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11. Becoming a Forward Observer: I'll go ahead many months now, to a time when I went out as a forward observer. Carson was with me as the radio operator, along with another radio operator, T5 Robin Smith. We were in a little German village one day, and we went up to a house where there was a kind of porch. There was an older woman and a young woman, a girl, maybe 20 or so, or early twenties, sitting on this porch. She was in what looked like, to us, a nurse's uniform. What triggered our going up to the house was that Carson had spotted, lying on a chair, not far from them, a guitar. He never passed up an opportunity to play a guitar.
So, we went up on this porch and he started playing. We had a lot of fun listening while he played and we sang. I realize now that the lady and her daughter were scared to death at these three American soldiers who had come up on their porch. They had been told terrible things about what the American soldiers might do. It was clear to us that this girl was supposed to leave to go to work, evidently at a hospital, or someplace there in that town, but that she would not leave her mother with us still around there. So, in time, we thought it best to move on, and we got out of the way so they could go on about their duties. I wanted to tell you about that, because Carson found every opportunity to play a guitar, and we enjoyed those few minutes while we were on that front porch.
Carson was one of the original Tennessee Guardsmen, I had opportunities, many, many years later, when I visited in East Tennessee on at least three occasions, to visit again with him, and several others. So, I was able to renew that acquaintance.
Carson died about a year and a half ago. Several of them have gone on now. But we did have an opportunity to visit him, and get to know him and his wife down in East Tennessee.
By the way, I found that most of those men that I had known were not particularly religious men when they were in the service, but most of them have lived very active Christian lives after they returned, and Carson was not only living a Christian life, but he was actually working as a director of a Christian camp down in East Tennessee somewhere. So, I was pleased to find that they all were fine Christian men. All that I met when I went back down there were active Christians, and had stuck close to their faith.
I'm going to tell of another incident involving Carson and Robin Smith, a funny one that occurred later on, but that comes later in the story.
12. Predecessors: Drury and Drury: Before I continue with events following Arracourt, as far as the progress of the war, I want to say just one more thing about Bob and Virginia Drury, a little human interest story.
I told you that Bob and Virginia had met for purposes of getting married in Los Angeles. Before going down there to meet Virginia, Bob had said to me he had no idea where to go in Los Angeles to get married. Earlier in the war, when I was just in basic training, I had served as the best man for one of my high school chums, who was married down there. Kay and Arlis Carter were married at Wee Kirk o' the Heather, located in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, and operated by Forest Lawn. It was, and still is, a beautiful small chapel in a lovely setting. I mentioned this to Bob, and suggested that they might like to look into that as a possibility. They did take a look at it, liked it as well, and chose that as the setting for their wedding.
There were many weddings in Wee Kirk o' the Heather during the war. In fact, it had become famous as a chapel, used by many of the Hollywood stars. Both funerals and weddings of Hollywood personnel were held in that chapel, so it was well-known. There were so many weddings during the war, however, that when one went to get married, a couple had to wait for the wedding party ahead of them to clear the chapel. As soon as they were out in front and were taking pictures, that couple went in and started their wedding. While that wedding was in progress, another wedding party was forming at the back door to come in as they exited the front.
It really was a beautiful setting for a wedding. And even though I ministered in the Los Angeles area for 18 years, I never had the opportunity of having a service of any kind, wedding or funeral, in Wee Kirk o' the Heather, and I regretted that. I did have a number of graveside services in that cemetery, but never a service in that particular chapel.
Bob and Virginia, however, had a lot of fun with this fact, because they used to laugh a lot about their wedding, and when people asked them where they were married, they would always say, "We were married in a cemetery." Now, that was unique to people from other parts of the country, Bob being from Colorado, and Virginia from Tennessee. But, To Californians, we would have immediately recognized that they had probably been married at that location.
Earlier in my record of these events I mentioned the fact that forward observers were considered expendable. We talked rather lightly about that, but with Bob Drury being the focal point of a hit it was not a light matter at all to us. Bob succeeded in living as a forward observer for one month and 12 days after landing on the battlefield of Europe. We had been told before we went overseas that the average life expectancy of a forward observer was less than 30 days, so Bob beat the odds by staying a little bit longer. Nevertheless, we were to miss him, and miss him greatly.
Coincidentally, he was succeeded by another lieutenant in our battery, at that time a second lieutenant, whose name was also Drury. His first name was Charles, and they were not related at all.
Charles was a fine young man, younger than I. He was a man of good morals. He seemed to live up to his ideals to a greater degree than most servicemen did, and he was very likable. I didn't get to know Charles very well because Charles, I think, had joined us about the time we went overseas. So, I didn't have a long association with him, and saw him only in work as we were in combat, in the first month of combat. But it fell his lot to take over the job of forward observer from Bob Drury. Although Charles did not die in combat, he, nevertheless, was a casualty. Charles had the misfortune of being out in an infantry group that received a bombardment of artillery shells fired by American artillery.
This happened occasionally during the war, where errors were made in figuring distances, or perhaps in reporting the location of front line units. It was inevitable that it would happen at times. One of the leading generals, after the beginning of the war, was killed in such a bombardment, General McNair. At any rate, Charles was in that kind of a situation. His reaction to it was actually mental exhaustion. He simply "lost it" under those circumstances. He's not to be faulted for it. A lot of strong men could not handle it. It wasn't anything you could determine to do, it was more or less up to the individual and, I suppose, just his makeup, as to how he responded. Charles came back to our battery position just crying and crying, and going on and on, and having, of course, to be sent back as a battle casualty to a hospital for psychiatric counseling.
I never heard from Charles again. I certainly wished him well. He was a fine young man, and I'm sure that after the war the psychologists and psychiatrists would have been able to have given him good mental health again. But I'm sure that the experience he had would be one that he would never forget, nevertheless, and he probably would go back to it in his mind many times.
If you're keeping count, you may have caught the fact that a field artillery battery has four officers. We went overseas with our battery commander, Capt. WeHunt, and three lieutenants in order of grade; myself, followed by Bob Drury and then Charles Drury. You will notice that since Bob Drury was being replaced by Charles Drury, and Charles Drury had to be returned from the front lines, it left only one lieutenant in the battery to take over the role of forward observer.
Having already been the battery executive and second in command of the battery for many, many months, I really had thought I was beyond that particular role, but when the battery commander told me of CharlesDrury's plight, and begged me to volunteer to go up as a forward observer, I really felt that that was what I had to do. So I took over that role as forward observer. Before VE Day, maybe a couple of weeks before the end of the war, I was called upon to become a battery commander of service battery of our battalion, and left the role as forward observer. I don't know who followed me in C Battery as forward observer. We had replacements by that time, but he would only have had a couple of weeks on the line, and I'm sure, since the war was winding down, it was not a particularly difficult time for him.
For the rest of September, and most of October, we were simply involved in taking care of the front lines. No major advances were being made and no counterattacks had yet taken place.
There was one small bridgehead over the Seille River, but mainly a front line for the Third Army that followed theMarne-Rhine Canal, it was a man-made canal for irrigation purposes between the Marne and the Rhine River.
In German that's "Rhein." There was a month in these activities, and there were small skirmishes that went on during that time. I want to flashback, if I may, and add another note about Bob and Virginia Drury. It goes back to the time when we were stationed at Camp McCain, Mississippi. That was when I went to Denver to see my brother, Ralph, at which time I met Eleanor and we became engaged.
I returned to the camp, now an engaged man, and, naturally, the first person I wanted to tell was my friend Bob Drury. When I told Bob that I was engaged, he almost literally fell over backwards in his chair. He pushed himself back from the table he was sitting at and the chair almost tipped him over backwards, he was so surprised.
I asked a favor of him and his wife, and they were gracious enough to grant me that favor. I told him that after work that night I wanted to go into Grenada, Mississippi and buy an engagement ring, but I knew nothing about diamonds, or what would be an appropriate engagement ring, and I wondered if his wife, Virginia, would be willing to go with me and help me make that decision. In order for that to happen, Bob would have to take over my duties that night as officer of the day, but he was willing to do so. He called Virginia, who was willing to do it as well.
I was deeply appreciative, of course, and in a bit of repayment to Virginia for that help that she was going to give me, I promised that since Bob had to stay out at camp, and would be eating there, that I would take Virginia out to dinner in Grenada. It was perfectly all right, and agreed to by everybody concerned, and a perfectly harmless social date.
So, that evening, after Virginia and I had located the diamond, and I had made my payment on it, and proceeded with it, we stopped in a restaurant in Grenada to have dinner. When we walked into the restaurant we had chosen, I noticed immediately that one of the PFCs from our battery, John McElmurry, observed us. Perhaps because he thought some bit of hanky-panky was going on, he quickly turned, looked away, and went to another part of the restaurant where he could not see us and we could not see him. I think to this day he thinks that I was playing around, especially because having been left in charge of C Battery while the battalion commander was on leave, it was my responsibility to order Bob to stay on duty. So, it must have looked pretty bad.
Needless to say, I was indebted to Bob and Virginia for having helped me on that occasion in getting the ring. Eleanor and Virginia started correspondence, which continued throughout the war, while both Bob and I were overseas. I mailed the ring to Eleanor in Denver. She took the ring out to the hospital when she went to see my brother that night, and Ralph put the ring on her finger on my behalf.
13. Slowed Down by Rain: Now, back to combat. There is little of real significance that I recall during this month of October, except that the rains continued, and it seemed that everything we did was done in the mud. It was difficult to make moves, as we often did. We joined in support of the 26th Division in October, past the middle of the month. We went in position in support of the 35th Division, October 31st, near Leyr, France.
The rains, however, and the constant mud, are such a memory of mine during that period of time that I want to comment on one item that I read after the war, in an account of that front.
As we started through that area to attack the Maginot Line, we encountered lots of lowlands supplied by rivers. These rivers were dammed for conservation and irrigation purposes, I guess. So there were a number of dams that were holding back the rivers. Our planners believed that when we started through that area there would be a time when the Germans would consider it in their best interest, perhaps when we had all of our troops down in those lowlands, to blow these dams, thus flooding us and hopefully, from their point of view, killing many of our troops and stopping our assault.
Since our planners believed that the Germans would have that in mind, and they had no real certainty in their minds as to when the Germans would decide to do that, they had to reckon with the possibility that they might make some advances, and do it quickly enough that the Germans would not have time to blow the bridges. The other alternative I read in the history books was that we would cover those bridges with air power, to the extent that they would not be given an opportunity to set the dynamite and blow them up.
But our planners made a different decision, and their decision was to start a partial flood of the area, damage the dams, allow some of the water to escape down into the river bottoms, thus taking away the danger of a major flood if the dams were later detonated and destroyed by the Germans. So, this was what was done. By the use of air power, they bombed the dams, and they allowed a portion of the water to go.
The strategists who could look back on the event after the war felt that it had been a major error. And, from my point of view, it most certainly was. When we finally jumped off on our attack, on November 8th, to start this attack on the Maginot Line, we simply couldn't move. Our armor became embedded in mud. What armor that moved could travel only on the surfaced roads, which made them easy prey for attack, shelling, and air attacks by the enemy.
It probably was a major error in planning to have watered down the route that we were going to be traveling over. Nevertheless, rain is still the predominant thing in my memory concerning that time. I know that we did fire our guns some, there were some significant skirmishes that took place to adjust the lines, but for the most part we didn't move frequently, and we didn't do a lot of firing of our howitzers.
