Biography of Russ Cloer

Capt., I & R Platoon Leader, 7th Inf., 3rd Inf. Div., VI Corp., 7th Army, US Army

Table of Contents of Russ Cloer's World War Two Story

Before the War          

90 Day Wonder          

                  Hey Soldier, Where Ya From?

Road to Rome              

Initiative                        

 A Visit by the General

Humor & Morale        

   D-Day Southern France

         Il Y A Des Boches En Bas!

Motorcycle Mystique    

Vagney, France              

The Venerable Jeep      

Bloody Colmar Pocket

Loneliness                        

Crossing the Rhine        

Bloody Bandages            

PFC Steele                        

 Final Days of the War    

  Occupation of Germany  

Civilian                  

Soldier                    

      Rape Investigation                

       40 & 8's                                      

      Back Home                               

      Awards & Decorations            

       Faces of War                                

      Train Whistles                             

Before the War

   I was born in Jersey City, N. J. on January 4, 1921. All four of my grandparents were born in Germany and emigrated to the U. S. in the late 1800's. My parents were both born in this country. They lived in the Jersey City - Hoboken area, popular with other German immigrant families. My father was the youngest of five children, my mother, one of six. Neither of my parents was educated beyond the 6th or 8th grade because they had to go to work at an early age to help support their parents and siblings. My father became a toolmaker, my mother a seamstress and after marriage, a homemaker. My paternal grandfather was a carpenter and lived to the age of 91. My maternal grandfather was a construction worker and he died in his late 30's when he fell from the roof of a building. There was no Social Security in those days, no unemployment insurance, no workman's compensation, no child labor laws, and in immigrant families, no relatives on whom to lean for support.

   My earliest recollections go back to my first 4 years. We lived in a 3rd floor "railroad" type walk-up apartment in a wood frame apartment building in Jersey City, N. J. And we shared a bathroom with the adjacent apartment on the same floor. We had no telephone, no radio and no car. Nor did many of our neighbors, in those early 1920's. But my father had a red Indian motorcycle with sidecar that he kept in a nearby rented garage. On summer Sundays, my mother, my younger sister and I would pile into the sidecar and we would go for a ride, usually to visit one of my many aunts and uncles, all of whom lived within easy driving distance. In winter, my father stored the engine and transmission under his bed, when he wasn't working on it on the kitchen table.

   When I was four years old, my parents bought a very old 2 bedroom wood frame house on a 50 by 100 foot lot in Roselle Park, N. J. We thought we were living in the country! We were happy there, despite the constant home maintenance required. The school system was good, the neighbors were amenable, stores were just around the corner and the railroad, which took my father to work, was only a 3 or 4 block walk. (Or run, if he was late, which was more often than not.)

   I entered kindergarten at age 5, and since the cut-off date was January 1 and my birthday was January 4, I was the oldest kid in my class all through school. This had certain advantages for a boy! The only ‘disadvantage' was that I would graduate from high school one year later. (And as it turned out, enter the Army one year later!)

   My childhood was a happy time, even though I didn't have many of the things my friends had. Despite growing up during the Great Depression, I don't remember ever going hungry nor lacking suitable clothes for school. Of course Christmas and Birthday gifts were pretty sparse and most of my few toys (precious to me) were home made or second hand. And I wasn't alone. That was the norm during the Depression. (Home-made scooters made from a discarded roller skate, a 2 x 4 and a discarded orange crate; home-made wooden stilts; sling shots from slices of an old inner tube and a Y shaped tree branch; rubber band guns from slices of the same inner tube and a piece of wood; a bag of scratched marbles and a "nickel rocket" baseball that we would wrap with friction tape when the seams broke.

   In 1933, my father was laid off and there was no longer a pay envelope on Fridays. Our mortgage payments on the house were $22 a month and my parents didn't have it. We were in danger of losing our house, our place to live. But the mortgage holder couldn't resell the house in those Depression days, so he agreed to accept interest only, no payment of principal, "until times got better." The payments became $11 a month and we hung on. I distinctly remember being entrusted to take the $11 in cash to the bank once a month. Of course we had no checking account. I remember my father leaving the house every morning at the same time, to look for work. And returning in late afternoon with a haggard look. Machine shops at that time would hire workers only when they got a contract, and when the deliveries were completed, they would lay off the workers. Somehow we struggled through until war clouds loomed and the economy began to recover in 1939.

   Also in 1933, a new Boy Scout Troop was formed in our small town. I had just reached my 12th birthday and was invited to join. But joining required that I have a Boy Scout uniform. The uniform cost $7 and my parents didn't have it. (Plus $3 for the hat which was optional. I knew only 3 boys who had a hat!) But somehow the uniform, (less hat,) appeared and I became a Boy Scout. The troop was sponsored by the local Rotary Club, and I suspect they had a hand in making the uniform available. I was active in Boy Scouts for 5 years and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life! I know of no better way to instill a set of worthy values in our youth. "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law. To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight." "A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent."

   And when I grew old enough to notice girls, I had to look no further than the house next door. Living there was Beverly, the girl of my dreams who is now my wife of 59 years!

   I always did well in school, making the Honor Roll every year, but in those times there was no thought of going to college. Few people had the money. I remember when I entered High School, (9th grade) in 1935, having to choose between the "College Course", the "General Course," or the "Commercial Course." Like 80% of my classmates, I elected the "General Course." For electives, I chose what I thought would help me get a job when I graduated: Bookkeeping, Typing, Shop, Junior Business Training, etc. My parents didn't have sufficient education to give me much guidance and no one else offered to.

  But a wonderful thing happened to me near the end of my second year! My History teacher told me she had been looking at my grades and wondered why I was not taking the "College Course." I told her we couldn't afford college. Actually, I had never given it any serious thought for that reason. She said she thought she could get me a scholarship when the time came and she would help by guiding me through the application procedures. I didn't even know what a "scholarship" was at that time! She arranged for me to take two years of a language and two years of algebra as electives in my last two years to meet minimum college entrance requirements. I am eternally grateful to that lady.

   In my third year of high school, my algebra teacher, who was also coach of the track team, suggested I "come out" for track." "You're tall and skinny," he said, "just the right build for the high jump." I took his advice and won the high jump in 10 out of 10 dual meets that season. I was elected captain of the track team in my senior year, won the State high jump championship and set a new State record for the event. I think that too, may have had a bearing on the scholarship award.

   I graduated from high school in 1939 as valedictorian of my class of 128 graduates. I applied for academic scholarships at two colleges, with help from my teacher "angel", and was offered a full tuition scholarship at both. I chose Rutgers University.

   In high school, competence in sports was the key to popularity. At my 50th High School Reunion, everybody remembered my track record. Only one person remembered that I had been valedictorian. She was the salutatorian and she introduced me to her husband as follows: "I'd like you to meet Russ Cloer. He's the one who beat me out for valedictorian!" And then, by way of explanation, she added: "They always chose a boy in those days."

   When I registered, I was asked in which College of the University I wanted to enroll. I told the advisor. " I want to be a Mechanical Engineer." She said, "There is no way we can admit you to the College of Engineering. You're lacking too many prerequisites. In fact, we are making an exception in admitting you at all, only because your high school grades are so good."

   "What is the closest you can give me?" I asked. And she said, "I can admit you to the College of Arts and Sciences, with a major in physics and a minor in math." So that's what I did. She suggested the alternative of going back to high school for a post graduate year to get the needed prerequisites, but the scholarship would not carry over so I couldn't do that.

   I started at Rutgers in September 1939. The scholarship covered only tuition and fees, not room, board and books. So I commuted the first year, lived in an inexpensive rooming house for the second and third years and in a college dorm for my last year. I worked part time during the school year in the College bookstore, as a typist in the Personnel office, as an usher at football games, as a free lance typist and as a Physics lab assistant. I worked summers as a YMCA camp counselor, for the college bookstore, and in the Assembly Department of the Western Electric Company. These jobs, along with a what help my parents could afford, paid for my books, room and board.

   My jobs paid only minimum wage, which at that time was 40 cents/hour. But the tuition and fees of $330/year were covered by the scholarship. Room and board of about $350/year is what I had to earn.

   Rutgers was a land grant college, which required all physically fit male students to take two years of basic ROTC. (Military Science and Tactics). Fifty students would be chosen from among those who volunteered for Advanced ROTC. Those who completed the four years of ROTC would go to a 6 week summer camp for field training between the 3rd and 4th years and would be commissioned 2nd Lieutenants in the Reserve at graduation. Each week, there were three hours of class room work and two hours of close order drill, in uniform. (3 credits/semester). The Rutgers ROTC staff was Infantry only at that time, but we were told that we would be allowed to choose our arm of the Army when we graduated. A reserve commission in ordnance or signal corps appeared attractive to me because of their utilization of engineers. I volunteered for Advanced ROTC and was accepted. There were no financial awards offered for ROTC at that time, but we did get one complete officer's uniform, tailor made.

   When War was declared, the rules were changed, one at a time:

   1. The six week summer camp was abolished.

   2. Instead, we would have to go through Infantry OCS (Officer Candidate School) upon graduation, and those who made it would then be commissioned. Those who didn't, would be sent to Infantry Replacement Training Centers with the rank of Corporal.

   3. We could no longer choose our Arm of the Army. We were needed in Infantry. We were pressured to volunteer for the ERC (enlisted reserve corps) and we would go on active duty on campus as Infantry privates for the last semester, then be ordered to Infantry OCS.

   4. Anyone that did not volunteer for the ERC would be dropped from the ROTC program upon graduation and would have to register with his draft board at that time. (Not previously required because we were considered Reservists.)

   Spending the last semester as an Infantry Private on campus made no sense to me, so I was one of five Advanced ROTC seniors (out of 50) who declined to volunteer for the ERC. We five spent the last semester as civilian members of the ROTC. The other 45 were privates in the Army, assigned to a barracks in one of the dorms, and fed in a section of the college cafeteria set aside as a mess hall. They couldn't leave campus without a pass signed by the ROTC Major. Just before graduation, we 5 were asked again to join the ERC. If we joined now, we would receive orders to report to Ft. Benning Infantry OCS along with the other members of our ROTC class. If we did not volunteer for this alternative, we would be dropped from the program and would be required by law to register with our respective draft boards. Two of the five, including me, signed on and reported to Fort Benning with the rest of our ROTC class. The other 3, to the best of my knowledge, never served in the military. Of the 21 Rutgers 1943 ROTC graduates who were commissioned 2nd Lieutenants, Infantry, on September 20, 1943, eleven were killed in action by War's end.

          I entered the Army 6/15/43 after 4 yrs of Infantry ROTC at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, N.J.

90 Day Wonder

       WWII Infantry OCS, (Officer Candidate School), at Ft. Benning, Georgia, was a 13 week training program turning out Infantry 2nd Lieutenants at the rate of 140/day. Those graduates who did not measure up to expectations when later assigned to units, were disparagingly referred to by their men as "90 Day Wonders", due in part to the limited duration of their training.

       I reported to OCS Class #298 on June 15, 1943, along with thirty of my classmates who had volunteered for Infantry OCS after four years of ROTC at a land grant college. I was in civilian clothes and it was my first day in the army. Ninety-seven day later, twenty-one of us from my college ROTC class were commissioned 2nd Lieutenants, Infantry. By War's end, eleven of the twenty-one had been killed in action. I have no way of knowing how many of the rest of class #298 were lost in the War, but I have no reason to believe that the same 52% loss rate did not prevail.

       I remember OCS as being one of the most intense episodes of my life, aside from infantry combat, which of course was what it prepared us for. Our determination to successfully complete the program was the primary goal of our young lives. Our TO (Tactical Officer) jotted down notes about our performance in his little black book, but we were never told how we were doing. Those of us that he decided couldn't hack it were ordered to report to the orderly room, without explanation, at the end of the next daily morning formation. When we returned to the barracks at the end of the day, the space on the floor where their cot and foot locker had been was bare. It was quite motivational!

       I remember running the uphill bayonet course under the hot Georgia sun in mid-July. Bayoneting straw dummies or breaking their heads with a "horizontal butt stroke." I remember following a compass heading in the middle of the night through three miles of pitch black woods, while falling into ravines and avoiding simulated enemy lurking in the dark. And qualifying with every infantry weapon on its respective range.

       I remember believing that the 37mm anti-tank gun would penetrate the armor of a German tank. And I remember my first 60 mm mortar round overshooting the target by 150 yards. Then correcting range and direction to see the 4x6 foot orange canvas target disappear in the smoke of the second round's impact. I crawled under double apron barbed wire carrying an LMG on my forearms, with live machine gun fire four feet overhead. While hidden school cadre threw OD pineapple grenades at us with their safety spoons gone and 4 second fuses hissing. We didn't know that the bursting charge had been removed, but exploding 1/4 lb. blocks of buried TNT added sufficient realism. I remember running the obstacle course against a stop watch with the TO yelling FASTER, FASTER! And swinging hand over hand across the Chattahoochee River on a rope stretched between the banks. Running the village fighting course, firing our rifles at pop up targets in doors and windows. Being ambushed in a ravine by live overhead machine gun fire which tore up the opposite bank and seeing the student leader of our patrol sit on the ground and cry. (He was gone next morning!) Marching back into the company area at the end of each day, exhausted in our sweat soaked green coveralls, but maintaining perfect formation at quick step march, with heads held high while loudly singing, "I've Got Sixpence."

       And how well I remember my college ROTC and OCS buddies, Cox, Dupuis, Everett, Hutcheon, Lipphardt, Pangburn, Potzer, Schweiker, Stavros, Thompson, and Young. They too earned their gold bars, but they never came back from Italy, France, Germany and Okinawa.

       I think the Army did a good job with Infantry OCS. The program was carefully planned, well implemented by a trained school cadre and managed by a capable staff of officers. The emphasis was always on leadership skills, consistent with the OCS motto, "Follow Me." It instilled in the officer candidates an intense need to destroy the enemy and to care for their men. The result was not perfection, but it provided the best possible leadership training in the short time available, while weeding out the unfit and developing good leadership qualities in those who showed promise. My class started with 200 men and 140 infantry second lieutenants were commissioned 97 days later. And as best I can remember, a new class started every day. (Overlapping).

       Three months after graduating from OCS, I shipped out as an overseas replacement and was assigned to the Division that saw the most combat of any Division in the U. S. Army (3rd Infantry Division, 7th Infantry Regiment) on the Anzio Beachhead in Italy. And to the best of my knowledge, I was never referred to as a "90 Day Wonder."

       And yet the term "90 Day Wonder," disparaging though it was intended to be by some, is really quite accurate when taken literally. When our country was suddenly attacked on two fronts by massive forces of tyranny, we were far from ready to defend ourselves and other free people of the world against this treachery. But the American people reacted swiftly and Infantry OCS was but one of many such programs of selection and training which made it possible for us to defeat the best armed, best trained and most experienced armed forces in the world at that time. We could have done even better with more time, but there was no more time. Schoolboys whose experience was limited to the Boy Scouts and high school sports rose to the challenge and became leaders of men in a life or death struggle. And the results of that effort and sacrifice, which was truly a "Wonder," is now a matter of recorded history. I was a "90 Day Wonder" and I say that with pride!

Hey Soldier, Where Ya From?

       I met lots of people and made many friends during my army years in WWII. But they weren't friends in the way that we think of friends in civilian life. These were fleeting rather than lasting relationships. Perhaps a more fitting term would be buddies. Some might even use the word comrades, but that seems too stilted, like something out of a WWI novel. These friends were a port in a violent storm, an oasis on an endless desert of boredom, an island on a sea of loneliness and apprehension. They were someone to lean on, with whom to share the misery and uncertainty, or just kindred souls who briefly filled the lonesome void.

       "Hey, soldier, where ya from?" These are among the saddest words I know, the words of a lonely, homesick soldier. He reaches out for a buddy who will ease the terrible loneliness with talk of home. These friendships might last for only a minute or two, for a day, or at most a few weeks, before the soldiers are sent their separate ways. The one thing they had in common was that once they parted, they rarely saw each other again.

       I met John Rahill when we dumped our gear on adjacent cots at Ft. Meade, Maryland. I'd been in the Army for just six months. We were on the second floor of a barracks at the overseas replacement center. We shared the dubious distinction of being infantry replacement 2nd Lieutenants, headed we knew not where. Rahill had been plucked from the 10th Mountain Division in Colorado. I had been sent from the 13th Airborne Division in North Carolina. In neither case did we know why we were chosen, where we were headed, nor what the future held.

       "Hey Lieutenant, where ya from?" we discovered that our homes were both in New Jersey, in towns only 20 miles apart. Rahill was tall and rangy and had played football at Caldwell High School. I had been captain of the track team at Roselle Park High School. We got along well and a tentative bond began to develop. As we went through our overseas processing, we joked with each other, with forced bravado, as we reaffirmed the beneficiaries of our G.I. life insurance and made out our last will and testament. All at the age of 22.

       On a January night in 1944, we boarded a troop transport carrying a cargo of 5,000 replacement infantrymen out of Newport News, Virginia. Each of us felt alone. Rahill and I made a point of finding bunks in the same compartment in the hold. As we zig-zagged our way across the Atlantic to Casablanca, we gave a lot of private thought to what probably lay ahead. Foremost in our thinking was our determination to override our fears and carry out our responsibilities honorably, as we had been trained to do. "Follow me" was the motto of Infantry Officer Candidate School and we both knew what that meant. Between these periods of dire introspection, we swapped paper back books and forced ourselves to make cheerful conversation. Upon arrival in Casablanca, we were trucked to a tent studded replacement depot outside the city where we found bunks in the same eight man pyramidal tent. Rahill and I ignored the restriction to camp and went through a well worn hole in the fence after dark. Having seen the hit movie Casablanca, we hitchhiked into the city to see the real thing. We felt an urgent need to make the most of the time left us.

       Next morning, about 1,000 of us boarded a long freight train composed of ancient 40 and 8's. (Freight cars with a capacity of 40 men or 8 horses). Rahill and I disregarded our car assignments and boarded the same box car for the three day trip across the Sahara Desert to Oran. Then, after a few days in yet another tent city, we boarded a small British steamer headed for Naples. We were part of a priority shipment of replacement infantry lieutenants urgently needed in Italy. Once again we were restricted, this time to the replacement depot at a race track north of Naples. Ignoring the order, we took off next morning and hitchhiked to Pompeii where we toured the ruins of that historic civilization. (What could the Army do to us? Send us overseas?)

       A few days later, I was ordered to report to the 7th Infantry on the Anzio Beachhead and I boarded my LST for the overnight trip. I vividly remember trudging up the ramp and seeing large white letters over the gaping entry maw which read, "GATEWAY TO GLORY." (A patriotic gesture? Or a swabby's gallows humor?) I was alone now. My buddy Rahill did not yet have an assignment. We parted at the "repple depple" and I never saw him again.

       That might well have been the end of this story, but in early 1946, now a civilian, I went to work as an engineer for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation in their Caldwell, N. J. plant I was in an office separated from the next room by a six foot high, wood and frosted glass partition. The next room was occupied by 6 or 8 Engineering Assistants, young college women hired during the War to perform some of the more routine engineering work. One of my co-workers, who had been a draft deferred engineer at Curtiss-Wright throughout the War, entered my office and I said, "Hey George, what's all the laughter about next door? Sounds like they're having a party."

       "Yeah," he grinned, "One of the girls who worked here during the War came back for a visit and they're reminiscing about old times. Her name is Clarissa Rahill.

       I was suddenly very attentive. Hey soldier, where ya from? I remembered that John Rahill was from Caldwell. Wouldn't it be great to see him again, to compare the experiences which followed our separation in Naples two years ago? We had some reminiscing to do too. My spirits rose in anticipation.

       "Does she have a brother named John Rahill?"

       There was a pause, then George said, "She did, but he was killed in action in Italy." Then another pause as George read my reaction. "Did you know him?" he asked somberly? I was stunned! I should not have been surprised that he had been KIA knowing the horrendous casualty rates suffered by Infantry Lieutenants in Italy, but the War was over, the killing had stopped and this was now. Rahill was my buddy! The coincidence of all this information coming together so suddenly at this place, at this time, with Rahill's sister in the next room was mind boggling. I said nothing, but George was perceptive and he knew the answer. After a further pause he said softly, "Would you like me to introduce you?"

       My mind raced. What can I tell her? I wasn't with him when he died. I don't know where or how he died. Those are the things she would want to know. She's enjoying this moment of happiness. Why dredge up those painful memories of his death, which time has healed at least in part? What good could it possibly do? And I said, "No George. Let it rest." He understood and never mentioned it again. But I wonder to this day if I did the right thing. Hey soldier, where ya from?"

