PART FIVE: AFTER VE DAY
23. Battalion S-4: When VE Day came, I then was the battalion S4 and commander of service battery, and continued in that position through the time we were still in Germany from May until December of 1945. During that time it became my responsibility to turn in all of the supplies of the battalions to the various agencies around Central Europe. On one occasion, I was taking a whole contingent of vehicles, some of them being towed because they wouldn't run, and some of the trucks loaded with ordinance and other equipment, clear into France. I went to various depots, got rid of these supplies, and was able to show them in our supply records that we had turned them in. I didn't know it at that time, but I was going to get another opportunity to do the same thing all over again later on.
I might flash ahead just a little to say that when the troops began to come home they were returned on a point basis. Those with the highest points came first. They received points for time in service and for injuries.
Since I was with a National Guard unit that had been in the federal service many months before I even went into the service, I therefore didn't have as many points as all of those fellows had. They were scheduled to be returned as a unit, so those of us without enough points to go with them were transferred out, and I was transferred to the 190 FaBn. Remember, I had been in the 191. Most of their men had already been shipped out, but I was to be the S4 and supply officer for that battalion as it got rid of all its equipment, and turned it all in. So I went through this a second time with 190. When we returned to the states, there were only 13 enlisted men in that battery, and I was the one officer, but I came back with 190 rather than 191.
As nearly as I could figure out the dates with my friends in 191, whom I've met many times since, it didn't delay me to go to the 190. The 191, it so happened, was put on a much, much slower ship, a Liberty Ship, I believe it was, and they got tossed around a lot in some storms at sea. had to be towed into the States. They actually arrived in the United States after I did. So, with all the points, they didn't make it as soon.
24. Post-war Occupation: Until permanent forces were sent in to occupy Germany, those troops that were stationed there took over that job for a while. In the beginning we were in the city of Ruhla, in Thuringian Province, not very far from the city of Eisenach. We had to see that order was kept in the communities where we were. We were troubled there a great deal by the harassment from youth who still had their zeal for Nazis, and about whom we really could do nothing, because nobody had in mind doing anything very serious to the Hitler Youth at that time. We just tried to keep them from harming us in any dangerous way.
We also did guard duty. That area was about to be turned over to the Russians because it became a part of what was later East Germany under Russian control. I was serving as Officer of the Day when our battalion guards were stationed out around Eisenach. I received a radio call from one of the guard positions in the middle of the night, telling me that Russian troops had arrived. They were fully armed, even with bayonets fixed, and had positioned themselves about a hundred yards from our men back in the woods. Our two guards were really scared.
Our colonel immediately protested to a Russian colonel who he was in contact with, because the Russians were not supposed to be there until the next day. Of course he said, "Oh, some junior officer made a mistake," but no troops were withdrawn. We lived to see history repeat itself over in Yugoslavia and Kosovo, where the Russians did exactly the same thing, coming in ahead of their time and blaming it on junior officers who had made a mistake. So, it really was a pattern which repeated itself more than 50 years after I first experienced it.
When the Russians came we were moved from Thuringia to Bavaria, not a great distance from Munich, where we were placed in some very, very old German barracks, which appeared to be a hundred years old. They had probably been used by the Germans in several wars. They were not in very good condition, but we stayed at Straubing for several months until it came time to return home, of which I spoke earlier.
It was at Straubing that a couple of funny incidents occurred that I want to tell you about. One of them was one I referred to earlier by saying that I had several stories about my association with Polish people. We needed to find electricians to work on the barracks, which were in bad shape. They had been bombed somewhat, so we had a lot of repair work to do to make them livable. The Colonel asked me to get some electricians so that we could do this job. As a supply officer, I went to the burgomeister (mayor) of the town. Requesting help from the burgomeister was the proper way to do it, because he had access to various workmen in the city. We would hire them and they would be paid through the burgomeister.
The two electricians that he sent were both Poles. They had been displaced from their country, brought to Germany and not returned, so they were there and they were sent to us as electricians. They looked like electricians, they had some equipment, various kinds of pliers, screwdrivers and wire strippers, and things of that sort.