The big offensive which began on November 8th, however, stands out in my mind in a very vivid way. My memory of that is clear because of what happened to me as we prepared for that attack.
I was still battery executive at that time at the gun position. There was a radio silence, so our firing orders for the preparation firing that we would do in advance of the actual attack by the front line troops, where we would soften up the enemy's positions, had to be hand delivered rather than sent over the radio. I was asked, therefore, to drive back four or five miles behind the lines, where those orders at the fire direction center, as it was called, were being prepared. I was to pick them up and to hand carry them back, and then put them into effect when I returned to the battery.
When I got ready to do so, I called for my Jeep and my driver, whose name was Jesse Mitchell. He started to come to where I was, but became mired in the mud, and he couldn't get the Jeep to move without a lot of assistance from other people. I was in a hurry to go, so I commandeered another Jeep with a different driver, Newell Wilkerson, and we took off in blackout conditions back over The few miles to the fire direction center.
When we got there, I was handed our fire orders in a rolled document, which I held in my hand, and climbed back into the Jeep. We were traveling in blackout conditions. We had tiny dim lights that were called blackout lights. If you looked closely, and the vehicle was not coming at you rapidly, you might happen to notice them, but otherwise the vehicle would not be very noticeable. As we rounded a corner, another Jeep was coming toward us and we had a head-on crash. Apparently it was just off-center a bit, because our two jeeps jackknifed into a V, with their fronts crumpled together.
It was minutes later, I suppose, when all of us involved in the accident finally came to. When I did come to, I was under the other Jeep. I had gone out of ours and had slid in under the other Jeep. There was a body on top of me. At first I thought that whoever it was, was not alive, because he wasn't moving. I tried to move, and then eventually noticed that he was moving too, and I said, "Let's get out of here," or something of that sort. The voice that answered me was the voice of my own driver, Mitchell, the one that I had last seen stuck in the mud back in the gun position. He had not understood that I would have a way back. So when he got the Jeep out he decided to come after me, and he found me out there on that dark road.
The driver that had taken me there was also stunned, but he was still in the Jeep. When I dragged myself out from under the Jeep, I found that I could not stand up. My right leg was in such pain that there was no way I could stand on it. I dragged myself over to the side of the road and found the other two. Mitchell, my own driver, had an injured back as a result of it, but could still get around, at least on his feet, which was more than I could do. The other driver was stunned, but apparently not seriously injured.
As we contemplated what we could do in the middle of the road, we heard trucks coming around that same bend. I dragged myself into the ditch at the edge of the road, as far as I could toward them, and began to yell and wave my arms, and succeeded in getting them to stop before they hit our wreckage. They found their way around it, however, and went on.
I dragged myself on the ground back into the village to an aid station. I have to believe that the aid station was probably very busy. I never got inside. I was simply told, "You don't seem to be too badly injured, so we don't think there's anything we can do." So no report was being made of my sore leg, and I didn't know what was wrong with it. I only knew that I couldn't stand on that leg at all.
Somehow or other I did get someone to take the three of us back to our gun position, and we would later get back to our accident site and try to recover what we could from our Jeeps.
I got back to the gun position, and I continued in y job, getting them ready for this fire. By the way, through all of the accident I still had the fire orders rolled up and still held in my hand. I carried them with me out of the Jeep, and under the other Jeep. I finally got them back to the guns, and we fired that mission.
However, I did everything from the ground. It was probably two days before I could get on my leg. I never did find out exactly what had happened, but through the war, and to this day, I carry an injury there, a kind of a hole in the muscles, where the muscles are separated. If I'm just standing on it there's a little bump there, but apparently nothing that they thought they could fix at the aid station.
We gave such support as we could to the attacking troops, but, as I told you, the attack slowed down immediately because of the mud and it was a very costly venture to attempt that particular ground offensive. It could be said to have been successful in time, but it took a much heavier toll than anyone had ever dreamed of, mainly because it was so difficult to travel under the muddy conditions.
On the 10th of November, two days after we had begun our firing in support of the 26th Division, our battalion was put in support of the 4th Armored Division again, the ones we had been with so long while coming across France.
This varied our mission a bit, because it meant that we would move more. Once the attack was successful enough, by about the 14th of November, we began moving into new positions. They were not always good positions. The armor, as you understand, had their own kind of protection. As they were armored vehicles, they could move into whatever areas they needed for protection much easier than we could.
I don't know what the date of Thanksgiving was that year. It would be difficult to determine now, because during the war the traditional date of Thanksgiving had been changed by order of President Roosevelt, so I'm not sure what date it was. On Thanksgiving day we went into a position near Diffenbach. That position was an exposed one.
We actually were on the down slope of a hill, facing across a big valley at German troops on the other hill in front of us, on the other side of that valley. We began to fire immediately, and we fired incessantly. I don't know now how many rounds we fired in the 24-hour period, but it was a very heavy amount, an exceedingly heavy rate of fire. We had a difficult time keeping these big artillery shells up at the guns to use in the various missions. We had to use as many men as we could on trucks going back to get ammunition, and others were carrying ammunition up to the guns. We fired constantly. There was no time to rest, no time to take even one of our four howitzers out of use, because the missions were coming constantly.
Having given the orders to fire, and to keep firing, I found myself, along with any spare cannoneers or truck drivers, or anyone else who was available, running back the 200 yards or so to where the ammunition was stored, hauling shells and powder back up to the guns.
On a couple of these trips coming and going, I noticed another lieutenant. There was not supposed to be another lieutenant at our position. I would be running one direction, and here came this lieutenant, in another direction, carrying a shell. This went on a couple of times, until I finally was able to get a good look at his uniform and discovered that it was a chaplain who had somehow happened into our position, saw the need for manpower, and put himself to work carrying ammunition. It reminded me of the old phrase in the beginning of the war, "Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition."
In addition to the constant firing, we were plagued by rain. It never stopped raining in that position. I told you it was Thanksgiving day. The Army was determined that we would have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Somehow or other, turkey and dressing, and I don't know what else, was sent up to us for distribution to our troops.
Obviously, we were so busy that no one could just sit down and eat his meal, so we had to eat it as we could get to it. We put it down wherever we were, and kept working. I didn't get back to my Thanksgiving dinner after it was dished out into my mess tray for probably three or four hours, and, when I did, I found that the mess tin had filled with water, so it was all one big soupy mess. Not the best Thanksgiving meal I ever ate, but certainly a memorable one.
By sometime the next day the enemy had been routed, we were still in position as the sun came out. When the sun came out, a command car pulled up to our position, and out stepped a neatly dressed major. He, obviously, had not
This brigadier general was a much smarter and wiser man than the major. He was first introduced to me, and then we walked together over to one of the howitzers. The chief of section reported to him, I believe it was Sgt. George Garner. He turned to the cannoneers, who were standing around there, and he began to talk with them. He asked them where they were from, and various things about their lives, and what it had been like.
They all told him about this heavy firing that had taken place. And so he said, "Well, let me take a look." He went over and looked into one of the tubes and said, "I don't see any problem here. Carry on." That was the last we heard of it. I was not reassigned. Had I been reassigned, I might have been in safer positions than I was later on when I did become a forward observer, but, nevertheless, we were pleased that we had passed the test.
I'm sure that most majors who served in combat, at least in the artillery, would disagree with me, but it was my opinion that most of the positions for majors in the artillery were staff positions, they were not at the guns,
14. Almost in Germany: By the time we had been through these attacks by the 4th Armored Division, we finally had arrived in the southern part of France, very close to the German border, in an area around Saarguemines. Saarguemines was not cleared until the 12th of December, and we were in position nearBliesbrucken, France. That was still in France, but we were very close to the German border, as I said, and our firing missions went over into Germany. That was the first position we held where we actually fired shells into Germany.
It was thought that our next big attack would be into the Saar, and the city would be Saarbrucken. In Saarbrucken was one of the largest artillery pieces that was used during World War II. It was on a railroad car. I've forgotten its size now, but I've seen pictures of it. It looked like the tube must have been almost two feet in diameter inside, and it fired huge shells. I'm not sure whether that was one of the shells that fell near our position on one occasion, but it may well have been, because it was a tremendous explosion when it went off. When we finally went to see the crater, you could hide a Jeep down in the crater, it was so deep and so wide.
We were beginning to come under fire from very heavy artillery guns in the Saar region. The Germans intended to defend the Saar very ably, because many war-related industries were there. There was snow on the ground, rather deep snow. I will, in time, talk more about the weather, but let me just talk about my experience in the snow at this point. Because I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, in California, the only snow I saw was on the Sierra Nevadas, and we rarely went up to the snow. I had seen it, but that was just to go to the edge of where the snow line was and back down again. I had never lived in the snow until this time in my life, down near Bliesbrucken. The snow was probably two to three feet deep, and I really knew nothing about getting around in it. I just figured if I had to go from here to there, I took the straightest line and didn't pay close attention to what might be under the snow.
So, on one occasion I was sloshing through this snow, wearing my heavy rubber galoshes that I brought with me all the way across France, that had been given to me by the Army. I stumbled against something, and I recognized that it was a log buried in the snow. So, I jumped over this log and fell on the other side. Coming down on the other side, one of my galoshes hit a short piece of limb that was broken off that tree. It was jagged and it caught my galoshes and tore a hole from the sole clear up to the top and it was laid open. So, I was now in all of this snow with no galoshes.
By the way, I tried my best to get new galoshes. I asked supply officers from then on until the end of the war, but no more galoshes ever came for me, so I went through the rest of the war without them. I still didn't learn how to handle myself in snow, and I'll tell you more about that when we get to Luxembourg, where we had lots of experience with it.
15. The Battle of the Bulge: Prior to World War II, the largest number of American soldiers killed in battle occurred at Gettysburg, counting both the North and the South casualties. In mid-December of 1944 there began the campaign which ultimately surpassed that number, so that the battle which we Americans have dubbed "The Battle of
The object of The Ardennes Offensive by the Germans was to strike with complete surprise, and in doing so, they hoped to start an immediate drive that went very quickly through the Ardennes, through Belgium, and as far as the
They broke through the lines, as we all know now, with heavy armor. They utilized some deceptive measures, the best known now being the fact that they put German soldiers in American uniforms and sent them into the lines in American jeeps which had been captured prior to that and infiltrated our forces. Of course, as soon as that was discovered, that information was given to all of the American troops, including the unit that we were in, and everyone was to be on the alert for them.
As the battle went on, most of these troops were captured, and most of them, because they were in American uniforms and behind our lines, were executed. But it did succeed in creating confusion, and it made it necessary to question almost any soldier in an American uniform whom you really did not know.
The Third Army, of which the XII Corps and the 191 FaBn were both a part, was stationed in the south of Luxembourg. As I mentioned before, we had been down in the area of Saarguemines, and when the information came, the history books tell us now that GeneralPatton was called into a meeting with General Eisenhower and Bradley and Montgomery, and asked how quickly he could mobilize his forces to go north toward Luxembourg. It was anticipated by most of the generals present that it might take a week to accomplish such a move. But General Patton, brash as usual, promised to be there within three days. What we did was simply to pick up stakes, climb into our vehicles and head north.
