David K. Weiner

David K
David Weiner is a WWII veteran whose service took him from the city of Worcester, MA into battle and back. David shares his experience with us in a short story he entitles "The War Years 1942 - 1945".

THE WAR YEARS 1942-1945


     At 4:12 on Wednesday, June 24th, 1942 in the auditorium at South High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, I was presented with my high school diploma. After a brief talk by Samuel Beeber, the short, plump principal of the school, the presentation of what I had struggled to obtain for four long years was made. I was handed the cherished piece of paper by the Chairman of the School Committee, Harold W. Eaton. It was a time when not only I, but the whole country, was uncertain of the future.

     Six months earlier, on December 7th, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had announced over the radio that a declaration of war had been declared against the Empire of Japan. Just hours before his announcement, the surprise attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor had occurred. This devastating assault on our main Pacific base had destroyed most of our heavy ships, and had left us with few vessels to defend ourselves from future Japanese aggression. The months between this unprovoked attack and my graduation had seen battle conditions go from bad to worse. Our once secure bases throughout the Pacific were, one by one, falling under Japanese control. It seemed that there was little we could do to stop the enemy’s bloody advances. There was talk that we could ourselves be invaded. And that we might even lose the war.

     America was also at war with Germany, Japan’s ally, but our participation there was limited. Poland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Belgium, France and other countries had collapsed under the military might of the powerful German forces. England, alone, was left to resist the Nazi regime, and although we were supplying that island outpost with arms, our ships were being sunk at a frightening rate by ubiquitous German U-boats. It was not a time of great confidence in American military superiority.

     Lying in my bed, I daydreamed of the time when I would be part of the Army Air Corps, piloting a P-41 fighter plane, and knocking enemy aircraft out of the sky.

    After graduation I began working at Botwinik Brothers, a machine tool rebuilder located in Worcester, Massachusetts. Their shipper had enlisted and, a few weeks after I arrived, had left for military duty. I was given his job, but little training. I learned quickly, however, and was soon shipping refurbished machines to factories around the world where they were being used to fabricate the badly needed materiel of war.

      On one occasion, I had to send 12 Pratt & Whitney lathes to Russia, one of our few allies at that time. Unfortunately I didn’t make out the paperwork properly, and the shipment was lost in transit. The usually calm owners were frantic (think seismic intensity) until the lathes were finally found. I survived, but the incident did teach me a needed lesson in the importance of proper documentation.

     With the situation overseas getting worse every day, and my long-time desire to fly, I finally convinced my parents that I had to enter the military. There was much pressure on me to stay at home, but we all knew that it was just a matter of time before I would be drafted anyway.

     By enlisting I could have my choice of branches, and I wanted desperately to be in the Air Corps, then still part of the United States army. I knew that if I waited to be drafted I could be assigned to any branch that happened to need men. So eight months after graduation, and five months after I had turned eighteen, I signed up for military service.

At that time there was no more joining up by enlistment, only voluntary induction. I went to the local Draft Board, said I wanted to enter the service, and expressed my preference for Army Air Corps duty. I was accepted immediately. It was a sad day at home when I left to take the bus to Fort Devens, in Ayer, Massachusetts. The date I officially became a soldier, February 15, 1943, was certain. My future was not.


     I arrived at the induction station with only the clothes on my back and a few dollars in my pocket. I was briefed on what was expected of me. I was then escorted, with 20 other recruits, to a nearby wooden building, for physical examination.

      It was cold that day, and the wind blew through the cracks in the wall, causing my naked, fat-deficient, 128-pound body to shiver uncontrollably. I passed all of the tests, however, and was declared fit for service. The prevalent description of the army physical then was: one doctor looks down your throat and another doctor looks up your behind. If they can’t see each other, you’re in!

     I was issued GI clothing, and brought to a line of nondescript, wooden buildings, called barracks. Inside mine were multiple rows of two-tier bunks. The drab structure was to be my home for as long as I was to stay at Fort Devens. The next days were filled with the taking of aptitude tests, learning basic army drilling, listening to army orientation and participating in outdoor calisthenics. It took less than one week to turn me into what might be considered a passable soldier. One of the tests I applied for, and took, was the mental test for pilot training. I was told later by my cousin, Henry Klein, who completed the test after I did, that I had scored higher than anyone else ever had up to that time. My physical exam for pilot, however, was much less a cause for celebration. It showed that I had insufficient depth perception to be an airplane pilot. My longtime dream of flying was over before I had spent a full week in uniform. I was still assigned to the Air Corps, however, and was shipped by train to Miami Beach, Florida. There I received the basic training for that branch of service. I was housed in a luxury accommodation - Hotel Devon - close to the beach. Although I didn’t have maid service, the room was spacious and the food was great. As recruits, the other newcomers and I ran on the sandy beaches with our GI shoes on to build up our strength. We had three squares every day and revues by the Post Commander once a week.

     Standing for the revues at attention for hours, in full dress uniform in the hot, afternoon sun, some of my less resilient companions lost consciousness and dropped limply to the ground. It was against regulations for me to move. Medics with stretchers were at the rear of each column and when they saw someone fall to the ground they moved down between the row of troops to pick up and move the lifeless soldier to one of the ambulances waiting in the rear. I kept myself conscious by concentrating on the power lines within my view, in the distance. I would count the barely visible wires between the pylons over and over. It must have worked because I never did pass out.

By staying conscious I had also evaded the extra duty given to those who hadn’t remained standing in the brutal heat.

      Overall, life was pleasant during that period. I wrote and received many letters and goodies (meaning chocolate fudge and brownies) from home. I felt proud about being able to serve my country. I took many aptitude tests each week. After a month of training and tests, I was declared suited for, and assigned to, Aircraft Mechanics School.

     Before shipping out, I often walked along the boardwalk at Miami Beach during my time off, gluttonously gulping down untold numbers of glasses of the fresh fruit juices that were hocked from the small one-man stands that were everywhere. At that time there was a shortage of wire clothes hangers. Greedy civilians could always be found on the boardwalk hustling them for 10 to 25 cents apiece - a steep price at that time. Most of us saw fit to request them from home.

     Upon completion of Air Corps basic training I was awarded my first stripe. I was then an official Private First Class. I sent many pictures home, which showed off my trim, uniformed, newly-striped body. After writing many letters trying to convince my parents that I would indeed survive in the service, I boarded a train for Lincoln Air Force Base in Lincoln, Nebraska. After arrival there, I settled in, and joined the many other would-be mechanics in the hangars and teaching classes at the base. My penchant for things mechanical assured that I would learn a lot and render me capable to work efficiently on a flight line, which was to be my duty for the duration. The only thing I did not know was where that flight line would be. Maybe in the Pacific. Maybe in Europe. If I had a choice I would have taken Europe since I felt strongly that in the Pacific Theater, the searing heat, the crawling bugs and the Japanese tendency to shoot all prisoners, were conditions to be avoided at all possible cost.

     At the air base, I studied hard and although I knew that I was not going to fly, I worked on, and was close to, the airplanes that I had so often dreamed about. Weekends were free, and the nearest scene for social activity was downtown Lincoln, the capital of the state. Every Friday night I, and my group of friends, would bus to town and rent a room at the Cornhusker Hotel. From there, some would go to dances, some to bars and others to the local USO canteen (the United Service Organization was founded in February, 1941 to provide entertainment for men and women in uniform). I was a canteen person for it was a good place to meet other service people and see performers brought in by the USO. There were many activities available and the range was great. Close friendships were not recommended because the travel orders issued upon completion of the course could send you anywhere in the world.

     To avoid KP (kitchen police), I would often volunteer to paint the signs needed around the mess hall, a much more desirable task than peeling potatoes, or scrubbing the mammoth cooking pots that were blackened from years of use.


    Throughout the facility, requirements were being put up on the many bulletin boards all the time, listing various assignments in the other services. Each day they were reviewed by the troops to see if some posting more desirable or closer to home was available. With less than a month to go before graduation and the automatic receipt of corporal stripes, I applied for, and received acceptance to attend, a college of engineering.

     One particular Friday evening I was given a weekend pass to go to downtown Lincoln. My friends and I were registered at the Cornhusker Hotel, as usual. On Saturday evening I met a buddy who had just come from the base. He asked me what I was doing in Lincoln because a notice had been just been posted on the bulletin board stating that all college candidates were to be ready to leave early on Sunday morning. I hustled back to the base and joined the group just as they left for the train. My time at Lincoln AFB was over. I was then part of an Army Specialized Training Unit (ASTU). I left Lincoln for the University of Minnesota on July 12, 1943.