I took them to the place where they were to do their work, and showed them what needed to be done. I left them and let them go to work. I would see them every morning and every afternoon. I'd look up and see these two walking across our area compounds, always carrying short lengths of electrical wire with plugs and various other things attached to them. When the colonel called me one day and asked how the electricians were doing I said, "They must be working pretty well. I haven't checked too closely, but I see them frequently and they look as though they're into electrical things." He said, "Well, you'd better come over and see." Lo and behold, nothing had been accomplished. All they were doing during the days they were on the job was walking around carrying electrical parts so that they looked like electricians.
Another amusing supply incident occurred while we were there. As I said, the buildings needed a lot of repair. A lot of this was roof repair. I was told that we needed tar so that we could patch some of the roofing. I found a source of tar quite a distance from where we were and I sent a truck. We could have sent a Jeep, but there was none available so they took a two-and-a-half-ton truck. I had figured out that only a small amount of tar was needed. I was told that we couldn't use American measurements, that I needed to order in kilograms rather than gallons. I figured out how many kilograms, abbreviating it with "kg", and I wrote down on a piece of paper the number of "kgs" of tar that they were to pick up.
It was an overnight journey. They got back the next day, rather late in the day. I was a little surprised. I thought they could have loaded it and returned immediately since it was only a very small amount. The truck was parked down by the building where the tar was needed, and they came to my office. They asked, "Where will we put it?" I said,
"Oh, just put it inside the door of the building." They said, "There's not room inside the door of the building." I asked, "Not room in there? How much did you get?" They said, "Well, you wrote on that paper 78 kegs." The nearest thing they found to kegs were big drums of tar, perhaps hundred-gallon drums. They had brought 78 drums of tar back. The truck was loaded down with all these drums of tar. We never did find any use for all the tar, we just left it there when we left. They'll be able to fix roofs for the next millennium, I suppose.
Let me turn to the subject of our two liaison pilots now. I taught both of these fellows when they were sergeants and had been assigned as pilots. They had to become artillery officers, but my impression was they knew very little about the artillery. I was given the job of setting up a school and training them, so I had a rather close association with them back in the States until the time that they received their commissions and then they continued as our pilots. I told about my prior experience with "Tex" or "Pump," as I call him now.
I had one other experience with him as well. When I completed the air observer course, after studying aerial navigation, I had to plan a trip. We were to make a trip from Camp Roberts, near Paso Robles, to Coalinga, land there, and then fly back. It was my job to figure out the compass direction that the pilot would use to set the course to go back. When we climbed into the plane to go back to the coast again, he asked me for the setting and I told him what it was. He looked at me quizzically, but he said, "Okay." As we flew over the coastal mountains, I kept watching the ground, looking for familiar landmarks that corresponded with the features I saw on the map that I had in my hand. All the way across I was lost, I couldn't find any landmarks.
Finally he said to me, "Look, I'm going to turn and you look down ahead of us." He said, "I see a town coming up, can you tell me what it is?" I looked down, and having lived in that area, I knew exactly what it was. We were supposed to be landing at King City. I had lived there before the war, so I knew King City, and what I saw was not King City. It was the little town of San Ardo, and we were 20 miles off our course. So, you can understand, I was not made for aerial flight or for navigation. I guess Pump was right, I was just too "ignorant".
John Hagan was a talented artist and cartoonist. Anyone fortunate enough to see the book that I saved, which is in very bad shape now, "The History of the 191 Battalion," will see his artwork throughout it. It's very amusing. He was really a very artistic person.
While we were stationed in Straubing, the officers stayed in a small hotel in the city, about a block from the military encampment. We all had rooms there, we ate our meals there, and had civilian cooks who cooked for us. In the dining hall there was a big blackboard which our battalion commander used from time to time to put orders on for us. When it was not in use, John, always with fun in mind, would use the blackboard and draw various cartoons that kept us laughing.
Col. Goddard, whom I thought was an excellent commander, took the military very seriously; more seriously than the rest of us did, I think. On one occasion he called us all together in that room, all the officers that is, and he explained to us that we had been given the opportunity -- I don't remember his exact words, but I'm sure he used the word "opportunity" -- to take all of our battalion to a German training grounds, a place called Grafenwohr, which in decades later came to be known to other Americans who were stationed in Germany as a place of training as well. At any rate, the colonel thought it would be a great idea to go back up and fire our guns once more.