The way General Patton engineered this move of 162 miles was to simply designate three northbound routes, all going in one direction. The entire road in each case was marked to go north. He sent all of the units onto these three roads, wherever they might fall into column, so that units were mixed up within each other. They were to keep running until they got to Luxembourg. We did this and, of course, our units scattered out, and they came in, vehicle by vehicle. Several of the smaller units in our battalion got off the road somewhere and ended up over in Belgium, but they all got back together eventually.
It took our unit only, as I remember it, a total of two days to make the move. However, we were moving over hard-surfaced roads with our tractors. They were track vehicles, which we called prime movers, meaning that they were the vehicle used to pull our howitzers. There were four of these in each battery, 12 in the battalion. They were on tracks, and, as I say, they were made primarily to go on softer earth rather than just to travel on hard-surfaced roads.
It was difficult to travel on a hard surface. Imagine what the big tracks on an Army vehicle look like. There were the main wheels that turned the tracks in the front and rear, but in-between there were smaller wheels which supported the tracks in-between. These were what we called bogey wheels, and they were covered with hard rubber.
They didn't drive anything. The tracks merely rode on them, both the top track and the bottom track. These tended to fall apart if they went over hard-surfaced roads for very long.
We carried extra bogey wheels, but on this particular move, quite a number of our tractors were out of commission along the way, trying to get up there. Our motor section, which usually traveled at the tail of each battery, and a larger section at the end of the battalion, were kept busy trying to replace bogey wheels, and, in some cases, were not able to replace all of them, so that some of them, because there were not enough available, made the distance without all of the little supporting wheels that they needed for the tracks. This brought them finally up to Luxembourg in very poor condition, and it would be necessary to spend a great deal of time getting them in condition again before we made additional moves.
Our move into position was done in the usual fashion. The battery commander went ahead with the battalion commander, and between them they selected the location for each battery. When he received our battery location, he then went to that location, sent orders to us, and waited for us to arrive. When we pulled into that field nearSchrondweiler, Luxembourg, it was necessary to cut a wire fence because it was a farmer's field, and to drive through that opening into the field and take the battery into it.
My job at that point was to jump out of my Jeep and run ahead of where I wanted the howitzers to come. They knew to follow me in order. The first one I would simply point to a location, and point in the general direction toward which the guns should be aimed. I had to estimate the distance, and I got so that I could do that quite well, because we wanted to space them far enough apart that there was at least 200 yards between the first and the last howitzer. On this occasion, near Schrondweiler, I ran into the field, my driver following me in my Jeep. I turned around and pointed the first section where it should be, and then ran ahead and stopped where the second howitzer would come into position. I turned around to direct it, and lo and behold there was no second howitzer, and there wasn't a third howitzer, or a fourth howitzer. We were to be several hours receiving the rest of our battery as they limped along over that 162-mile route, pulled themselves from between other units, because the various military units had gotten all mixed up, and finally found their way to our area. We finally did get into position, and from that position we began to fire in support of the Third Army troops, almost immediately, that were fighting on the south side of that bulge.
You know, of course, because it's been well spoken of and written about, that part of our American forces were surrounded by the enemy in the little village of Bastogne. It was there that the Germans issued an ultimatum for them to surrender. GeneralMcAuliff, who was in command of the American troops in that little village, uttered the famous reply to their request with one word, "Nuts!" We began an effort of support, and the American troops began to edge their way toward Bastogne, through that southern perimeter of the bulge, and our artillery, of course, was in support of that effort.
Eventually, as you know, the 4th Armored Division, and maybe the 6th, were able to make their way into Bastogne, and our troops were finally released. They were without food, and almost without ammunition. They'd been rationing ammunition for quite a while. It was a very difficult situation for them, and they had heavy loss of life, but they were eventually freed by Third Army troops.
As I said, I knew very little about Luxemburg. I knew even less about the people of Luxemburg, whom I immediately began to recognize as people who wanted their country kept very clean. While we were still on the road, coming into our positions, the American soldiers ate their food, when possible, out of C-ration cans and K-ration boxes, and since there was no trash pickup, they did the obvious, they simply threw them out of their vehicles along the roads.
The people of Luxemburg, in the midst of these war conditions, were traveling along the road picking up all the refuse to keep their country clean. I told you that it was necessary for us to cut a metal wire fence in order to get into this field where we put our C Battery, and it was the very next day after our arrival that the farmer, in whose field we were, was on the scene repairing his fences.
They seemed to be a very resourceful people who took care of their property very carefully. Some of our people, in certain units that could stay in the towns, did get very friendly with the Luxemburg people. Many of them spoke English. It seemed that because English was required in the schools, while it was not an official language of the country, it was almost an unofficial one because they dealt in finance a great deal, much like the Swiss. Because of world financial dealings they needed to know English. So, English was kind of a semi-official language. Actually, they spoke a native dialect calledLuxembourgeise, as well as German and French, so they were real linguists. Those of our people who had occasion to talk with them and visit with them in their homes found them very amiable, and it was easy to converse with them.
After the war had moved east beyond Luxemburg, and American troops behind the lines, troops back of the lines a ways, various service units, were stationed in large numbers in Luxemburg. I must report, unfortunately, that the relationship between the Luxemburg people and the American soldiers began to break down because some of the soldiers became "the ugly Americans," drinking too much and bothering the people, creating a great deal of trouble. At a later time, when some of our troops went to visit friends of theirs, they found that the mood had changed. While their friends were still friendly with them, they hastened to explain to them that it was dangerous by then for their neighbors to see them having any company with American soldiers, and that was one of the unfortunate outcomes of that particular operation.
Later on, at the very end of the war, and afterwards while we were still in Germany, I was commanding the Service Battery of the 191 Battalion, and one of the warrant officers, Dick Rouser, had been one of several soldiers who had been billeted for a while with a Luxemburg family early on in the Battle of the Bulge, so he made a trip to visit them. When he went to the front door and rang the bell, the door didn't open. He saw the blind open just a little bit, and he waited for them to open the door but they didn't. Finally, one of the members of the family that he was coming to visit opened the blind enough to look out and let Dick see who it was, and with his finger he motioned for him to come around to the back. He had never done that before, but he did it when requested. When he went around to the back, they then told him a story about why they could not be seen letting American soldiers into their home.
Keep in mind that these people have been very friendly, and on this occasion were very friendly, but they told this story: They had been in the dining room of the Grand Hotel with another couple, which was the largest, finest hotel in Luxemburg city. A drunken American soldier had come over to the table, to one of the women, and began to not only flirt with her but paw over her while the husband was right there. The husband got up and spoke to him and the soldier became very rough with the man, and went back to try to grab hold of the man's wife to drag her out of the chair, at which point the party of four, the Luxemburg people, simply got up and left the dining room. They told Dick that incidents like this were common, and as a result American soldiers were not held in high esteem. I'm sure that as you hear of this you will realize that the percentage of soldiers who would do things like that would be very small, but in the eyes of the residents they would loom very large, and we can understand why the feeling had turned the way it had.
The counterattack by the allied forces moved rather slowly at first. The Bulge had grown quite large before it was fully stopped, and then to begin to push it back took quite a while. We were in position in a semi-wooded area on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There had been no bombers over because the skies did not permit aircraft cover, and we longed for the day when the skies would permit our planes to come and begin to help out. We were even given a little card, which I wish I still had. It contained a prayer written by the Third Army head chaplain for General Patton, and came to us at his request, for us to use this prayer to pray for clear skies so we could attack the enemy and destroy their forces. I thought I came home with that, but I've never been able to find it since returning to the States.
Christmas Eve remains, to this day, one of the most memorable of all my Christmases. It was not a happy one, I was far from home, all of us were far from home, and our thoughts were there. I think you understand that the soldiers thought of home, and talked about home all the time. On Christmas Eve, a lone German plane, a bomber, evidently, from the sound of it, not a fighter plane, cruised over us, looking for some sign of American troops.
Of course, we had everything in total darkness so it was unlikely they would have seen anything, and they had to fly quite low because the cloud cover was so thick at that time. Nevertheless, we heard it fly over, and we all listened silently as it went over us.
On Christmas Eve I went to each one of the gun positions, and I sat with them a while, and talked with them, and of course we talked about home. As I said, about half of them were East Tennesseans. Most of the rest that had joined our unit were from the east coast; in fact, most of them were from various communities around the New York area. We had a rather strange mix, but it didn't matter where they were from, they still thought of home. Because it was the home base of the C Battery of the 191 Battalion, many of the Tennesseans were from Maryville or Alcoa, Tennessee. These are twin cities that just practically run together in East Tennessee, about 16 miles east of Knoxville. It's usually referred to as Maryville-Alcoa, which, of course, is the designation of the Aluminum Company of America, and was so-called because it was the company town of the big aluminum plant there.
The largest department store in Maryville had chosen on that Christmas to send a fruitcake to every Maryville soldier in the service, so every one of our Maryville boys received a fruitcake. To this day I love fruitcake, and I was in seventh heaven because with each one of them having a fruitcake there was plenty to share, and so we feasted on fruitcake that Christmas. But we were longing for a different place to be, and that was not our choice, but that's where we were.
Eventually the tide of battle turned around. Our planes began to have command of the skies, the bombers came in, and the drive of the Germans was stopped. We were eating away at the Bulge from both sides. By that time, December 29th, we were assigned in support of the 5th Infantry Division and were moved to Schieren, Luxemburg.
I've been saying in these reports that I started as a forward observer the 1st of February, but as I think about it now, and look at these dates, I'm inclined to think that it was about this time that I did go out as a forward observer. The community I remember best, which is mentioned also in the official history of the 191 FaBn, in Luxemburg, in that latter period of time we were in the country, was a town by the name of Schlindermanderscheid.
I remember it mostly because it was the longest name of any town that we saw in Europe. Our battery had come into the town and did some firing from that location in support of the 5th Infantry. One of the unique things to me, and not a pleasant memory, really, was the fact that every family in this rather small village must have owned a horse before the war, but in the course of the battle it appeared that all the horses had been killed, and I remember it for dead horses lying everywhere around that town. There had not been time yet to get rid of them or destroy them, so it was a terrible smell, and a terrible sight to see. I don't remember much contact with any of the people. I don't think I stayed there long because I do believe it was about then that I was asked to go out as a forward observer.
I think I've already said that when Charles Drury had to come in because of his mental state as a result of shelling by friendly artillery that I was then asked to go out as forward observer, so I was the third forward observer for C Battery. I was to beat the odds, because I remained in that position, in one piece, with no serious injuries, until, as I said, just a couple of weeks before the Victory in Europe Day, VE Day as we called it, on May the 8th. Just prior to that I had taken command of Service Battery of the 191 Battalion. I want to tell you a little bit about that later on, about my taking over the Service Battery, but I think we need to get on with the story of my life as a forward observer.
16. On the Attack Again: I believe my first offensive with the 5th Infantry Division as a forward observer, where I was actually out with the leading troops in the leading company in the attack, was as we crossed the Our River.