     When I arrived at Minneapolis where the school was located, it was chaotic. Nobody there knew we were coming. There were no assignments, and no officials to report to. Our accommodations had been specified in the transfer papers, however, so everyone had a place to eat and sleep. We had maid service to make up our beds and clean our rooms. It was truly a time to remember and enjoy - the antithesis of real army life. Most of our group spent the time sightseeing, or visiting the bars in downtown Minneapolis. After a week of complete freedom, things got sorted out and order was restored. Maid service was unceremoniously taken away from us. We were housed in a revamped nunnery, the Augsburg Seminary , which was across the Mississippi River from the school. Each weekday morning we marched in formation across the bridge to eat breakfast and attend classes.

      I still shiver when I remember the marches across the long bridge over the river at 5:30 in the dim light of dawn. A freezing wind usually blew, with almost enough force to push you over the side of the span. My only consolation was the thought of the tasty food soon to be served in the warm school cafeteria.

     Once we were assigned to the AST Program we had to surrender our stripes. This action was to make all students equal. I only lost one, but others lost two or three. The reduction in grade also meant a reduction in pay - I lost $10 per month.

     Along with the ASTP-er’s, there were Air Corps pilot trainees on the campus. They were kept entirely separate from us, often marching right by our formation without a sidelong look. They, however, had a much more restricted schedule: early to bed, early to rise, and very few of the liberties that we enjoyed.

     We attended regular classes, although no civilians were in with us. The Basic Program of ASTP consisted of 3 three-month accelerated sessions. After each session we were given a week’s furlough, sufficient time to allow us to go home. If and when we completed the Basic Program we were scheduled to attend the 3 similar sessions of the Advanced Program. Men who had college training prior to entering the service started with this program. Upon satisfactory completion of the Advanced Program all were to receive commissions as lieutenants in the Engineer Corps (or so we were told). The administrators continued to call us The Cream of the Crop, and we were made to feel extra special. We were later to find out, to our great dismay, that instead of cream, we were scheduled to be battlefield fodder.

     Our close association with other students, and our liberal free time, allowed us to become friendly with many others in the program. The smartest one in the class was Ed Steinmuller, a curly-haired, Jewish boy with glasses, who was always pushing them up on his nose. He was a true brain, but no nerd. A great sense of humor, and always the right answer, whether in class or out with the guys. He was from New York and went back there after his discharge. I don’t know what happened to him after that.

     Another sharp Jewish boy was Irwin Suslak. “Sus” also had a good sense of humor, was from the Bronx, and was a good student. Although he had a face bordering on ugly, many girls were attracted to him because of his winsome personality. He was married during one of his furloughs between sessions to a long-time sweetheart. He brought his bride, Paula (Stripke), back to live with him at school. After his service, during which he got the Purple Heart with two clusters, he moved back to New York. I visited with him many times there, and we had a good relationship for many years. He visited me a number of times in Springfield, Massachusetts where I settled after my service. He was a financial consultant, and did quite well at it. He had divorced Paula (they had a stormy marriage), and later remarried. I met his new wife once, during his last visit to Springfield. We lost touch after his remarriage, but I continued to call him occasionally on his birthday, which was on the same day and year as mine. In 1997, I found out, through computerized Social Security records, that he had died four years before. I never found out what happened to Paula. Sus was an important part of my life, and I will never forget him, his caring attitude, and the many good times we had together.

     Another student and good friend was Herb Luis. His father was Chinese, and his mother was American. He had chiseled features, one of the most handsome men that I had ever met. Also, one of the most down-to-earth, Herb was always cheerful, with an infectious, staccato laugh. He was not a great student, and I helped him with his studies on more than one occasion. His shyness belied the fact that he was born and reared in California. We re-established contact in 1997, and wrote and called each other often. He died in 2010.

    Other men I remember are:

       Gilbert Mayer (Gil, Hollywood), a well-built, handsome hunk from the film capital who had played a bit part in a movie, and used this information together with his well-developed line to snag about every loose female in town. Not a great student, but smart enough to fill himself with enough sulfa pills to turn himself yellow before we left Minnesota, thereby avoiding being shipped out like the rest of us to fight in the war.

       Delbert Dempsey (Del), a tall red-headed, drink of water from Steubenville, Ohio. Del was always smiling and would do anything for a laugh. Not a student, but a funny guy, if you liked childish antics. I believe that he flunked out of school, and is probably still playing practical jokes wherever he is.

       Elias Lindner (Lee), a good-looking egotist who was full of himself, and believed that he was God’s gift to women. He was friendly and cheerful, but not my cup of tea.

       Melvin Raichelson (Mel), a street-smart, non-student from Springfield, who had no waist to hold his pants up (he was forced to wear suspenders). He was from Massachusetts, and we traveled back and forth together between sessions and became good friends. Mel always had an angle to benefit himself and was usually quite successful at pulling it off. Shortly after arrival at school he wangled a position of authority in our unit. With his two new diamond-shaped pins, he was technically in charge of the group, but I never saw him do anything to merit that designation. He also was married during one of his furloughs home, and brought his bride, Bea (Farber), back to school before the last session. Theirs was an unhappy joining from the beginning. Although Mel knew Bea for many years before he joined the service, Mel’s independent attitude (from immaturity and a troubled early home life, I think) caused much discord after they were married.

      I often pleaded with Bea on Mel’s behalf to stay in the marriage. On many occasions I rode up and down in an elevator with her, assuring her that Mel would change for the better. I now know that those entreaties were futile, and probably should not have been so downright convincing.

     Mel had difficulty with the study program and I, on many occasions, tutored him on the technical subjects. He completed all of the sessions to his credit. Mel returned from the war with sergeant’s stripes (He was a clerk in a rifle company). He was wounded three times, but not severely. When I moved to Springfield after the war we stayed good friends and shared many fun times together.

     After returning home, I met Bea’s family. One day I was offered a monetary consideration by her father if I would marry Bea’s rebellious sister, Honey. I, of course, deferred.

     The Raichelson’s had one son, Steven (Stevie), and one daughter, Shelley. Mel divorced Bea after their children left home. I lost contact for a while following their separation. After an extended period of being single, Mel married Frances (Mascolo) Weiss, a woman with four children. He had a number of years of apparent happiness. He passed away in 1997. I attended his funeral after seeing his obituary notice in the local paper. Bea died some 7 years later.

     In school, I enjoyed the studies, and received good grades. I was third from the top in scholastic excellence throughout most of the time that I was there. This was not because I was a mental giant, but because most of the men in the ASTP group were less interested in scholastic achievement than in social activity.

     Our geography teacher was affectionately called The Butterfly Chaser. His monotone voice and dreary subject put most of the students asleep. To pass the course you just had to stay awake, an accomplishment no one, not even I, could boast of for every class.

     Downtown Minneapolis during the war was a soldier’s paradise. The only military installation nearby was Fort Snelling, which housed a small contingent of military police. This dearth of soldiers combined with the known benevolence of the predominantly Scandinavian residents elevated all army personnel to hero status. It was common knowledge that no soldier could buy himself a drink in town. At every bar there were civilians eager to provide anyone in uniform with all the spirits he desired. I never saw a fight or disturbance. And we never once bemoaned the fact that the Air Corps trainees were restricted to barracks most of the time leaving the grateful city, wide open to us alone.


     On January 24, 1944 our Commanding Officer, Captain Rudolph Weisbrich, was notified by Service Command that the top 17 members of our unit were nominated by university authorities as having conduct and military efficiency of excellent or better. I was included in the list and had my name in the paper, and placed on an Honor Roll somewhere (two dubious honors). We were also issued Blue Star Emblems to wear on our sleeves (also inconsequential). And we were to receive extra overnight passes one night each week - a night of our own choosing (a decidedly excellent provision).

     And then there were the girls. With this new freedom added to my already liberal pass situation there was ample time to explore the wide-ranging social activity in town. While others spent much of their off-duty time attempting to drain the local bars, I connected with the more artistic community. Being an acceptable-looking, uniformed Jewish boy in a town where the sight of a uniform was rare, I was overrun with young Jewish women looking for attention, for romance and for marriage.