Addendum: 1/3/03

   I was able to make contact with John Rahill's family via the Internet during the past year. His nephew, Major Roger W. Rahill sent me the following article which appeared in the 5/28/02 issue of "Herald Union", which is printed by the "Stars & Stripes" in Germany. I will be 82 years old tomorrow. - Russ Cloer

Article honoring Lt. John Grant Rahill, CO Baker Company, 1/1-179th Infantry, 3 Purple Hearts, Silver Star

***

          I was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the Infantry on 9/20/43 at Ft. Benning, Ga. Inf. OCS. Of the Twenty-one Rutgers Class of ‘43 ROTC grads commissioned 9/20/43, Eleven would be KIA in World War Two.

          I was assigned to the 13th Airborne Division, 190th Glider Inf., Ft. Bragg, NC. on 10/10/43. Then I was reassigned to Ft. Meade, MD Overseas Replacement Center about 1/4/44 as replacement 2LT.

          I left Newport News, VA about 1/23/44 aboard SS General Horace A. Mann, with 5,000 Infantry replacements. After brief stops at Repple Depples in Casablanca, Oran and Naples, I was assigned to 7th Inf. Reg't, 3rd Inf. Div. on the Anzio Beachhead. I was assigned platoon leader of the Intelligence & Reconnaissance (I&R) platoon out of Hq. Co. late Feb. 1944. Our primary assignment was recon, working out of Regimental HQ.  I led one of the 1st patrols into Rome on 6/4/44.

A photo of me, on the left, in one of my recon jeeps, taken on the Anzio Beachhead in early 1944. The driver's name was Leo Perrault.

The Road to Rome

       I had just turned 23 when I arrived on the Anzio Beachhead, 30 miles south of Rome, and was assigned to the 7th Infantry, 3rd Division. It was February 1944 and I was a replacement Infantry Lieutenant. Vivid memories of the combat which followed were etched in my memory forever. At night, the constant rumble and flutter of artillery overhead, theirs and ours. The rattle of machine gun fire, ours slow, theirs rapid. The ricochet of brilliant tracers skyward; ours red, theirs green or white. The wavering light of a parachute flare, lighting the flat and desolate landscape. The solid mass of white searchlight beams and red antiaircraft tracers over the harbor during air attack.

       Outnumbered by the enemy two to one, with our backs to the sea. The sheer terror of incoming 88 mm fire from a German Tiger tank. The haunting cry of "Medic!" echoing through the night. And on a rare quiet night, the sound of the Krauts singing Lili Marlene. Bloated corpses and black flies. The sickening odor of death. Cold C or K rations. No sleep. Rain. Mud. Trench Foot. Malaria. The incredible loneliness. The joy of a letter from home! Sixty-seven days without a change of clothes. Horrendous casualties! More than 100% in the 7th Infantry Regiment plus an equal number lost to malaria and trench foot. Thousands of good men died there, three thousand in the 3rd Division alone.

       And finally, reinforcements and the "breakout" at dawn on May 23, 1944. My Division lost three thousand men killed or wounded in the first three days. We fought our way through the battered town of Cisterna at night. Fires were everywhere from artillery and white phosphorous mortar fire. We choked on smoke, cordite, and cement dust from the shattered concrete buildings. A Sherman tank supported us, obliterating enemy strong points with its 75mm cannon at point blank range. The streets were littered with corpses lying where they fell, abandoned weapons, destroyed vehicles and collapsed buildings. This was what Hell must be like.

       We fought our way north through the mountain villages of Cori, Giulianello, Artena, Valmontone, to Pallestrina. The fighting was savage. We left a scene of desolation behind us, burning tanks and vehicles, dead men and horses bloated in the Italian sun, their eyes and wounds covered with swarms of huge black flies, the odor indescribable. Fire, smoke and collapsed buildings destroyed by tanks, artillery and fire. Abandoned weapons, helmets, ammo and equipment of every description littered the landscape. Columns of Kraut POWs trudged to our rear in shock, helmets and weapons gone, hands clasped above heads bowed in submission. The residue of war.

       Twelve days of bitter fighting and on the night of June 4, 1944, I reported to Colonel Wiley O'Muhundro's dugout, as ordered. "Lieutenant, there's a rumor that the Krauts have declared Rome an open city and are pulling out. I want you to take a patrol into the city and find out if it's true. And get back here fast. I'll have the 2nd and 3rd Battalions on trucks. I want my Regiment to be the first to enter Rome." I took four jeeps with 50 caliber machine guns and headed toward Rome with15 men. It was pitch dark. Smoke made visibility worse. We passed burning American tanks and recon vehicles, and dead soldiers along the Appian Way. We met no resistance. We saw nothing alive.

       After five miles, we entered the city which was ominously silent. No trace of light anywhere. We saw no Krauts, no Americans, no civilians. In the total darkness, we expected to be ambushed at every corner. It was deathly quiet. Spooky. I had a street map, but I dared show no light to read it. We pressed on but were soon lost amid the narrow winding tunnel-like streets. Until we rounded a bend, entered a huge cobblestone piazza and there before us stood the Coliseum, silhouetted against the first blush of pink light in the eastern sky! It was a sight I'll never forget! The thrill of a lifetime! I stood in the midst of 2,000 years of history and I felt a strong sense of having added to it.

       My driver found the way back and I reported to the CO. "How far into the city did you go," he accused? "As far as the Coliseum," I told him. He grinned and ordered the 2nd and 3rd Battalions in on trucks. Two days later the Allies invaded Normandy. We were no longer fighting alone.

       Our decimated Division garrisoned Rome for one week. I visited St. Peters, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, the Catacombs, the Aqueducts, the Coliseum, the Forum, a wealth of history. Only one other Lieutenant from my group of twenty-one junior officer replacements, who joined the Regiment on the same day, made it to Rome. -- It was good to be alive!

Initiative

   In May of 1944, during the Breakout from the Anzio Beachhead in Italy, the Third Infantry Division suffered twenty-eight hundred battle casualties in the first three days of the attack. The ancient town of Cisterna, which controlled access to NS Highway 5 (The Appian Way), was the initial objective. Having taken that objective, the next problem was to move northeast through the Alban Hills which surrounded us on three sides. Only in Italy would these be called hills. They reached 3,000 feet and had only a few unpaved roads running EW on which to bring our tanks, artillery and supply vehicles forward. The entire Beachhead force, some seven Divisions and their supporting units, took to the few roads available and conditions quickly became chaotic.

   As Platoon Leader of the Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I & R) platoon, I was ordered to patrol to the northeast and report on road conditions, traffic and the fighting. At dusk, I left the 7th Infantry CP, which would soon be abandoned on the basis of my report on conditions ahead. Before we reached the first rise in the ground, my jeep was stopped by a line of traffic all trying to move eastward on the single, narrow, unpaved road to Artena. Field artillery, tanks, antitank guns, engineers, medics, wiremen, and service company trucks carrying ammo, rations, water and gasoline were parked in a seemingly endless line at the side of the narrow, unpaved road. I was impressed with the training and discipline of the drivers. Although there was no traffic coming toward us, not one of the hundreds of eastbound drivers tried to move up by driving on the left side of the road. They all pulled over and turned off their ignition switches. We waited like everyone else.

   Around midnight, we saw and heard a small airplane with a muffled engine coming toward us from up ahead. As we watched, I could trace the trail of a Feisler Storch, a German light reconnaissance aircraft similar to our Piper Cub, by following the tiny blue flames from its single engine's exhaust stacks, a few hundred feet overhead. The Storch was easy to recognize because of its two unusually long landing gear struts, which gave it the appearance of a stork in flight, hence the German name Storch. It was flying very low, very slow and very quietly. It flew directly above the road headed west, no doubt counting the tanks, trucks and artillery pieces of the advancing American Army. When it had disappeared from sight, I thought to myself, "He's got to come back this way to get to his base. He'll probably come back down the same road for a second look."

   I told my driver to move the jeep about 50 yards into the cleared field on our right and park it. The jeep had a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on a pedestal in the center of the vehicle. I checked to be sure it was ready to fire and that the feed had a full box of ammunition. I then pointed it at the spot over the road where the Storch was likely to reappear, if he did in fact come back. And I watched and I listened and I waited.

   About five to ten minutes later, I began to hear the same muffled engine noises as before. Then, the blue exhaust stack flame became visible. I took careful aim, leading the target by a plane length to compensate for its forward speed. I fired about 30 rounds while swinging the muzzle to the right. The Storch went into a violent left bank and disappeared in the darkness. I didn't bring him down, but I may have put some holes in his airplane and apparently terminated his observation for the night.

   Next morning at daybreak, the column began to creep forward slowly, in fits and starts, as we climbed into the hills. The narrow, unpaved road, through the wooded hillside, was littered with dead Germans, dead horses, wagons and equipment of every description. (A German Infantry Division at that time had more horses than men. They were draft horses, not riding horses.) I vividly remember seeing my first German Mark VI Tiger tank up close. It was huge! The tracks seemed at least three feet wide and its fearsome 88mm gun, with its characteristic muzzle brake, seemed impossibly long. The tank appeared to have been abandoned at roadside because of mechanical failure or lack of fuel. Those were the only things that could stop the 72-ton Mark VI Tiger with its eight inches of armor plate! After another half mile, the column stopped again and the drivers dutifully pulled over, turned off their engines and settled in to wait.

   Even though only a 2nd Lieutenant at the time, I felt I should be doing something to help untangle this mess, but I didn't know what. I was reluctant to go forward, to pass all the stopped drivers doing what they had been trained to do. Fortunately, there was no air threat, or we would have been strafed. Our Air Corps had complete air supremacy. In fact, there was a story going around at that time about a Kraut replacement being indoctrinated by his sergeant. "Look up," the sergeant said, "always look up! If you see silver airplanes, they're American. If you see camouflaged airplanes, they're British. If you don't see any airplanes, it's the Luftwaffe."

   In Infantry OCS we had been taught to exercise initiative and to be decisive. "Even a bad decision is better than no decision at all," we were told. I decided to have my driver take me forward in the left lane, despite standard operating procedure. My objective was not to get a better place in line, but to see if there was anything I could possibly do to help break this logjam.

   Steele pulled out and we made our way forward past some pretty mean looks from the parked drivers, who were now spending their second day in line. "Lookit that smart-ass 2nd Lieutenant movin' up to the head of the f---in' line! Who the f--- does he think he is!" One more mile and the woods ended. There were rolling fields ahead and the sound of heavy rifle, machine gun, and incoming artillery and mortar fire assaulted our ears. Just inside the last patch of trees, two jeeps were parked off the road and two Lt. Colonels were studying a map spread out on the hood of one of the jeeps. Several staff members were standing around at a respectful distance. Small arms fire crackled overhead. I had Steele park close enough so I could see and hear what was happening. It became obvious that the column of vehicles had caught up to the rifle companies and could go no further. One of the Colonels was an Infantry Battalion commander agonizing over the fact that his attacking battalion was being chewed up by the Krauts because he had no artillery support. The other colonel was the Artillery Battalion commander who could offer no help because all of his guns had bogged down in the traffic jam, while attempting to move up within firing distance.

   I walked over to the two Colonels, a lowly 2nd Lieutenant with a single tarnished gold bar, and said, "Sir, I'm Lt. Cloer, 7th Infantry Recon Platoon. If you tell me which artillery unit you want, I'll pull it out of that traffic jam and get it up here." They looked doubtfully at me and each other but their demeanor said, "What have we got to lose?" The artillery Colonel said, "I need any vehicles from the 10th Field Artillery. The guns are being towed by 1 ½ ton trucks with gun crews and ammo aboard."

   Steele and I hurried back down the column. We knew, of course, that the Army used a uniform marking system on its vehicles which made it easy to identify the unit to which they belonged. On the front and rear bumpers, the unit designation was stenciled in white on an olive drab background, in this case, "3-10FA," Third Division, 10th Field Artillery Battalion. We hurried back down the column, slowing only when we identified a 10th Field truck. I yelled, "10th Field only, pull out and move to the head of the column!" Response from the drivers was magnificent! In the first mile and one half, we sent four trucks forward, towing their 105mm howitzers, complete with gun crews and ammo. We then went forward again, but this time I got no dirty looks from the drivers still waiting in line.

   When we returned to the edge of the woods, the first two guns were firing. The Artillery Colonel had marked out positions for the remaining two and they too were firing within a few minutes. I felt really good about what I had done. Not only was it essential to continuing our advance on Rome, but it almost certainly saved American lives as well. And nobody else had thought of it! Or perhaps they had, but their training, discipline and the old adage, "Never volunteer," were too ingrained for them to act. It takes a certain amount of guts for a 2nd Lieutenant to walk up to two Lt. Colonels in a critical situation and tell them what they should do next.

   The word "Thanks" is not one you hear very often in the Army, and never by a Lt. Colonel to a 2nd Lieutenant. And I didn't hear it this time. It just wasn't done. If you did something right, it was considered nothing more than what you had been trained to do. But the Artillery Colonel walked over to me after the fourth gun was firing and his words still ring in my ears, "Lieutenant, you sure earned your pay today!"

A Visit by the General

   Following the breakout from the Anzio Beachhead on May 23, 1944, the 7th Infantry fought its way north through Cisterna di Littoria. By May 27, in hard fighting, we were still pushing north about 1 ½ miles NW of Artena. The Regimental forward Command Post was located in a gully recently vacated by the 1st Bn. C.P. It was about 200 yards off the unpaved road leading to Artena. We had been advised by 1st Bn. that this area was under enemy observation and any activity between the ravine and the road would bring accurate enemy shellfire into the ravine. Any vehicle which found it necessary to approach the C.P. in daylight was to stay on the road and turn off at a wooded area which provided a concealed path back to the ravine.

   As platoon leader of the I & R platoon, I was responsible for C.P. security along with my Intelligence and Reconnaissance duties. I was also responsible for the movement of enemy POW's from the three Bn. C.P.'s, back to Regiment for interrogation and then on to Division. To this end, I had two of my men assigned to each Bn. Hq. Co. on a rotating basis. One of these men was Sam Aldrich, an easy going southerner, always agreeable, always good natured. He smoked an old corn cob pipe, which when not in his mouth, was stuck stem down in the top of his combat boot. He was kidded unmercifully by the other men because the acrid ‘juice' from the bowl had to be seeping down into the stem and then into his mouth when he lit up. Sam took it all good naturedly and just grinned.

   The day before we moved forward into the 1st Bn. C.P., Sam's partner came back guarding two Kraut POWs with the news that Sam had been hit by 88mm shell fire, had lost his leg at the knee and had been evacuated. When we moved forward into the former 1st Bn. C.P., one of the first things I noticed was a bloody human leg, severed at the knee, lying in the bottom of the ravine. There was an old corncob pipe stuck in the top of the combat boot. It was Sam's leg and I had the men bury it. It was a very sobering experience.

   I had the men dig two man foxholes deep in the sides of the ravine and after seeing Sam's leg, they needed no encouragement. They dug like ferrets! My platoon runner, PFC Bigler, dug a hole for me and himself at a location I designated. The colonel and his immediate staff moved into a sandbagged room-size bunker built into the side of the ravine earlier, either by the 1st Bn. or by the Krauts before them.

   We hadn't been there long when one of my lookouts announced that there was a jeep approaching across the field via the most direct route from the road. We had been warned not to use this route in daylight because it was under enemy observation. As the jeep drew closer, we could see that there were three people in it and there was a one foot square red placard on the front bumper with a large silver star in the middle designating that one of the occupants was a General. My lookout swore softly. The jeep pulled up to the rim of the ravine, the General scrambled down the steep 25 foot slope and headed for the C.P. bunker at a very fast walk. The other two people were his aide, a major, and his driver, a sergeant, Neither of them followed him into the bunker. They stood in the bottom of the ravine to await his return.

   As the jeep approached the rim, I had yelled for my men to take cover in their foxholes. I then waited just long enough to see that the General was in fact a General and had entered the C.P. bunker safely. I then ran to my foxhole. My runner, PFC Bigler was already in it. It took maybe ten more seconds before the first shell came in. It was terrifying! The 88mm high velocity, flat trajectory shell travels so fast that the first sound you hear is the ear-splitting crash of the shell burst. This is followed a fraction of a second later by the fearsome crack of its supersonic flight and then by the soft boom of the muzzle blast a half mile or so away. I wasn't counting the shell bursts but there must have been about five and they were all inside the ravine!

   There was then a lull of about 30 or 40 seconds and Bigler said, "Lt., shouldn't we be checking to see what we can do for the wounded? Nothing was further from my mind! How did we know the 88 was through firing? I waited another 10 seconds and then my sense of duty forced me out of our hole to check the ravine. All of my men were in their deep foxholes and seemed OK. But the General's aide and his driver had no foxhole. The sergeant was sitting on the floor of the ravine exploring his face with his hands. As I came up beside him, I saw in profile that he had no face! It was gone, from his eyebrows to his neck! The eyes, the nose, the mouth, the chin, nothing was left but a bloody red maw which he pawed at, fully conscious and trying to understand. He was choking from the blood in his throat. What can you do for a man like that? You feel helpless and frustrated because you know there is nothing you can do!

   I moved to the major who was lying on his back. He had a bloody hole in the center of his chest, but he too was conscious. There was no arterial spurting, but blood was leaking out steadily. He asked for water. Perhaps he shouldn't have it with a chest wound. But I didn't have the strength to deny it. After warning him of that, I tilted my canteen and let an ounce or two drip into his mouth. He asked me to lift his head so he could swallow it. He couldn't raise his head alone. I did.

   About then, a medic showed up from the bunker. He gave the sergeant a shot of morphine and began wrapping his head in white gauze, from his neck up to the top of his head, round and around and around. By this time, the sergeant was unconscious. The Regimental Surgeon now showed up from the bunker. He had called for an ambulance by radio or field telephone. I asked him if he thought the sergeant would "make it," our euphemism for "survive." His answer was a soft, "I hope not." We now found out that one of my men, Corporal Fennell, had been wounded in his foxhole. A shell fragment struck him in the buttocks and went on through to tear up his intestines.

   The ambulance, with enormous red crosses on a white background, now came up the road and turned off to cross the same shortcut the General had taken. I thought to myself, "Oh man! Here it comes again!" But he parked right next to the General's jeep on the lip of the ravine and nothing happened. The three badly wounded men were loaded aboard and he then drove back to the road and wherever they take wounded men in that condition. The German gunner didn't fire. I know what the Geneva Convention says about firing on medical personnel but the rules were observed only sporadically.

   I wonder to this day if the General's trip was worth the cost. And whether the German gunner could see the General's ostentatious silver star on the red plaque through his binoculars. And whether the General knew that he should not have approached the C.P. by that route, or if he thought rules don't apply to Generals and besides, if he moved quickly, he could make it to the bunker before the gunner could fire. He destroyed the lives of three other men making his point, whatever it was.

   Later in the day, the Regimental Surgeon asked me if I wanted a Colt 45 caliber pistol. I was not authorized to wear one. My weapon was the 30 caliber carbine. But it was a comforting feeling to have that reserve firepower on your hip and I hastened to say yes. I was to carry it for the rest of the War. It was only after I noticed the fresh red blood stains on the top of the brown leather holster that I realized where it came from.

HUMOR & MORALE

     In May 1944, an aging 2nd Lieutenant joined the 7th Infantry Regiment as a replacement officer on the Anzio Beachhead in Italy. He was in his late thirties and in civilian life he had been a school teacher. Because of his age, he was not assigned to a rifle platoon, but rather, was made a Liaison Officer on the Regimental Staff. Lt. White, was a rather prissy individual and being the junior officer on the staff, he was singled out as the butt of jokes on those rare occasions when timing and environment made jokes acceptable. Some thought him rather strange because of his huge handlebar mustache which he kept waxed and carefully groomed with the tips curled up into half circles. His small, perfectly round, steel-rimmed G.I. glasses rounded out his bizarre appearance.

     Jokes and horseplay were a rare commodity in an Infantry Regiment, what with the maiming and dying that went on daily. What little humor there was, was of the black variety, as illustrated by Bill Mauldin's cartoons in the Stars and Stripes, the Army newspaper. They were pertinent, subtle and timely, poking fun at the Army, the rear echelon, officers, and the hardships of the Infantryman's lot. The men regarded Mauldin as one of their own, which he had been as a private in the 45th Infantry Division. He showed a remarkable insight into the mind of the Combat Infantryman. That type of humor, frequently misunderstood or not understood at all by outsiders, gave the men a much needed chuckle and a release from the terrible stress and pressures of War.

"I need a couple guys what don't owe me no money fer a little routine patrol"

     After the Anzio breakout and the taking of Rome, the Third Division, decimated by battle casualties, moved from Rome to a wooded area near Naples for a few weeks, to take on replacements and to train for the amphibious assault on Southern France. During one of these training exercises, Lieutenant White was assigned as loading officer for a group of LCTs (Landing Craft, Tank) taking aboard thirty-five ton Sherman tanks. The first LCT pulled up to the dock, bow first, and lowered its ramp onto the concrete at a twenty-degree angle. There was no convenient bollard to tie up to, so the Navy crew applied forward thrust to hold the LCT against the dock. Lieutenant White, in charge of loading, waved the first tank forward. When the tracks were half on the ramp and half on the dock, the climb proved too steep and the engine stalled. The driver restarted, shifted to a lower gear, raced the engine and let out the clutch. The thirty five-ton tank leaped forward, and with the rubber padded steel tracks gripping the concrete dock rather than the slick metal ramp, the tank pushed the LCT away from the dock, continued on, and with an enormous splash, sank in fifteen feet of water. Fortunately, all hatches were open and the tank crew members bobbed to the surface like so many corks.