The events right around then all kind of run together for me. I can remember some things that happened, but I'm not quite sure in what order they happened. I remember going out to the 5th Infantry Division and being told about where to report to a particular battalion and to find the attacking company, to join that company, and proceed with them in the front lines. As I approached them, I found a little building with a switchboard in it, I don't know whether I told you about that or not, but that's where I found a "Porterville Recorder" lying on the floor, and nobody knew anything about it. So, I didn't find anybody from home, in spite of the Porterville paper, but I finally found the company I was to be with. In that company were some of the most hardened veterans of the European campaign. The 5th Infantry had been the first American infantry division to go overseas during World War
II. They didn't go immediately into combat. They went over before we were actually on the land in Europe. They went to Iceland. So they were the first ones out of the country. They landed immediately when the invasion of Europe took place and they fought their way through the hedge rows of France. They were caught up in one of the bloodiest and most useless battles of the war in the Huertgen Forest. I said most useless because it was a heavily forested area, very thick with trees, vehicles couldn't move through it. There were very few roads through it, and these, of course, were always well defended. Neither the allies nor the Germans succeeded in achieving a decisive victory, but each kept attacking the other under these terrible conditions for many, many days on end, several weeks, in fact, and the death toll went up higher and higher and higher on both sides. In a forested area, the artillery comes in and often hits trees first and explodes above ground. When this happens, the shrapnel goes in every direction, so that it becomes a bloody battle ground. At any rate, many of these troops that I joined in the 5th Division in that company I was with were some of those old-timers that had been with the division from the beginning.
One of them told me about their days in the Huertgen Forest, and he told me how a German thought he had shot and killed him, but he had not killed him and so he said he was able to play dead, and he continued to do it while the German soldier came over and kicked on him to see if he could see any sign of life, kicking his body and finally kicking his helmet. He said he succeeded in appearing dead until the soldier left. They had some terrible experiences, and they were not anxious for more, but they were there fighting the war in another difficult situation as we were to attack the Germans on their own soil.
Of course, the casualties in the division had been so heavy that there were probably fewer than 20 percent of them that were original troops, and maybe smaller than that. They had had many replacements come in. During the time that I was a forward observer, and we were in support of the 5th Infantry Division, there were numerous events that I want to tell about that kind of ran together. I'm not sure which particular time was involved, or section of the warfare was involved, but it was while I was so assigned, so I'll tell you about some of them. I was accompanied in all of this as a forward observer by two radio operators, we had a Jeep driver, but the Jeep driver usually stayed back behind, and the other three of us had to walk ahead. The radio equipment was rather heavy, it was the same equipment we used in the Jeep, SCR409 or 410. I think when used in the Jeep it was one and when used out of the Jeep it was the other. It was rather heavy, so we had two radio operators. Fortunately, I didn't have to carry it much of the time because I really was involved doing other things, and their job was simply to keep up with me, as close as they could, and be available if I needed the radio. Their names were Carson Scarbrough and Robin Smith. I've mentioned them before, but I want to speak of them more now because they were with me through much of this campaign while I was a forward observer, and other things happened besides those I've already told you about.
On one occasion we had been marching and making contact with the enemy constantly. I was directing artillery fire, and we were still able to move forward through the woods. It required going up and down hills and crossing small streams. All of them had names as rivers, but I remember few of their names. At one time we traveled for a period of 48 hours on foot, stopping as needed to direct fire or to dislodge the enemy and to move on. Each one of us started out with only one canteen of water, I think the canteen was a quart, but that's all the water we had for those 48 hours. We didn't have much food with us, so each of us was on his own as far as food and water was concerned. Even though we crossed rivers, I hope you understand that we were under very strict orders not to drink any of that water, and we certainly did not. At east I hope none did. I know I never did. It would have been extremely dangerous to do so, it was all polluted. At any rate, 48 hours of walking, up and down hills and through woods, across little rivers, fording them usually on foot, and with very limited supply of C-rations,canned food, and an extremely limited amount of water. It was a very difficult 48 hours.
When we finally completed it, we had ended up in a small German town. We were told that the infantry battalion that we were with was going to get a rest and go into reserves. We found a place to put our heads down and try to sleep inside a building. We hadn't been asleep very long when our radio alerted us very, very early in the morning telling us that although that infantry battalion was going into reserve, we weren't. We had to get up and go out and join another infantry company and go right back into the war again. I think we had been in bed maybe less than three to four hours when we had to get up and leave our shelter and go back out and fight a war.
On this occasion we joined an infantry company that had just been through a fight. The company commander had been killed, and a young first lieutenant had taken over. There was a lull in the battle while we awaited our next orders, and he and I sat together on a bank at the edge of the road and simply talked. We talked about home. I spoke about my fiancée who was waiting for me. He got his wallet out and showed me pictures of his wife and his two children. We had maybe 20 minutes to talk before we went back into battle again. We were going through a heavily wooded area when a portion of an artillery shell hit him as I was kneeling beside him. We were kneeling, looking at a map on the ground when he was hit and I was not. Those are the mysteries of war, how that happens, but that's what did happen. I never really knew whether he survived. My guess is that he could not have survived the wounds he had.
I then had to seek out the next in command, but this was a difficult task because he had sent out patrols, and his more seasoned lieutenants had led some of these patrols, so there really was only one rather green second lieutenant in the unit, and he was more interested in digging a foxhole than he was in getting out of the woods.
We were being shelled in a very dangerous position in those woods, so it was necessary to go. When I talked to him about leading us out, I told him that I had been talking with the company commander and I could show him our objective, and tell him where we were supposed to attack, and the position we were supposed to take. He took the map and began to turn it around in circles, and said to me, "Which direction is north on this map?" One of the enlisted men standing nearby turned to me and said, "Lieutenant, why don't you take over. I don't think we have an officer with an ounce of brains." Well, that wasn't true, of course, the young man was scared and he was a recent replacement, and the other officers who probably would have known what to do were scattered on their various patrols. At any rate, this young second lieutenant turned back to the job of digging his own foxhole rather than getting out of the woods. I got some of the sergeants together, and told them what the objective was, and we started marching our way through the woods to get out of that spot. We finally did get out of danger and they rejoined the rest of their battalion.
By the way, I received no thanks from anybody for my efforts that particular time. When we rejoined their battalion, the infantry battalion commander, the major, only took time to criticize me, in very strong language, because in the course of our trying to get out of the woods he had asked over their radio net where we were located, and I didn't have access to any of their infantry codes or the map designations that they were using, so I had no way to tell him. I thought I had shielded as much as possible. I simply said to him, "From where we are I can see a town," emphasizing "a." Well, of course, there was a town starting with the letter A, and I thought that was sufficient, but he thought that was breaking the security. The only thing he said to me, when we finally arrived, was to ball me out for having broken security. So I received no thanks for my efforts.
That night when we did arrive with that battalion, we finally bedded down again, but this was in a very odd position. We were in, as I said, a heavily wooded area. t was raining. We had no foxholes. We were told along about midnight that we could sleep, and we would be jumping off again about 4:00 a.m., so we could get a few hours sleep. Carson and Robin were with me, so we came up with a plan. I said, "You know, while we're here, we ought to make an effort to dig some kind of a slit trench. Perhaps rather than all of us stay awake and dig three of them, we'll all work on one, with one working a while, and then the other one working." Robin and Carson agreed to that.
I said, "Well, I'll take the first shift and I'll dig for a period of time." I've forgotten how long we agreed that each shift would be. Of course, it was no problem for any of us to go to sleep because we were so tired, and all we had to do was just lay back on top of the ground in the rain and drop right off to sleep. The rain didn't bother us, and the hard ground didn't bother us either.
The only method I had of digging was a little trenching tool that we had and it was very dark. Remember, we were in the woods, and it was raining, so there was no moonlight at all. The only way I had of telling where I was digging was to use a very precise method. To keep the dirt from going back into the hole that I was digging, I took my helmet liner out of my helmet, and I put the helmet right in front of me. I would put all the dirt in the helmet.
Then I would turn around a full half circle, so I knew I was away from the hole, and dump the dirt and then go back a half circle and start digging again and fill another helmet full. It was very slow digging because the soil was full of tiny stones and rocks, and it was hard to get the shovel to go into it, but I kept digging away as long as it was my turn.
Robin was to have the next shift, so when the time came for me to be relieved, I woke him up, took him to the hole, and I explained to him how I had done this, that I found it worked very well, and suggested to him that he dig a helmet full of dirt and turn halfway around and dump it in the dark and then go back again and proceed. He agreed that plan sounded good, and said that he would do that. As soon as he had started, I laid down and went to sleep immediately. I'm sure it didn't take 30 seconds for me to be asleep, lying on my back. When Robin finished his first helmet full of muddy, rocky soil, he turned around a half turn and dumped it right in my face. I hadn't been careful where I laid myself to go to sleep, and he didn't have any idea I was there because it was so dark. When I woke up quickly and realized what had happened, he was very apologetic, but I began to laugh, and I said, "This is funny! Of all the places you could have dumped it. I know you didn't know where I was."
I met Robin in East Tennessee many years later, and we've discussed this. I'm sure he had no idea where I was, and while he was still apologetic about it, we could all see the humor in the thing, that how funny it was in the middle of this horrible condition to just turn around and find the only spot where somebody happened to be and dump all this mud in his face.
We had both started to laugh, and this woke Carson up, and Carson wanted to know what it was all about. We were soon all laughing. We couldn't contain our laughter, and all of the infantrymen lying around, being aware of security, began to yell at us in muffled voices, as softly as they could, but as insistently as possible, to shut up and be quiet. It was difficult to keep quiet, because we saw the humor of the situation at the time.
On another occasion, while we were out with the 5th Infantry Division, we ended up one night in a little village. Carson Scarbrough was the first one up in the morning. He went out into the village and had located some eggs. I had been going on to them about how I really missed eggs, that I wished I could have eggs. I had said, "I'll bet I could eat a dozen eggs at a time." When Carson came back with a whole bunch of eggs, I don't know how many, he said, "Lieutenant, you said you could eat a dozen eggs. I went and got them, and now you're going to eat a dozen eggs." He fixed them for me and I ate a dozen eggs on that occasion. We laughed about that again many years later, and he asked me if I remembered the time that he made me eat a dozen eggs, because I had said that I could.
As I said before, and I hope you get the flavor of this, these lighter moments, things that we could remember with some pleasure and laugh about later, were really lifesavers in the middle of a war. I think that all soldiers relied upon it as a means of making their job lighter. Not pleasant, of course, but lighter and easier to handle.
Carson and Robin were really great assistants. They were needed to carry the radios and to keep the communication open. They soon learned just how far to stay back of me where I could get to them, hear from them, or get a message to them, to stay close enough that they could be of help, and yet keep the radios out of danger, because we didn't want our radios being captured, and it was necessary to keep them back a little ways. I really had lots of help from the two of them. After the war, as I told you, Carson finally went to work for a Christian camp, and Robin, the last I heard, was a golf pro in a small country club somewhere down in Tennessee. They were among friends I was able to renew acquaintances with in East Tennessee when I went down to two or three reunions of our 191 Battalion, or the C Battery down in the Maryville area.
I will be recounting some events now that will probably be taken out of order simply because I don't remember the order. You must remember, I kept no written records. I've been dependent, to a great extent, upon the publication of the official history of the 191 FaBn for some of the places that are involved. After I went out as a forward observer, you will recognize that I was not at the location of the battalion headquarters, or even any of the firing batteries, I was forward of that area, out with different divisions. Since I don't have any detailed records of where those particular companies were that I was out traveling with at the front, I have no way of determining exactly where these various events took place, but they are in my memory and they happened about this period of time.