     There were Marty and Leah and many others whose sole purpose was to capture an eligible man. This was important to them since most local men were away serving their country. I thrilled them all with the sleight-of-hand I had been practicing for many years, my newly acquired repartee and, of course, the Blue Star Emblem on my sleeve. What I didn’t do was lose my cool, or my chastity.

     In early March of 1944, rumors surfaced that the AST Program was going to be canceled. We were told that the top 10 students would move to the Advanced Program, a condition that would allow me, number three from the top, to stay at the university. Later, it was made known that only 5 were due to stay in the program, still leaving me with the edge to remain. On March 27, 1944, orders were received from Service Command Headquarters that ALL men were to be released from the Basic program and were to be transferred to Camp Polk, Louisiana for assignment to the 44th Infantry Division. The fortunate students who had flunked out of the program earlier had been sent back to the Air Corps. The servicemen in the Advanced Program at the school were not shipped out with us. They stayed on and later helped form the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb in Los Alamos, New Mexico. As we left our luxurious accommodations for the last time, we all looked back to see an inflated condom proudly flapping in the breeze at the top of our flagpole in the front yard.

     Soon we were packed in a train, heading south to a camp known for its hot weather, its rigorous maneuvers and its strict army discipline. The 44th Division was primarily composed of National Guardsmen from New Jersey. Its soldiers were considerably older than our group, and had been training for years without seeing action. It was a frightening thought that we were to be incorporated into this crude, older, over-trained, action-seeking group from New Jersey.

     It was getting dark as our train passed through Saint Louis, Missouri. It came to a halt in a large cleared area, just a few miles outside of the city. Rumors abounded about the reason for our stop. In the distance I saw a group of military men approaching our train. They met with our officers out in the barren field for a short time then disappeared back into the darkness of the evening. Our contingent returned to the train, and a hush fell over the car as we waited for an explanation for the unscheduled stop. The train, surprisingly, then started to move in reverse, further increasing our curiosity.

      It backed up to the marshaling yards in Saint Louis, switched to another track, and

began traveling west instead of south. It was then that we found out the reason for our detour. The 44th Division in Louisiana had completed their assignment at Camp Polk and had been alerted for transfer to Camp Phillips, Kansas. We were to travel to Kansas instead of Louisiana in order to open and ready that camp, which had just been reactivated. We relished the thought of missing the steamy maneuvers in Louisiana, but lamented the thought of performing the janitorial work that surely awaited us in Kansas.

     The soot and disagreeable odors of the train ride were not enough to keep the trip from being interesting. The farthest west I had ever been was Buffalo, New York and the sights along the way to Kansas were new and exciting. We passed by Kansas City, Missouri where the tall buildings and huge rail yards were visible, and we traveled through miles of farmland where much of the food of America was being grown.

     After we arrived, tired and dirty, at the terminal in Kansas, we were trucked to the deserted camp, which was to be readied for the arrival of the 15,000 combat-ready troops of the 44th Infantry Division. The next week was spent mopping floors, cleaning windows, moving mattresses and readying all the other facilities necessary to feed, house, train and discipline the soldiers then en route from Louisiana. The ASTP men outdid themselves as maids and laborers, and the camp was ready when troops arrived. We were proud of our achievement, but this turned to disappointment when we learned that we ASTP men were to be split up and scattered throughout the various units of the newly-arrived division. I was assigned to the second squad of the third platoon of Company F in the 114th Regiment of the 44th Division. The only former member of the group of 230 from Minnesota assigned to my company was my friend, Herb Luis.


      The next month was a blur, filled with tough infantry drill and training. We ran obstacle courses, learned military tactics, were issued M-1 Rifles, competed on the rifle range, had tear gas drills and were subjected to the many other exercises necessary to make a combat soldier. I will never forget the most frightening training exercise of all.

Picture yourself at night in full combat uniform with your rifle slung on your back. You have to cross an area 150 feet in length on your elbows and knees while machine guns fire live ammunition just two feet above you, and critically placed dynamite charges explode close by. It’s the ultimate test of a man’s courage, and his ability to not wet his pants. I sweated on top, but thankfully stayed dry below.

     I again volunteered to paint signs in order to escape KP, and was reasonably successful in avoiding the dreaded mess hall duty. One day, however, I had just completed my 8-hour KP tour. (We had been told that duty was assigned in alphabetical order.) The sergeant told me in the evening that I was assigned to KP again the next day. When I reminded him about the alphabetical assignments, he told me that he had decided to start over from the bottom of the list.

     Another day at KP, I was assigned to peel a mammoth-sized tub of beets. I had to stick my arm into the red broth, take hold of a beet, and squeeze it until the skin came off in my hand. I was then to dispose of the removed skin and repeat the process until all the beets were skinned. Hours later, fatigued and red-armed, I completed the job. It took over a week for my hand and arm to return to normal skin color.

    One afternoon, I was told that the army was issuing Infantry Badges - a plain Badge for non-combat GI’s who could pass a series of tests, and a decorated Combat Badge for infantrymen who had seen action. I decided that I would try and get the plain Badge, not only because it would give me a chance to test my skills, but it would give me an extra $5 per month if I prevailed. Most of the tests were fairly easy. I had no trouble passing them. Two tests stand out in my mind.

     The first was the twenty-mile hike, at night, with a full pack. My leg muscles, well developed from exercise, brought me through that test OK. I was surprised, however, when I took off my shirt in the morning that we returned from the long hike. It was mostly white and almost rigid from the salt of perspiration.

     The second test involved compass reading, something I had no training for. We were required to start alone at one point, walk about a half-mile through woods and clearings and return to within a few feet of another point. We first tested the length of our stride against a marked distance, and then were handed a compass, and a paper indicating the route we were to traverse. Unfortunately, somewhere I misjudged distance or direction and ended up just a bit too far from the target point. That was the only test I didn’t pass, but it prevented me from getting the Badge. I knew then that I would have to wait until I was actually involved in battle to get my Badge, the Combat kind, a prospect I tried very hard to ignore.

     Our military installation was located near Salina, a small town similar to those pictured in second-rate westerns. It had a population not much more than that of our camp. Kansas at the time was a dry state (liquor was illegal), and the local constabulary intended to keep Salina that way. It was said that all of the local girls were prohibited from fraternizing with the soldiers, and at night were locked in their rooms. Both factors engendered no great desire on anyone’s part to “go into town.”

     On one occasion I and a few friends decided anyway to go to a secluded dance hall near town. We had procured two bottles of illicit whisky earlier (an easy task), and had hid them under a bush at the back of the building. The routine, we learned, was to go inside without the bottles in order to get by the guards who were frisking everyone at the entrance, and then have someone climb over the fence in the back to retrieve the bottles. The fence-climber would then hand the bottles over the fence to an accomplice, and return to the dance through the main entrance. Admission was $1, and a ticket was given which allowed re-entry at no additional cost. We gladly paid, and the thought of beating the system, with the additional thrill of sharing the prohibited liquor, made us all feel giddy. Once inside we saw lots of GI’s surreptitiously pouring liquid from brown-bagged bottles into the waiting glasses of soda on the tables. I volunteered to be the retriever, and skillfully climbed the back fence to get the hidden assets. Under the designated bush I found not 2, but 4, bottles and carried them all back proudly to the fence. As I was passing them over to an accomplice, I felt a firm grip on my shoulder. Looking around I saw a six-foot policeman. He suggested that I turn the bottles over to him, which I did without hesitation. He also demanded my re-entry ticket, and advised me that I could forget about going back to the dance. Kansas stayed dry for me that night.

    The nearest city of a size capable of properly entertaining the newly arrived troops was Wichita, some 75 miles to the south. With a population of over a quarter of a million this modern metropolis had all of the facilities to satisfy the soldiers who ventured to travel

the distance to get there. The usual practice was to apply for a weekend pass on Friday after duty, hitch-hike to the big city, enjoy Saturday and Sunday in town, and hitch-hike back to the base late Sunday evening. The highway drivers were used to the routine, and in general were very supportive. The only problem facing the troops was getting back before roll call on Monday morning. With hundreds of men seeking return transportation, and a limited number of travelers on the highway, many of the soldiers arrived too late or too tired, and were subjected to the required punishment.

     Coming back late one night, I saw the usual men strung along the highway as far as I could see, all with thumbs out, hoping for a ride. We all walked slowly toward the base as we hitched. Little by little the ranks dwindled as drivers stopped to pick up random soldiers. About two in the morning a car pulled over for my buddy and me. The driver rolled down the window and asked us how much we would be willing to pay for the ride. We were incensed at his question and told him where he could go, in strictly military vernacular. We eventually did get a ride that got us back to the base about 6:00 in the morning. It was well worth the delay not to have personally participated in a practice that could have permanently altered the free ride mentality of the charitable highway drivers.