     The next day, Lt. White was served with a "Statement of Charges," an Army form used to enforce the regulation which held a soldier personally responsible for the cost of any piece of government property lost, damaged, or destroyed as a result of the soldier's negligence, or neglect. The form read as follows: "Lt. White is held responsible, as loading officer, for the loss of one (1) Sherman tank due to his negligence during a loading exercise in the Bay of Naples, Italy. The tank is valued at $75,000. Lt. White is hereby held liable for repayment of this sum to the government of the United States. Toward this end, eighty per cent of all pay and allowances due or to become due will be withheld from said officer's monthly pay until such time as this debt is satisfied."

     Lt.White didn't have to be a mathematical genius to figure out that eighty percent of $150 per month is $120 or $1440 per year and it would therefore take him fifty-two years to pay off this debt, assuming no interest charges.

     Of course, he knew about Statements of Charges, but they were never used in combat. Soldiers routinely threw away government property; gas masks, ponchos, camouflage capes, mess kits, ammunition, leggings, and none had ever been served with a statement of charges in combat. But we weren't in combat now! We were training in a rear area and many high ranking sticklers for regulations routinely enforced rules in rear areas that the combat veterans thought unnecessary. Besides, this document was signed by the Regimental Commander, a West Point full Colonel, a no-nonsense leader, fair but not known to make jokes or even to smile. (Colonel Wiley O'Muhundro). The story spread rapidly while Lt. White worried himself sick. After allowing a few days for the story to complete its rounds, the Colonel told Lt. White it was only a joke and the entire regiment had a morale boosting laugh at the Lieutenant's expense. The butt of the joke was a member of the Regimental Staff, not a front line soldier, and he was a junior officer besides, which made the joke all the more enjoyable for the dogfaces. And the Colonel came out of it with recognition that he was a regular guy, a human being after all. The affair had a salutary effect on morale just when it was needed most, on the eve of a bloody amphibious assault landing in Southern France.

     We made the D Day landing in Southern France at H+40 minutes near St. Tropez.

D Day - Southern France - 0800 - August 15, 1944

     When the victorious 3rd Division marched into Rome on June 5, 1944, it was decimated after four months of vicious fighting on the Anzio Beachhead and the breakout to Rome. In those four months it had suffered 9616 battle casualties (killed, wounded or missing) and 13,238 non-battle casualties (mostly trench foot and malaria). (Ref. Division History.) Many of the survivors were inexperienced replacements or hospital returnees who were still on the mend. Average Division strength during that period was about 10,000 men which meant that the replacement rate was 230%!

     The Division was given one week of R & R in Rome, then trucked to a wooded area north of Naples (near the town of Pozzuoli) to integrate replacements and to train for an assault amphibious landing. It would be on the coast of Southern France, although we were not told the location nor timing for security reasons. We slept in tents, washed in outdoor showers and ate hot food in an outdoor chow line. And we took an Atabrine pill every day to suppress the symptoms of malaria with which most of us had been infected in the Pontine Marshes on the Anzio Beachhead. There was a curious procedure for this. Since some soldiers apparently preferred malaria to infantry combat, an officer stood at the head of each chow line with a can of pills. As each soldier went by, he opened his mouth, the officer inserted the Atabrine pill on his tongue, and the soldier then took a swallow of water from his aluminum canteen cup. The officer was responsible to see to it that each man swallowed his pill. Once back in combat, the Atabrine pills disappeared.

     On the other end of the chow line there were three large garbage cans. The first was for any food left over after the soldier finished eating. The second was hot soapy water in which he swished his empty mess kit to clean it and the third was very hot clear water to remove any soap and sterilize the mess kit. In Italy, there were usually a half dozen ragged Italian kids, each holding an empty gallon can that the kitchen crew had disposed of, begging for scraps of food before the soldier emptied his mess kit into the garbage can. Two rather famous cartoons came out of this. Bill Mauldin shows "Willie" in his combat regalia, holding his full mess kit while a ragged little girl with an empty gallon can looks up at him hopefully. The caption is "The Prince and the Pauper." The other was, I think, a "Sad Sack" cartoon. The first frame shows a similar scene. But the following frames show the little girl carrying her full can home and dumping it into the hog slop behind her house.

     We had excellent maps and an accurate 20 foot sand table model of Red 1 beach on which we would land near Cavalaire-sur-Mer. There were detailed lectures on what we could be expected to encounter and how to cope with the defenses. We practiced endlessly loading and debarking from our landing craft, LST's, LCT's, LCI's and LCVP's. The landing craft were not noted for their speed. (There was a joke, popular at the time. How fast is an LST? It actually has four speeds. Ahead slow, reverse, full ahead and flank speed. Each of these is about six knots!)

     The Generals gave us pep talks on how weak the enemy opposition would be and on the overwhelming strength of our Navy and Air Corps support. The chaplains were kept busy leading us in prayer and the attendance at services grew as the date of departure approached. Of course, the date and location were kept secret, but we knew we were getting close when a concertina barbed wire stockade was erected in the Regimental area and about 50 GI's, who were potential AWOL suspects, were confined under armed guard until they could be loaded aboard ship. Business picked up at the Aid Stations as a rash of self inflicted gunshot wounds broke out. Most claimed to have shot themselves in the foot while cleaning their weapon. We were issued gas masks and told to discard them once ashore if there was no gas. Service personnel would pick them up later. It's the only time throughout the War that I remember having to carry a gas mask except for the trip overseas and then we turned them in at the replacement depot before being assigned to a unit.

     Shortly thereafter, we were told to pack up and we were trucked to the docks in Naples. The Italian civilians told us we were headed for Southern France, not the Balkans as some suspected. That was fine with me because I spoke French fluently at that time. No word from our superiors until we were told to turn in all our Italian Occupation Lire in exchange for Occupation French Francs. (Two for one.) A Lire was worth 1 cent American, a Franc 2 cents American. Possession of American money was illegal. We were assigned to landing craft and we climbed aboard. My company of approximately 150 men was assigned to an LCI (landing craft infantry). The medium sized LCI had a pointed nose, but narrow ramps on either side of the prow which could be dropped on the beach to exit. As we slowly drew away from Naples and out to sea on August 9, 1944, I remember looking back over the fantail at the thin trail of smoke rising from Mt. Vesuvius and wondered who would and who would not survive this one.

     We had been told that the convoy was enormous; battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers and more landing craft than were landed in Normandy on June 6. But the convoy was so spread out that we could only see four or five ships from our position through the thin haze and smoke. Six days after leaving Naples, the convoy arrived off the beaches between Cavalaire-sur-Mer and St. Tropez. The assault was made by three Infantry Divisions, the 3rd, 45th and 36th, all of which had compiled stellar combat records in Italy and Sicily. Naval guns saturated the shoreline before H Hour which was 0800. Return fire, both artillery and small arms was lighter than expected. But there were mines and tetrahedrons in the shallow water and three of my Division's LCI's were blown up with a loss of 60 men Missing In Action. This caused some changes in plans and my platoon, which was scheduled to hit the beach at Hour + 40 minutes, was held up for almost an hour.

D Day Southern France, 0800, 8/15/44

(Smoke covered beach from LCI ramp)

     We watched as the small LCVP's circled until all were present for a given wave and then they separated and headed for the beach in a more or less straight line parallel to the shore. This tactic avoided concentrations of men and landing craft which would have made the enemy's job easier. Shellfire from our Navy's big guns rumbled overhead. Nearby were flat bottom LCT's whooshing off rockets row after row with terrifying screams as each rack went off. Small Navy ships (destroyers?) equipped with smoke generators raced back and forth along the beach. The beach was covered with smoke so the Krauts couldn't see what was coming at them.

     A rope cargo net was thrown over the side of our LCI and one of the smaller LCVP's (landing craft, vehicle, personnel) came alongside. Because of LCI losses to mines, a change of plans had been made. We clambered down the rope cargo net which had been thrown over the side of our LCI (hold the verticals dummy, or your hands will be stepped on!) and jumped into a small LCVP which was bobbing up and down below us. Once aboard, we joined the circle, became a line parallel to the beach and then our wave went in.

     I stood up front right behind the raised loading ramp and my 35 man platoon crowded in behind me. Enemy mortar, artillery and rocket fire caused water spouts which we could see above the high sides of our LCVP and small arms fire crackled overhead. We couldn't see the beach. The front and sides of the LCVP were too high. I saw no fear shown by anyone. Nor enthusiasm. We had a job to do, we had been trained to do it and Army discipline took over. Military discipline is a hard thing to explain. We knew what was expected of us and we would do it to the best of our ability regardless of the dangers. We had stopped independent thought when we boarded the LCVP. Our minds went into a different mode. Our actions were programmed and we would follow the script.

D Day Southern France

88mm gun on beach

     My first surprise was that the Navy Coxswain ran the LCVP right up on the beach, dropped the ramp and I stepped off onto dry sand! Didn't even get my feet wet! This was very unusual because of the Navy's fear of mines in shallow water. We had been trained to "GET OFF THE BEACH!" because that's where the mortar and shellfire was falling. So I ran forward with a loud "Follow Me" and found that the 50 yard wide strip of trees between the coast road and the sand, unlike our sand table model, had all been felled toward the water, creating an almost impassable barrier! I got my 3rd surprise when I looked back for the first time and saw my men in single file, jogging after me in my footprints! If someone was going to step on a mine, let it be the Lieutenant! Some of these men had made as many as five previous landings under fire, Casablanca, Sicily; Salerno, Italy and Anzio. I quickly found a passage through the felled trees that someone had gone through before and therefore seemed less likely to be mined or trip wired. We took up firing positions along the slope of the slightly elevated coast road with one of the rifle companies.

     Resistance at this stage was surprisingly light. Instead of a solid wall of concrete bunkers like those encountered in Normandy, we met only scattered small arms fire and intermittent artillery and mortar fire on the beaches. There were a few 88 mm guns in log surrounded emplacements, but it appeared that the crews had fired a few shots at the landing force and then fled. The POW's we took fitted the mold we had been told to expect. Lots of older men and young boys with a large percentage of Russian and Polish volunteers who had apparently accepted this assignment in lieu of forced labor in German POW camps. And one fairly large group of German soldiers that I saw, had small rectangular black mustaches under their noses, just like Adolph Hitler's. It was not apparent whether they were doing this voluntarily as a show of support for the Nazi cause, or whether they had grown the mustache under orders from their superior officers. By the time my platoon landed, about an hour after the first wave, the beach area had been pretty well cleared of enemy resistance by our Battle Patrol. Despite the lighter than expected resistance, my Regiment lost 58 men KIA and about 250 WIA. Many of these were from mines rather than aimed fire. The 3rd Division took 1627 enemy POWs on D Day.

     The stiffest resistance was met at Cape Cavalaire, a promontory jutting out into the sea and capped with artillery, mortars and machine guns covering the landing beaches. This was similar to Point Du Hoc in Normandy. The relatively light casualties in the 7th Infantry in taking this vital strong point, were largely due to the bravery of one man, Sergeant James Connor of the Battle Patrol. Conner was knocked down and seriously wounded in the neck by the same hanging mine that killed his platoon leader. Refusing aid, he urged his men across several hundred yards of mined beach under heavy fire from mortar, 20 mm flak guns, machine gun and rifle fire. Taking over as platoon leader, Sergeant Connor inspired his men forward. He received a second painful wound which lacerated his neck and back, but he refused evacuation and impelled his men to assault the enemy gun positions on the hilltop. His third grave wound, this one in the leg, felled him in his tracks, but still he urged his men on from the prone position. Less than 1/3 of his original 36 man platoon remained, but they took the enemy position, killing 7 and capturing 40 of the entrenched enemy. They stopped all enemy fire on the landing beach from this vantage point. Sergeant Conner was awarded the Medal of Honor.

     The principal mission of my platoon the first day was to move about a half mile inland, establish and secure a new Regimental C.P. ashore and to assist the rifle platoons in the guarding and evacuation of the many POW's by loading them aboard returning LCVP's. Engineers swept the beach for mines and marked cleared paths after which our vehicles started to come ashore.

     We moved inland rapidly against relatively light resistance. We were told that a radio intercept had ordered the Krauts to delay their counterattack until they were out of range of our naval gunfire. D-Day objectives were achieved by noon of the first day. Our vehicles came ashore and we moved rapidly northeast toward Avignon and the Rhone River Valley which was the primary road, railroad and river route north toward Besancon, Montelimar and the Belfort Gap. My recon platoon was on the move almost continuously, feeling out the next defensive stand of the fleeing enemy. We were overwhelmed with Kraut POW's, many of whom seemed glad to have the opportunity to surrender to the Americans. When one of my recon jeeps with four men was late getting back from what I thought was an easy mission, I went looking for them in another jeep. I found them eating ripe melons at the side of a road which bordered a huge melon field. The weather was beautiful and you would think they were on a picnic!

     We bypassed the ports of Marseilles and Toulon and left the mop up of enemy, who were now completely cut off from retreat, to the French forces which had landed on our left. The town of Montelimar was a key early objectives because it controlled the entrance to the Rhone Valley passage north. This escape route was choked off early by our artillery, infantry and air force and the retreating enemy forces were trapped between our attack and the Rhone River. Twelve miles of roadway was covered with thousands of dead horses, smashed carts, burned out vehicles and blackened corpses. It later served as an introduction to War for replacements coming into Marseille and moving up to join us in the Vosges Mountains and the Colmar Pocket. At that time, August 1944, the Germans had more horses in an Infantry Division than they had men. These were draft horses pulling carts, wagons, and artillery pieces. There were some vehicles, but the Germans were critically short of gasoline and diesel fuel. Many of the military vehicles and most of the confiscated civilian vehicles were run by charcoal burners which piped a combustible gas to the engine. What little fuel was available was apparently saved for tanks and aircraft.

Montelimar, France - August 1944

(Remains of German 19th Army fleeing north.)

     We fought our way north against relatively light resistance in what the G.I.s called the Champagne Campaign. Little did we realize what bitter fighting lay ahead in the Vosges Mountains and the Colmar Pocket.

Il y a des Boches en bas!

(There are German soldiers in the cellar!)

       Another jeep Recon patrol in Southern France on a beautiful Indian summer day in 1944, this time to find a suitable location for the forward displacement of the Regimental CP. I took all four of my jeeps and fifteen men, since we carefully marked the route for others to follow, eliminating the need to go back. There were no front lines, as such. The Krauts were slowly withdrawing to the north, stopping only to defend favorable terrain. The situation was "fluid" which means in this case that neither side knew for sure where the enemy was.

       We drove through a small French town to the continuous ringing of church bells. French civilians of every age and description lined the road, cheering, throwing flowers, offering wine and fruit, many crying with joy after four years of brutal occupation. A very pretty young woman danced up to our jeep on the driver's side. Steele braked to a stop, and she gave him a big hug and a kiss. I was riding in the front passenger seat. She leaned forward between Steele and the steering wheel and was about to give me a kiss too, when she suddenly recoiled and backed away into the crowd. I couldn't imagine what I had done to cause this reaction. I turned to Steele and said, "What do you suppose that was all about?" He gave me a salacious grin and said, "I squeezed her titty!" I said, "Steele, you may be the best jeep driver in the company, but you're no gentleman." To which he replied, "You got that right, Lootenant."

       I found a large chateau in late afternoon in the area that the Colonel had designated on his map. I reserved the main house for the War Room, the Colonel and his staff. There were a number of small workers' cottages on the land and after setting up defensive positions around the CP, I occupied the northern most cottage with Steele and my platoon runner, Bigler. The house was on the side of a hill abutting a small lake which was surrounded by trees. The rest of my patrol moved into other isolated worker's cottages within a few hundred yards.

       I enjoyed conversing with the farm worker and his wife in their language. My four years of French language study served me well. It was almost dusk and they invited the three of us to have dinner with them. We offered to share our C rations, much to their delight. The woman went down the cellar stairway to get some potatoes and several minutes later returned with an apron full. But her face was as white as a sheet! She whispered in my ear, "Il-y-a des Boches en bas!" "Combien?" I asked. "A-peu-pres douze!" "Est-que-ils a des fusils?" "Oui, beaucoup de fusils!" She was telling me that there were twelve armed German soldiers in the cellar!

       I acted reflexively. "Bigler, cover the cellar door with your Thompson. Steele, round up as many men as you can find quickly, including Nessman with his machine gun. I'll cover the cellar door and windows from outside. Move!" In a few minutes we were in position. It was almost dark. Corporal Nessman was fluent in German and I had him shout at the outside cellar door, "We know you are in there. Drop your weapons and come out with your hands up." No response! Could the woman have been mistaken? Not likely. Once more, in German, "Kommen sie hier mit der hande hoch, Raus!, Schnelle!, or grenades are coming in through the door and windows!"

       After a brief hesitation, we heard shuffling noises and then "Kamerade!" the standard Kraut expression for surrender. Three Krauts came out with their hands clasped overhead. Where were the other nine? The lead Kraut then told Nessman that their sergeant, having seen us enter the area, hid them in the cellar and was waiting for dark to escape. When the French woman entered the cellar, they held her as long as possible without alerting us to their presence, then went out the window nearest the woods. Three decided to give up and lagged behind. I checked out the cellar and the rest were gone.

       They could just as easily have crept up the cellar stairs and killed the three of us before we realized we were in danger and then made their escape through the woods. They had rapid fire machine pistols, while our weapons were stacked in a corner, except for the 45 caliber pistol on my belt. In retrospect, I think they may have been a Recon patrol like us, with orders to get information but to shoot only if fired upon. Or possibly, they were a combat patrol left behind to shoot up what was a likely command post location. But after seeing the four jeeps with 50 caliber machine guns, they decided that their chances of escape were better if they didn't start a firefight.

Motorcycle Mystique

     My earliest recollection of a motorcycle goes all the way back to 1925 when I was four years old. My parents, my sister and I lived in a second floor apartment in Jersey City, New Jersey. We had no car, but my father owned a red Indian motorcycle with a side-car which he kept in a nearby rented garage. On a pleasant Sunday, my mother would sometimes say, "Let's take a ride up to Sussex County for a breath of fresh air." My father would get the motorcycle while my mother fixed a picnic lunch and off we would go to spend the day in what was then sparsely populated farm country. In winter, my father removed the engine and transmission and stored them under his bed when he wasn't overhauling them on the kitchen table.

     So, not surprisingly, my first ride on a motorcycle was a very memorable event. It took place in France in 1944. I was platoon leader of the 7th Infantry I & R platoon and I spoke French quite fluently at that time. We had just liberated another French farming village and the villagers crowded the roadside to offer us hugs, kisses, fruit and wine. But one old farmer heard me speaking his language and came over to my jeep to begin jabbering away, as the French were wont to do. He had a greater gift to offer. He told me that the Germans had left behind a motorcycle in apparently good condition, because they had run out of gasoline, a constant problem for them. He had put it in his barn with the intention of turning it over to the Americans. We had a policy of not using enemy vehicles because we had enough of our own and to drive Kraut equipment was an invitation to death by "friendly fire." Besides, we had an image to maintain. We were an advancing American Army, not a bunch of gypsies!

     But there is a certain mystique about motorcycles. My curiosity and pleasant memories of the old Indian demanded that I at least go look at the German machine. I told the farmer to climb in the back of the jeep and he guided us to his barn. I wheeled out the huge BMW (Bavarian Motor Works) machine and was fascinated by it! It radiated raw power and superb German workmanship. It was painted in the Wehrmacht light earth/dark earth flat camouflage colors and it was beautiful! I turned to my jeep driver. "Steele, how about getting that spare jerry can of gas off the back of the jeep and let's see if we can start this monster." We filled the tank, I turned on the ignition, kicked the starter crank, and was rewarded with the throaty roar of the engine. It was sweet music to my ears and my spine tingled. I familiarized myself with the controls. The temptation to ride it was just too great.

     I had never ridden a motorcycle before, but I convinced myself in no time at all, that years of experience on a bicycle were sufficient training. I shifted to low gear and sedately cruised out of the driveway and onto the paved road. For the next half hour, I rode serenely through the beautiful French countryside at a leisurely pace. The feeling of exhilaration, the joy of the wind in my face, the sensation of controlling such power, and the complete sense of freedom I felt is indescribable. It was truly a one of a kind experience.