It was mainly while we were in support of the infantry divisions, like the 5th or the 35th, or the 4th Armored Division. And, as I say, I don't remember the specific locations, so it's difficult for me to get these in chronological order. I would say, generally speaking, that the events I'll be speaking about happened along in February, March and April, but I just want to get these incidents recorded.
The first incident I want to record is highlighted in the 191 Battalion history with these words, "The 191 Field Artillery Battalion at one time in the drive through Germany made the deepest penetration of any unit on the western front when 1st Lt. Barrett J. Whiteley and Capt. Ralph E. WeHunt established an OP," meaning observation post, "in a famous castle halfway between the 4th Armored Division outpost and the enemy near Arnstadt, Germany."
My recollection of this event was a little different than the report here that I just read to you, because while I remember Capt. WeHunt arriving there with me, I do not remember him staying there through the night. But I might be wrong about it. I do recall that Carson Scarbrough and Robin Smith were with me, and possibly a driver, whom I can't identify at this time. We did stay in the castle.
Not far away was a little town called Walterschausen, and just next to that the town of Ohrdruf. Ohrdruf became famous because it was next to that town that the 4th Armored Division entered a concentration camp and found that the Germans had recently attempted to slaughter all of the Jewish occupants of the camp in the courtyard with machine gun fire before they left. It was such a terrible sight that General Patton entered it and spoke of how horrible it was. When General Patton saw how bad it was, he went into Ohrdruf and got the mayor and his wife and took them out there. The mayor claimed, as did most of the residents of the town, that they just thought it was a labor camp, they knew nothing of the atrocities that were going on there. After viewing it, the mayor and his wife went home and committed suicide. Many of the members of my battalion went to Ohrdruf to see the camp. I did not.
I think I would have not wanted to see it, but I'm not sure that I had the time because I was busy at other things. So, I didn't see it firsthand, but many of my friends did, many of them told of getting physically sick at the sight. At any rate we did occupy the castle. I've often commented about that location in sermons that I preached since then in various places, where I've mentioned the fact that the castle was on the point of a long ridge, so that the ridge ran along, and there's a peak on the end of it, and the castle was on top of this peak. From that site you could see in every direction, literally, back over the ridge and to both sides of it, and then out to the other direction toward the city of Arnstadt, and it made a wonderful observation post from which point I could direct artillery fire. The fact that it provided a view out away from it was not what it was known for at the time. Before we left there, we went down into the lower levels of the castle and found a museum that was dedicated entirely to military accomplishments of the past wars that Germany had been involved in. I thought it was ironic that this castle, with such a great place for vision, for looking ahead and looking out, spent its time looking inward and looking back.
Another event that came along in this period of time is reported in the 191 Battalion history by saying that the Battalion was credited with destroying a rocket battery. My memory of that is very vivid, because I directed the fire on the rocket battery. In order to do this, I had left the two radio operators and the Jeep at the base of a hill, in a wooded area. I had carefully walked along through the edge of the woods until I got to the closest point to the top of the hill. The hill, however, was not wooded, it was just open, no cover at all. I actually got to the front of the woods where I could look down at some German buildings. At that point I was a little surprised that I had not been discovered, because I would have thought that the German soldiers occupying that area would have had some guards, at least, or perhaps some machine gun in place up near the edge of those woods. I was apparently not seen, and I wanted to keep as low a profile as possible, but I wanted to see from the top of the hill where there was, indeed, no cover. I had observed that our artillery planes, our little Piper Cubs, had been flying in the area, and there were multiple rocket bursts in their vicinity. They were being fired on by some type of rocket fire that I had never seen before, so I was anxious to look over the hill to the other side. To do this I had to crawl on my stomach all the way to the top of the hill. My memory is that it may have been as much as a hundred yards, or maybe more, to get to the top of the hill. Since I had arrived there safely, and could see what was happening on the other side, it became necessary for me to begin to direct some artillery fire on the rocket guns.
I could see them, they were near a little stream over which the Germans had built some kind of a metal bridge so they could bridge the stream. I see the rocket guns fire, saw their burst at the site, and knew exactly where to fire. As I recall, I called one of the two radio operators to follow me in the same fashion up the hill until he got close enough that I could give him the commands for fire.
I relayed them back down to him as best I could, and we fired on them. I saw the shells land in the battery. A day or two after that, after the area was cleared, I was able to go to that location and saw the rocket guns.
They contained probably a dozen or sixteen rockets in a square configuration, and could be fired, apparently, either singly or in a group. I had never seen anything like it before. After the war, in a magazine, I saw a picture of one like it, and it, evidently, had been a new weapon at the time we discovered it. The bridge at that site had apparently been knocked out a number of times and rebuilt, but they persisted in trying to hold that location because of their rocket battery, but it was destroyed by the 191 FaBn.
The account I want to give now probably is out of order. I have no way of remembering exactly where it was, or at what time it occurred, but it happened before we had moved into Germany proper, in land that had been occupied by the Nazis. Robin and Carson were with me for this particular occasion. I have no recollection of who the driver was, I remember that there were four of us, however.
We drove into a little village that had been previously occupied by German troops, and which had just been vacated by, as it turned out, most of them. The villagers, however, greeted us as we entered, and excitedly told us that they knew where there was one, and they pointed to the woods, probably 200 yards away, the edge of a tree line, and said that the other Germans had fled into those woods. We were sure they were just inside, under cover, watching us, probably, as we came into the village. We had no way of knowing whether they had any cover of our area with machine guns or other weapons, but the villagers were anxious to show us where we could find at least one German soldier who had not retreated with the others.
As we started to follow them, we soon found that they were falling behind, and merely pointing where we should go. They were anxious to get rid of the Nazis, but they weren't anxious to confront them. They thought that was our job. Carson and Robin and I proceeded to the building where they said there was a German. After using what few skills we had to gain entrance, we found one German soldier inside who quickly surrendered to us. He was a very young soldier, my own guess is that he probably was about 16 years of age. The German Army had begun to conscript teenagers. Many of these had been members of the Hitler Youth, and had been anxious to serve as Nazis. I don't know whether this one had been a Hitler Youth or not. My guess is that he had not been a willing one. But, at any rate, we were beginning to find very young soldiers and very old soldiers among the troops that we captured. This one was quite young, and he was all by himself. We marched him back to our Jeep. We did not want to go through the process of searching him for any weapons while we were in the village because we thought that there might still be other German soldiers there, and in the process we might be attacked, and felt it was best to get out of the village as quickly as possible. We determined to take him out of the village some distance so that we could then stop and search him for weapons before we took him on and turned him over to be sent to a prisoner of war enclosure. This was our object, and our only object. All we had in mind to do with him was what I've just described. We put him up on the hood of the Jeep and we let him ride there so that we could keep him covered. We got outside the village, probably a half mile, where we were away from the scene where there could have been German soldiers, and we stopped the Jeep and had him get off. He began to tremble and cry. I didn't at first realize just why this sudden and violent reaction, but I came to realize in time that, from his point of view, we had taken him out of the village probably to execute him, so he thought when we stopped that he probably was going to be shot. In his crying, we couldn't understand any of his words, of course, because he was speaking German, but he kept pointing to his belt buckle. I looked at the buckle. I had seen them before but had really not given thought to what was on it.
It had something on it in German with the word, Gott, which is German for God. I don't know whether it said something like, "Our trust in God," or "God is with us," or something of that sort, but he kept pointing to this word, God. I began to realize that what he was trying to say was that he was a Christian, and begging that we show Christian mercy.
As I said, we had no intent of harming him. I'm sure he survived the war, because he would have gone to a prisoner of war camp, and would have been repatriated after the war, but I've never forgotten how, from his point of view, he probably believes that his pointing to that, and causing us to recognize that he was Christian, was what caused us to be merciful. He may still think that it was our original intent to kill him, but he had depended upon his faith at that time, and, in whatever way, our intentions were good, his faith was rewarded, and his life was spared.
As I have thought about this incident, I have realized that he must have been wearing either a Wermacht uniform, which was the regular Army, or a Volksturm, which is the People's Force uniform, because I'm sure that the SS uniform, the strict Nazis, would not have anything about God on their uniform. So he was probably a part of either of those forces. In fact, the younger and older ones that were brought into service late in the war were usually a part of the Volksturm, the People's Army, in other words.
Another set of incidents which bear no date line happened somewhere along in this period that I'm speaking of now, so I'll insert it here. I have in my possession a small clipping which I believe appeared in the Lindsay,California Gazette, or maybe the Porterville Recorder, I'm really not sure. It was given to me after the war by someone who had saved it, and it was put out by the Army who had units that just publicized the activities of soldiers and sent the word to various newspapers in their home area. This particular clipping has a headline on it which says, "Lt. Whiteley's Artillery Blasts German Trains." And the only location is "With the XII Corps in Germany." I'll read all of it because it involves our battalion, although only the last paragraph deals with my participation.
"A Field Artillery Battalion can take its place with the Air Corps in the 'German train busting' department. While advancing through a recently-captured German town members of the battalion spotted a long freight train which had been overlooked by forward elements. The locomotive was putting on steam and moving down the tracks.
Battery Executive First Lieutenant David T. Dozier, 701 49th Avenue North, Nashville, Tennessee, hurriedly ordered his battery to set up and fire." An aside here, I believe that he was battery executive of A Battery. "A flurry of Howitzer HE," that's high explosive "shells brought the train to an abrupt stop. "A few hours later three more trains were spotted in the town by First Lieutenant Barrett J. Whiteley, Strathmore, California. The battery opened up and damaged all of them severely. They bided their time between trains by blasting a two-motored bomber and seven fighter planes." I might hasten to say that the bomber and the fighter planes were at an airport, they were on the ground, we were not firing at them in the air.
That leads to this part of the story. After this particular firing was done, and we were able to advance into the area where we had done the firing, I came upon the airfield, along again with my little crew, including Carson Scarbrough and Robin Smith, and here were many of the planes sitting on the field, damaged and burning. Some of them had probably been destroyed by the Germans themselves, who could not get them off the ground, but were in the process of destroying them before they fled from the area.
As we drove into this airfield area on a little road, we spotted in the ditch, down beside the road a little ways from us, maybe 20, 30 yards, what appeared to be a dead German officer, probably a pilot, stretched out in that ditch. We took note of him, but we were not going to stop. There was no reason to stop for a dead soldier. We had to go on about our business. We proceeded down the road, and as we did so, I turned around to look back just as the "dead" soldier raised his head to look at us. We stopped the Jeep and immediately jumped out and went back with our guns out and took him captive. He had been playing dead, of course. We had to then remove him to a prisoner of war enclosure, which we did. He was armed, and I've realized afterwards how dangerous it was to have taken that chance of moving on, because before we spotted him, if I had not just turned around at that time, he would have had ample opportunity to have fired at us from the back. There were no other American troops around, so what he would have done would have been without any retaliation on anybody else's part.
17. Approaching the Rhine at Worms: The memories that I'm going to be recalling now involve our leading up to the Rhine River, which I first approached and saw at the city of Worms. As we approached that, I was out, of course, as a forward observer in support of infantry divisions, and we approached the town of Cochem. It's sometimes spelled K-O-C-H-E-M, I'm not sure which the Germans prefer. Cochem is a little city on the Moselle River, not far from Koblenz, the larger German city on the Rhine. It, therefore, is not very far from where the Moselle River empties into the Rhine River, because that is at Koblenz.