      After six months of training and discipline much more severe than that encountered in Minnesota, we were alerted for shipment to our point of embarkation. Our only clue to where we were to be sent was the issuance of heavy wool uniforms. We speculated that that meant a colder climate – probably Europe, since the Pacific Theater was known for its heat and humidity. We departed Kansas at the end of August. When the train was unquestionably heading east, we knew that our suspicions were confirmed. The rail cars were crowded, smelly, sooty, and without air conditioning, but the desire to engage in something other than calisthenics and simulated combat overcame the discomfort. We were on the road to our destiny. Some joked while others meditated. We all prayed.

     The packed troop trains arrived at the station in Taunton, Massachusetts on September 5, 1944. We were transported by truck to Camp Myles Standish, our last station before shipping overseas. We were warned not to disclose our location or outfit designation to anyone under penalty of court-martial. There was little to do for the first few days other than visit the PX (Post Exchange), or see a movie at the post theater. Before the weekend we were told that we could have a two-day pass, but couldn’t travel more than 50 miles from the camp.

     I went to the sergeant and asked if I could go to Worcester, about 50 miles from Taunton. He told me emphatically no, it was too far, and if I tried to go it would be my ass. I decided to go anyway, and got a pass to visit downtown Taunton. I went to the bus station in town and walked up to the ticket window. Nearby was a military officer waiting for someone, so, in a whisper, I asked the man behind the grill for a ticket to Worcester. I boarded the bus without incident. I scrunched down in my seat to avoid being seen by the MP’s (Military Police) who were walking around the station. After what seemed like two hours, but was probably ten minutes, the bus started up. I was home free, I thought. I was shocked when the bus stopped in front of the station. MP’s were all around the place. More scrunching At long last the driver closed the bus door and we moved away from the station. I had succeeded in my first evasive military tactic. I arrived home, I visited with my folks ,brought them up to date on my activities, learned about the shortages and rationing at home, and slept like the proverbial log in my own comfortable bed. My folks drove me back to Taunton the next morning without incident. I was then ready to face the prospect of shipment to the European Theater, and fighting a determined enemy, as I was rigorously trained to do.


    On September 10, 1944 we were transported by truck to Boston, where we boarded the Navy vessel, General J. R. Brookes. I looked over the ship and thought that it was just big enough to carry us out to the big ship that would take us across the ocean. I was unpleasantly surprised to find out that I was on the actual ship that was going to take us across the Atlantic.

     Our regiment was particularly fortunate because we were aboard a Navy ship. On those ships three meals a day were served. On the larger liners, which carried most of the division, only two meals were served. On my ship men were issued Mess Cards that were punched each time we had a meal. My Mess Card, indicated, by its unpunched spaces, the many times I missed eating due to the ever-present mal de mer.

      The ship was crowded, but the weather was clear and I spent much time on deck either exercising or playing cards. Many men were seasick, I more than most. I determined that the middle of the ship was the place where the least amount of motion could be felt, and I organized a card game there that lasted throughout the crossing.

     We traveled in a convoy comprised of troop ships, destroyers and support vessels. There was much concern about enemy submarines, but our crossing was uneventful (except for the $128.00 I won at poker). The trip took 10 days, the same time it took our doughboys to cross the Atlantic in WW I. Ours was the first WW II division to travel directly to France from the United States. Previously, all troops had been shipped to England before being sent to the continent.

     When we arrived at Cherbourg harbor we were all anxious to feel dirt under our feet. Huge rope nets were positioned over the sides for us to climb down into the small craft below that were to take us to shore.

     I saw one unlucky soldier moving down the net with his rifle slung over his shoulder. Halfway down, his rifle slid off of his back. He was unable to retrieve it. The gun slipped through the netting and quickly disappeared into the deep water below. I heard later that he had to pay for the rifle.

     As we all stood on shore awaiting instructions about how and where we were to assemble, a familiar face emerged from the crowd. Irwin Suslak, my close buddy from ASTP, approached and informed me that he and his regiment had disembarked earlier from another ship. He brought me up to date on what to expect, and I will never forget seeing his welcome face. It was then anything but ugly. I spent the next few hours locating my platoon and searching for my barracks bag.

     We boarded trucks that were to take the whole division to our staging area - a large apple orchard at Valognes, outside of the village of Montebourg. There we were issued gas masks and other equipment, and readied for combat operations.

     Our indoctrination and training in that area lasted about a month. During our stay, we had the opportunity to visit Omaha Beach, where the first American troops breached the German defenses on D-Day. Remnants of the battle were everywhere. I picked up wooden bullets that must have been used by German troops when their metal ammunition was no longer available.

      Upon completion of training, we were loaded on trains, and traveled for four days. The small boxcars that we occupied were the same cars that transported our WW I soldiers to the front. The well-known 40 hommes, 8 chevaux (40 and 8) signature on their sides indicated the number of men or horses that the cars were designed to carry. There were easily identifiable bullet holes in the wood-latticed sides. Many of us wondered during which war they had been created. Through the openings between the slats we could view the beautiful French landscape, and the many battle-scarred towns through which the rail line passed. Avranches, Laval, Le Mans, Etampes, Chalons Sur Marne and Bar Le Duc.

     At one point along the way I saw in the far distance the commanding towers of Reims Cathedral (or was it Chatre?), and thinking about the many years and wars that they had survived. As we traveled toward our destination the men in my car were unusually quiet. Many were contemplating a future where some of us would not make the return trip.

     Our destination was Manonviller, near Luneville, France. When we arrived we took over the prepared positions of the 1st Battalion of the 314th Regiment of the 79th Division. We bivouacked there for one month, improving positions, tuning our hearing to the sounds of artillery and small arms, and learning how to patrol near the enemy.

     On all battlefronts, the Allies were on the offensive. The D-Day invasion had occurred just three months before we landed. Paris had just been retaken, and the front line was now about 5 miles to our east, extending north to Belgium and south to Switzerland. Italy had surrendered, and Allied troops from Africa were battling north through Austria with the objective of joining the friendly forces coming from the west.

     We left Manonviller and began marching toward Domjevin and Leintrey on the 2nd of November. The Vosges Mountains were ahead, and the ground was black with mud from the persistent rain and the first snowfall. Also ahead were the German army and the dreaded Tiger tanks with their deadly 88mm cannon. Also ahead was my baptism of fire.

     The routine had been fixed long ago: march for 50 minutes, then rest for 10. This ratio had been the same since the Civil War. Marching continued from dawn to dusk, with a short break at noon to open and eat the C-rations that had been issued earlier. These were cans of various food combinations, which tasted good considering the alternative. Breakfast had a pack of coffee, lunch had a pack of lemonade (actually, citric acid), and supper had a pack of cocoa. I saved my coffee to trade for cocoa, a drink not too much desired by the macho troops.

    I can’t count how many times I saw the mile-long column of soldiers stop when the 10- minute break was signaled. The strung out soldiers quickly lit thousands of little fires to heat their cup of coffee. It looked like Christmas lights blinking as far as you could see. They did this, then gulped down their drinks and extinguished the fires, all within the short break time allotted. I always thought the person who made the ration boxes with wax so they would easily burn was some kind of a genius.

      As we marched toward the heavily-defended German positions we passed long lines of front line soldiers returning to the rear. They were from the 79th Division which was being relieved. Their drained expressions and hollow, shifty eyes told us more of what we were to expect than all of the endless speeches made by stateside training officers.

     The coming of November brought on typically French weather- rain or snow for a day and a half, then clearing for the same period. We were in a combat area then, and many times the jeeps bringing up warm food and our barracks bags with tents were prevented from traveling to us from their positions in the rear. That meant sleeping out in the rain or snow, and opening up the much less desirable cold K-rations for our meals.