     I took a different route on the way back and soon found myself on an unpaved road. I drove slowly and carefully, but as I leaned into one curve, the wheels slid out from under me and I found myself sliding down the road on my hands and knees at about 20 MPH. I picked myself up and sat at the edge of the deserted roadside for five or ten minutes and examined my scrapes, cuts and bruises while the shock wore off. The knees were gone from my wool O.D. trousers and both knees were raw and bloody. But my hands were worse. Both palms were lacerated and bleeding. The BMW was lying on its side, stalled out, but apparently no worse for wear. I cursed it soundly, stood it up and climbed back on. No piece of Kraut equipment was going to get the better of me! I started it up and the engine responded with a smooth musical burble which I took as a welcome apology. I drove back to the barn and told the farmer to hold onto the Hog and give it to the rear echelon troops which would follow us. Only then did I stop at the aid station to have the cuts and abrasions cleaned and sterilized.

     But by far the worst part of the experience, was facing the men of my platoon. The story had traveled like lightning, and although no one said a word, I knew what they were all thinking. "How the hell could the Lieutenant do such a damn-fool thing? We would never have fallen off!" But we moved out the next morning, the lacerations healed and the motorcycle adventure was history.

     I never rode a motorcycle again. The closest I came was on a Bermuda vacation, forty years later, when my wife and I rented Honda mopeds to tour the island. The moped was a far cry from the BMW and doesn't even count as a motorcycle. But I do remember passing a teen age native on his beat up moped. As I breezed by, he shouted after me, "GO, GRANDPA, GO!"

Vagney, France

       From Maxonchamp, the 7th Infantry cleared Remiremont and pressed on toward Vagney, France and the Vosges Mountains. In early October 1944, our CP was established in a large two story stone house in an open field on the edge of Vagney. A two-lane road on our left led into the center of town. To the left of the road was heavily wooded high ground. Fighting had been heavy and we hadn't moved in several days.

       Early one morning, I was ordered to lead a small patrol into the center of town and check the condition of the 1st Battalion CP, since all communication had gone out during the night. This was vitally important because with no communication from the Battalion CP, the rifle companies had no direction and Regiment and the Field Artillery could provide no support. I was also ordered to be on the lookout for "stragglers," a term used to describe men who had become separated from their company, for one reason or another, and were in no hurry to get back. Some were careful to not go far enough to the rear to be considered deserters, just close enough to be able to claim that they were trying to find their way back. They wanted a few days to collect their senses. Thankfully, I wasn't called upon to do this very often because I hated it! It was a Military Police function but there were no MPs this close to the rifle companies.

       I took PFC Bigler, my platoon runner, and another man with me and we went in on foot. We crossed the destroyed bridge leading into town which was lying on the bottom of the shallow stream bed. Soon thereafter, we came upon a storefront with all glass gone from the windows. I looked inside and saw about a dozen GIs sleeping on top of six foot long restaurant tables. It was cold and they were all covered with their blankets. They hadn't even posted a guard! I walked inside and noticed that they had pulled the blankets over their heads and since the blankets weren't long enough, their combat boots stuck out the bottom end of the blanket. This was a very disagreeable assignment I had been given and I would have preferred to walk right on by. But, I couldn't ignore it. It was my duty to find out what was going on here. I drew the blanket back from the head of the nearest man and as I stared at his face, I realized that he wasn't sleeping. He was dead! I checked one more with the same result. I then realized that the battalion was using this restaurant as a collecting point for KIAs so that Graves Registration would have no trouble finding them. Here were a dozen men who had given their lives for their country and I had suspected them of malingering! That was a hard fact to live with and I never looked for stragglers again, orders or no orders!

       We continued on through to the center of town. There was an American Sherman tank motionless and silent in the middle of street and three or four GIs wandering around where the CP was supposed to be. One of the men was a sergeant and seeing the silver bar on my helmet, he told me what had happened. A German patrol, consisting of a Mark IV tank and an estimated 30 infantrymen, came into the town during the hours of darkness, right down this same street. A firefight erupted and the GI's could hear, but not see, the German tank which moved forward in the darkness and stopped repeatedly. An American Sherman tank was hidden behind a house around the corner behind the CP. The tank platoon leader, 2nd Lieutenant James Harris, came forward on foot in the darkness to investigate. He was severely wounded by a burst of enemy machine gun fire and the man with him was killed instantly. He crawled back to the corner and directed his tank forward. He didn't have the strength to climb aboard. When the two tanks were head to head in the middle of the street, about thirty yards apart, they still couldn't see each other. A German light machine gun, off to one side of the street, opened fire on the American tank. The Sherman tank machine gunner immediately fired his machine gun on the source of the German tracers. The German tank, having now located the American tank by the source of its tracer bullets, fired three quick rounds from its high velocity 75mm main gun using armor piercing shells. (See photo). The three projectiles went clean through the heaviest armor plate on the Sherman, killing three men inside and severely wounded the fourth. Other GIs, firing from the street and windows, were hit by the Kraut small arms fire from other members of the patrol. The Kraut tank then began firing at the CP building with its main gun. There were further casualties and all communication was knocked out. Their job done, the Krauts then withdrew.

       A medic found Lt. Harris in the street between the two tank positions, still conscious. The Lieutenant insisted that the medic look after the men in the tank first, only one of whom turned out to be still alive. The medic later returned to the Lieutenant and found that his leg was shot off at the hip and he was bleeding profusely. Lt. Harris, (756th tank battalion), was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for saving the Battalion CP from destruction, with all of the attendant effects on the battle.

A photo I took early that morning of the K.O.'d Sherman tank. Note the three holes in the front in the heaviest armor plate. That could be an unexploded rifle grenade on the ground although I don't remember. I don't know the sergeant's name. We used to say we had the best tanks in the world except for the Germans, the Russians and the British. It's a good thing we had so many. The 1st Bn. CP is to the right rear where you see the vehicles.

       I found the Battalion CO and he confirmed what the sergeant had told me. He said he had wire men stringing wire back to the Regimental CP and expected to be in communication with the Regimental CO shortly. I returned to the Regimental CP and reported. We used the say that the American Army had the best tanks in the world, except for the Germans, the Russians and the British. It was true!

       When I got back to the Regimental CP, I beefed up the defense and made arrangements with the 601 TD battalion, to get a Tank Destroyer (an armored vehicle that looked like a tank but had a more effective 90mm antitank gun, rather than the Sherman's 75mm gun) and stationed it out of sight behind the CP building. I was concerned that the Krauts, after their success at the 1st Battalion CP, might decide to take a crack at the Regimental CP. Late that afternoon, we came under attack. We were hit with mortar fire first and then machine gun and rifle fire from what appeared to be about one under strength Infantry platoon. My platoon was dug in, in positions surrounding the CP building, and we returned the fire with our rifles, BAR's and two light machine guns.

       The Krauts were firing from the edge of the woods about 150 yards away. Suddenly, a German "flak wagon" poked its nose out of the woods and opened full automatic fire on us with its 20mm exploding shells. The "flak wagon" was a self-propelled vehicle with four 20mm antiaircraft guns which the Krauts used with equal effectiveness against ground troops. The crew was protected by a single sheet of armor, effective only against small arms fire. Our tank destroyer, which had been hidden behind the building, lumbered around the corner and scored a direct hit on the "flak wagon" with the first shot from its 90mm gun, tearing the "flak wagon" to bits. It then reloaded with HE (high explosive) shells and went to work on the enemy Infantry. The fight was over in minutes and the remaining Krauts withdrew into the woods carrying their wounded with them. We remained in our defensive positions throughout the night, but they didn't choose to challenge us again.

The Venerable Jeep

     If the 2 ½ ton (6x6) truck was the workhorse of WWII, (and it was), then the jeep was the cavalry horse of the same era. The jeep's real name was truck, 1/4 ton, 4x4, G. P.- {G. P. for general purpose, hence the acronym jeep}. Its classic lines, its capabilities, reliability, durability and versatility will live forever in the minds of we who knew it.

     I was platoon leader of the 7th Infantry I & R platoon in Italy, France and Germany. We had four jeeps which were essential to our reconnaissance missions. They were rated as having a load capacity of 1/4 ton (500 lbs). Mine carried four men with their weapons and equipment, a 50 caliber machine gun on a central pedestal plus ammo boxes, sandbags lining the floor in hope of some protection against a mine, a second spare wheel and tire hung on the wire cutter welded to the front bumper, and spare 5 gallon water and gas cans. Its cargo probably weighed in at twice the recommended max load yet it never once broke down even though traveling over some of the worst roads in Europe and cross country on no roads at all.

     It had four wheel drive and an optional low range transmission which made it unstoppable by mud, snow and steep inclines, despite its having only a simple four cylinder engine. I never saw its canvas top. And the windshield was always down flat on the hood in its canvas cover so as not to obstruct firing to the front or cast reflected light which might give away our position. Comfort was not a factor. The canvas windshield cover served as a waterproof foot locker for the driver's personal belongings, which usually meant that any glass remaining in the windshield was cracked or shattered by a restless bottle of vino or some other hard object.

     My jeep did have glass in the windshield for a very short time while we were out of the line near Naples. My driver drove me into the city one evening to deliver some documents to Division Headquarters. On the way in, the windshield was down and covered of course, which made things quite chilly at 35 miles per hour in the cool night air. I mentioned this to my driver. When we rode back about an hour later, I noticed that the windshield was up, it had clear glass in it and it was quite comfortable. I said nothing, but early next morning I saw the driver in the motor pool with a can of olive drab paint, painting out the words U. S. Navy on the metal panel just below the glass. The jeep windshield frame is fastened to the body with only two large wing nuts. He had obviously exchanged windshields with an unattended Navy jeep parked in the street. Better I shouldn't know!

     The jeeps were made by Willys and Ford. Some had ignition keys, but most did not. A simple on-off switch precluded the embarrassment of losing one's keys. This, of course, made jeeps a priority item for theft in rear areas by both soldiers and black marketeers. The drivers had a habit of removing the distributor rotor when they had to leave their jeep unattended. But a really good driver always carried a rotor in his pocket. That way, if someone stole his jeep, he had only to put his rotor in the nearest unattended jeep and steal someone else's to replace it. On his next trip to the motor pool he would paint over the serial number on the side of the replacement jeep's hood and stencil in the serial number of his assigned jeep. A little touch up on the front and rear bumper unit designations completed the transition.

     There were no springs in the seats, just a felt pad with a canvas cover on a heavy steel plate. It was a bone jarring ride at best, but it offered the advantage of not trying to eject you when the hard suspension hit a hole in the road, as did the Command Car, a larger and more luxurious vehicle used by some generals. There were no seat belts, sides nor doors on the jeep, and nothing for the passenger to hold onto. But one developed a sense of balance after awhile, almost like riding a horse, lessening the chances of being unceremoniously thrown out. I remember once seeing a jeep driver speeding back to the battalion aid station in France with a soldier in the front seat whose foot had been blown off, apparently by a mine. His lower leg rested on top of the hood, presumably to slow the loss of blood. The shin bone rattled audibly against the steel top of the hood. The driver steered with his left hand while cradling the wounded man's shoulders so he wouldn't fall out.

     One of the reasons that the jeep was so reliable is that the drivers were trained in routine maintenance. Each driver was responsible for his jeep's condition and no one else was allowed to drive it. The drivers were young men, products of the Great Depression, one of whose first goals in life was to own their own jalopy. The jeep was their first car, their pride and joy , and they looked after it lovingly, just as if it really was their own. I only drove a jeep once. Officer's rarely, if ever, were seen driving. But I muscled my driver, on a trip once, to let me try it. He did and it was fun. But he appeared so nervous while I was driving that I turned the duty back to him after only a few minutes at the wheel.

     In Southern France, we were making our way very slowly along a road lined with cheering French civilians after just having liberated their village. An especially attractive young lady danced over to the driver's side of my jeep and we came to a stop as she gave my driver a big hug and kiss. She then leaned forward between the driver and the steering wheel to give me a kiss too. But just before we made contact she recoiled and backed away into the crowd. I couldn't imagine what I had done wrong. I said to the driver, "What do you suppose that was all about?" He gave me a salacious grin and said, "I squeezed her titty." I said, "Steele, you may be the best driver in the company, but you're no gentleman!" His response: "You got that right Lootenant!"

When a Jeep Runs Over a Mine

     My driver, PFC Steele was one of the best. He was alert, had exceptional night and day vision, and an uncanny sense of direction. I still marvel at his getting us to the Coliseum in central Rome on a midnight patrol to see if the Krauts had pulled out yet. And then finding his way back, with no wrong turns, and no map because we dared show no light! Through six campaigns, he never struck a mine which I attribute to more than luck. Thanks to his good driving, I was only in a vehicular accident once and it almost caused me serious injury. For some reason Steele was not available and I was riding with a substitute driver who wasn't paying attention. We were in the city of Strasbourg, France which we had just captured. There were no civilian vehicles on the streets and only a very occasional military vehicle to be seen. As we approached a major intersection with clear visibility in all directions, I noticed a military 2 ½ ton 6x6 truck bearing down on us from the road coming into the intersection at right angles to us. I didn't say anything because my driver had to have seen him and besides officers don't tell their drivers how to drive nor do they want a reputation of being a "nervous Nellie." So we crashed in the center of the intersection at considerable speed, the truck hitting us just forward of dead center on my side and driving us sideways for about 50 feet. Had the high bumper on the 6x6 not cleared the top of our hood and held the right side of the jeep down, it would have rolled us over and crushed us beneath the open topped jeep or under the wheels of the truck or both. Since there were no sides on the jeep, the truck's left front fender struck me in the right rear and broke two of my ribs. When we finished our mission, I stopped at the aid station and the "doc" taped my ribs and told me not to do any heavy lifting for a few days. The hardy jeep fared better and needed no repairs at all nor did the careless driver.

     The 6.00 x 16 tires were sometimes a problem even though ruggedly built and usually in adequate supply. Both sides shelled the roads incessantly, particularly key intersections, when supplies were being moved up at night. The razor sharp shards left on the road were a constant menace to vehicle tires of all types.

     The jeep was not fast but it could be pushed up to 60 MPH if necessary. During occupation duty, immediately after the war in Germany, we were riding on the autobahn at close to 60 on a downhill stretch. The drivers had never seen roads like this! Suddenly we heard the unmistakable blast of a 2 ½ ton truck horn right behind us. The damn fool wanted to pass! My driver looked into his rear view mirror and saw nothing. After a few more impatient beeps, an olive drab Piper Cub airplane, flying about 10 feet off the ground slowly passed us on the left, then picked up speed and left us behind, its crazy pilot grinning and waving wildly. These airplanes, which were capable to flying low and slow, were used for artillery spotting in combat. Some of the pilots, bored and anxious to be sent home now that the war was over, would mount a standard truck horn on their airplane and perform the maneuver described above to relieve their boredom.

     There are still a few of the old olive drab wartime jeeps around, now much cherished by classic car collectors. When I occasionally see one on the road, the memories come flooding back.

           I was promoted to Executive Officer, Hq. Co. (1LT) + I&R Platoon 12/1/44.  Then we fought South to Colmar, Alsace (1-2/45).  

Bloody Colmar Pocket

(Ardennes-Alsace Campaign)

     By December 20, 1944, the 3rd Division had moved out of Strasbourg, and the 7th Infantry CP moved south to the tiny Alsation village of Hachimette. The German Ardennes offensive was five days old and the Krauts were still advancing steadily. Although we didn't know it, we were on hold. At General Eisenour's Headquarters, they were waiting to see if the German offensive in the Ardennes could be contained. If not, then the 3rd Division would either go north to attack the German southern flank of the Bulge or if it looked really bad, we would fall back and take up defensive positions in the Vosges Mountains. Strasbourg and Hachimette were both now surrounded on three sides by the Wehrmacht. We faced them in the east across the Rhine and they were 40 to 50 miles west of us to both north and south. But after less than a week in Hachimette, the German Ardennes attack in the Bulge began to collapse. Hitler then triggered "Operation Nordwind," an attack to the north out of the Colmar Pocket and south out of the southern flank of the Bulge. Its objective was to cut off the American Strasbourg eastward bulge of which we were part. We were sandwiched between the southern flank of the German Ardennes Bulge and the northern flank of the German Colmar Bulge.

The Colmar Pocket

Click for Larger Image

     The First French Army was on our right, holding a line surrounding the Colmar Pocket, which was a bridgehead some forty miles long and twenty-five miles deep on the west bank of the Rhine River, still held by the Germans in strength. The French had proved incapable of driving them back across the Rhine. The First French Army was a collection of "Free French" from North Africa, made up mostly of Moroccans and Algerians under French officers. They were outfitted by the Americans, using American vehicles, weapons, uniforms, rations, artillery, and ammo.

     The French were having trouble containing the Colmar Pocket, let alone eliminating it. As the German offensive in the Ardennes faltered, and German Operation Nordwind began, the American Third Division was temporarily assigned to the First French Army to help them destroy the German bridgehead on the west bank of the Rhine. The plan was that the Third Division would punch a hole through the northern edge of the German bridgehead and then the 2nd French Armored Division would go through them to sweep south and cut off the German retreat across the Rhine bridge at Neuf-Brisach. What actually happened was that the Third Division did, in fact, punch a hole through the German line as ordered and the French armor poured through. But instead of heading southeast to cut off the Germans at Neuf-Brisach, they went southwest to occupy the city of Colmar. We never saw the French after the first day of the attack. When we had cleared the last German from the west bank of the Rhine, the French government awarded the entire Third Division the Croix de Guerre which authorized everyone in the Division, to wear the red and green fourragere over the left shoulder. Not to be outdone, the President of the United States awarded us a Division Distinguished Unit Citation, one of only four awarded during the entire War. The other three went to the 101st Airborne (Bastogne), the 4th Armored (relief of Bastogne) and the 1st Marine (Guadalcanal). I visited our old battle area many years later while on vacation in Europe. I saw several War Memorials to the gallantry of the French soldiers in liberating Alsace and never a mention of the Americans.

Lt Cloer - Colmar

     The Colmar Pocket was in the heart of Alsace. Most of the people spoke both German and French. The names of the towns gave an indication of the turbulent history of this border area. German names like Ostheim, Kunheim, Beisheim and French names like Ribeauville, Hachimette and Neuf-Brisach. The people were not friendly, but neither was there any overt resistance by civilians. This was farm country and the people were very poor. And the campaign was fought in the dead of winter, January and February 1945, in about a foot of snow at sub-freezing temperatures, the worst winter in fifty years! We rarely saw the civilians. They stayed in their cellars where they were relatively safe and didn't have to associate with us. We had no qualms about taking over their houses, but since this was technically still France, we allowed them to remain in their cellars. Later, in Germany, we often ran the occupants out. And the Wehrmacht soldiers that faced us were as tough and battle-wise as any we had ever encountered. They were initially flushed by the early German success in the Ardennes, by their belief that this was to be the offensive which would lead them to final victory, by the fact that their backs were to the Rhine and the next battle would be in their homeland.

     Before leaving Strasbourg, we had received replacements and I became quite friendly with two young second lieutenants assigned to the Battle Patrol. Sharing the same house, I got to know Lt. Richard Brown, a friendly young man, quiet and unassuming. Lt. Stanley Petropolis, also billeted with us and was more the outgoing, self-confident type, but also very friendly. The third officer of the Battle Patrol, a direct opposite of the other two, was Lt. Bill Moeglin, a "man of the world" from Brooklyn, N.Y. His big concern at the time was that he had contracted a case of V.D. and if he reported for treatment, he would be transferred back to his former unit, Charlie Company. These three officers were all killed in action in the first ten days of the attack!

     At the start of the attack, I remember trying to move through the French 2nd Armored Division in a small village near the city of Selestat. It was snowing, bitter cold and late at night. The roads were a sheet of ice. As I led the CP advance party into the village, I found the streets and roads almost completely blocked with French vehicles of every description; tanks, halftracks, trucks and jeeps. Many of them were in roadside ditches, having slid on the ice and then been abandoned. Every house in town was occupied by French troops, (Moroccans and Algerians). I found a French officer and demanded that he vacate one house for our Regimental CP. (I spoke fluent French at the time.) He refused! I demanded to see his senior officer and he agreed to take me to him. As we negotiated the icy streets on foot, a French tank came along, (an American built Sherman with French markings). He was moving slowly because the road was solid ice. As he approached a slight downward grade, the tank started to slide. The driver applied the brakes and the tracks locked. Nevertheless, the tank continued to slide slowly down the hill, all thirty-five tons of it, gradually picking up speed. It finally crashed through the wall of a house at the foot of the hill, the floor collapsed and the tank fell into the cellar! What a circus! The French officer took me to his CO who was more understanding. He ordered the junior officer to vacate whatever building I chose for our Regimental CP. We got out of there the next day and I never saw the French Army again until the War was over.

     Progress was slow and the Germans fought back fiercely. Artillery fire was very heavy on both sides, and the villages in our path were almost completely destroyed. The weather was awful and the rifle companies, who for the most part could not take shelter in the buildings or their remains, suffered severely from the wet and the cold. Evacuations for trench foot and frostbite were very high.