Well, needless to say, his enthusiasm was not matched by anybody in the room that day. We'd had enough of the war. As far as we were concerned, we'd heard the last howitzer that we wanted to hear fired. I certainly had no desire to go up and direct any fire, and I don't think anybody else wanted to do that. The enlisted men began to grumble just as soon as they heard this because none of them wanted to go back into this activity either.
Nevertheless, Col. Goddard announced that two days hence we would be packing up and we should be making arrangements to take our battalion to Grafenwohr for actual firing.
During the night, John Hagan slipped from his room, came down to the dining room and went to work on the blackboard. In the morning, when we all came to breakfast, including Col. Goddard, there on the blackboard was a cartoon drawing of one of our tractors pulling a 155 howitzer. It was bouncing along the road. There was only one figure in this procession, that was a very recognizable Col. Goddard, sitting up in the driver's seat of the tractor, turning around and yelling, as the caption said, "We're off to Grafenwohr."
Well, of course, the picture was to tell a story. The colonel was all by himself. And when Col. Goddard saw the picture, and we all started to laugh, he started to laugh with us. He got the point, and that day he called off the trip to Grafenwohr.
I saw John Hagan about six years ago. He and his wife Jane met Eleanor and me in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida when we were getting ready to go on a cruise. He pretended not to remember the incident. It was very clear in my mind, and others that I have talked with remembered it as well. So, it really happened, but I think he'd like to put it out of his mind. It really was an act of defiance, but it worked because it was funny, and you can do more with humor sometimes than you can with other kinds of argument.
As I said before, I wanted this to be primarily a record of those times that I spent overseas, and in Europe, and I'm not going to get into more detail after that. It's known, of course, that I returned home in December, arriving on December 10th in Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia.
That was a Monday. The following Sunday I arrived in Denver, Colorado, and the Sunday following that, Eleanor and I were married. There's another whole lifetime after that.
I'd like to close these remarks, though, with just one more serious statement about the war. I have intentionally interspersed funny and trivial incidents with more serious ones. I haven't wanted this to be just about war. I think that the trivial and the humorous help to make war bearable. I'm sure there are more stories that would come to my mind if I wanted to think about them longer, but I think I've given you enough to give you a flavor of it. I have intentionally mixed it up. I've jumped around in time and in subject matter. There are no strict chapters to this.
It could be more organized, but it wasn't what I wanted to do. I wanted it to be just memoirs that, as I said in the beginning, were lightened from time to time with lighter moments, as well as the more serious ones. So, I want to close with one thing that happened in Ruhla, shortly after the war ended, when we were stationed there.
American soldiers always loved children. It was not long before the street out in front of the five residences that housed my unit was filled with children. The American soldiers brought out their bats and balls and footballs and basketballs, and everything else they had, to play with and share with the children.
The children in Germany were experiencing a difficult life. It would be difficult to know how they eventually turned out, all of them. We do know this: Many of them, especially those who were already teenagers during the war, had become very hardened. They had accepted the principle that "might makes right," and it began to show up in their play. The bigger kids started in right away to be the bullies and to dominate everything that was done. From the window of my office I could look out on the street, and several times I noticed a little girl, one of the younger kids out there, run up to where one of the big kids was yelling at the others, and say some things, and then the bigger one would leave, and things would quiet down.
Soon she'd go back again. I decided to get to know this little girl. She was probably about nine or ten. I never knew her full name. The name, as best I could understand it, was Pietah. Pietah, though just a girl, and younger than most of the others in the street, was able to bring peace and calm them down.
when I was talking to Pietah she motioned to me to follow her. I went down
the street about a block. We turned into the yard of a fairly modern looking
Lutheran church building. She took me inside and pointed to the inside
of the church. In that way she was telling me that that's where she got
her values. I've been able to use that story as I became a minister, and
I've certainly remembered this in my own life: The values of Christ will
finally conquer. Even if they're planted in the heart of a little 9-year-old
girl, they can still bear fruit. I hope that lesson can stick with us as
we conclude this account.