     On the 3rd of November, behind a rolling barrage from nearly a hundred of our artillery pieces, we launched our first large-scale attack. The whistle and crash of the answering German artillery came on us unexpectedly. We had been warned that tree bursts were especially dangerous since the shell fragments would ricochet among the branches. The crafty Germans had devised a shell that was triggered by hitting the first branch it encountered. I never did figure out the best way to avoid these flying pieces of steel since there was no way of knowing where they would hit. The best thing to do was “hit the dirt” or whatever residue covered the forest floor. After a while it became easy to determine whether the shells were going to hit far away or close by. We learned the truth of the saying that if you can hear it, it won’t hit you. A close friend used to say that the bullets with his name on them didn’t bother him, the ones that he was afraid of were the ones marked ‘to whom it may concern.’ If the shelling persisted it was wise to dig a shallow trench for protection. I certainly dug my share of hasty holes. The Germans fought stubbornly from prepared positions, but our Company F, together with Companies E and G, had, by nightfall, rolled up the German flank for several miles. The cold rain pounded down on our perimeter defense that night, and we knew that the retreating enemy was camped in the woods at the foot of the hill in front of us.

     One night I was standing guard on the crest of a hill in almost complete darkness. I began to hear, with increasing loudness, the clop-clop of horse’s hoofs coming up the hill from the German position. I was petrified, thinking that it might be a prelude to a night attack, or, more ominously, a wagonload of explosives set to go off in our presence. Suddenly, out of the blackness there appeared a horse pulling a small wagon. My immediate thought was how to stop it quickly in order to prevent it from creating chaos father along. Remembering the many western movies I had seen when young, I felt that if I could hold back on the wagon, the horse would stop. As it passed by, I grabbed the tailgate. I dug my boots into the muddy ground. The action stopped the horse. I carefully looked into the back of the wagon. There I saw a wet green poncho and a number of large milk cans. I removed the top from one of the empty cans. The smell of warm noodles and milk hit me, and I realized that the unmanned vehicle must have been a German mess wagon only minutes ago. I called to a nearby buddy to stand watch for me, and I led the horse to the rear where I was sure someone would take the drenched animal off my hands. That someone immediately got a blanket and threw it over the horse’s back. On my way back to my post I wished that I could get a blanket as easily as the horse had. I did, however, get to keep the poncho. I used it to protect my back from further exposure to the steadily-falling rain.

      It’s strange how similar going into combat is to, say, graduating from college or getting married or having a first child. In all of these there are so many firsts in things that you encounter. In combat, there is the first sound of live shells whistling overhead looking for a site to create massive destruction, and the first time you have a German in your sights and wonder whether you have the will to pull the trigger. Also, the first time you see a dead soldier on the ground with maggots feeding on his recently living flesh, and the first time a close friend is killed by a bullet that could have hit you instead. Also, the first time a bullet misses you but hits your buddy. And, in combat, after the first time, there is the second time...and the third...and the fourth...and the fifth....

     Soon your mind determines what you are going to become: a hollow-eyed automaton fighting and waiting for your turn to die, or a casualty with no will or mind left to carry on the fight to live. I have thanked God many times for allowing me to be one of the former.

     The morning after the horse incident, our troops pushed through the heavily defended woods. By noon, we were secure, ½ mile north of Remoncourt. Along the way we had captured over 200 prisoners. Our spirited advance opened up a hole in the enemy lines, which allowed other units to pour through. This forced the beleaguered Germans to begin a slow withdrawal toward Sarrbourg.

     On the night of November 14-15, our Regimental Commander, Col. Robert R. Martin, became aware of another gap in the enemy lines and sent two battalions through the opening. This move unhinged the German defense and their slow withdrawal became a rout. We moved by foot and truck past Avricourt and Heming, and within a week we were fighting for Sarrbourg. The battle for this ancient Alsation city, the headquarters for German communications, afforded us the first taste of city fighting. On November 22nd, after constant pounding by our artillery and fierce house-to-house combat, Sarrbourg fell to our relentless American fighters. As usual, we in the infantry moved on to the higher ground ahead to protect from counter-attack. The support troops occupied the city, taking advantage of the urban shelter and unlimited supply of French women and spirits.

     One day, walking in formation down the main street of one of the towns we had just captured, I saw an undamaged German tank standing at the side of the road. Sitting on top was a German soldier looking straight ahead. I wondered what our officers were thinking, allowing such a danger in a town so recently taken. It was not until I had passed the tank and looked back that I saw that one-half of the soldier’s head had been blown away. It was a frightening sight, but, I am sure, just what the newly-liberated townspeople must have wanted it to be for any remaining Germans or their collaborators.

     The wet and cold continued to harass us both day and night. The cases of Trench Foot were increasing, causing many soldiers to be sent back to hospitals for toe or foot amputation. This bane to soldiers whose feet are constantly wet was in reality a rotting of flesh for which there was no known treatment. Keeping a dry pair of socks, and putting them on whenever your feet got wet ameliorated this disabling problem, and I faithfully adhered to this procedure. After a while we were issued extra socks whenever the chow wagons could get through.

    There are many items supplied to the soldier that have multiple uses, but the one that to my mind had the most was the standard issue steel helmet. The following is my list of uses for this item, but it is far from complete. Ask any GI, and I am sure that he can add his own distinctive uses to the list below.

            A unit of apparel to keep the soldiers’ heads looking uniform.

            A foundation on which to affix the rank of the wearer.

            An indicator to show that the wearer is part of a friendly force.

            A pail for transporting water, if no can is available.

            A base for mounting camouflage.

            An umbrella for keeping rain and snow from faces and necks.

            A stool, in case a log or rock can’t be found.

            A shield to protect heads from shrapnel and bullets.

            A pot to heat water or coffee in.

            A deflector of branches and twigs.

            A storage place for pictures and letters.

            A container for barfing, in case of an unexpected eruption.

            A pillow, when a soldier is too tired to reach for something softer.

            A decoy, when put on the end of a stick and hoisted into the line of fire.

A sign to indicate the location of a fallen comrade, when it is placed on the stock of a rifle that is standing upright in the ground.

       And, of course,

            A chamber pot when absolutely, positively there is no other readily, reachable, respectable receptacle.


     It was November 23, 1944 when our intelligence determined that the 130th Panzer Lehr Division was moving down from the north in an attempt to sever one of the main supply routes of the 7th Army. The next day our battalion was ordered to proceed to Schalbach to meet this strong mechanized force. We arrived at a farmhouse north of the town shortly after noon, and proceeded to dig protective holes in front of the farm, about 100 yards from the rambling structure. When it was determined that people still occupied the residence, I volunteered to accompany them back to the town, where they could stay safe from the impending battle. With one horse-drawn wagon and one tractor-drawn wagon carrying all the belongings and furniture they could load on, we proceeded down the rutted road toward the center of Schalbach, the family dog following.

     I walked slowly on the road next to the overloaded wagons. Soon an American soldier stopped us. He said that we could not continue on the road surface, because if the trip wires ahead of us were disturbed we would draw fire from our artillery pieces. He told us that many of our cannon were targeted on the spot where the wires were, to intercept enemy vehicles traveling by that location.

      Using all available hands we shunted the two wagons with their precious cargo down into the gully next to the road. Coming up on the other side of the warning wires, the horse-drawn wagon got stuck, and it required us to disconnect the tractor, and use it to pull the reluctant second wagon back up onto the road.

     Just as we were starting to resume our trip toward town, the family dog accidentally tripped the sensitive wires. The frightened soldier attending the area radioed back immediately to stop the American artillerymen from firing into the targeted area. The shelling never came. We all said a silent prayer, and continued on our way. When we arrived in town it was getting dark. It took some time to find the proper official to assist the transient family. After the transfer was made I headed back to the farm and my regular duties.

     It was early morning when I returned from the center of Schalbach where I had arranged for the shelter of the farm family. My mouth watered when I found that food from the rear had just arrived. I was told that it would shortly be my turn to stand guard. Rather than take an abbreviated rest, I elected to stand guard duty immediately, after which I could eat and bed down for a longer period. I approached a small covered wagon in front of the farmhouse with the intention of observing from there, but my sergeant cautioned me that it would be a likely first target for enemy fire. I scoffed at the idea, but moved anyway to a deep foxhole a distance from the wagon.

