The Red Ball Express
104th Division Ordnance
Soon after D-Day, General Patton and his Third Army started his rapid drive across France. He soon arrived in Paris but a problem developed. He ran out of ammunition, fuel, and food. Not many wars are won without them, so he came to a grinding halt.
Ike knew there was a lot of ground to be captured, and he could not afford to have an organization like Third Army sitting idle.
Back in Normandy were divisions that would comprise the new First Army; they were waiting for equipment to be sent over from England. The Timberwolves were one of them.
Ike told the commanding general of First Army to get supplies up to Patton. He immediately ordered 500 GMC 6´ 6 trucks sent to Normandy. The 104th and another division were assigned 250 trucks. We were to lubricate the trucks and perform minor maintenance, but in any event keep them running 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.
The First Army general persuaded the French to give him two parallel roads between Paris and Normandy. All civilian traffic was removed from these roads. The southern one being one-way east and the northern one-way west.
I sent one half of the 804th Ordinance automotive section to a spot on the southern road at Chartres, near Paris, and the other half of this section to the northern road in Normandy.
Soon the trucks were rolling. Some wag dubbed it the RED BALL EXPRESS, after a moving company in the U.S. Drivers were recruited from the Q.M. companies of the division sitting in Normandy.
With 500 trucks running 24 hours/day General Patton was soon swamped with supplies and the operation was disbanded.
Soon I received a letter from HQ First Army directing me to turn over our 250 trucks to Army personnel at a field in France. I then had a talk with Capt. Smith, the CO of the 804th. I said "Keith, before we left the States many of the requisitions that we sent to Army were never filled. If it was that way when things were quiet, what will it be like when we are being shelled? I want you to have our automotive boys inspect the 250 trucks, pick out the 60 best ones and turn in the other 190." Smith said: "But Colonel wont Army wonder what happened to the 60?" I said: "Army is probably so fouled up we could keep half of them and they would never be missed." That was the way it turned out, no one ever asked about the 60 trucks.
Our problem was to find drivers for this "pool" of trucks. However, by using cooks, office help and anyone who was free we were able to move them when the company had to move.
When a unit lost a truck, due to a shell or mine we were compelled to requisition one from Army. We didnt want some smart cookie from Army to come snooping around to see why the 104th was not short of trucks, when everyone else was crying for them. By the way, we never received one truck on our requisitions to Army.
As my grandmother used to say: "The boys in the 804th were not standing behind the door when the brains were passed out."
I was walking around one day when I heard a strange noise. I tracked it down and there in the back of a "pool" truck on a pile of straw was a sow and a litter of pigs. The men from the 804th had raised them on scraps from the kitchen and when they were the right size they were butchered and roasted and a party was held in the Company. I never forgave our Mess Sergeant Ernie Miller for not inviting me to the feast.
On our way to Europe General Allen called me to his cabin. He told me what he expected of Ordnance in combat. He concluded his talk with: "Williamson, if you do your job Ill never ask any questions." As you probably know, Terry was pretty smart. When other divisions were crying for trucks and the 104th were not short a single one, General Allen must have know there was something "fishy" going on, but true to his promise he never asked any questions.
One day when we were at Delitch, after VE Day, General Allen said he wanted to talk to the 804th and we assembled in the shop area. He thanked the company for the support they had given the division. Then he called me out and pinned a Bronze Star medal on my uniform. He then read the citation as follows: "For excellence in the performance of his duties."
I told some of my boys later that the citation could have read: "He never ran out of trucks."
A 104th Replacement
Company I, 413th Infantry Regiment
In June 1944 I celebrated my 18th birthday, having graduated from high school the prior month. At this stage of ones life, you either look forward to more schooling or just get a job. We 1944 graduates registered for the draft on our 18th birthday so you know what was on our minds.
I received my notice in August to report to Fort Snelling (MN) for a physical examination. One month later I was informed that my physical was OK. You remember that if you had a heart beat or felt warm you were in. My induction was scheduled for December of 44, but because five of my best buddies were going in on October, I convinced my folks to allow me to go at the same time. Thinking about it now leads me to believe that had I waited until December I probably could have avoided both war zones.