     My principal responsibilities during this period were recon patrols and CP defense. It was becoming almost impossible to find a building for the CP that was relatively intact and we were grateful that the Europeans used nothing but stone in their construction. On one of my Recon excursions through a town whose name I can no longer remember, I was subjected to my first German TOT (Time on Target). This was a deadly technique used by the artillery of both sides. What they did was aim every piece of artillery within range, perhaps several hundred guns, at a single target and all guns would fire simultaneously at a time which was predetermined to the second. Hundreds of rounds would come crashing in on the single target with no advance warning. The results could be devastating because there was no time to take cover. Fortunately I wasn't hit, but it was an experience one never forgets!

     While I was still out on this recon, the direction of advance was changing and the Colonel wanted another recon to the village of Ostheim to set up an advance CP in that town. (I will never forget Ostheim!) Since I was not available, and the Colonel was not willing to wait for my return, he sent my CO, Captain Alarie and the Communication Officer, WO Keough, on the recon which would otherwise have been mine. When I returned to the CP, I was told that both Captain Alarie and WO Keough had been seriously wounded in Ostheim, both with shell fragment wounds in the neck, and both had been evacuated. (Neither returned until the War was nearly over.)

     I was now the sole surviving officer in Headquarters Company! Brown, Petropoulos, and Moeglin had been KIA and Alarie and Keough had both been WIA and evacuated. We had lost five of our six officers in ten days! I was appointed Acting Company Commander and was ordered to take over the job that Captain Alarie and WO Keough had been attempting to do. I took Sergeant Anderson, the senior non-com in the Communications Platoon, and we set out for Ostheim with two jeeps and six men.

     There was not a single building in the town of Ostheim left standing. The location I chose was not a building, but rather the largest pile of rubble in the area which still had an entrance to the cellar. Sgt. Anderson brought up some more men, set up a switchboard in the cellar and put men to work running lines to the Battalion CPs. I brought the rest of my platoon up and set up a defensive perimeter in the surrounding rubble. We were under heavy enemy shellfire and scattered small arms fire throughout this operation.

     Many years after the War, I sought out Ostheim during a vacation trip to Europe. The village had been completely restored and I couldn't find the spot where I had located the CP. There was, however, one destroyed building left untouched as a memorial. The entrance was marked with a plaque headed "A Nos Mortes," which in English means "To Our Dead." Only two partial walls and part of a chimney were standing and it could have been our old CP. My eyes teared and I can't describe the emotion I felt upon seeing that memorial. I had my camera with me, but it seemed sacrilegious to take a picture at that moment.

     We stayed in Ostheim for two days and then moved forward again to the village of Kunheim. The advance had ground to a halt with the rifle companies deployed in the farmland between Kunheim which we held and the next town, Beisheim, which the Germans held. The towns were less than a mile apart. Our CP was in a farmhouse at the southern (forward) edge of Kunheim and I had part of my platoon in another farmhouse across the dirt road. Sergeant Anderson became 2nd Lieutenant Anderson and a couple of days later, Captain Brink, a burned out rifle company commander, was made CO of Headquarters Company. I moved back to 1st Lt., Executive Officer and Platoon Leader of the Recon Platoon. Having no aspirations toward an Army career, this arrangement suited me just fine.

     We were so far forward at the Kunheim CP that most of the artillery fire was going over our heads and landing behind us in the center of the village. We were, however, subjected to flat trajectory tank fire and SP 88mm fire. During the first night in Kunheim, we took direct hits on both buildings, fortunately on the second floor. And hits on nearby trees, which spattered the buildings with shell fragments. The windows had wooden shutters which we closed at night and covered with blankets to serve as blackout curtains. There was no electricity of course, but we did use candles after dark. Just before the shelling, I had been sitting at the table opposite a window writing a letter by candlelight. Sergeant Duprey was at the cellar door dealing with some problem with the owner of the house who had come up the stairs with a request or a complaint. I got up and went over to the cellar door to find out what the problem was. When the first shell burst, a large shell fragment came through the top of the wooden shutter, smashed the glass lighting fixture over the table, left a hole in the back of the leather chair in which I had been sitting and lodged in the wall behind the chair. Had I not moved, it would have killed me. Across the street in the War Room, another large shell fragment came through the window shutter and split the table around which the Colonel and several members of his staff had been studying a map. The next day, he had me get someone to brick up the window.

     The Battle Patrol was billeted in the house behind mine and their jeeps were kept in the courtyard adjacent to the house. An exhausted foot patrol came in early in the morning after an all night patrol, went up to the second floor where they were billeted and began to shed their gear. One of the men took off his cartridge belt and webbed suspenders, with two grenades attached by the pull rings, and dropped it on the floor. The jolt of hitting the floor was enough to dislodge the safety pin, the spoon flew off and a live grenade rolled across the floor, its four second fuse hissing. Another of the men quickly scooped it up and threw it out the window. It landed in the courtyard below and exploded wounding four men. I remember the incident clearly because I can still visualize one of the wounded with a perfectly square hole in the bridge of his nose exactly between his eyes where a fragment of the "pineapple" grenade had lodged. He showed no emotion at all, just waited patiently for his turn to be treated and hopefully evacuated. (And thankful to still be able to see).

     I had two men assigned to each Battalion CP to evacuate POWs. During the fighting for Beisheim, "Ike" Clanton and another of my men assigned to 1st Battalion, headed for the rear in total darkness with twelve German POWs under guard. They were ambushed by a German patrol and were captured. The Krauts then sent them to the German rear under guard by two of the former POWs. While en route, they were ambushed by an American patrol from the 1st Battalion and the guards again became POWs and vice-versa. This time they arrived without incident. It was wild!

     Beisheim finally fell to the 2nd Battalion on February 4 and some 500 German prisoners were taken. The rifle companies moved on toward Vogelsheim and Neuf-Brisach, the last two towns before the Rhine River bridge across which the Germans were escaping before blowing it up. The Regimental CP was moved forward to Beisheim. On the road between the two towns, which were about a mile apart, there stood a jeep with an American major and his driver, both dead and frozen stiff, sitting upright in their seats behind a bullet riddled windshield. The vehicle was not from our Regiment and I could only conclude that the major was lost and had driven through Kunheim during the night and run right into the Krauts.

     On a European vacation trip, long after the War, I visited Kunheim briefly during the same side trip to Ostheim. I looked for our old CP without success. The village had been completely restored and the two lane dirt road separating the CP from the building that I occupied, was now a wider paved road. Our location had been at the very edge of Kunheim, but Kunheim had now expanded for about a quarter mile into the farmland between it and Beisheim. I could find no familiar landmark. There was no memorial here as in Ostheim, but there was one on the outskirts of town. It was an American Sherman tank with all French markings sitting on a concrete base. There was a large plaque which credited the French 2nd Armored Division with the liberation and told of the intense fighting. There was no mention of American participation! I saw no French troops anywhere near that area when the fighting was going on. Just one more example of the politicians rewriting history.

     It took four more days to clean out the remainder of the bridgehead and the "Colmar Pocket" was now in American hands, except for the city of Colmar which had been occupied by the French. The 7th Infantry Regiment took up positions along the Rhine overlooking Germany and the Regimental CP was moved back to Kunheim, which was more centrally located for this mission. We stayed in these positions for about ten days after which the decimated 7th Infantry moved north by truck to an area one hundred miles north of Nancy, (a town called Dieulouard) to absorb replacements and prepare for the invasion of the German "Fatherland" and the crossing of the Rhine.

          Next we motored to Nancy, then fought north and east into Germany. We breached the Siegfried Line and came up on the Rhine.

Loneliness

   My wife and I have been married for 60 years and we had a boy friend-girl friend relationship for 10 years before that. In the 58 years since I returned from overseas service in WWII, we have rarely been apart for more than a day or two. But I remember well those years when we were apart and they were the loneliest times of my life.

   My first Army assignment after OCS was to an Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C. We married and rented a room on a cotton and tobacco farm owned by a caring elderly couple, the Elliots. Those were among the happiest days of my life. But after only eight weeks, it all came crashing down around me. Because of staggering battle losses in Italy, Infantry replacement officers were in desperate need. As junior officer in my company, I received orders, along with several others, to report to a Port of Embarkation. In record time, I was on my way to the Anzio Beachhead in Italy. There were 5,000 Infantry replacements aboard our troop transport. I didn't come home for 2 years! Five hundred of the others never came home at all!

   In Infantry combat, life takes on an intensity unmatched by any other form of activity. There is fear, and there is valor in overriding the fear to do what has to be done. There is awesome responsibility. Responsibility not only for the mission but for the lives of the 35 enlisted men under your command. There is enormous satisfaction in doing the job well. A whole gamut of emotions sweeps over you with an intensity that cannot be imagined. And one of the most powerful of these is loneliness. Men fall around you and you can't help but wonder when your turn will come. The statistics your brain takes aboard tell you that you can't possibly survive. You will never see home and your loved ones again. But there is no satisfactory alternative to going on and doing what you have been trained to do. There is no end to the War in sight. You have no doubt that you will go on until you are killed or so badly wounded that you can't be patched up and sent back to your unit.

   You write often and treasure the letters from home. Your wife at home is in your thoughts at every quiet moment. A hopelessness comes over you because you know that no one in this Regiment is going to make it to War's end, an event which is not even on the horizon. Common sense tells you that. And yet there is that thread of hope that you reach out for. Maybe it won't happen to me. You know it will, but maybe, just maybe . . . And you go on, and on, and on.

   You are surrounded by hundreds, maybe thousands of men, yet you feel alone. The only ones you see are the men in your own platoon and even they are spread out so you see only a few at a time. Your training tells you that you are responsible for these men, for their well-being, for their very lives. They're not friends, not buddies, there is no familiarity. You call them by their last names. They call you "Lootenant," pronounced with two o's. They are your charges. The Army has arranged things so that you exist on two different levels, officer and enlisted man, even though you share the same foxhole, rations, clothing and blanket. The Army tells them that they must respect you and follow your orders without question. The Army tells you that you must earn their respect by looking after them, keeping them fed, clothed, and as safe as is reasonably possible consistent with performing the mission. You both take that charge very seriously. Your lives depend upon it.

   What about the other officers in your company? Can't you make friends there? Somehow or other it doesn't seem to work out, primarily because you are physically separated most of the time. It's not like an Army post in the States. There you see each other at reveille formation, three times a day in the mess hall, at the officer's club after duty hours and perhaps in the BOQ. In Infantry combat, there are no formations, and meals are eaten alone right out of the C ration cans you carry on your back. There is no officers' club, no BOQ.

   I have heard it said that officers and men alike avoid making friends because it only hurts that much more when your friend "gets hit." In my experience, that line, and others like it, come only out of a movie script. Aside from physical separation, the reason Infantrymen don't make friends is because of the high rate of turnover. People come and go constantly and they all remain strangers. In my regiment, wartime battle casualties came to 500% of average strength and non-battle casualties (evacuation for malaria, trench foot, pneumonia, accidents, etc.) took another 500%. The Division goes on because of a continuous flow of replacements coming up from the rear as the casualties are evacuated. On average, every spot in the Regiment is filled at one time or another by ten different men. The average length of stay is measured in weeks and the overlap between individuals is even less. It's not uncommon for a man to be evacuated before others even know his name. How could he possibly have made friends?

   During his time in combat, he is constantly lonely because he knows no one. He has never been so lonely. Nor afraid. If he is wounded, evacuated and later returned to his unit, he will find few familiar faces. Those few that he may have known will have been hit and replaced. And this applies to junior officers as well as enlisted men. After replacements are assigned to units, they never see each other again.

   It's a terrifying, miserable, and above all, lonely life in an Infantry Company. The only personal objective, the only hope, the only prayer is for survival. Because survival means return to your loved ones and an end to the terrible loneliness.

Crossing the Rhine

           In mid March of 1945, as the 3rd Division prepared to attack the Siegfried Line in Germany, my Company Commander told me I was eligible for a three day pass in Paris under an R&R program that I didn't even know existed. I had been with the 7th Infantry for 14 months. I was assigned as replacement platoon leader of the I & R platoon when my predecessor was KIA on a recon for the Volturno River crossing in Italy. I was delighted and wasted no time in accepting his offer. I was authorized two days travel time each way and was allowed to take my jeep and driver. PFC Steele and I stopped at Service Company to pick up some clean clothes and headed west, arriving in Paris by mid-afternoon of the second day. We checked in at the leave center, where the Army impounded our jeep, and we were assigned to hotels on the Place de la Concorde.

          I had a wonderful time in Paris and saw all the sights despite not having the jeep to get around. I learned to use the Paris subway which was highly efficient, went everywhere and was easy to use, particularly with French civilians standing by to help at the first sign of bewilderment by an American soldier. The only problem was that the subway stopped running at 10:00 P. M. and aside from walking, there was no transportation available other than taxis which were very expensive. The only real sour note for me was that I saw more French soldiers in Paris than I had seen in the Colmar Pocket which was supposedly their sector of fighting.

          Early on the morning of the scheduled return day, I reported back to the leave center where I was reunited with my driver and jeep and we headed east to rejoin the Regiment. We made much better time on the way back being more familiar with the road net. Also we were heading in the same direction as the Red Ball Express 6x6's going to the forward supply dumps with ammo, fuel, rations and with top priority on the roads. By late afternoon, it became apparent that we could make it back in one day so we pushed on and found Headquarters Company in Frankenthal, Germany by dusk.

          I reported to my C.O. and told him I was back a day early and why. "Good," he said, "I have a job for you. We're crossing the Rhine tonight. H hour is 0230 and we'll be crossing about 200 yards downstream of the blown autobahn bridge." He pointed it out on a map. "I want you to take your jeep and reconnoiter a route down to the river bank suitable for tanks. Then come back here and there will be four amphibious DD Shermans waiting to follow you down to their I. P. The assault troops are going to need that armored support badly."

           I stifled the urge to tell him I was still on leave. I needed no reminder of the devastating losses we suffered a few weeks earlier when Major Duncan's 2nd Battalion attacked the town of Utweiler without armored support. So I settled for a simple "Yes sir." and went looking for my driver PFC Steele to break the news to him.

           We traversed about two or three miles of perfectly flat farming country between Frankenthal and the Rhine River, which was interlaced with a few dirt roads used by farm equipment. It was pitch dark of course, but we had no trouble finding our way because we could guide on the slightly elevated autobahn leading to the blown bridge and Steele's night vision was superb. We rode right down to the river bank. It was about a four foot drop to the water, the river was almost 400 yards wide, and the water was flowing at about eight MPH. Visibility was unlimited except for the darkness. What I remember most is the absolute silence. The only faint sound was the soft gurgling of the water against the river bank and the muffled sound of the jeep's idling engine. The autobahn bridge on our right was silhouetted against the sky, a huge and very high single span suspension bridge with a section of roadway missing in the very center. I scanned the other side of the river looking for defenses but saw nothing but more flat ground with no vegetation or structures. If there were anti-tank guns over there, (and there surely were), they had to be under the far side bridge ramp which would provide both overhead protection and concealment for the crews. I was no tactician, but I wondered if the planners of this operation had planned it from a map or had come down here to look at the terrain. I would have moved the crossing site another 200-300 yards downstream, not nearly so close to what appeared to be an obvious enemy strong point.

           It was between 10:00 and 11:00 P. M. when we turned around and made our way back to Frankenthal. We saw no one and nothing in the way of military preparations on the way to the river and back which surprised me. The four DD Shermans were waiting in Frankenthal. I talked to the tank platoon leader and he showed me the accordion or bellows-like rubberized canvas surrounded by a steel framework to lift it into place so the tank would float. There were two propellers on the back end for propulsion and steering. I remember thinking it looked like a real "Rube Goldberg" and I tried to visualize the 35 tons dropping down that four foot bank into the 8 MPH water.

Duplex Drive DD Sherman Medium Tank, Amphibious

That's exactly what I saw when I turned around in my jeep, except that it was dark! I was leading them in column down to the river in the dark and they stayed close so they wouldn't lose me. That's about how far back it was when we reached the Rhine

           The tanks started their engines and the roar was deafening! They started forward behind us in column and the clanking of the tracks was fearsome! I remember thinking that when we get down near the river bank, all that noise would alert every Kraut within miles. All hell would surely break loose!

           And so it was. Our jeep was about 20 feet from the river bank when the first 88mm shell came streaking across the river from beneath the bridge ramp and hit the lead tank causing it to burst into flames right behind us. As the burning tank lit up the area, more shells followed, focusing on the remaining tanks. Steele and I reflexively dove out of the jeep and crawled into the nearest depression in the ground which appeared to be a bomb crater from an earlier air attack on the bridge. We felt reasonably safe there until artillery shells began to burst overhead (air bursts). I remember thinking at the time that it had to be "friendly fire" falling short, because every shell seemed to burst at the same height indicating use of proximity fuses (posit fuses) which I don't think the Krauts had at that time. But it mattered not who was firing it. We had no overhead cover in the bomb crater, so we climbed out and made a desperate run for the bridge ramp about 200 yards away. We waited there until things quieted down and then walked back to Hq. Company abandoning the jeep on the river bank. I heard later that the first tank had been destroyed, two others had their flotation gear perforated and the fourth was missing.

          When we got back to the CP, I noticed for the first time that there was a lot of pain in my upper left arm. I peeled off my field jacket, pile liner, wool sweater and wool shirt and found that the upper arm from shoulder to elbow was completely discolored in blues, purples, greens, reds and yellows and it was swollen and throbbing. I walked over to the aid station where I was told that I had probably been hit by a spent shell fragment but it had not broken the skin because the blow was cushioned by my heavy layered clothing. No treatment was necessary. It would go away in a few days. I still wondered whether that artillery fire was enemy or short "friendly" fire until I read the crossing account in the Regimental History years later. It says, "The DD, or "floating" tanks of Company C, 756th Tank Battalion had moved up during the artillery barrage before H Hour but one was hit by enemy fire, set ablaze and destroyed. Two others developed maintenance trouble." That answered my question but raised two more. Why didn't someone tell the two guys leading the parade in an open jeep what time the artillery barrage was scheduled to start and was the "maintenance trouble" holes in the rubberized flotation gear from the "friendly" artillery fire? I heard that three more amphibious tanks came forward after the enemy anti-tank guns were silenced. They floated across the Rhine, but two slid backward into the water while trying to climb the far bank and were lost with their crews. I have read that most of these DDs were given to the British. That was a splendid idea which could only have been improved upon by giving them to the Germans. The 7th Infantry had seven of them attached for the crossing. One DD tank made it across the river. Three were destroyed along with their crews. And three were damaged and couldn't enter the water.

           I had little time to think about it because my CO was waiting for me with another assignment. Engineers had built (or were building) a pontoon bridge across the Rhine at Worms which was ten miles north where the 30th Infantry was crossing. I was to get another jeep and lead four conventional Sherman tanks north to the new bridge, cross the Rhine and then lead them ten miles south through the enemy held east bank to join the 7th Infantry bridgehead, all during the remaining hours of darkness. I had several more questions, but I remembered Utweiler and my leave in Paris and therefor kept them to myself. I accomplished the mission before daylight and felt good about having helped to get armored support to the rifle companies which were meeting stiff resistance in the battle for Sandhofen.

Bloody Bandages

       It's often been said that, "War is Hell!" Those of us who have "been there" can certainly endorse that statement. I spent two years in Italy, France and Germany during WWII, most of it in Infantry combat. Those memories are still distinct fifty and more years later. It seems to me that the most vivid memories are those that originated at times of peak emotion such as fear, pride, terror, joy, despair, loneliness, and victory. And then there are the macabre memories that never go away.

       In late March of 1945, The Third Infantry Division was attacking southeast in Germany after having pierced the Siegfried Line, crossed the Rhine River and then the winding Main River three times. The Krauts were making an orderly retreat, but bitterly defending good defensive terrain. There was no "front line" as such. It was called "a fluid situation," which means that neither side knew for sure where the enemy was. I was in command of the 7th Infantry Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon and my mission was patrolling ahead to seek out the enemy's position and strength. The War was starting to wind down, but it wouldn't be over until there was nothing left for the Wehrmacht to defend.

       On one such mission, I was ordered to patrol as far as a small German town, about three to five miles east, whose name I can no longer remember. I took only one of my four jeeps, my driver and my platoon runner. Our job was to find the enemy, not fight him. We rode through farm country, flat and treeless. We had unobstructed visibility almost to the horizon. About a half mile from our objective, we came upon a huge, solitary, stone farmhouse at the side of the unpaved road. It was surrounded by a six-foot high stone wall and built like a fortress. There was nothing to indicate that the house was occupied but I felt it was my duty to find out for sure, because it would make an ideal defensive position in the otherwise flat farmland. I could see a cobblestone courtyard through the open gate. My sense of duty overcame my fear of an ambush and we drove through the gate.