     Within minutes I heard the rumble of tanks moving through the deep woods far in front of us, and I thought of the welcome firepower they would bring to us in the event of an enemy attack. I watched nonchalantly as the tank column came into view from behind the veil of trees. I froze, however, when I saw prominent German crosses on their sides. Walking behind the tanks were groups of infantrymen. Recovering quickly, I alerted all of the men nearby. Bazookas, machine guns and rifles were taken by others to strategic holes. Radio messages were urgently sent back to battalion headquarters. I ran to the rear and took a position behind some farm machinery in a barn attached to the house. We all waited for the deadly German fire. It wasn’t long in coming. The first thing hit by an enemy shell was the little wagon in front of the house, which I, thankfully, was not in. Then the tanks began firing their fearful 88 shells into the farmhouse, demolishing large parts of it with each blast. Our men fired a few of our Bazooka rockets, but the first ones didn’t reach the tanks. Others were fired that did, but they either bounced off or did little damage to the 12-inches of protective steel that made up each tank front. We felled many German soldiers by our accurate rifle and machine gun fire. Realizing that continued resistance was futile since our ammunition was nearly spent, our leaders called for an organized pullback. We moved behind the back of the then demolished farmhouse, away from the eyes of the enemy. We proceeded down into a sheltered gully in the rear, then back up to a partially wooded hilltop area about a half-mile away. With friendly troops out of range, our artillery began pounding the tanks. We then observed that the enemy’s tank advance had been halted.

     Standing in a clearing on the hilltop, I heard the whine of fighter-bomber aircraft. I looked up and saw, thankfully, that they were American airplanes. I couldn’t believe what I saw next. They began dropping bombs on our position. I could see the bombs being released. I dropped to the ground for cover. Ear-shattering explosions threw dirt in the air all around me. After what seemed an eternity, the planes disappeared back into the clouds. Our artillery bombardment of the Germans also ceased. We were then told officially that the tanks had withdrawn and that the area we had evacuated was clear. I later learned that our commanding officer had neglected to order the placing of red panels on the ground around us in order to alert the pilots of our planes that we were friendlies. I also found out that the negligent officer had continued running to safety after he got to the position where we had stopped. He was later assigned to an office job in the rear.

       I volunteered with others to return to the farm to assess the damage, and to find out what happened to the boys who couldn’t get out of their holes and were heard screaming when the rest of us had moved to the high ground. Back at the farm, I saw many dead soldiers in their holes where the Panzer tank machine gunners had fired point blank down at them. In one hole a live GI was at the bottom, and his partner, fatally shot, was resting on his back. We helped him out, but his mind was gone. He was sobbing and mumbling at the same time. He was led to an aid station in the rear.

     We lost many men from the German tank attack and many on the hilltop from the bombing by our own aircraft. Although I mourned for the dead, I felt elated having survived. To relieve my anxiety I went over to the shot-up food truck and gorged on the cold, but welcome, oatmeal and fresh bread that had been brought up to us before the battle.

     I didn’t learn about the ramifications of our defensive action until long after its conclusion. The rifleman spends much of his time guarding the ground in front of the populated area he has just taken, and the only news he gets is from rumor, or the army- issued Stars And Stripes newspaper, which is infrequently obtained and usually weeks old. The whole story of that fateful November 25th morning is best told by quoting from the Presidential Citation that was awarded to us for our successful engagement with the German forces.

The enemy launched its onslaught against the hastily prepared defensive positions with a numerically superior force of infantry and approximately 22 Mark IV and V tanks. In the fierce fighting that followed, enemy tanks overran the battalion’s positions and fired machine guns and 88mm guns into foxholes at point-blank range. Despite the ferocity of the attack, the men of the 2nd Battalion held their ground. With rifle and automatic weapon fire, they dispersed, killed or routed the German infantry who were riding on the top of the tanks or following immediately behind. Allowing tanks to pass over their foxholes, they immediately rose and continued to annihilate any Germans who had tried to accompany the armor. Even when bazooka fire bounced off the heavy enemy armor and the battalion’s machine guns had been knocked out of action or had run out of ammunition, the infantrymen clung to their positions and, with rifle fire, forced the enemy to withdraw. By its determined stand, the 2nd Battalion repulsed a counterattack which, if it had succeeded, would have eliminated the 44th Infantry Division as an effective fighting force, and would have jeopardized all friendly troops east of the Vosges Mountains.


     Following our commendable fight at Shalbach, we moved northeast through the small towns of Petersbach, Struth, Hinsburg, Fromuhl, Tieffenbach, Weisslingen, Volksburg and Montbronn. Most of these towns were protected by German infantry and artillery, and the fighting, though sporadic, produced heavy casualties on both sides. A number of incidents that occurred during our advance through these strongholds still stand out in my mind.

       Russell Sheridan, a tall, congenial, private- first class, was in my squad. His mid-western accent was a pleasure to hear. He was respected by everyone and was always there when the chips were down. One early morning I was in a forward position standing guard to ensure the safety of our troops stationed in the rear. I maintained communication with the rest of my company by walkie-talkie, in case of an enemy attack. German artillery shushed frequently over my head, but there was no sign of their infantry or tanks. I could hear over the two-way radio the resounding blasts of the shells that were passing over me and landing on our position in the rear. I was saddened but not surprised when I heard a voice over the phone yelling that Sheridan had been hit. Later on, when I re-joined my unit, I was informed that my buddy had been killed outright by one of the random shell-bursts. He was not the first one of the men from my company to die, but he had been one of my closest friends.

     On another occasion, I was selected to volunteer to take some captured Germans to the rear from where they would be sent to an internment camp. I was accompanied by another buddy. It was dark when we finally turned the captured troops over to the military police. Both of us decided to spend the night in town, for the way back to our outfit in the dark would be risky.

     As the sun was rising we set off to rejoin our company. About noontime we realized that we were lost, and very hungry. My companion, a farmer by occupation, sought out a farm where he surreptitiously took possession of a live chicken. We built a small fire in a secluded area nearby. My buddy then took the chicken by the head and spun the body around many times. This city boy was shocked at this method of killing, but ate the cooked chicken meat with gusto. Later, we joined our unit, but not before I had become sick from the chicken, which, evidently, was not sufficiently cooked.

     On a different occasion my company was encamped in the woods facing an open field. About 100 yards in front of us there was another wooded area where Germans were believed to be. Two of our men had gone across the field to reconnoiter, but had not returned. By late afternoon there was increasing concern for the men, so I volunteered to go across to see if I could find them. I removed the grenades that hung from my belt and took off my heavy winter clothing. I slung my rifle over my back then raced across the field as fast as I could go. I was soon deep in the woods, but I could find no trace of the missing soldiers. As I was inching forward as quietly as I could, I heard some people talking in a small clearing near the wooded area I was passing through. My heart beat faster for I was relieved to have found the missing men, but as I approached the clearing I began to make out what the group was saying. My exhilaration turned to horror when I realized that the words being spoken were in German. I had no useful offensive weapons, so I quietly retraced my steps. When I approached the open area facing where the American soldiers were situated I decided to run across the field. It was getting dark, and I pondered if my own men would shoot me if I approached them on the run. Realizing that I had no choice, I ran as fast as I could, back to where our troops were located. Thankfully, no one shot at me. I then wondered just how well our position was being guarded. When I found my unit I was informed that the missing men had returned to camp shortly after I had left. Mine had been a fruitless, and dangerous, search, but it established that Germans were indeed close to where we were encamped.

     I will never forget our march through a town that had just been liberated, and seeing a destroyed German tank by the side of the road. I decided to look inside. I mounted the vehicle, using extra care in case a booby trap had been placed somewhere. Peering into the interior of the disabled hulk, I saw a pistol lying on the floor. I cautiously climbed inside and picked up the weapon, some German war medals and a small aluminum medallion in the shape of a skull and crossbones - the symbol of the SS. The hand gun was an exact duplicate of our .45 cal. standard pistol, but it was about two thirds of its size and of .38 caliber. It had a bullet in the chamber, and a full magazine. I tucked everything away and rejoined my squad. As I continued walking, I thought of what a perfect defensive weapon I had acquired. I never fired the gun, but came very close to using it against a fellow GI shortly thereafter.

     One evening when we had just taken over a town, we were told that we could find a house and rest there until morning. I found an abandoned home and went to the cellar, thinking that would be the safest place in case of enemy shelling. The dirt floor was damp and cold, so I settled myself in a corner on a large heap of potatoes, knowing that I was tired and padded enough to sleep anywhere. Sleep came quickly, but I was awakened within the hour by somebody trying to open the basement window above my head. Fearing that it was a German soldier planning to drop a grenade into the opening, I took the newly-found automatic pistol from my pocket and cocked it. I raised my arm and aimed it at whoever opened the window. The stuck window opened slowly. I was ready to fire when I saw a GI helmet appear. I waited until the head in the helmet saw me and addressed me in English before I dropped my arm. I told the intruder that he was lucky, and he, shaking with fear, agreed with me. I never cocked my precious pistol again.