When inducted at Fort Snelling you were given two choices of service Navy or Army. I believe that 99% of the men logged their choice as the Navy, including myself. They told us that one out of a hundred would be chosen for the Navy. That made me feel good!
Camp Robinson, Arkansas, was our infantry basic training facility from October 44 through January of 45, approximately 15 weeks. Our cadre at camp were U.S. servicemen who had been stationed in the Aleutian Islands for 2 or 3 years, and were pretty good trainers even without combat experience. Basic training included one week of bivouac. Upon completion of basic training a seven day delay enroute to return home before reporting to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. This was a particularly sad time for me because while I was home on leave we learned that my 20 year old brother was killed in action with the 90th Division in the Ardennes on January 20th. My other brother was on an LST in the Navy, having participated in three landings, including Normandy. I relate this information only to pay tribute to the countless mothers and fathers who had sons in the war zones and must have gone through hell worrying about them.
We traveled on a Liberty Ship from New Jersey to Le Havre, the trip taking 11 days. We were escorted by the Navy during the entire trip. A Liberty Ship is quite small and we encountered a two-day storm along the way. By the way, my home town buddies and I were still together. At Le Havre we were promptly loaded on troop trains and traveled for nearly two days to a distribution center. I might add at this point that the majority of replacements were ages 18 through 22 with a sprinkling of some in their early thirties.
We were individually assigned divisions at the distribution center. My assignment was the 10th Division, 413th Infantry, I Company. When arriving at 413th headquarters we were given the choice of what platoon we wanted to join, and I chose the 3rd. I cant remember where I Company was located at this time, but it was about February 15 and they were holed up in a forested area.
I couldnt have been more fortunate when joining my squad. Sgt. Ed Thompson was our squad leader and Cpl. Bob Nolan was asst. squad leader. (Bob was our 88 National president and did an outstanding job.) Ed and Bob took this young 18 year old under their wings and really made me feel comfortable, as you can understand the conditions of the time. I wonder if all new replacements got to carry the B.A.R.?
These are my thoughts as a 104th Infantry replacement. I dont recall places and dates as vividly as you veterans do. The only real struggle I remember was Bad Lauterburg and a few small skirmishes. I missed the majority of action you veterans were involved in, and you know what? I dont envy you one damn bit. Oh yes, a couple of my replacement buddies never made it back to the United States, so Im gratified and blessed to be able to write these few words.
The Rhur Pocket
Joseph C. Frantz
HQ, 414th Infantry Regiment
After the 104th Div. crossed the Rhine, March 23, 1945, the 414th was attached to the Third Armored Division for the drive north to meet the Ninth Army coming south from Dusseldorf to encircle the Ruhr. The rest of the division protected the flanks and mopped up. Headquarters Company with an attachment of Antitank company followed the armor to take command should the regiment resort to independent action. Co. Kelleher, each day, would assign Headquarters an objective near the armor objective. He would then depart with a small reconnaissance group and keep in contact with the armor. We would leave later and upon reaching our destination would set up the command post.
On March 29 it was a small village southwest of Paderborn. We arrived without incident and stopped the column at the edge of town. An I&R jeep went out each of the two roads leaving town. Fillion, Lee and Alamillo took the north road and were fired on at a road block. They returned fire, killing one and wounding one, whom they captured. The east bound jeep came under mortar fire from the woods and withdrew.
Lt. Col. Linker, his driver and I walked up the hill to a school house. As we came near, an officer, in a brown uniform, came out and saluted. I returned his salute. He couldnt speak English and we could not speak German. Emil Wustenhofer, one of our cooks, spoke German so Col. Linker sent his driver for him and to alert the company. The officer, through Emil, identified himself as a Czech Major who with his battalion of 125 men had been conscripted into the German Army. They would surrender to an officer of equal or greater rank. The Col. agreed to this and instructed them to unload their weapons, stack them in the street and form farther down the street for the ceremony. The Col. and his driver returned to the company, Emil stayed with the Major, and I saw to the disposal of the weapons. After the ceremony Col. Linker placed them under guard at the school.