As we entered that, we entered it with the infantry, walking through the streets. It is like the pictures you've seen of the troops kind of scattered out, checking all the buildings as they went, and looking at the damage, and trying to find Germans who were occupying. So, in the normal fashion we approached this city and went into it.
Once we were in it, I needed to look for an observation post, and rising up out of the edge of the city, at the edge, also, of the Moselle River, was a hill several hundred feet high. As I recall, it was necessary to walk up the hill. I don't think we could take a Jeep up there.
So, we went up to this hill, and on top of it was a castle, a castle which is a very well-known ancient castle. It was built, I think, originally in about the 13th Century, and was destroyed or fell apart a number of times and was renewed. The present structure dates to the 18th Century. Since the war I have read in various travel booklets that it is possible to visit the castle today, and even to stay in the castle overnight. It's probably rather costly to do so, but I was able to do so free of charge.
We went up to make an observation post of this castle. One of the towers of the castle was toward the river, where we could see down river toward Koblenz. Since the river made a hairpin turn at that point, we were at that point across on the outer edge of that hairpin bend, we could not only see down river toward Koblenz, but we could see up river, where the river had come through a narrow canyon as well. It made an excellent observation post, especially because the Germans were fortifying ground just ahead of us during that night. In fact, as we arrived there they were attempting to put up barricades on a road that led to the next town, which I believe was named Seld, and we heard this activity going on. There were some rounds of flares fired, and these flares brightened up the nighttime. We could see them working on these defensive positions, so, of course, we directed fire on them.
It was an excellent observation post for a forward observer. From my point of view, however, it did have one drawback, and that was that I could not reach the howitzers or our battalion fire direction center by means of our radio net. They were very directive, and where hills were in the way, it was often very difficult to get communication through, and apparently we were blocked from them by some major hills, so I could not get through to them in that way.
I knew, however, that I could get my fire orders back to them by utilizing the infantry division's net. That meant that I would have to speak with an infantry radio operator who was up there with us. I would send the message over his net, it would be heard by all of the infantry companies, and in that battalion, and back to their regiment, and then, with all of them listening in, it would then be transferred to the fire direction, where they had liaison with the artillery, at which point it was then sent on to our howitzers and the missions were fired.
In order to begin firing from there, it was necessary for me to register. This was a term that applied to sending out one round from one of the howitzers and seeing where it landed, and then to adjust fire from that, either farther out or farther in, or to the left or right from that point. When we had fired with one gun close to the target, then we could call for all the other guns to come in. And they had all been moving with the one so they were ready to fire and land all their shells on the target. It became necessary for me to register one round so that I could move from that point in directing the fire. I called for this one round, and gave them what I believed to be the best map coordinates that I could give them as to a location. In due time, word came back over the radio net that the round had been fired, and the usual term was, "On the way!" Now, we had only to wait until the shell got there and went off to determine where we would move it from there. But, searched as I could, when I heard the sound of the explosion of the shell, looking out toward the German defenses I couldn't find the round. If that did happen, we had a usual bit of our artillery language that we would use, and so I simply reported back, "Lost."
That's what we usually did when we couldn't see it, we just said, "Lost," in which case they would fire another one. But this time, since the infantry net was open all the way through, through all of the companies that had occupied that city of Cochem, and their battalions and regiments, before that message got all the way back, another voice came on the line that said, "Your round isn't lost. We have it down here in our back yard." Apparently it had fallen short and had landed harmlessly near one of the infantry companies that was in the city of Cochem. As nearly as I could tell, no one was injured by it, and no harm done. I immediately extended the range and got it out to where I could see it. I never met the individual who reported to me on my lost round, I wasn't sure I wanted to meet him, but he will long remember the time that an American artillery shell landed in his, as he said, "back yard."
According to Lt. Col. Dyer, who wrote the book about the XII Corps that I have referred to earlier, the troops in Cochem were expected to hold the line and to fight bravely and very hard to defend their position. And that's why, as soon as they were pushed out of the city, they went only a half mile or so beyond the city and began that night to build the defenses that I was speaking of. Now, these were troops that were truly depended upon by Hitler himself, because they were, according to Lt. Col. Dyer, the TuhrerBeglert Brigade. This brigade was built around Hitler's Inner Palace Guard, and they had never before been employed at the front, but he had sent them there himself, depending upon them to hold the line before our troops could get to the Rhine. However motivated they were, they were sadly outnumbered, and certainly lacked the fire power to do us any damage. But there was evidence of them in the castle, because the castle, in one very large room, a room maybe, as I recall, 30 by 40 or 45 feet, there was a very ornate desk, with various swastikas and emblems of all sorts, and the flag, and everything spoke of it being a headquarters for some elite Nazis. I had thought at the time that it perhaps was a political headquarters, but having found that this elite guard was there, I'm sure these things were placed there by this elite Inner Palace Guard, as Dyer called them. In that room, along one wall, where there was no other furniture, there were stacked probably a hundred framed paintings. They were all the same, and all of the same size, probably four feet in length, every one of them was a picture of Adolph Hitler. I spent part of the night sleeping in that room. Since the war I have reflected on the fact that earlier, as I said, Adolph Hitler had ordered General VonMavteuffel to annihilate us back at Arracourt, and now we had gotten back at him because I was sleeping in the quarters that were meant for his elite guard.
I would have liked to have gone back some time since the war and at least go to the castle and have dinner in the dining room, if not to spend the night there. I'm sure I would not be allowed to get into the quarters, the various rooms, including the tower where I was during the war, but it would have been interesting to have seen it in other circumstances. During our bus trips through Europe, we crossed the Moselle River, farther up toward its source, numerous times, but we were never at this particular point, and so I've never seen Cochem since the war. In the same sermon in which I spoke of the castle at Walterschausen, I have spoken often about this castle, too, because it had a unique ability. We could hear a great distance, that's why we could easily hear the Germans preparing their defenses. It was because, as I said, we could look one way up the direction from which the Moselle came through a long canyon, and that canyon would carry sound easily all the way down, and we could look the other way toward Koblenz, through a deep canyon which, again, would channel sound down there to the point where the castle was. And right at the hairpin bend that I spoke of before, another river came into it at that point, and that channel went off in another direction, so that sounds from that direction were channeled to that point. I've often called this my castle of hearing, where I could hear everything that went on within any reasonable hearing distance, because it was almost like an amplification system, the way sound was channeled through that river area.
Like many of the pictures you've seen of the Rhine, the sides of the banks leading up to the hills along the Moselle River were covered with vines. They were vineyards, and there were little shelters scattered throughout them. My understanding is that when they would go to care for the vineyards they would have a place of shelter out there on the hillside. There would be one row, and up at a higher level another row, and on up the hillside. Those little buildings, shacks or sheds, or whatever you'd call them, have often reminded me of the references in the Bible to similar dwellings out among the vines and in the agricultural areas. I now kind of think of them together, and when I read it in the Bible, it reminds me of that particular place along the Moselle River.
When we were through securing Cochem, and Seld, and that area, we proceeded toward the city of Worms on the Rhine River. I'm going to mention again one of my compatriots, who was party with me in the events that took place in the city of Worms. Many times in my service with 191 FaBn, there were people and events involved which dealt with the Polish people. I'm going to be mentioning one of them in the course of introducing this next friend of mine, who was not Polish, but you will understand why I mention this at this time. I want to explain that I have had personal high regard for the Poles whom I have known. It became popular, for some reason, to degrade them in various jokes, and to use a derogatory name for Poles, being "Polak," and this enters into one of the stories I want to tell. But I want you to know that I really had high regard for Polish people, and still do. Before I get to the accounts where the other comes up again, I want to insert a story which really was in the process of happening long before this.
Back when I was a battery executive, one of my assistants in the fire control section of the battery, whom I've mentioned previously, was a PFC from Chicago named Jedrysiak. We called him "Jed." Jed was Polish, and I think it was through Jed that I came to appreciate Poles more than in any other way. I liked him personally. Jed used to share his letters from home, and they were beautiful letters. He came from a large Polish Catholic family. It was clear that there was a great deal of love in the home. He had several sisters who used to write to him. They wrote the most wonderful letters. They were the very kind of letters that every soldier should have been receiving. Unfortunately, many letters that were received told of problems at home, and difficulties, and only made the soldiers feel worse, but Jed's sisters used to write very beautiful letters, full of love for him, telling about the wonderful things that were happening to them, and the happy times they were having in their home. On one occasion he shared one of these with me, I don't remember why, and I enjoyed it so much I said, "You know, I'd enjoy reading more of these."
Now, I was receiving letters from various persons, and of course Eleanor was writing me constantly. I mentioned before that she wrote probably one letter for every day of the 18 months that I was overseas. I didn't always receive them daily, they would come in spurts. Whenever we would get mail call, I received as many as a dozen letters at one time, and I would have to find time to read all of them at once, sorting them out as to time. We found that they didn't come through in chronological order, either; some would get there quicker, and others would take longer. But I was kept heartened by the letters that Eleanor wrote. I want to tell a little later about the fact that Eleanor, being in Denver, visited my brother frequently in the hospital, and I'll get into that when I tell about him a little later on.
Except for my brother, Ralph, who was in the hospital and passed away in April of '45, I really had no immediate relatives, since my parents had both died in 1940, and there were no other children still living, so I had no direct family writing to me. Therefore, I looked forward to Eleanor's letters, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. For the description of a happy family, I could rejoice with Jed, and through him I came to appreciate the closeness of Polish families. I've been told since that this is very common, that they are usually very closely knit.
One contact with Polish people happened before I ever went overseas, way back when we were stationed at Camp Roberts in California. I want to relate this in connection with my discussion of my friend John Liljeberg. John was a forward observer of B Battery, and I was a forward observer of C Battery.
While we normally went singly, out to separate areas, the front was quite well confined, so we decided to travel together as a team of observers. That meant that I had with me, in my Jeep, Carson and Robin, I don't think we had a driver at that time, I don't recall who it would have been, and Liljeberg had just one other with him who served as driver and radio operator, so there were five of us traveling together as we approached the city of Worms.
Before I tell about what happened to us in Worms, I want to go back and speak a little more about John Liljeberg. John was a native of Boston, Massachusetts. John was the other officer who went on the boat with me in Boston Harbor the day before the rest of our troops Arrived. That night we stood there on the docks and looked out over the city, he could only point out the various landmarks, but he was forbidden to contact any of his family, and we certainly could not leave the ship. So, there we were. It must have been a very trying time for him, for after probably a year and a half he had gotten back to Boston and was unable to even go into the city, visit, or call anybody that he knew.
John and I were together quite a bit. At this point, later in the war, as I said, we were traveling together, with our two jeeps and our little crews. We tried to get into the city of Worms, which the Army was then in the process of trying to capture. We stopped at one of the headquarters and asked for information about where we could safely travel in the city, and some officer in a map room said to us that the city was cleared all the way to the river. I don't know where he got his information, but as it turned out it was totally inaccurate, but we believed him.
Around midday we headed into the city. Our objective was to find the first multi-story building we could locate and get to the top of it, or at least the top story, so that we could look out toward the Rhine and see if there were any firing missions we could carry out. We did not immediately recognize the first building we came to, but we approached it, nevertheless, parking our two jeeps out in front and leaving a driver with each one, perhaps the radio operators, too. I think just as John and I entered the building we discovered that we were in a hospital. We didn't meet anybody on the ground floor in the main entrance. No one was to be seen.