     Later that week I was acting as a scout in front of the main force. I was thankful that it wasn’t raining or snowing like so many other days. The main body of troops followed me out of the woods we were traveling through. We moved onto a long grassy slope ahead of us. When I was about 300 yards out of the woods, a German 20mm cannon positioned on the crest of the hill in front of us opened up with deadly fire. I immediately fell to the ground and crawled behind a small hump of dirt. Multiple shells whistled over my head and exploded around the men grouped in front of the trees. I climbed into my helmet hoping not to attract attention. I then heard the sounds of enemy rifle fire joining the pop-pop sounds of the German cannon. I began to return fire when a lone figure crawled from my left directly in front of me. I realized right away that it was my close buddy from ASTP, Herb Luis. I mumbled something crazy, like “Fancy seeing you here,” as he slowly moved away to my left. {I saw Herb again about 50 years later, after he had been captured and released by the Germans.} The enemy shooting stopped unexpectedly, and it soon became evident that the enemy was withdrawing from their commanding position. As I rose and continued cautiously up the hill, I saw an obviously elderly German soldier walking slowly over the top of the hill away from me. I didn’t have the heart to shoot at the lonely soul, but I probably should have since he would no doubt be shooting back at me in the near future. That was the one bit of compassion for the enemy that I indulged myself in while at the front.


     On the 7th of December, 1944, our attack on Enchenberg began. By evening we were situated in the woods north of the town. A heavy rain had flooded the already saturated ground. Orders came to us to settle in for the night, and I sought out a suitable log to sit on in my customary nocturnal position. About midnight a hand on my shoulder awakened me. I opened my eyes, but could see nothing. It was pitch black, so dark that I could not even see the face of the soldier who was touching me. He told me that we had to move to the rear to avoid a morning shelling by the Germans. I gathered up my belongings, and he took my hand. He brought me to a wire, which was strung along the path we were to take, for it was impossible to see anything, and there was no other way to move safely through the thick forest. I held onto the wire and proceeded to feel my way along as did the men who were in front and at the back of me. About an hour later, as I was slowly worming my way, there was a bright flash next to me, accompanied by a deafening bang. I felt a sharp pain in my chest. I knew that I had been hit by shrapnel from the explosion. Not knowing whether the wound was serious or not, or whether further movement could aggravate my condition, I dropped to the ground by the side of the path. Others stumbled by, holding on to the wire, and many told me that they would have a medic return for me as soon as they could find one.

    One young, red-headed soldier decided to stay with me, and we both waited fearfully for a second round to hit in the same place as the last, which was in accordance with German custom. Thankfully, no second round came. We decided that the shell was from a German mortar, and that the enemy must have heard us talking as we made our way along the wire. Speaking with my companion, I learned that he had just recently come overseas to join our outfit. He told me that he had never fired a gun and had had little infantry training. I felt sorry for him and the others who were coming over with a minimum of preparation.

    Remembering that I had promised to give my scavenged pistol to a buddy if I were hit, I asked the red-head to take it and give it to the soldier I had promised it to. He said that he was afraid to hold a loaded pistol, but consented to do as I asked when I broke the gun down into several parts.

     After an eternity of waiting, which in reality was about three hours, two medics came back for me and carried me to an ambulance. I was taken to a forward aid station and placed on a blood-stained wooden table. A surly sergeant from the medical corps appeared and asked where I had been hit. I told him that I thought it was in my back. He took a three-foot long pair of scissors and proceeded to cut away my clothes, which was no easy task. To withstand the cold and wet at the time I was wearing:

       A full length raincoat

A full length overcoat

A field jacket

A heavy woolen sweater donated by the Red Cross

A woolen army shirt

A set of woolen underwear.

I have no doubt that this heavy mass of winter clothing had prevented the flying steel from penetrating deeper into me, likely causing fatal wounds.

     When his sturdy scissors had finally cut away the many layers covering my back, the sergeant looked at my bare, colorless skin. He said that there was no blood there. He told me that if I had faked the wound it would be my ass. I assured him that the hit was for real, and after closer examination he found the point of entry. (Puncture wounds have a very small opening and usually no leakage of blood.) It was soon determined that I had been hit both in the back of my chest and in the back of my right leg.

     I was transported by truck to the largest hospital in Paris, still dressed in my cut up clothes. The trip seemed to last forever. I was hungry and thirsty, but content to know that I was moving away from the front. Two husky medical corpsmen carried me, still on the same litter, through the emergency entrance. Someone noticed that I had two hand grenades on my belt. There was a yell for help. The nearby people panicked when they saw the grenades, but immediately calmed down when I explained that they were harmless as long as the pins remained in place. I carefully took them off of my belt and gave them to a soldier who accepted them gingerly, then ran speedily out the door.


     The Paris General Hospital was a mammoth institution run by American personnel. There I was fed, cleaned up and dressed in hospital attire. Doctors examined me fully and it was their opinion that they should take out the shrapnel lodged in my leg immediately, and they did. There was also a consensus that it was safer to leave the other steel fragment in my lung than to take it out. The wisdom of their judgment has been borne out because it remains there, inert, to this day.

     As I rested in my bed at the hospital after the operation, I could see the familiar shape of the Eiffel Tower in the distance. It was then that I knew for sure that I was a safe distance away from the horrors of war. Within the week I was on a train traveling to a French port from which I was soon to be transported to England.

     Lying there in a bed in a dark, unheated room waiting for my trip across the English Channel, I had one thin blanket, and the temperature was well below freezing. There was no one around to get me additional covering, and I came close to freezing to death. I thought about the irony of my having survived the German engagements and possibly succumbing to Jack Frost. Eventually an attendant did show up. He got me an additional blanket, and prepared me for the boat passage to England.

     I was still a stretcher case, and after having a shot in the arm to keep me asleep during the crossing, I was moved along with many others to an American hospital ship. I fell asleep after a while, but not before I recognized that the sea was rough and the ship was being tossed about like a toy boat in a kid’s bathtub. I was told later that the crossing took two hours. By the time my sleepiness wore off I was in a two-engine, C-47 airplane heading for Scotland. After landing, I was brought to a recuperation hospital where I spent the next few weeks. It was there that I learned about the Battle of the Bulge, a German counter attack that was Hitler’s last chance at victory. It was just beginning in the Vosges Mountain area that I had been fighting in prior to my having been wounded.

     Many of the ambulatory patients stationed at my hospital went to the center of town in the evening to partake of food and spirits, but I was bed-ridden and could not join them. I asked many soldiers to bring me back some traditional, newspaper-wrapped fish and chips, but no one ever did.

     On Christmas Eve, 1944, everyone was issued a can of American beer as a gift for the holiday. I didn’t care for beer then and I don’t to this day, so I made a bargain with the chaplain on duty. He agreed to bring me a candy bar if I would give him my beer. I was happy to oblige. I never saw the chaplain again, or my promised candy bar.

     All was not disheartening, however, for soon I was advised that I was to be Zee-Eyed

(i.e. shipped to the U.S. - the Zone of Interior). By that time I was up and about, but I didn’t want to get the extra duty given to the ambulatory patients. When the examining doctor was on his way to visit me, I would jump into bed and pretend that I could not get up. The ruse worked well for me, but not so well for a certain pair of medical attendants.

     I was notified one day to prepare for being shipped out. I was ready by evening, and two GI’s brought in a litter and told me to lie down on it. I told them that I could walk, but they insisted that I use the litter. I placed myself on it, and they loaded my heavy barracks bag between my legs. The walk out to the truck was long, and I could hear the soldiers’ puffing get louder and louder as we traversed the necessary distance. Once the truck had taken us to the airfield it became apparent that the heavy fog would prevent any plane from landing to pick us up. After a respectable wait we returned to the hospital and I once again experienced the huffing and puffing as I and my barracks bag were transported, litter bound, back to my ward.

     The next few days were suspenseful since I didn’t know whether my trip home by air would be canceled. I shouldn’t have bothered for I was soon alerted to prepare for shipment again. Different soldiers carried me to the airfield, but the puffing sounds were surprisingly similar.

   This time the weather was clear and the four-engined C-54 arrived on schedule. I was situated on a metal bed attached to the wall of the aircraft which had many such beds, and I was joined by lots of other GI’s, most with wounds considerably more severe than mine. The trip was long, but uneventful. The male, military flight attendants were helpful, serving us hot food, and showing us every kindness. We landed at the Azore Islands for fuel, but remained there only a short time. Our next refueling stop was Newfoundland and from there we flew directly to Michel Field in New York. I was then put on a hospital train headed for Washington, D.C. When I arrived I boarded an Army ambulance which took me to Walter Reed Hospital. I spent the next few months there undergoing tests and rehabilitation.