       We slowly bumped over the courtyard cobbles with our weapons ready to fire. When PFC Steele turned off the engine, there was no sound but the soft sighing of the wind. It was eerie! Spooky! Steele took the opportunity to utter one of his favorite ungrammatical, but sage, expressions. "I don't like the looks of this place, Loo-tenant. It's too damn quiet!" And it was! We approached an open door with no idea of what might be waiting for us inside. We entered and found ourselves in a fairly large deserted kitchen. In the center of the room was a wooden kitchen table about eight feet long. The table and the floor surrounding it were covered with blood! Literally gallons of it! There were footprints in the blood on the floor which struck me as a form of sacrilege and we tried to avoid stepping in it. The color of the blood ranged from bright red to maroon, depending upon the degree of coagulation. An expert could probably have estimated from the consistency of the blood, how long they had been here and when they had left. I quickly recovered from my initial shock and surmised that this was an abandoned Aid Station run by the enemy's medical personnel.

       Footprints in the blood on the floor pointed to and from a stairway leading to the cellar. The cellar door was wide open. I traded weapons with PFC Bigler, my runner, and with his Thompson submachine gun set on Full Automatic, I crept down the stairs. The lighting was very dim, with diffused daylight coming through a few small, mud spattered windows up high at ground level. It was deathly quiet. At first glance, I thought the cellar was being used as a barracks. Three walls were lined with two tier bunks made from two-by-fours, hastily nailed together. There was a fully uniformed German soldier in each bunk, but no one moved!

       As my eyes adjusted to the gloomy light, I moved to the nearest bunks and saw a German soldier on each level. One had a large bloody bandage around his chest, the other around his head. They were fully clothed except for caps or helmets. The large, snow white dressings contrasted with the dirty field gray uniforms as did the huge bright red stains in their centers. There were no mattresses, no pillows. Both men lay on their backs on bare boards, their eyes looking straight up. I looked around the room and counted twenty bunks, every one of which was occupied by a German soldier swathed in bloody white bandages. I was struck by the fact that every wound was a head or chest wound, the worst kind. For an instant, I thought that the enemy had abandoned his wounded. But no one moved nor made a sound. Some had their eyes open. Others did not. The dim lighting and complete silence added to the oppressive atmosphere. I realized then that they were all dead!

       I concluded that this had, in fact, been an enemy Aid Station, that emergency first aid was performed on the kitchen table after which the wounded were placed on bunks in the cellar, where they would be safe from artillery fire. The medics could probably do no more than administer morphine (if they had it) and try to stop the bleeding with compress bandages. When the Germans were forced to withdraw, they took their survivors with them and left the dead behind, probably because of insufficient transport. I knew they had not been gone long, because much of the blood looked fresh and there was no trace of that familiar cloying smell of decaying human flesh.

       As I looked around at those mortally wounded young men, a great sadness came over me. They were pawns, whose lives were suddenly and painfully terminated with the War almost over. All in support of the wild ambitions of that egomaniac, Adolph Hitler. My heart briefly went out to them and their families, even though they were the enemy. But as we drove away, my military training put my mind back on track. I had a job to do. The ashen faces faded. And two weeks later, when we overran the Dachau concentration camp, the faces of the enemy dead no longer seemed important.

PFC Norman Steele - (Operator, Truck, 1/4 ton, 4x4, General Purpose)

   Of all the men and officers I knew during my WWII army service, I can still remember the names of many and the faces of quite a few. But there are only a handful with whom I was sufficiently close to remember the details of the adventures we shared. One of these is PFC Norman Steele, my jeep driver. I'm sure his skills and courage saved my life on more than one occasion.

   In February 1944, I was a green replacement 2nd Lieutenant assigned to the 7th Infantry Regiment on the Anzio Beachhead in Italy. My assignment was platoon leader of the I & R Platoon (Intelligence and Reconnaissance). I would be assuming command from Sgt. Claude Bond (pseudonym), a regular Army 1st sergeant who had held the job since my predecessor, platoon leader Lt. John Banks, had been KIA leading a recon patrol across the Volturno River. My first meeting with Sgt. Bond, was at night in one of the shell battered stone houses of the regimental forward CP near Conca. He described the platoon organization, personnel and equipment. He said the platoon was assigned four jeeps, but these were kept back at Service Company to avoid attracting artillery fire on the forward Command Post. He told me that his own jeep driver was PFC Steele and he recommended that I use PFC Perrault, neither of whom I had yet met. There were two other drivers, one of whom later deserted in the Vosges Mountains of France and the other, a battle fatigue victim, who accidentally shot and killed himself in Germany, two weeks before VE Day. Although I had very limited Army experience at that point, I sized up Sgt. Bond quickly and was determined to start things off on the right foot. I told him there would be no personal chauffeurs in my platoon. If PFC Steele had been driving him, then Steele was obviously the platoon leader's driver and since I was now the platoon leader, Steele would be my driver. It turned out to be one of the best moves I ever made.

   I met Steele for the first time a few nights later when it was his turn to bring up the nighttime rations, ammo and water in his jeep and trailer. And later, he drove my lead jeep on night patrols of the rear areas to give early warning in the event of enemy parachute attacks targeting rear Command Posts. The enemy had zeroed in on road junctions in daylight and then shelled them intermittently all night in the hope of destroying supply vehicles. And enemy aircraft would strafe the roads at night until driven away by the Spitfires based at the Beachhead steel matting airstrip built by the Army Engineers. I never saw Steele in daylight until about three months later when we broke out of the Beachhead and it became possible to use the roads again, which heretofore were subject to pinpoint artillery fire during daylight.

   Steele was rather short and a little stocky. I don't remember ever seeing him without his helmet and the "steel pot" became part of his face in my memory. He was a skillful yet careful driver, totally focused on the job at hand. His night vision and sense of direction were uncanny. We traveled countless miles on unpaved roads, many of which had surely been mined by the retreating enemy. He had either x-ray vision or a lot of luck, because we never triggered one. You only do that once.

   And he had other attributes. I have described in another anecdote how Steele solved the problem of broken glass in the windshield of our jeep while we were briefly off the line near Naples. Under cover of darkness, he swapped windshields with another jeep, which was parked in the city unattended. Next morning, I saw him in the motor pool painting out the words U. S. NAVY on the metal portion beneath the glass.

   Our relationship was not formal, but neither was it one of familiarity. He called me "Lootenant," never "sir," and I called him Steele. And of course there was never any saluting. We never talked about home or friends or made small talk. He was my driver for about a year and a half and I don't even know where he was from. Our conversation was limited to the business at hand. He held up his end and I held up mine. We respected each other for that and we saw no need for further discussion. He seemed to resist any intrusion into the enlisted man/officer relationship and maybe I did too. That's the way we had both been trained and army training translates into action without conscious thought.

    I remember our jeep being caught in the open in broad daylight by a German tank near Artena during the Anzio Breakout. The tank was so well concealed that we couldn't see it, but the burst of its first 88mm shell on the unpaved road 20 yards in front of us was terrifying. As our jeep skidded to a stop, Steele and I bailed out and took cover in the shallow drainage ditches on opposite sides of the road. They were so shallow, that I remember turning my head to one side, turning my toes outward and pressing my arms against my sides in an effort to make a smaller (and lower) target. Several more 88 mm shells came crashing in and then the fire stopped. We made a dash back to the jeep and Steele got us out of there safely with wheels spinning.

   And on the night of June 4, 1944, he drove the lead jeep on our nighttime patrol into Rome. Our mission was to see if the Krauts had pulled out, as rumored. Rome is an enormous city with dark, narrow, winding streets and we expected to be ambushed at every corner. I was lost but I dared show no light to read my map. Until we entered a huge piazza and there stood the Coliseum silhouetted against the night sky! I was looking at two thousand years of history and I felt that I had become part of it. Three civilians appeared from one of the nearby buildings. Two with resistance armbands dragged the third, an alleged collaborator with the Krauts, between them. One of the captors carried a captured German machine pistol. They wanted us to take the collaborator into custody. Through my interpreter, PFC Tosti, I told them we had no time for that, to turn the suspect over to the American troops, who would be in at daylight. As we left the piazza, we heard the burrrrp of the machine pistol. I looked back and saw their captive face down on the cobble stones. They killed him. Steele found the way back in complete darkness, never missing a turn. His courage and driving skills played a large role in the success of the mission and our survival. I reported in and Colonel O'Muhundro then sent the second and third battalions of the 7th Infantry in on trucks.

    In Southern France, my recon platoon was often one of the first American units to liberate a French village. The church bells rang continuously, as the grateful French civilians, after four years of brutal occupation, lined the road to cheer us and hand us fruit and bottles of wine. In a small town near Orange, France, a very pretty young lady approached our jeep on the driver's side and gave Steele a big hug and a kiss as he slowed the jeep to a stop. The girl then leaned forward between Steele and the steering wheel to give me a kiss in the front passenger seat. But as I was about to get my kiss, she suddenly withdrew and backed away into the crowd. I turned to Steele and said, "What do you suppose that was all about?" With a salacious grin on his face, he said, "I squeezed her titty!

   On another occasion, in France, we were reconnoitering a dirt road one night, that ran around the enemy's flank. We found the road ended at a farmhouse about two or three miles ahead. On the way in, we noticed that the trees bordering the road had been heavily notched so that they could be dropped across the road with very little additional effort. On the way back out, after dark, one of the trees was down and lay across the road blocking our escape. While I covered the woods with our 50 caliber machine gun, Steele pulled a length of chain out of his tool compartment, chained the tree trunk to the front bumper of the jeep and pulled it far enough off the road to get by. Was it an ambush foiled by the threat of the machine gun? Or did the wind blow the weakened tree down? We will never know.

    On a similar nighttime recon, we saw no one going in. But coming back out, there was an American 6x6 truck blocking the narrow dirt road. Steele stopped the jeep and we walked ahead, four of us, and found that another unit was moving in behind us and their truck had struck a mine. The right front wheel, fender and hood had been blown away. The road was mined and we had somehow missed the mine or mines on the way in. Where there is one mine, there are usually more nearby. Yet, Steele volunteered to drive the jeep around the truck, on the narrow shoulder of the dirt road, while the rest of us took cover behind the truck. Brave man!

    We had many other close calls when we were spotted by the enemy and became the target of accurate tank or artillery fire. Steele's nerve, concentration and driving skills were largely responsible for our escape in each case, even on the snow and ice of the Colmar Pocket.

   And I have described the night we crossed the Rhine River and flat trajectory 88mm enemy shellfire from across the river that hit and destroyed the amphibious tanks which we were leading to the river bank. This was followed by a "friendly fire" artillery barrage of air bursts overhead. I found out later that our new proximity fuses were defective and were bursting at the right height, but on the way up instead of on the way down. We abandoned the jeep on the river bank and made our way back to the CP on foot. With the amphibs destroyed, we were then ordered to lead four conventional Shermans to Worms,10 miles north, where a pontoon bridge was nearing completion in the 30th Inf. zone of advance. Tank drivers had limited vision, especially at night. We crossed the river on the pontoon bridge and led them south in the dark to Sandhofen on the east bank. I remember looking back at them on the bridge, and they appeared to be riding on the surface of the water. Their weight forced the rubber pontoons under until the tracks were in the water. Our rifle companies had now crossed the river in boats near Mannheim and the armored support was badly needed in the attack on Sandhofen on the east bank.

   And yet, the Army caste system, kept Steele and I from becoming good friends. In fact, when we were on Occupation Duty in Germany after the War and people were being rotated individually back to the States by the point system, I never even knew Steele was leaving until a new driver suddenly appeared. Steele, who was with me through six campaigns, (he had ten!) was already gone. I never saw him again. In recent years, I have tried to locate him through the Internet without success. It's said that you can't go back, and maybe it's better that way.

PFC Steele in Southern France

(Razor sharp shell fragments on the roads tore up tires)

The Final Days of the War

     In mid-April of 1945, the 3rd Division direction of advance swung 135 degrees to the right, from northeast to south. Although we did not know it, we had been headed for Berlin. But a decision was made to leave Berlin to the Russians and our new objective became Berchtesgaden, the so called "Inner Redoubt," the anticipated focal point of final German resistance.

     From the Bamberg area, we attacked south, entering Nurnberg on April 20, 1945 after a bitter three-day fight. Nurnberg had been a center of German culture and a Nazi shrine, but now there was little left of the large city. What Air Corps bombing had not already destroyed, was finished off by our tanks and artillery during the battle. The city was little more than a huge heap of rubble. I remember standing in the ruins of the Adolph Hitler Platz and in the Nurnberg Stadium, both of which had been the center of the huge political rallies featured in newsreels at home.

Lt. Russ Cloer, Adolph Hitler Platz, Nurnburg, Germany April 1945

     German resistance was weakening at last . All but the diehards knew it was over. The Volksturm, Hitler's "fight to the death" civilian volunteer group, never materialized in our zone except for a few arm bands we found in some of the houses. The soldiers we were still fighting had a high percentage of teen-age boys and middle-aged men, but there still remained a hard core of tough and experienced soldiers that held them together. The German civilians, offered no overt resistance, nor were they friendly. For the most part, they would hang white bed sheets out of their windows as a sign of surrender and take refuge in their basements as we approached. Those few that we did talk to, claimed to be totally opposed to the Hitler regime. They were afraid of us and told us what they thought we wanted to hear. There were no young men. They were all with the German armed forces, prisoners of War, or already dead. The old people and the children left us alone and we left them alone. These relations tended to thaw somewhat after the War ended and they realized how much better we were treating them than the Russians were treating their eastern cousins.

     We were quite concerned about an intelligence report to the effect that the Germans had hidden more than a thousand warplanes of all types south of Nurnberg for one last desperate counterattack. After their Christmas counteroffensive in the Ardennes, anything seemed possible. We traveled south by vehicle from Nurnberg to Munich along the Autobahn and we found the one thousand planes, all in good condition and with plenty of ammunition. The Germans had hidden them in a wooded area several miles long on either side of the Autobahn. Where trees had been taken down, the aircraft were covered with camouflage nets. The center dividing island of the Autobahn, which was grass elsewhere, had been leveled, paved and painted green so that it would look normal from the air. In fact, however, they had a wide straight runway several miles long and had only to move the aircraft out onto the road. There was only one problem. They didn't have a drop of fuel!

Lt. Russ Cloer in front of a Me-262, the first jet fighter

     We took Munich with only two men in the whole Regiment wounded, and we took 2699 German POWs, including a Brigadier General. Resistance now bordered on the nonexistent. We overran a POW camp for Allied soldiers and freed some of our own 3rd Division men who had been captured on the Anzio Beachhead in Italy fourteen months earlier. Can you imagine their joy and astonishment at seeing American soldiers at the gates wearing the 3rd Division patch, their very own outfit?

     As we continued south, we overran Dachau, one of the Nazi's most infamous concentration camps. We had never heard of a concentration camp and couldn't believe what we were seeing. There was a railroad siding outside the barbed wire enclosure on which stood a freight train with no place left to go. The flat cars and gondola cars were filled, layer upon layer, with the naked bodies of people who had been starved until their bones protruded through their skin. They couldn't have weighed more than fifty or sixty pounds each. We found out later that they had been starved, then gassed to death. There must have been several thousand of them! Inside and outside the enclosure, a few live inmates in black and white striped suits, zombies of little more than skin and bones, wandering about in a dazed state. What was this terrible sight we were seeing? At the time, we couldn't understand it. We had orders not to go inside the enclosure, because of the danger of typhus, or so we were told, and we continued our drive to the south. Rear echelon troops had the job of caring for the few survivors.

     Since that time, I have met many Germans who lived in Germany during the War. Without exception, they deny that they had ever heard of a concentration camp! Some even explain that Hitler did not know that his subordinates were running these camps! They even deny knowledge of the millions of slave laborers from occupied countries, who lived among them. They lied with a straight face and pretended righteous indignation at being asked the question.

     There was believable intelligence now that the Nazis had prepared a stronghold known as the "Inner Redoubt" in the vicinity of Obersalzburg, Hitler's headquarters in the mountains near Berchtesgaden. All German troops in the south of Germany were reportedly headed for this area, where enormous supplies of food and ammunition had been stored in the salt mines. Impregnable concrete bunkers and fortifications were said to guard the mountain passes. The mountainous country was ideally suited to defense. We raced south toward Salzburg, Austria, against light resistance. We took thousands of POWs and didn't even slow down to put them under guard. We had them throw their weapons in a pile, then pointed them to the rear, where hopefully other troops were setting up concertina wire POW cages. I remember one column led by a German general in his kubelwagen, the Volkswagen equivalent of our jeep. He was followed by about twenty German trucks loaded to overflowing with German soldiers, standing shoulder to shoulder in the truck beds. There were no guards or guides. They were headed to our rear and we passed them going in the opposite direction. This was around May 2, 1945, six days before the War in Europe officially ended. We didn't realize until later that the entire German Army in this area was fleeing westward to avoid capture by the Russians. And with good reason! Prisoners taken by the Americans were screened and held at most for a few weeks before being released to go home, unless it appeared that they were involved in War crimes. Prisoners taken by the Russians were sent to forced labor camps and the few that survived were not released for ten years.

     The Third Division captured Salzburg, Austria on May 3, 1945 and our Division Commander, Iron Mike O'Daniel decided that we were in the best position to take Berchtesgaden and the Obersalzburg, even though it was in the zone of advance of the French 2nd Armored Division on our right. This was strictly against orders, but the general saw an opportunity to put a few feathers in the Third Division's cap as well as that of the 7th Infantry Regiment which would lead the charge. Especially after all the publicity about the so called "Inner Redoubt."

     There were only two bridges still standing over the Saalach River which had to be crossed to get to Berchtesgaden and the Obersalzburg. Once the 7th Infantry was across, strong roadblocks were established at each bridge with instructions to let no one cross without the express permission of the 3rd Division Commander. On May 4, the 7th Infantry took Berchtesgaden and the Obersalzburg and raised the American flag over Hitler's Berghof retreat. I was there. A few hours later, the French arrived at the bridges guarded by roadblocks and were denied permission to pass. Their commander, Major General Le Clerc, came forward in a state of outrage, not without good reason. We were not only Allies, but the bridges were in his zone of advance! He was told by, Lt. Col. Ramsey, the Officer commanding the road block detachment, that his orders were to let no one pass without the express permission of the 3rd Division Commander. But unfortunately, no one knew exactly where he was.

     After delaying the French long enough to be sure there could be no question as to who had captured Berchtesgaden, they were allowed to enter the town. (But not the Berghof). They immediately began looting it, with a precision that smacked of long practice. They parked a half track crossways at the end of each block to prevent escape and then went through the houses and stores one by one, throwing their loot out the windows into the street. What they deigned to keep, they loaded aboard the half tracks and the rest was left behind. Perhaps they thought they had justification, in light of what Germany had done to France during the German occupation, but we were careful to disassociate ourselves from the whole operation. Most of the enlisted men in these units were French Colonial troops, Algerians and Morrocans. Only the officers were French.

     Before the French arrived, we had taken Obersalzburg with only token opposition by the few SS troops that remained. We gawked like sightseers at Hitler's Berghof, which we had seen at home in newsreels. It was an enormous building of Bavarian architecture, up high, overlooking the valley in which the town of Berchtesgaden was located. There was a gigantic living room with a picture window sixty feet long and fifteen feet high, which offered a splendid view of the valley.

Hitler's Berghof, Berchtesgaden, Germany, May 6, 1945

      On a slightly lower level were a number of SS barracks which had housed "Der Fuhrer's" bodyguard. As we all know now, Hitler wasn't there. He had committed suicide in Berlin. But we did capture Hermann Goering and other high ranking Nazis. The entire complex had been bombed by British Lancasters a couple of nights before we arrived and most of the buildings, although made primarily of concrete, had burned and were still smoldering. There were bomb craters in the surrounding area thirty feet deep from delayed action "blockbusters." Despite the bombing and the fires, the basement and air raid shelters of Hitler's building were intact and we liberated several truckloads of the finest wines and liquors in Europe.

     It was May 4, 1945 and the War was over, even though the official signing did not take place until May 8. Many years later, when I told this story, a friend asked a foolish question. "What did you do with all that liquor?" Needless to say, we drank it! Or at least we tried to. I settled into a chateau on the hillside for the night with Lt. Seifarth and his platoon, and we went to work with a vengeance on our share of the liquor. We enjoyed it all the more knowing it had belonged to Adolph Hitler. We celebrated the end of the War, and more importantly to us, our personal survival. I was not a drinker and therefore not worldly enough to know that if you planned to get drunk, you didn't do it on Dom Perignon champagne. I did and I suffered mightily the next day as a result. We were smart enough to stay inside the chateau, because the odds of getting killed accidentally rose sharply with all the drunken soldiers wandering about firing weapons in celebration of the War's end.