I must interject some information about John at this point, so you understand the trauma that he went through on this occasion. John and his brother, for a period of about eight years or so, had been raised by their grandparents. I never knew where his mother was, but his father had left the family with the grandparents because of his love for Adolph Hitler. He was a medical doctor, and he had decided to go back to Germany and serve as a medical doctor in the German Army. John had always been very resentful of his father for the fact that he had deserted them, and had gone over to the enemy, so to speak. He had no good words to speak for his father.
During the time he was in the States, he attempted, through the Red Cross, to find out where his father was. He did get the information that he was serving as a colonel in the German Medical Corps, but no contact was ever made, and the father never contacted his family. John, himself, was called in to interviews at least twice while we were in California by, I think, the FBI, and questioned about his association with his father.
Obviously, having a father who was a colonel in the German military forces would lead to some suspicion of his family. John, however, was always able to convince them of his attitude about his father, and that his feelings about him would make no difference. The Army chose to send him over
into Europe anyway; not only John, but his brother, who became an infantry officer, was also sent over to Europe. I always thought that was strange. I thought with those questions that perhaps they would have sent them to the South Pacific, but they went with us.
John was with me that day as we walked into that hospital. The first person we saw was a figure coming down a grand staircase, and it turned out to be a German medical officer, a colonel. It was not John's father, but after we were through the experience, a very shaken John Liljeberg said to me, "That could have been my old man." I know how traumatized he was by the possibility that he could have met his father right at that spot. I have no idea what would have happened. I don't think he had any love for his father. I don't think it would have been a pleasant meeting at all, and I'm not sure what would have happened to our plans at that time.
The colonel we met assumed as we walked in the door that the American Army had arrived in force, and he spelled out to us the conditions under which we could occupy the hospital. According to the rules of war, we were not to occupy the hospital unless we had adequate medical personnel to take over the care of all the patients, and could give proper care to all of the patients that were there. I presume they were all military patients.
We didn't know these particular rules of war, but we began to realize that we were not in a position to argue the point, because it had begun to dawn on us that he thought we were just the beginning of a large force of Americans that were already surrounding his hospital. We soon found out that that was not the case. In reality, we were perhaps several miles beyond the lines, and deep in the city of Worms.
We were anxious to get an OP, an observation post, however, so leaving the colonel with his hospital, we went up the street a ways to the next largest building we could see, which was inside a high concrete wall. There was a big gate entering into it. The gate was open so at least three of us entered it and walked in on a courtyard filled with German soldiers. It was indeed very shocking. Of course, we immediately covered them with our weapons, but we saw that they were heavily armed, had many weapons. We were further shocked when one of them turned out to be a junior lieutenant, and the only officer left with the group. He came to us and surrendered the entire group.
We had to be aggressive. We certainly couldn't back out of the situation, so we gave him orders, and he seemed to understand the English. We told him to line them up in files, and several paces apart, and to have them throw all of their weapons on the ground in front of them, which they did. We guarded them carefully. We went around to make sure that they had gotten rid of all their weapons, and then we took them prisoner.
As they started to file out, I marched at the head of the column with the German lieutenant, covering him with my .45, and Liljeberg came up the rear to be sure that they all got in. I told a radio operator to count the prisoners as they walked through the gateway, and he did this. The count, as I remember it, was 60 or 61. When we got out on the street he told me the number. We used our usual fashion of getting them back to the prisoner of war enclosure. We put the lieutenant up on top of the hood of my Jeep, and we led the column. By this time it had gotten dark, and American artillery shells were falling in the city. There were buildings burning all around us. At one point, as we proceeded through now darkened streets, the lieutenant looked toward fires he could see and he began to sob. I asked another German soldier who spoke some English what he was crying about, and he said that he was looking at his home, which was on fire. That was, of course, a sad experience for him, and I don't know when he ever found out about the safety of his family.
Nevertheless, we were beginning to become a little scared, because we realized that it was now getting dark and there were just five American soldiers guarding 60 German prisoners. When it got dark we wouldn't be able to see what all of them were doing. We proceeded the miles that it took to get back to a prisoner of war enclosure, and managed to get there. We then counted them into the enclosure because we had to report how many we were bringing. As we counted them there were 70. It finally dawned on us that somewhere along the streets we had acquired another nine German soldiers who had joined the column enroute to the PW enclosure. We were credited that day, in the 191 Battalion history, with capturing 70 German soldiers. That really wasn't very difficult, as you see, and probably was not dangerous at all, but it was an unusual experience that John and I shared together.
The next morning John and I returned to the compound where we had captured the soldiers because we had not picked up all of the weapons. We found there a wagon, apparently to be horse-drawn, loaded with small arms of all kinds, everything from pistols to rifles and sub-machine guns, and even small light machine guns. Neither John nor I had the least interest in acquiring weapons, although most soldiers did want to get them. We realized that back at the howitzers the cannoneers never had an opportunity like this, so we loaded our jeeps with as many as we could and we took them back and had them distributed to the fellows at the guns.
At this point I want to make a break in the war proceedings to explain a little more about the relationship that John Liljeberg and I had while we were in 191 FaBn. I mentioned that Bob Drury was probably my closest friend, and this was certainly true because Bob and I served in the same battery, C Battery. John was in the B Battery, but had joined B Battery at exactly the same time that I joined C Battery. We had come together from officer candidate school; that is, we had graduated at the same time. We hadn't traveled together, but we had graduated at the same time, and we reported on the same day, so John and I were good friends.
There was one point in time, which I referred to before, where John and I had severed our speaking acquaintance for about two months. For a long time I really had difficulty remembering what was so important that we had argued in the first place, but we did become good friends again. In mulling through the information in my brain, I find I was able to come up with what actually had happened, and it happened like this:
It seems that I had dated, on two occasions at Camp Roberts, a girl who was a switchboard operator for the Post Telephone Exchange, and she was of Polish extraction. That's why I told this story earlier about my Polish relationships, because I wanted it known before I told this story.) It wasn't a relationship that was going any place. She was a nice girl, and we were amiable, but it was clear that it wasn't a relationship that was going to continue. Her brother, who was an infantry lieutenant, also stationed at Camp Roberts, wanted to be sure that the relationship would not continue. I don't think he would have allowed his sister to date anybody, but he sought me out and let me know, in no uncertain terms, that I was not to date her, because he didn't want her dating any officers. Being an officer, he knew whether to trust them, I guess, and he apparently didn't. So, that was what he said. I am sure that he was just a very protective brother, and probably would not have approved of anybody that she went with. I'm not sure that had anything to do with the fact that we didn't have any more than two dates, I just don't think that either one of us was willing to let it continue.
At about this point John Liljeberg made a comment about my dating this girl. He said, "Well, why would you want to date a dumb Polak?" That's a very derogatory term. I didn't have any love for the girl, I was not prepared to defend her personally, but I thought it was a very unkind remark to be derogatory about the Poles, and to use a term that I knew they didn't like being used about themselves.
They considered it to be degrading, so I told him so. I suggested that he ought to take those words back. Instead of taking them back, John repeated them, and he said, "Oh, I still think she's a dumb Polak." He didn't have any way of knowing. I don't think he'd ever met her, in fact, but that was his statement. With that, I turned and left. For about two months we didn't talk in a civil way to each other, but we continued, as I said before, our work relationship.
Now, the work relationship was an unusual one. We were both members of different batteries in the battalion, so we wouldn't have worked together in that way, but I had been appointed by Lt. Col. Goddard, who commanded the 191 FaBn, to be the Trial Judge Advocate (TJA) of a special Court Marshal Board. This special court was to continue with the same appointees unless some of them had reason to drop out.
The court continued as constituted for two and a half years, even for a while after we went overseas. During all that time I was the TJA, which made me the prosecutor, of course. Another officer, Bernard Smith, was appointed as the Assistant TJA. John Liljeberg was appointed to be the Chief Defense Counsel, and he had another assistant who served him as Assistant Defense Counsel. All of these, by military regulations, had to be officers.
The military court, the Court Marshal Board, which made the judgments, was made up of a President, who was the senior officer, in this case a major, and four other officers, captains and majors. They all had to be above the grade of lieutenant, and all had to be beneath the grade of the appointing officer, who was a lieutenant colonel. Consequently they were all captains and majors. Many cases came before that special court, and John and I became opponents constantly in the courtroom. I certainly had tremendous respect for his brilliant mind, because John was a very able defense counsel. He kept me on my toes, and I had to do my best to win cases, as he tried his best to win cases for his clients as well. We had some very, very sharp exchanges in the courtroom.
Sharp in the sense that they were very pointed and they had to be somewhat clever remarks that were made, and certainly remarks that were to the point and would prove our side of the story to the five judges that sat before us. John used a technique that really irritated me. Knowing that it irritated me, he used it more and more. That was the opportunity to object to my questions. I remember one case that we were trying in which I was questioning a witness when he began objecting to every question I asked. I knew that the minute I asked a question he would rise and object. He was overturned on most of them, but, nevertheless, he kept trying. He kept doing this with such rapidity that finally, as I started to ask a question on one occasion, he rose and stated his objection, but it was really out of order because I hadn't asked a question yet. I turned to the court and we all had a good laugh as I asked the president of the court if he would instruct the defense counsel to wait until I've asked the question before he objected to it.
We had some really great exchanges in the course of our jobs as lawyers in those military courts. During the time that we were not speaking to each other, of course, that's about the only time we met, and the only exchanges we had were in that official position. Before that, and after we had become friends again, we usually would finish a case and then walk together back to our barracks and discuss it in a friendly fashion, because we never took the cases out of the courtroom, or carried our arguments out of the courtroom. We simply did our job when we were there.
I wouldn't have any idea which one of us won the most cases. I have no recollection, nor have I kept a record of it, but I do know in the very first case we tried that we both won, but at different times and in different ways. I need to explain it, because it's a rather odd one.
The first charge sheet that was handed to me required my investigation before we ever had the trial. I had to go find witnesses, and question everybody who had any information about the case, and then I had to recommend to the colonel, who had appointed the court, whether or not I felt there was a case to proceed with. There were times when I felt that there was not an adequate case, and we would ask that it be dismissed. That happened a number of times, but if we proceeded with it, after I would get all the witnesses, and the defense counsel would have a chance to prep them as well, we would go to trial.
This was an unusual case. Two soldiers were being tried. One of them was charged, under the major charge, with attacking a deputy sheriff. In the specifications it was pointed out that he had knocked the deputy sheriff's glasses off and had broken them, that he attacked him, jumped him, and threw him to the ground, and that, along with others, he beat on him. This is a pretty serious charge. A great turmoil arose at the site, and a great many other people got into this fight, so there occurred what could be commonly called a riot; therefore, they were also charged with inciting a riot.
We went to trial. I tried to get credible witnesses. I've got to tell you, however, that that was a difficult task, because the event occurred in a country dance hall, near Lockwood, California, on a Saturday night.
There was a bar, and almost everybody present had been drinking. There were about 200 people present in that little dance hall when this fight broke out. A lot of them would not have seen it, but those who did see it were not in any position to be able to understand what they were seeing, or explain it later, because most of them were under the influence of alcohol, including the participants, all except the deputy sheriff. I don't recall that he even had any assistance. I think he had been called there just to see that order was kept in this public place, and was alone when he was attacked.