      Walter Reed Hospital is a sprawling institution known nationally for its progressive medical techniques. It is no coincidence that members of congress as well as other dignitaries are treated there. It then had a special mission to rehabilitate America’s wounded veterans, and I witnessed many instances where it was eminently successful in that regard. While I was there, a dance review was organized, and I will never forget seeing a line of dancers, ala the Rockettes, kicking their legs high and in unison. It would have been no great feat, except each of the dancers had either one or two artificial legs. It was a sight that convinced me that the personnel working at the hospital were both dedicated and competent.

     One incident that did shake my faith, however, occurred after I had received a shot in my arm to alleviate my allergies. After getting the injection I walked out the front entrance of the building to go somewhere when I was hit with the worst case of wheezing and sneezing that I had ever encountered. I could not speak or move so I braced myself against one of the pillars standing at the front of the building. I thought for a while that I

would die, but after about 20 minutes I began to regain my breath, and the wheezing

subsided. I found out later that the person who gave me the shot forgot to add the antihistamine component to it, and I was subjected to the full fury of the allergens that cause coughing and sneezing.

     On another occasion, a doctor who was examining me took a special interest in my sunken chest. (I grew up with Pectus Excavatum, aka Cobbler’s Chest.) He asked me if I would be willing to participate in a study that he was doing relating to the type of concavity I had in my chest. One of his objectives was to determine whether my type of deformity caused chest X-rays to show erroneously the existence of an enlarged heart. He said that his research was to be published in the New England Journal of Medicine, and he promised me a copy of the article when it was published. I subjected myself to the necessary x-rays and other measurements, Of course, I never did receive a copy of his results, nor do I know if his research was ever published.

    On the recreational front, I was given passes each weekend, and on most occasions I went to downtown Washington where the various USO’s provided all kinds of entertainment for the local GI’s. There were organized dances, free tickets to stage plays, free tours, free movies and visitations to the homes of well-to-do people, among other things. One Sunday I signed up for a visit to Friendship House, the mansion of Evelyn Walsh McLean. The widowed Mrs. McLean was an heir to a publishing fortune, and was, at that time, the owner of the Hope Diamond.

 (This famous gem originated in India, and was acquired there by French jewel merchant, Jean Baptiste Tavernier. He sold the stone, which then weighed 112 carats, to Louis XIV, the King of France. That monarch had it cut to 67 carats, and later to improve its brilliance had it cut to its present size: 45.52 carats. After a number of years he sold the diamond to King George IV of England. When King George died, it was bought by Henry Philip Hope, the wealthy London banker for whom it was named. The gem remained in the Hope family for 71 years. In 1912, Mrs. McLean bought the diamond from Paris jeweler, Pierre Cartier. In 1958, after the death of Mrs. McLean, Harry Winston bought the gem, and donated it to the Smithsonian Institution, where it is still on exhibit in a museum gallery named after the donor.)

     The home of Mrs. McLean was ostentatious, yet as elegant as her famous diamond.

Her welcome to all was sincere and friendly. In each room of the mansion there were expensive items on display. I had never seen such opulence. Of particular interest to me was a rectangular, gold cigarette case, completely encrusted with diamonds. Since stone-faced guards watched my every move, I resisted the temptation to pick up the jeweled case.

     One of the highlights of the evening was the passing around of the actual Hope Diamond, so each person could handle it, and observe its outstanding beauty. The magnificent blue stone was surrounded by 16 white diamonds. It was suspended from a platinum chain, itself bearing 46 additional diamonds. It made a lasting impression on this unworldly GI from Massachusetts.

     After the home tour and display were over, the other visiting servicemen and I, in a room reminiscent of the great dining rooms of pre-revolution France, were treated to a multi-course meal served by waiters in tuxedoes. At the large table among other luminaries there was a United States Senator, an Army General, and a Supreme Court Justice. The latter had such terrible table manners that I was repelled at the sight of him eating.

    When dinner was over, I joined a Black Jack game where penny bets were being made. In my whole life I was never as lucky as I was in that game. I dealt a good deal of the time and would have been wealthy had we been playing for big money. It was fun winning from the great Washington dignitaries, and I am sure it was pleasant for them to be losing to a lowly private. And I knew that they were not just letting me win because Black Jack is not that type of a game. Judging from my present day luck in cards, I must have used it all up at that table, that evening. Mrs. McLean continued to send me Christmas cards every year until she passed away.

     There were many activities provided at Walter Reed as part of their rehabilitation program. I had always wanted to act, and on one occasion the opportunity was presented to me. The hospital was preparing a tribute to Abraham Lincoln to be broadcast nationally. I auditioned for and got the part of narrator for the broadcast. After a good deal of rehearsing during which I learned much about the inner workings of radio programming I was set for the great event. My big chance, however, never came to fruition. The week before the broadcast I received a transfer to a rehabilitation center in Silver Springs, Maryland. I was of course disappointed, but the good news was that the reassignment brought me one step closer to my discharge and home.

     The establishment at Silver Springs was previously a nunnery. Everyone there had freedom to engage in whatever was of interest to them. I patronized the local USO as I did at Walter Reed, and enjoyed the various entertainments they provided to the servicemen. On one occasion I met a female companion who wanted to see the world. My father, Morris, had mentioned a relative, Willie Mann, who lived in Brooklyn, and I suggested that we take the train and visit him. She thought that was a great idea. When we finally arrived at his apartment, it was getting dark, and I hesitated to knock on his door for it was, in my opinion, a bit too late to visit. My friend insisted that I knock, for, as she reasoned, we had come a considerable distance to see Willie. I agreed and announced our arrival with a loud banging on his door. The door quickly opened and standing before us was a short, smiling individual. Before I could introduce myself, Willie spoke. “You’re Morris’s son, aren’t you? You look just like him.” I considered his remark as a compliment, for my father was always judged to be a handsome gentleman. After the obligatory introductions, we spent more than two hours talking and enjoying each other’s company. It was a fine evening, only broken up by being served tea and pastries. My friend and I then retraced our steps back to Maryland, and I was twice blessed when she confirmed that she had a real good time.

     I didn’t remain in the rehabilitation center for long. In a matter of weeks I was sent by rail to Camp Edwards Convalescent Hospital in Massachusetts for the separation procedure. There I was examined, paid money that was owed me, counseled on the means to file for compensation, briefed on how to act with non-military people, issued a new uniform and given a 30-day convalescent furlough. Finally, on the 8th of August in 1945, I went from soldier to civilian. On my way home I heard about the first atomic bomb having been dropped in Japan. My brother, Milton, who had served as a medic in the Pacific Theater, was discharged from Camp Edwards during the same week. We hadn’t seen each other for 27 months.

     Our both coming home in one piece, and the war being over were causes for great celebration by the parents of two decorated, ever thankful sons.


     Sleep came easily, but not before thoughts of my many new encounters crowded my mind. Not long after my arrival home I received a letter from the government indicating that I was classified as 100% disabled and would be receiving the corresponding compensation. The note was delivered to me when I was in bed and my mother who had brought it to me was as elated as I was. The letter also indicated that I was covered under Chapter 19, which meant that I could get free schooling at any institution that I wished. All expenses were covered which made my new classification much superior to the GI Bill that other GIs were entitled to. I had taken one course at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and since it was in my hometown of Worcester, I quickly registered there in their mechanical engineering course. It was with great disappointment that I learned they would only give me one-half years credit for the time I had spent at the Minneapolis university. I had been told by the university officials that my nine months there were the equivalent of two years at any school. I accepted the WPI decision and opted to attend through the summer to receive an earlier graduation.

     I worked hard and graduated in 1948 with a degree in mechanical engineering. One incident that I well remember occurred in my English class. I elected to write an essay about the life of Alexander Pope, and was chosen to read it in front of my class. I had worked hard on the piece and read it as directed. When I sat down, my instructor, Mr. Easton, said, “That was a good essay, Mr. Weiner. Too bad you copied it from somewhere.” I was shocked at his assertion, and angrily left the room. He must have later realized his remark didn’t apply for I received an A for the course. My hard work in all the courses must have paid off because I graduated in the top tenth of my class.