This Mercedes belonged to Hermann Goering. We captured it when we took him prisoner on May 4, 1945 near Berchtesgaden. Our Colonel had it repainted in Army OD and used it as his personal vehicle during the Occupation. That's me in the front seat

     On May 5, 1945, Colonel Heintges ordered a ceremonial raising of the American flag over the Berghof, which was photographed by the American press. It was a simple, but impressive ceremony conducted in front of the building which looked out for miles over the valley to Berchtesgaden. It finally drove home to us the improbable truth that the War, which we thought would never end, was finally over.

           Our Occupation Duty was in Salzburg, Austria and Bad Hersfeld, Germany (5-12/45). I was then Acting C.O. Hq Co, 7th Inf.  I was promoted to Captain and shipped Home 1/23/46.  

Occupation of Germany (May through December 1945)

   A. The German Civilian

     The War ended on May 8, 1945 with the German armed forces in a state of total collapse. Millions of German soldiers had been killed in action and millions of German civilians had died in the day and night bombing of their cities. More millions of German soldiers had been captured by the Russians and these POWs were sent east to work in forced labor camps, many beyond the Urals. Those German soldiers who fell into the hands of the British and the Americans, near War's end, were screened for SS or Gestapo connections and when cleared, were promptly released and sent home. Those who were in prison camps in the U. S. or Allied countries other than Russia were held for another 2 to 5 years and of those held in Russia, few came home at all.

     These German veterans were bitter. Many felt that they had been betrayed by their leaders. They smarted in defeat after five years of victories and the glory and respect which they enjoyed in the early 1940s. They were superb in battle, rarely losing an engagement when on equal terms. Man for man, gun for gun, tank for tank and plane for plane, their claim to being "super men" appeared to have validity. But in the end, they had been overwhelmed by sheer numbers and by an ever increasing level of war materiel production which simply could not be matched. They were confused by the sudden and complete reversal. As individuals, many still felt superior to the American soldier. They remembered their parents' tales of the oppressive occupation by the Allies after WWI and the hyper-inflation which destroyed what was left of the German economy. They seethed, seeing blatant fraternization between American soldiers and German frauleins. But their defeat was a fact and they strongly resented the American forces who occupied their homeland under an initially stringent set of rules. They had their pride, but little else.

     On the home front, almost all major cities had been destroyed by three years of 1,000 plane, night and day bombing attacks, during which incendiaries and high explosives rained from the skies. In the beginning, only military targets were bombed. But as the fighting grew more intense, entire cities were destroyed with civilians killed or maimed by the tens of thousands. Most were women, children and the elderly, since the rest were fighting at the front. Scarcely a building was left standing. The major streets consisted of narrow paths cut through the rubble by American bulldozers. With the German surrender, food, fuel and vital services were in short supply or non-existent. The farmers were reasonable well off, but the food distribution system had broken down completely. Broken water mains, lack of transport and an almost total lack of food, fuel and shelter made the cities a living hell.

     The civilian population did not welcome the occupation, but with typical German discipline, they were obsequious and hurried to do as they were told. They gave the occupation troops no trouble. Some pretended to welcome the American and British troops. To a man, they swore that they never supported Hitler's Nazi regime, but they were helpless to stop it. And no one, not any one, knew that there was such a thing as a concentration camp and they knew nothing, they said, about the extermination of Jews and political undesirables. Some even maintained that Hitler, himself, did not know about this genocide! They were totally unaware, if you would believe them, of the millions of slave laborers in their midst, brought into Germany from vanquished countries to staff their farms and the production lines of their factories. Like the proverbial three monkeys, they saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke no evil. They pretended to welcome the occupation forces because they were afraid of them, because they knew that their well-being depended on them.

     Although the large cities were rubble, most of the small and mid-sized towns were untouched by the bombing. The occupation forces moved into these, requisitioning the best buildings and homes to house their troops. Food was very scarce and fuel of any kind was practically non-existent. Those civilians who were employed by the occupying powers lived better than most and these jobs were highly sought after. These people were better fed, better housed and clothed and their position gave opportunities for entrepreneurship in the black market to those who were so inclined.

     The economy was a shambles. There was neither food nor goods in the stores, civilian jobs were few and unemployment was the rule. No civilian motor vehicles were in use and the roads carried only Allied military traffic. The Nazi government had printed paper money as needed to finance the war effort and there was little or nothing for civilians to buy because all factories had been converted to wartime needs. Inflation was rampant. The occupation powers compounded this problem by printing "Occupation Deutsche marks" to finance all expenses relating to the occupation, including the Army payroll. This currency did not replace the inflated German Deutsche mark. It supplemented it! As the situation grew worse, a barter system inevitably took hold. American cigarettes were the principal medium of exchange, although Army "C", "K", and "D" rations, liquor and wristwatches were also highly prized. American soldiers were rationed one pack of twenty cigarettes a day for which they paid five cents. On the civilian black market, or in the Russian Zone, the five cent pack would sell for as much as ten dollars in Occupation Deutsche marks, or twenty dollars in German issued Deutsche marks. They didn't smoke the cigarettes. The were used as money, a medium of exchange.

     U. S. soldier participation in black market activity was stimulated by the postal money order system.. Prior to November 1, 1945, it provided a ready means of converting inflated Occupation Deutsche marks to American dollars. The official exchange rate was one U.S. dollar for ten Occupation Deutsche marks. There was no black market exchange rate, because there was no U. S. currency in circulation in Germany. To hold U. S. currency was, in fact, illegal. But the U. S. soldier could buy unlimited postal money orders from his company mail orderly, paying for them in Occupation Deutsche marks, and his designated recipient in the U. S. would receive the equivalent amount in U. S. dollars at the 10 to 1 official exchange rate. In other words, the Army provided a means for unlimited conversion of the inflated Occupation Deutsche marks into hard currency, but only to U. S. soldiers. This leak in the system was plugged on November 1, 1945, when new currency control regulations went into effect. After that date, a soldier could no longer purchase postal money orders in any amount greater than that which he had been paid by the Army in cash.

     When the War ended, literally millions of slave laborers from the conquered countries were left in Germany, with no jobs, no food, no housing nor clothing other than the rags on their backs. Their situation was desperate, far worse than that of the German civilians. They were known as D.P.s (displaced persons). A United Nations sponsored relief organization known as UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration) went to work under the American Military Government to help these people. They were housed in huge camps and fed by the U.S. Military. UNRRA organized to repatriate these people, but reached a stalemate when the Eastern Bloc refugees refused to go home! The Russians, Poles, Czechs, Slavs, Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, Hungarians, Rumanians and other feared for their lives and with good reason. Their countries were now under Russian control. They knew that they would be persecuted at home for serving the German military machine throughout the War, however unwillingly, . A year after the War ended, they were still in Germany, cared for by UNRRA and the occupation forces, with no solution in sight.

     The German young women were in a most unusual situation. Their husbands, fiancees, and boy friends had left home four to five years ago and most were now dead or imprisoned in the Russian gulags. An entire generation of young men had simply vanished. And now tens of thousands of young, healthy, well-fed, well-paid, well-clothed, lonely and sex-starved American males had been placed among them. Their choices were limited to living a monastic life of hardship or becoming "friendly" with an attractive American soldier, preferably one with access to food and cigarettes. The U.S. Supreme Command, in its infinite wisdom, recognized the problem and as only the military can, came up with an unrealistic and unenforceable solution - the "Non-Fraternization Policy." This pollicy prohibited soldiers from socializing with any German civilian. The only contact was to be strictly in line of duty. A soldier couldn't legally give a child a candy bar. "This was the enemy and we are not going to let him forget it!"

Lt. Cloer violating the non-fraternization regulations in Bad Hersfeld

     The policy was, of course, a dismal failure. The American soldier, friendly by nature, and single in most cases, had been away from home for a year or two and his situation was, in some respects, similar to that of the frauleins. The G.I.s were, by now, highly skilled at evading odious regulations and although violation was not blatant, it proceeded smoothly behind the scenes. Enforcement was lax to begin with and became even more so as the months dragged by. Pregnant German women walked the streets for the first time in years and the American soldiers responsible left for home.

B. The American Soldier

     Most of the men, officers and enlisted men alike, were draftees or had volunteered to serve "for the duration." These were not regular Army career men. They were civilians by nature, (Citizen Soldiers), and so far as they were concerned, the "duration" was over. The job they had agreed to do was finished. In combat, they lived with an extreme intensity. They found it hard to adjust to the eternal boredom of occupation duty and had no patience with what they regarded as "chickenshit" regulations. They had no useful duties, as such. Control of civilians was handled by American Military Government (AMG) forces, a special branch of the Army. The Infantry and Armored Divisions assigned to Occupation Duty were there to "show the American flag". Their mission was to act as a deterrent to further Russian expansion into Western Europe, militarily if necessary. They were marking time, they were lonely while awaiting their turn to go home, and Army discipline, essential in combat, was now fading fast.

     The Army recognized the problem and came up with a solution, one which Mencken would call, "Neat, plausible and wrong." Those Divisions which had seen little fighting and spent the least time overseas were put in the pipeline for transhipment to the Pacific, by way of the United States, to fight the Japs. A point system was put into effect which sorted the remaining men by time in the Army, time overseas, and related criteria. Those with the fewest points were put in the same pipeline and those with the highest points were assigned to occupation duty. At the time, it all seemed very fair. But, as you may remember, the War in the Pacific ended very suddenly, three months after VE Day, when the atom bomb was dropped on Japan. Those soldiers with low points were, at that time, in the States on 30 day leave, or in the pipe line headed for home. Since they were no longer needed, they were separated from the service in late summer or early fall, while the high pointers were stuck in Germany for at least six more months of occupation duty.

     With the War over, the Army was no longer sending replacements to Europe. There were few new draftees and the Army didn't dare try to turn around and send back those who had just come home. Add to that a policy where the Army, in its desire to retain combat veterans, offered a 30 day leave in the States plus up to 60 days travel time, and a promotion of one grade to selected officers who volunteered to stay in the Army. Many junior officers who were short on education and qualifications for civilian employment found this offer attractive. This left the Occupation Forces short-handed. With no replacements coming in, those who wanted and deserved most to get out, were held for three or more months beyond their date of eligibility for redeployment as established by the already unfair point system. Such was my fate. I was separated from the military service on January 23, 1946, almost eight months after the War ended.

     My Division, the 3rd Infantry, was deployed along the line of demarcation between the American and Russian zones. I spent the first two months in Salzburg, Austria and the next six months in Bad Hersfeld, Germany. In my case, I would describe that time as a time of extreme loneliness and brain-deadening boredom. In combat, we had lived with an intensity that cannot be imagined by those who have not experienced it. The suddenness of the contrast was something that I found hard to adapt to. Not that I missed combat! But I missed having something useful to do, I missed the inner satisfaction that comes from seeing daily results from my contribution to victory and I had been over sensitized by being away from my loved ones too long. I had volunteered for "the duration" as it was called in those days. The "duration" was over. I had done my part. It was now someone else's turn.

This is one of four similar homes in which my company was billeted for two months in Salzburg, Austria (May-June 1945)

     When the War ended, my company commander Captain Alarie was promoted and made a Battalion Commander. A newly arrived Captain, a protege of the politician Huey Long, replaced him. He saw his job as taking care of the Regimental Commander and his immediate staff of senior officers at the downtown Command Post. The rest of his company (about 150 men) was about a mile and one half away under my command as Executive Officer. The only time we ever saw the new company commander was once a month when he came down to distribute the monthly payroll to the men in cash. There were four other company officers, but three of them disappeared quickly. Mr. Keogh, a regular Army Warrant Officer was promoted to Captain and retired. Two other Second Lieutenants signed on for four years and were rewarded with a 30 day leave at home plus 30 days travel time each way. They were still not back when I left seven months after the War ended. That left me and a Warrant Officer who was the assistant communication officer. I was acting Company Commander for all but one day of each month (pay day), Executive Officer, Motor Officer, Mess Officer for the enlisted men's and for the Jr Officer's Mess, Supply Officer, Provost (responsible for the Regimental Stockade), I & R Platoon leader and anything else that didn't fall under the category of Communications.

     You would think that I would have been overworked! The truth is that in the absence of a mission, with help from good sergeants, and with civilian help, there was still little for me to do, which only added to the boredom! The enlisted men were quartered in the former resort Kurhotel and the junior officers in nearby surrounding homes. We hired kitchen help for both the Jr. Officers and the Enlisted Mens Messes, from pot scrubbers to professional pastry chefs. We hired waitresses for the Junior Officers' mess who were both efficient and attractive and maids to clean and make up our rooms.

This is the Kurhotel in Bad Hersfeld which was my company's enlisted men's quarters and mess, July - December 1945. The Red Cross was on the roof when we got there

     But the real prize was a German middle aged man, Herr Wulff, who spoke both German and English, who I hired as my civilian deputy. He managed, bought, stole, wheedled, bargained, traded and procured all our needs at no cost to us. One of his most useful functions was touring the local farms which had plenty of fresh food but no transport to get it to market. He traded them GI rations which were preserved for long term storage while we dined on delicious fresh salads, fresh meat and vegetables and delicious deserts, all prepared by professional German chefs. He was full of ideas on how to make our time there less odious. In order to improve his scope of activity, I assigned him a captured German Kubelwagen (German Military Jeep) which our motor pool maintained for him. I needed only tell him what I wanted. He would snap to attention, click his heels, and with a "Jawohl, Herr Leutnant!" would be on his way. And the job he did always exceeded my expectations. He often came to me with splendid ideas (such as having the motor pool black topped and paid for by the owner of the land) after which he convinced me that the idea was my very own. He furnished the junior officers early on with typewriters, radios, and a grand piano, freshly tuned, for the music room of our beautiful Junior Officers' Mess. The German homeowners from whom he requisitioned (stole) these items were given a receipt promising return or reimbursement signed with a fictitious Officers name. He requisitioned the local factory owner's lovely home for our Junior Officer's Mess and a former Nazi meeting hall with a large dance floor, stage, bar and cocktail chairs and tables for an Officers' Club. Beer was free and mixed drinks cost five cents per glass as a result of a deal he made with a local distillery and brewery. I know these things seem unbelievable now, but that's the way it was. The German population was so beaten down after five years of War and so afraid of the Russian's who were only a few miles away on the other side of the Occupation Demarcation Line, that they offered no resistance at all. My character would not have allowed me to do the things that Herr Wulff did on my behalf, but somehow, after what I had been through, my character allowed these things to happen using him as the interface with the unfortunates and myself as the interface with the beneficiaries.

Junior Officers' Mess, Bad Hersfeld, (July-December 1945)

     A typical day for me started about 10 A.M. when I would wander down to either the enlisted men's or the Junior Officers' Mess to inspect the kitchen, check on any problems the mess sergeant was having and to savor my custom made late breakfast. I'd then call for my jeep and ride over to the Motor Pool to see if the Motor Sergeant had any problems. Back to the Jr. Officers' Mess to have lunch with about 20 other Junior Officers who had discovered I served the best meals in town. We had two Battalion Surgeons who kept me up to date on the men's health and morale out in the rifle companies, two Red Cross Girls who gave me the enlisted men's latest gripes, a Military Government man who gave me the latest civilian political gossip, a French women who ran the Displaced Persons' Camp with the latest on attempts to make the Eastern nation D.P.'s go home instead of being fed, clothed and housed by the United Nations, several Liaison Officer's who kept me abreast of activity within the Regimental Staff downtown (the big picture!), the Regimental interpreter who regaled us with tales of his latest conquests, and our Liaison Officer with the Russians who kept us abreast of what was going on across the border. Information flowed freely among this friendly and well-fed group of bored young people.

     After lunch, I'd usually take a nap until it was time for pre-dinner cocktails at the Jr. Officers Mess. The same well fed, knowledgeable group was present but in a much more relaxed atmosphere. The dinner prepared by the German chefs was superb, our army cooks being limited to peeling potatoes, lighting the stoves, disposing of the garbage and washing the china. After dinner some of us would retire to the music room and listen to beautiful classical music performed on the grand piano by a liaison officer who in civilian life had been a concert pianist. The rest, who preferred "Mairzy D'Oats" type music, wasted no time making their way to the Officers Club Bar a few blocks away. I would join them there and the drinks, gripes, and personal plans for "after the War" would be casually explored not only by my messmates, but by Officers from other Companies and Battalions. One memory stands out as being typical. I was sitting at a table with Lt. Col. Wallace, our 3rd Battalion Commander, commanding as many as 800 men. He was a very brave man, highly decorated, and an outstanding leader. We were supposed to wear our ribbons, but he would only wear one. It was the Distinguished Service Cross with an Oak Leaf Cluster. We were discussing our plans for "after the War" and he allowed as how he probably would stay in the Army. He didn't think much of the alternative which was to "go back to the firehouse." Another young Officer who had received a battlefield promotion from sergeant to 2nd Lt. late in the War, decided he would rather be an Army Officer than go "back to the steel mills in Youngstown." At about midnight I would call it a day so as to be up for breakfast at 10 A.M. The next day was just like the last except that my after breakfast visit would be to the Orderly Room and the Supply Room. I'd save inspection of the Stockade until the following day.

     But the Army likes to keep its men busy! The word came down that inter-company leagues would be formed for softball and for volleyball. Sports were the thing! Good exercise, good competition, good unit morale and cooperation, all those good things! I turned out for the Hq. Co.'s first softball practice, but found that most of the positions were already assigned. I told them that I used to pitch softball in college. I was told that the Colonel would be doing the pitching, but they might find a spot for me in the outfield. The Regimental Exec. was catcher and the infield was manned by three majors and a captain. I got to play in the outfield which was a very busy place with the Colonel pitching. I was not overly surprised to learn, when it was our turn to bat, that the Colonel would bat first and the batting order would be in order of rank. I batted last and we lost every game!

     Volley ball proved to be equally ridiculous. The rules state that after each point is scored, the six man team will rotate one position clockwise. We did that except for the Colonel. He played center forward at all times and everyone else rotated around him, lofting the ball up for him so he could kill it! We didn't win any of those games either!

     Finally, after seven months of this incessant boredom, during which all my friends and buddies had left for home, I was fed into the rotation pipeline and in two more months was home.

Rape Investigation

     On May 5, 1945, the 7th Infantry captured Berchtesgaden and Hitler's Retreat at the Obersalzburg. I was there. In three more days, the War in Europe was officially over. The Regiment then moved to the nearby city of Salzburg, Austria, while the Allied Powers made plans to deploy their Occupation Forces in accordance with the Yalta agreement by Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. The Regimental Command Post and my company were billeted in four large homes on an estate near the edge of the city. All utilities were in working order (a first!) and we had a wonderful view of Salzburg's medieval castle. (Der Schloss).

7th Inf. Hq and Hq Co quarters in Salzberg, Austria with Der Schloss in the background

     We had been there only a short time when I was ordered to report to the Regimental Commander. As executive officer of Headquarters Company, it was not unusual for me to be called upon when the Colonel wanted something out of the ordinary done. He told me that the AMG (American Military Government), had received a complaint of rape from a young German woman in Augsburg, a city we had taken about two weeks earlier. She reported the name and rank of her alleged attacker as 1st Lieutenant Barry, an officer who I knew well and considered to be a friend. (Barry is a pseudonym). Lt. Barry was a forward observer for the 10th Field Artillery and had compiled an enviable combat record during the War. From his front line positions, he had saved the lives of countless infantrymen by accurately directing the fire of his battalion on the enemy. Rape was a very serious court-martial offense. The "Articles of War" specified "death or such other punishment as the courts-martial may direct," for those found guilty. The "Articles of War" were read to all troops, no less frequently than every three months, so everybody understood this.

     The Colonel appointed me as investigating officer and ordered me to interview the woman in question. My verbal report would be delivered to him personally and would be used by him to make his decision on whether or not to convene a General Court Martial to try Lt. Barry. At this juncture, no one else was to know about the accusation nor the investigation. The colonel was strictly impartial in his instructions, but I was sensitive enough to read his discomfort at being placed in this awkward situation. Regardless of outcome, a court-martial for rape would be a blot on the record of the 7th Infantry Regiment.

    We drove to Augsburg the next day; my driver, my interpreter (a corporal who spoke German) and me. The AMG had furnished the woman's name and address and we found her without difficulty. I explained who I was, why I was there and told her that I would have to ask her some questions. Her mother was with her at all times, as was my interpreter. I didn't ask where her father was. At that time, there were very few German men of any age who were not dead or in Allied POW camps.

     In response to my questions, the young woman gave her description of what had happened. The day the American soldiers came to Augsburg, she said, the Lieutenant noticed her looking out the second story window of her mother's house. He forced the lock on the front door and broke in. He was very drunk, she said. He attacked her and when she resisted, he drew his pistol and held it to her head. She submitted, she said, under threat to her life. Her mother wasn't home at the time. There were no witnesses. She was composed throughout our discussion and smiled frequently. It was now two weeks later and she had no marks or bruises that I could see. If there had been mental or physical trauma, it was not apparent now.