Nevertheless, I brought witnesses before the court, and one was a 17-year-old girl who really was quite sympathetic with the soldiers. I had elicited from her testimony concerning the things that she saw. She could say that she actually saw the soldier jump on the deputy and throw him to the ground, so I thought that was one fact we could establish rather readily.
I proceeded to present the case, and I thought we had a strong case, at least against the one who had done the attacking. The other one was charged with aiding and abetting, and participated also in inciting to riot; but those were lesser charges than the one where he actually attacked the deputy sheriff.
John had a plan. His plan was to make these soldiers out to be poor, innocent military men who were being chastised by a wicked deputy sheriff. He wanted to prove that they were being vilified simply because they were in uniform. His case was helped by the 17-year-old girl, because at one point I tried to get from her the story of how the fight began, and she said, "Well, they were just playing around." The president of the court intervened and said to her, "Young lady, I don't understand. What do you mean they were just playing around?" And she turned to this major and said, in an innocent voice, "They were just having fun. Didn't you ever have any fun in your life?"
With that, the court broke up in laughter. As the case went on, John kept hitting at this fact, that they were only defending themselves against this deputy sheriff who had come in there for trouble. He kept hitting this point over and over and over again. It was all the defense he had because they had done the things that they were charged with doing. It went to the deliberation of the court. When the court came back, in a five to nothing vote, they unanimously found the young men guilty. The one who did the attacking was given three months in the camp stockade, he lost his rank, I don't remember what it was, and he was to lose his pay for the three months he was in the camp stockade. The other fellow got a lesser sentence, probably more like being confined to quarters for 90 days, or something of that sort. But, nevertheless, they were both found guilty.
After the court's findings the transcript was to go to the officer who had appointed the court, in this case Lt. Col. Goddard. It was his job to review the written transcript. He would read through it, and he had the right to change any part of it if he felt that the punishment was too great, or he could reduce it, or, if he felt that the case was not proved, he could reverse the entire judgment of the court. Lt. Col. Goddard reviewed all the evidence and agreed that the men were guilty as charged. The record of the trial then went to some higher authority in the Judge Advocate General's department. I never knew where this was, but it went away from Camp Roberts someplace, and there other officers, or an officer, perhaps, would review it again. When we next saw the record of that trial, it came back to the battalion. The appellate judge had overturned the convictions, and he had added a note that he thought it was gallant of these men to defend themselves against attacks upon the U.S. Military by civilian officers. So, in the end, John won the case, even though he had lost the battle along the way. So, that's why I said in that case we both won at different times and different places. I am still convinced they were guilty, and that the appellate court judge was prejudiced himself in not wanting the judgment to go against members of the military.
One of the things that I want to mention about our association throughout the time that we were friends prior to going overseas is that John was musical. I think he played a trumpet, though I never heard him play it because he didn't have one with him, but he was musical, and he could carry a tune very well. He and I had acquired some little recorder-type instruments, a straight flute sort of thing with holes in it, that you play by covering up the holes with your fingers. We used to entertain ourselves and others. I remember, in particular, we used to entertain while going across on the train traveling to Louisiana by playing them. We got so that we could play parts, we didn't both play the melody, so that we could make it rather tuneful on these little flutes that we played.
Our best number, as I remember it, that we both enjoyed playing, and got asked to play numerous times was "Five Feet Two, Eyes of Blue." We loved that, and we played that over and over. We played other things, as well. John and I shared a lot of interest in big band music. He knew about most of the bands that traveled into the Boston area before the war. In fact, he had an uncle who was a leader of a very well-known local band that never got out of the New England area, but it was a well-known dance band up in that area. I think John had played with that band some.
John and I had a lot in common, and we shared a lot in common along the way. It was too bad we had that one little experience where we wouldn't talk to each other. We were both being very childish, as it turned out.
After the event I mentioned in the city of Worms, where we took the weapons back to our batteries, we both returned together into the city that next morning, and by this time the infantry had made its way through the city. We went as far as we could, we were down to where we were trailing them as they knocked on doors and burst into buildings, and so forth, until we finally got to the Rhine River. We found that the bridge towers were standing on each side of the river, but the bridge was down. John and I and our radio operators finally arrived together at the edge of the Rhine River. We had anticipated there would be many targets of opportunity on the other side of the Rhine. We didn't want to be together, because that would limit the amount of firing that could be done. At this point, therefore, we went our separate ways to seek out targets and begin our firing missions.
I chose to go into a school building, which was just across the street from the entrance to the bridge, near the first tower. That school building had two stories, mainly, but it had a bell tower in it, and I sought a way to get into that bell tower. I finally found it, and I went up.
I need to explain that we had learned that we should never go to a window and look out the window, because we would expose ourselves, so we always stood way back in the room, usually in a shadowed area, from which we could still see through the window. This is what I did on this occasion. As I stood looking out across the Rhine, and began to see German troops maneuvering around over there, I had no trouble finding targets of opportunity. I immediately began a mission, and got word back to the battalion, and began to call for fire.
About that time there came up the narrow stairway into this tower where I was located a reporter with a camera. I assumed that he was probably with a news service of some kind, and I knew what he was interested in. As he came in he said that he was anxious to get pictures of the first shells bursting on the other side of the Rhine. I'm not sure that ours were the first, but as I have read about it in history since, I think that may well have been the case. At any rate, he wanted those historic pictures of the first shells bursting on the other side of the Rhine, so he stupidly ran to this window with his camera in front of him, when he heard that the rounds were on the way, exposing our position and tipping off the enemy that we were in that building and using it for an observation post.
The shells landed all right, but it was not long until more shells started to land in the vicinity of the school. It became apparent to me that we had lost the opportunity to use that as an OP. I turned around to find him, and he had disappeared when the shells had started coming in. I had waited longer than he had to leave, so he was out of sight, I didn't know where he was.
I headed down those narrow stairs, though, lest the tower be shot out from under me if they scored a direct hit on the tower, as I was sure the tower would be their target. As I went down the stairs from the second to the first floor, a shell hit the building, it was just before I went off into the landing in the hallway that led to the rooms along that floor. I was probably on the third or fourth step on my way down when the shell hit, and, of course, it just blasted and it knocked me over. When I got up, I went on around the corner and saw that the shell had come in through the river side of the building into that room, it had evidently exploded in the room and then blew out the wall into the hallway and the outside wall beyond the hallway. Being to the side of the blast, I had been shielded from it by the heavy wall that was between me and the room in which the blast had occurred. The old buildings over there were all built with very thick walls, usually of a very heavy material, so they did withstand a lot of blows of that type, but in this case the shell blew holes on both sides of that room. But I was all right, and I realized that I still had to find cover, so I proceeded on down and went into the basement. In looking around in the basement, I opened a door where there was coal being stored in a room and there was my cameraman!
Another shelling that was almost identical to this was brought about for the same reason, I was in a German village which we had occupied, and I made my way to the buildings that fronted in the direction of where the enemy was and went up into a two-story house, and again went up to the top floor. I stood well back into it and began to look for the site of some German artillery pieces which I heard firing, but I had difficulty locating them. I was trying to find them when an infantryman (I think an enlisted man) came up the stairs and into the room and said, "Oh, can you see where the enemy is from here?" And he rushed over to the window. This, of course, meant that we became an immediate target, again. So, this was a common experience for me, and the others didn't seem to realize how important it was to stay out of sight.
On this particular occasion the shells began to hit right at the building. Like a lot of German dwellings, it was built around a kind of a courtyard, so there was a barn-like structure across the courtyard. The courtyard may have been a hundred feet across, I don't know exactly.
On the other side, opposite the house, was a long, low barn-like structure, and there was a basement in it, which I was to find later on. At this point, when the shells began to come into that area, I ran down and out of the building. I was afraid to go across that courtyard because the shells were landing around me, so I ducked into the first structure I saw, which was a very small garage, just small enough for the very small cars that were used over there. As you know, Hitler had produced the forerunner of the Volkswagen Beetle, it was to be the "volk's" car, the "people's" car, and they were very common. The garage was only big enough to hold a small vehicle like that, and I dove into this garage through a door. The garage door for a car to enter was closed. There was no car in there, but it was used for storing potatoes. I crawled into the potatoes and began to burrow into them as far as I could get for cover. And, sure enough, a shell hit the corner of that little garage and the whole structure fell down on top of me and the potatoes.
Ever since I've had the fun in explaining that I like potatoes because potatoes saved my life. I must have passed something on in the genes, because our daughter, Linda, really loves potatoes, so I guess that may be where it came from. I have a great love for potatoes. I think the German word for "potato" is "kartoffel." On that occasion, they saved my life. They took the brunt of the building that fell down on me, if not some of the shell fragments.
So, I lived through that experience, but I was exposed, then, to the shelling because the building was no longer there. I still had to make it across the courtyard. I have thanked the Lord many times that he carried me all the way across that, at the highest speed I could possibly run, and I went into that building, found the cellar, and went own and found about half the villagers were in that cellar hiding and waiting out the shelling as well.
Before I proceed with the events that follow our arrival in Worms, and while we still are thinking about John Liljeberg, I want to share with you a truly funny occurrence that happened to John. He told me about it, of course, but it is reported in the 191 FaBn history of its operations, and I will simply read the paragraph that's spoken in there.
It says, "Field artillery observers are generally being left on their own when the enemy decides to pull a counterattack, and the doughboys take up their positions previously assigned. Lt. John Liljeberg, 191 FaBn Forward Observer, with an infantry company on the line didn't exactly find himself alone on one particular occasion, however. Upon arriving upstairs at a house, around which the doughboys had dug in, he found a German officer in the room with him. The lieutenant feverishly fumbled for his revolver, but found the German all too eager to put up his hands in this embarrassing situation. An enemy halftrack at this point began firing on the position, and the forward observer immediately began an adjustment to bring fire to bear on the vehicle. In doing so, he got help from the German, who claimed himself to be a worthy artillery advisor. The prisoner claimed he gave help for fear the Germans would retake the position, and that that was one thing he didn't want to take place."
That was a strange experience. John, in telling the story to me, said that the battle really kind of forged back and forth around that building, and sometimes on one side and sometimes on the other. So while the two of them were upstairs, the two observers, at times they were in German-held territory, and at times they were in American-held territory, but eventually the Americans took the position and John took the other one prisoner. There was a time when Carson Scarbrough and I also found ourselves in the same location as another observer who was interested in looking the other direction. We had found ourselves on top of a heavily-wooded hill, so you couldn't see a great distance from any position on it. We tried to find a place where we could look out toward the enemy positions. With our field glasses held to our eyes, looking out, we scanned the countryside for anything that might look like a target that we could zero in on. At one point I lowered my glasses, and kind of glanced over to my right, and through a break in the trees I saw another figure standing, only he was looking back behind us toward the enemy troops, and he, too, was scouring the countryside with field glasses. We immediately realized, while he was not in uniform, that he, nevertheless, was not interested in the same thing we were. We quietly approached him and took him under cover and captured him. Because he was not in uniform, he tried to lead us to believe, in very broken, rather poor English that he was just a civilian, and that he was trying to make his way to his home, and he wasn't sure where it was safe to travel.
he had a pack with him, which really was an Army pack, stuffed with belongings.
We made him open that, and there we found his uniform. So, he had been
exposed. He was not a civilian after all, he was a German soldier, and
one more prisoner for us.
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