Col. Kelleher informed us, by radio, that Gen. Rose had been killed and the armor had stopped behind us. Also his group and a tank retriever group were in the town to our east. They could defend themselves so we should not try to reach them. We secured our position, enjoyed a hot meal and a sleepless night. The next day Paderborn was taken and the Roer was cut off from the rest of Germany. On April 2, we moved out for Nordhausen, Halle and the Elbe.
I feel it was one of our better days.
October 1944: Loss of Innocenceby Robert Nolan,
Company I, 413th Infantry Regiment
I move along a gray Belgian road, part of a long line of olive drab, heading t toward the horizon and the sound of distant guns. I am not afraid! I am too ignorant for that! Like my comrades, I am anxious lest I fail to measure up when the test arrives. None of us says much, each absorbed in his own private world. Then the agonized, lowing of unmilked dairy cattle assaults our ears and those muted screams set my teeth on edge. It is a blessed relief to pass out of earshot , only now the muttering of the guns grows louder. Backpacks and bedrolls, mine among them, begin to litter the road. I need only tooth brush and razor to supplement the tools of war I carry.
We of the third platoon leave the road at one point to take up positions near a meadow. As I lay there awaiting the next order, I gaze, as if in a dream, at a peaceful scene shot with hues of green and gold in the waning sun; I wonder a this is really war! Soon we are back on the road, now and then passing a burning building, witness to the fact that war has touched here.
When we halt for the night just over the border in Holland, Herb and I make short work digging our foxhole in the soft soil. Herb, my friend and comrade (to my mind the finest soldier in the company) is strangely depressed. It is so unlike him and I know not how to cheer him up. We share a can of cold spaghetti, but neither of us can finish. We talk little. Eventually the night, in which sleep eludes us, dissolves into a gray, cheerless dawn. We crawl out of our water-soaked hole and wait the order to move out into the attack.
When the time comes Herb and I separate. He joins E. P., the third member of our little band. As scouts, they will lead the squad across the fenced fields ahead. 1, with my rifle-grenade launcher, take up my position toward the rear of our twelve-man squad.
Suddenly the rapid tattoo of German machine guns shatters the quiet and soon screams and cries of "Medic" fill the air. I can't see them from where I am, but I feel in my bones that Herb and E.P. are in trouble. I am not free to help; I must obey the Sergeant's order to go quickly through the tree line on our left flank where my grenade launcher is needed.
As I step through a break in the hedge into the meadow beyond, I see Wentworth of the 1st platoon. He is on his knees with his forehead touching the earth as if in prayer. He is the first of the many dead I shall see before this ordeal of war is over.
All that day I am engaged in the fire fight, separated from, and wondering what has happened to, Herb and E.P. When at dusk the fire slackens and the enemy seems to fade away, I can rejoin my squad. I find E.P. totally spent by the exertions and the terrors he experienced that day. I receive the numbing word of Herb's terrible injuries. To E.P. and to me the magnitude of our loss is not yet apparent. We are so astonished at being alive and whole, little else can penetrate. our tired brains.
Forty-eight hours ago we marched in unaware of the true dimensions of war. Now we know! Tonight, if lucky, we may get to rest a bit. Tomorrow we will fight again!
(Note: Herb Rosier died of his wounds. Ed Thompson and Bob Nolan survived to become members of the National TIMBERWOLF Association.)
War Stories by Warren Jershky,
Company A, 329th Engineer Btn.
The following are three stories that happened to my buddy Raymond Martin (A Co. 329 Engr Bn.) and to me.
Ray is from California where there are plenty of citrus trees. I am from Pennsylvania and had never seen a citrus tree. At home, all the grapefruit seemed rather sour. One Sunday morning at Camp Carson we had grapefruit for breakfast. They were all cut in half. Ray tried one and was not surprised to find it was sweet. I could not believe it and found that it was almost as sweet as an orange. Between us we ate thirteen of those halves. We made pigs of ourselves.BOAT PADDLING
One day at a lake near Carson the engineers and infantry practiced paddling the half boats out a little distance and back to shore. Ray and I did that all day and that evening our feet were soft, wrinkled and pink and tender and we thought that was bad. It was a pleasant warm day. Thinking back, I now realize how terrible it was for all the G.I.'s who spent many cold days over there with wet sore feet. The training was necessary for the day my platoon paddled I Co. 413 Inf. and Pete Branton across the Roer River - February 23, 1945, a horrible day that will remain in the memory of thousands of us and the families of those that did not make it.