     Like all German civilians at War's end, she was obsequious toward the victors. And well they should be, I thought! Their husbands, their brothers and their fathers had been doing their best to kill us for the better part of three and a half years. The civilians had joined in the Hitler worship and had given his barbaric racial and territorial objectives their wholehearted support. Their "Sig Heils!," and the euphoria they displayed at political rallies filled the home front newsreels. The cost to humanity was tens of millions of lives lost and untold misery for those who survived. Irrelevant to the matter at hand, you might say. And I agree. But I didn't then.

     I asked the fraulein if she was a virgin at the time of the alleged attack. She answered no, with no show of embarrassment. She had been having a sexual relationship with her "fiancee" before he went off to war. I was inclined to believe her story, except for the part about the gun being held to her head. I doubted that a soldier would need or use that kind of threat because of the differences in their size and physical strength. The accusation of using a gun, however, could bolster her claim that she did, in fact, resist until faced with deadly force.

     I was in a quandary. There was little doubt in my mind that they did have sexual relations. But under what conditions? Did he threaten her with the pistol? Or did a K ration and a pack of cigarettes change hands? The latter happened untold times every day in post war Germany. And why was she looking out her second story window? Why was her mother not with her when their enemy entered the city? It was his word against hers, but to carry the charge to a court-martial would hurt many innocent people, regardless of the outcome. I thought mostly about the effect on Lt. Barry's parents and his loved ones at home. And what would the fraulein gain, besides satisfaction? In fact, the strongest part of her story was the apparent lack of motive in submitting the complaint to AMG.

     I asked if she knew the penalty for a military rape conviction. She said she did not. I told her the penalty was death. (In truth, that was the maximum penalty. But 30 years in prison might be just as bad.) She and her mother were shocked. I asked if they wanted to see this young soldier die, now that the terrible war was finally over. They shook their heads vigorously and agreed that they did not. They had no idea, they said, that the penalty was so severe. I reminded them that if the charges were not withdrawn, there would be a court-martial with all of its attendant publicity and media sensationalism. The fraulein would be questioned under oath by a military prosecutor seeking to air every last detail of the alleged rape and by a defense attorney determined to make her look like a tramp. I convinced them that there was nothing to be gained by pressing these charges, except more misery for all concerned. They agreed.

     I felt a certain amount of guilt during the ride back to Salzburg, a feeling of having interfered with the judicial process. But in our system of justice, (unlike that of Hitler's Germany) the burden of proof rests with the accuser. In this case, I was satisfied there was no evidence to support the charge. It was her word against his. I was acting like a judge rather than an investigator, but I was convinced that everyone would be better off if this case never came to trial. The purpose of punishment is not retribution, but rather that an example be set to prevent such criminal acts by others in the future. But in this case, we were citizen soldiers who would soon leave Germany and the Army forever.

     When I reported to the Colonel and handed him a signed statement to the effect that the charges would be withdrawn, he breathed a muted sigh of relief, as I knew he would. Yet, fifty-four years have gone by since that day in Germany and this is the first time I have told anyone about it. I suspect this indicates that I have some feeling of guilt despite complete confidence that my handling of the problem was the best course of action, for all concerned, at that time, and under those conditions. I have no regrets.

"They oughta hire a homme to clean up after them chevaux."

Forty & Eights

     I was one of 5,000 infantry replacements who debarked from the troopship "Horace A. Mann" in Casablanca in January 1944. We had crossed the Atlantic from Newport News, Va. We spent the night in a "repple depple" and next morning, about 1,000 of us were trucked to a railroad siding a few miles away. There we were introduced to our transportation for the next leg of our journey to Italy. It was a 36 car train with an ancient steam engine on one end and a tiny caboose on the other. Immediately behind the engine were two large Pullman cars for the Army Transportation Corps crew and then thirty-three "40 & 8's" for the replacement Infantrymen.

     It was a narrow gage railroad. Each box car had four wheels instead of eight and the car was ½ to 2/3 the size of its American counterpart. The cars were all wood, except for the running gear, and their condition bespoke their advanced age. On each side were stenciled the words "Quarante Hommes ou Huit Chevaux", meaning 40 men or 8 horses in French. There was a large sliding door on each side and a small window up high in each corner for ventilation. We were told that our next destination was Oran, some 500 miles away across the Sahara Desert. C Rations and five gallon water cans for three days had been put aboard. We were assigned to cars, loaded up and the ancient steam locomotive chugged out of the station.

     It was late January. The daytime weather in the desert was pleasant, but frigid air whistled between wide cracks in the floorboards at night. And even with only 30 men to a car, there was not enough room for everybody to lie down at the same time. The days were long and boring and the nights long, cold and sleepless. The line was single track, so we had to park on a siding whenever a train approached from the other direction. Top speed was about 20 MPH. There were no sanitary facilities aboard. The train would stop from time to time at isolated spots in the desert, but we never knew why or for how long. Those who chose the wrong stop to relieve themselves would run to catch the train, pulling their pants up on the run. Of course, we all leaned out the doors to cheer them on. Some didn't make it. But they were able to hitchhike a ride on the parallel roadway (military traffic)and we would find them waiting for us at the next station. The Ay-rab population crowded the stations trying to sell us eggs and goats milk. Their camels looked on.

     For the first day or two, we found a suitable diversion from the boredom. We all had rifles or carbines and live ammunition. There were telegraph lines paralleling the railroad tracks and the glass insulators proved to be irresistible targets. After three days, we pulled into the Oran freight yards at dusk. It was very cold and we were overjoyed to hear that a hot meal was waiting for us at the camp. We were trucked to the "repple depple" and we lined up with our mess kits at huge kettles over open fires. Each kettle contained a mixture of the three C ration varieties, corned beef hash, pork and beans and beef-vegetable stew! It was hot and we ate every speck!

     From there, a group of us sailed to Naples aboard a British ship, "The Highland Queen." From Naples, we went on to the 7th Infantry on the Anzio Beachhead aboard an LST.

     My next encounter with "40 & 8's" came two years later when War was over and I was finally eligible to go home. I was no longer the green second lieutenant that had been put ashore in Casablanca. I was a tough, cynical, experienced, and proud Infantryman who took no xxxx from anybody! I left the 7th Infantry on December 1, 1945 with an equally cynical 1st Lt. named George Rebovich. We hoped and expected to be home for Christmas. But the Army moved slowly and we spent our second miserable Christmas overseas in a redeployment unit (84th Inf. Div.) in Eberbach, Germany..

     About a week later, our battalion was trucked to a nearby rail yard where our transportation to Le Havre had finally arrived. It was bitterly cold, snowing and very windy. We were each handed a card with our rail car number on it. Rebovich and I stood side by side, shivering, and stared at a mirror image of the "40 and 8's" we had ridden in North Africa two years earlier. Mirror image because they were now pointed west instead of east. And now the weather was sub-freezing, the "40 & 8's" were snow covered, the doors were wide open and there was no heat of any kind. The C rations and water were no doubt frozen solid. In the distance, up behind the engine, were the two Army Transportation Corps Pullman cars bathed in clouds of steam. The "40 & 8's" stood cold and forbidding. Was this the best the Army and our Country could do for us after what we had been through?

     Rebovich turned to me and masterfully summed up our anger, frustration and despair in three four letter words of Army vernacular: "XXXX this XXXX"! And with that, he and I strode to the head of the train and up the forward stairway of the first Pullman car. (Clearly marked OFF LIMITS). The seats had been removed from the front half of the car and we were standing in a carpeted office. The lone occupant, a Transportation Corps Captain in his class A uniform, sat behind a stack of papers on his desk. And it was warm! The REB (Rear Echelon Bastard) was startled by our presence but recovered some of his poise and said, "What can I do for you gentlemen?"

     Rebovich and I wore the field uniform of wool O.D., combat boots, combat jacket with the well known 3rd Division patch and Combat Infantry Badge. Over the jacket, we wore our web belts with holstered .45 caliber pistols, trench knives, and ammo pouches and we still wore our camouflaged steel helmets. We hadn't had a change of clothes in a month and those we wore had been slept in because it was so cold. We must have looked like Bill Mauldin's Willie and Joe, except for our scratched and tarnished insignia, crossed rifles and silver bars.

     During the Occupation, Rebovich had been our liaison officer with the Russians. I had absolute confidence in his ability to forcefully state our case and in more colorful language than I. We focused on this Rear Echelon Bastard and his branch of the Army as being responsible for our not getting home for Christmas.

     "I'll tell you what you can do for us," Rebovich replied. "You can make room for us up here in this nice warm car for the rest of this trip. We've been freezing our ass in wet foxholes for two XXXXing years, and by God, we've had enough!" His statement of our case was delivered with just the right blend of determination and controlled rage, with a strong implication of "or else." I was proud of him!

     "All right," replied the REB. "Why don't you make yourselves comfortable in one of the compartments in the rear half of the car and I'll show you where we sleep and eat after we get underway. The compartment was comfortable and roomy. It had two fold down beds and upholstered bench seats and it was warm! When his three sergeants had come back aboard, after having loaded the 800 infantrymen into the "40 & 8's," we got underway. The friendly Captain came back to our compartment, welcomed us aboard, showed us how to put the bunks down, showed us the restroom and told us that the second Pullman was equipped with a small kitchen and a G.I. cook. We played cards, told war stories, and awakened next morning to the smell of fresh coffee and frying bacon.

     We felt bad about the 800 dogfaces freezing in the "40 & 8's" behind us, but we rationalized that there was nothing we could do for them under the circumstances and besides, they weren't our men. Had they been the men who fought under our command during the war, we would have been back there suffering with them to offer what meager comfort and encouragement we could. But after two pleasant days and nights, we arrived at Camp Philip Morris near Le Havre where we were billeted in heated Nissan huts for about ten more days. Finally, our grubby little Liberty ship arrived and was ready to sail. Eleven seasick days later, we arrived in New York harbor on a bitterly cold and windy January winter day. Every man was on deck, eyes searching for that first sight of home. When the Statue of Liberty came into view, there was hardly a dry eye among us.

P.S.

     In 1998, I was able to locate ex-Lt. Rebovich through the 7th Infantry Association and I sent him a copy of this story. He telephoned me the same day he received it. He said, "I read your story about the 40 & 8's, handed it to my wife and said, Read this!" She did and then replied, "That's the same story you've been telling us for 50 years."

      "Right," he replied, "but now maybe you'll believe it!"

      He then added, "My son graduates from college tomorrow and we're having a big family gathering afterward. I'm going to make everybody in the family read this story!"

Back Home

  I was ordered overseas at age 22 as an Infantry replacement 2nd Lieutenant after only six months in the Army and two months of marriage to my childhood sweetheart. I was assigned to the regular Army 3rd Infantry Division on the Anzio Beachhead in Italy and introduced to War in one of the bloodiest battles of the century. What followed was five more major campaigns in Italy, France and Germany. My 3rd Division suffered 34,000 battle casualties. Statistically speaking, my chances of survival were infinitesimal. Yet, my homecoming, which I anticipated as one of the happiest moments of my life, was a dismal disappointment.

   When the War in Europe ended on May 8, 1945, I was 24 years old and I was in Berchtesgaden, Germany. The Army, in its infinite wisdom, decided that those units and individuals who had seen the least combat would be transhipped to the Pacific where the War with Japan was still raging. Because of my arduous service, I was one of the lucky ones chosen to serve in the German occupation instead. But occupation duty was a brain deadening bore, especially after the intensity of combat, and it was the loneliest time of my life. My Division manned a section of the border with the Russian zone to discourage any expansion to the west. Four months later, on September 1, 1945, I was finally eligible to go home. The War in the Pacific was over and my spirits soared. But there was another regulation of which I was unaware. Unit commanders could hold an officer for up to three additional months of occupation duty if there was no adequate replacement available. Of course, there was none available and I was held by my unit until December 1, 1945. During that period, I was pressured to sign on for the Regular Army in return for an immediate promotion and a 30 day leave at home. To come to the aid of my country in time of War was one thing. To commit to 30 years of boredom, chickenshit and abuse of power in the peacetime Army was quite another. I declined their generous offer.

     Still, all is not lost, I thought. Surely I would be home for what would have been another Christmas overseas. Christmas was only 25 days away. Wrong again! I spent Christmas and New Years Day in a "redeployment unit" (the 84th Inf. Div.) in Germany doing absolutely nothing but wait for transportation. While there, we were asked to go down to Heidelberg (in trucks) to attend General Patton's funeral. We told them what they could do with General Patton's funeral. In early January 1946, we were transported in 40 and 8's to Le Havre, where we were billeted in a Nissan Hut city erected to hold German POWs awaiting shipment to the States. Stalag 17 revisited! Another wait began for a ship. On January 10, 1946, we were packed into the S.S. Maritime Victory, one of Henry Kaiser's grubby little freighters, and we headed west into some of the worst winter storms ever experienced in the North Atlantic. I was continuously seasick for eleven days and I lost 15 pounds.

     We finally arrived in New York harbor. It was now January 21, 1946 and I was 24 years old. The temperature was sub-freezing and the wind velocity was about 30 knots. None the less, all of the 2,000 G.I.'s aboard crowded the deck looking for their first sight of home. As the Statue of Liberty came into view, the men went silent. But every eye was riveted to the Lady of Liberty and warm twinges ran up and down our spines. Our eyes teared and some of the men wept aloud. It was the most emotional moment in my life. The War was over, I had done my duty and now, after two years of Hell, I was home.

Heroes and Garbage

     As we drew closer to the docks on the New Jersey side of the river, we looked for signs of welcome. There were none. No band, no hot coffee, no Red Cross doughnut dollies, no red carpet, no loud speaker welcome, nothing but a small, faded and tattered canvas banner which said "Welcome Home." Its condition spoke louder than the printed word. It implied, "We no longer care." And then to add insult to injury, the ship's crew began dragging hundreds of steel garbage cans filled with eleven days of ship's garbage to compete for space on deck. A column of open garbage trucks waited on the dock to take it away. We wondered whether the heros or the garbage would be given priority in debarking.

"Back Home"

"You boys shoulda been here V-J Day. Free drinks, pretty girls kissin' everybody, whistles blowin', windows busted. . ."

   When I got home three days later, we went through the hugs and kisses routine, but a great divide seemed to have grown between us. We were like aliens from two different worlds trying unsuccessfully to communicate. The fact that I had made Captain, something of which I was very proud, meant nothing to them. When I brought up the subject of my wartime experiences, they were quick to change the subject. They asked no questions about the rows of ribbons on my chest, nor the Combat Infantry Badge, the Croix de Guerre, and the Distinguished Unit Citation. And I had little sympathy for their problems with food stamps and a shortage of cigarettes and gasoline. It was as if they were trying to convince me that their wartime sacrifices were greater than mine. Even though I didn't agree, they could have at least shown the good judgement to refrain from verbalizing those thoughts during my Welcome Home. In summary, my homecoming, which I had visualized as one of life's great moments, was one of the more extreme let downs of my life!

Awards & Decorations

Combat Infantry Badge (First issue, 3/44 on Anzio Beachhead).

Bronze Star Medal w/4 OLC.

ETO Medal w/6 Battle Stars and Bronze Arrowhead (Anzio, Rome-Arno, Southern France, Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland, Central Europe.)

Distinguished Unit Medal

Croix de Guerre

Germany Occupation Medal

Victory Medal

Four overseas stripes

     After the War, I went to work for Curtiss-Wright in Caldwell as an engineer. Starting in 1950, I went to Newark College of Engineering for four years at night (on the GI Bill) to get my MS in Management Engineering. I stayed with CW for 35 years, retiring from the Wood-Ridge Facility as Director of Finance and Administration. I retired in 1980 and we moved to Florida.

Faces of War

Etched in an old soldier's memory, are the faces of comrades he knew.

Faces reflecting the terror and suffering, The exhaustion of endless battles,

And the courage to see them through.

Those long gone faces haunt the old soldier's memory.
And yet, they sustain him, too.

They're reminders of the price of freedom.
To we the remaining few.

- Russ Cloer

    This Sketch was drawn by Dick Merrill, who served with the 7th Division in Korea. When I first saw it, I saw in that face, the faces of at least 100 men with whom I had served in WWII. I was so moved by it that I begged for a copy and immediately my mind went to work describing poetically what I was seeing and feeling.

Train Whistles

   When did you last hear the doleful wail of a steam train's whistle? I don't mean the raucous blast of the air horn on a diesel locomotive. I'm talking about the steam whistle on an old-fashioned steam locomotive, the kind that the engineer sounded to send his message to all within earshot. It was the punctuation he added to the sound of incessant hissing, chugging and huffing and puffing. To the pervasive smell of coal smoke and cinders. Two short chirps meant that the train was ready to leave the station. A brief series of trumpet-like blasts was the engineer's impatient plea to hurry the passengers aboard. Once underway, a long moan, building in both pitch and intensity, warned motorists that the train was approaching a grade crossing. And out in the country, away from the crowds, the engineer might turn loose a series of wavering crescendoes out of sheer exuberance just to hear the echoes reverberate across the countryside. His repertoire included scores of stirring and imaginative compositions. The meaning of these, only he and perhaps the brakeman and conductor knew. He played them with feeling and expression rivaling that of an organ virtuoso.

   As a young boy, I was captivated by these sounds and never tired of hearing them. They told me that my small town was part of a much larger world which I longed to see. There are few sounds on earth that will bring forth visions of adventure in romantic, faraway places, like the insistent call of a steam locomotive's whistle. It brought schoolbook pictures to life and held them just out of my reach. I listened to its music and it tugged at me like the Pied Piper's flute. It brought visions of snow-covered mountains, of barns and silos, of castles and minarets, of camels and deserts, of canals, windmills and shimmering rivers, of narrow cobble-stoned streets, houses with steep, gabled, red tile roofs and window boxes bursting with red geraniums.

   And when I grew older, I saw all these things along with enough adventure to last me a lifetime. I saw camels and deserts while crossing the Sahara in "40 & 8's." I saw Mt. Vesuvius and the ancient ruins of Pompeii on my way to the Anzio Beachhead. I saw the Coliseum silhouetted against the first pink streaks of dawn while leading one of the first patrols into Rome. And I saw the sandy beaches of Southern France from the ramp of my LCVP. I saw castles and minarets among France's great chateaux. And I was welcomed by cheering French crowds, ringing church bells and the singing of La Marseillaise in the Rhone Valley. I trudged through the snow covered Vosges mountains on Christmas Day and saw the Austrian Alp from Hitler's Berghof on the last day of the War. The shimmering rivers were the Moselle, the Rhine and the Danube all of which I crossed under enemy fire. The cobble stoned streets, houses with steep gabled roofs and window boxes bursting with red geraniums were in those small German towns which had not been bombed into oblivion. Barns, of course, were everywhere. They gave us shelter and a place to sleep. I saw the famous cities of the Mediterranean and Europe; Casablanca, Oran, Rome, Paris and Salzburg, all mostly untouched: Nurnberg and Munich in ruins. To be sure, it wasn't all pleasant. In fact, it was mostly hell! But it's nice to remember the "good stuff" and to be able to interpret later developments with the knowledge of having "been there."

   But when the War was over I still heard the melancholy call of the steam train's whistle. The tug was even stronger now, but the whistle was sending a different message. The faraway place, which it now extolled, was the one I had left three years earlier. That wonderful place called home. That place where your friends and loved ones await you and your presence is sure to bring smiles. The whistles were calling me home.

   But now, in my late retirement years, the whistle no longer calls. I listen, but I hear no plaintive wail. The engineer is gone, as is his whistle and his locomotive. They are dinosaurs out of the past and perhaps I am too. But I haven't forgotten the romantic songs that the whistle used to play, nor the dreams and visions which it inspired. Nor the adventures and the faraway places that the whistle implored me to see. I am glad that I listened to the whistle. But with steam locomotives gone, I wonder what will stir my grandchildren's imagination, like the steam whistle did for me.

   And yet, I know that the day will come when I will hear the wail of the whistle one last time. Its tone will be soft and serene but it will not be denied. It's call will be insistent and its message will be clear. The time has come, it will tell me, to make that final journey, the one to join my buddies, my friends and loved ones who were given less time than I. The engineer will be there, as will his train and whistle. They assure me that I will be welcomed with smiles to a place of peace, love and harmony. A place where we will all be together again. A place from which there will no longer be any need to journey afar.

----- Russ Cloer

       Rwcloer@aol.com

LINKS

Russ Cloer & Leo Perrault, Russ Cloer, Capt., I & R Platoon Leader, 7th Inf., 3rd Inf. Div., VI Corp., 7th Army US Army

Map of Colmar Pocket, Capt., I & R Platoon Leader, 7th Inf., 3rd Inf. Div., VI Corp., 7th Army US Army

Lt. Russel W. Cloer in Colmar, Capt., I & R Platoon Leader, 7th Inf., 3rd Inf. Div., VI Corp., 7th Army US Army

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