, U.S.A.
Big Shell Story by William H. Gieske, 172nd F.A. Bn., U.S.A.
Germany 1945, Photo of William H. Gieske
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