A COLD WINTER DIP
We were at Langerwehe, a small town a few miles east of Eschweiler. Our lieutenant, Paul Sehnert, wanted a small wooden bridge over a little stream prepared to be blown, if necessary. He had Ray and me make up two TNT charges. They took us out to the bridge in the ice and snow and Ray and I had to wade in the creek up to our chests with ice and snow flowing past in order to put the charges on the bridge abutment. That is some experience when that ice water from your legs up your body. We were only in for a few minutes. We were taken back immediately to the house where we were staying and our buddies KenIrish and Bob Haupt had the room heated with briquettes in a small stove with the draft set on "ANHEISEN "-very warm. It is such a pleasant feeling to get out of the cold clothes and into something warm that you fall asleep in minutes.
A LONG WALK
When we were preparing to leave Carson, I was sent to a storage building where there was a table saw and was given the job to make crates for all the band instruments. They gave me a war prisoner for a helper. He was 24, spoke English and was captured in the Africa campaign. One day he said he had cousins in Detroit and when the war was over he would go to see them. When I asked how he would get there he said "walk". He could not believe it when I said it was about 1500 kilometers. He had no idea our country is that large but he was in for a long walk.
VETERANS VERSUS ROOKIES
My late buddy, Jerry Hahn (C Co. 413 Inf.) and I were discharged at Camp Roberts. Our last meal in the service happened to be supper and for some reason the mess hall was almost empty. Three young fellows, they were 18 and we were old veterans of 23 with three years of service, sat across from us. Of course, we knew meat was always the scarce item. This was their first meal. A cook brought us five pork chops. There was a huge bowl of jello with fruit on the table as there was on other tables. These kids took the whole bowl of jello so Jerry whispered to me "Lets take the pork chops." We did and when they finished the jello they realized they were going to have a meatless meal. They learned a sublime lesson not to be piggish.
The Dragon's Teeth, Nov. '44 by Parley E. "Pop" Alfred,
Hq. Co. 3rd Bn. 415th Infantry
After having successfully completed our mission in Holland the 104th was ordered to relieve the First Division at Aachen, Germany. HQ. Co. 3rd Bn. 415th Inf. ended up at Brand right in front of the Dragon's Teeth and, facing Stolberg and close enough to the German forward observation post that if we turned up the volume on our radios we could hear each other's programs, which we both did quite often. It was kind of a gentlemen's agreement between us and the Germans that we would pick up brickets to keep us warm from the same coal pile. We in the day time and they at night. One night the I & R came in and said, "The Germans have trucks over there and are hauling the coal away. That to us was a violation of our gentlemen's agreement. So we proceeded to call in artillery fire on them and that rectified the problem."
Our Division began trying to get through the Dragon's Teeth without much success and one night Colonel Kelleher came by and said, "We have never been beaten before but, this time we have. Get ready to pull back, I'm sending the I & R platoon out to find out what the Germans are doing and then we will retreat." When the platoon came back Sgt. Wells said, "They beat us to it, the Germans have all pulled back." Well, that kind of news and in as much as we were all ready to move someplace we moved forward through the Dragon's Teeth and into the town of Eschweiler. At this point we encountered heavy enemy resistance which slowed us down considerably. During this time I was in the C.P. as the radio operator. After it got dark, Colonal Kelleher went outside to do number two. He had only been out there a minute or two when a bomb or an artillery shell exploded right outside that really shook the building. Colonel Kelleher came running back in as fast as he could with his pants down around his ankles saying, "Boy, that was close."
That same night Colonel Kelleher got a telephone call from General Allen. The conversation went something like this, "Hello Terry, what do you want?" "Well Jerry I want you to take the town of Lucherberg by morning ... .. My hell Terry, that place is heavily fortified and there are enemy troops all over the place. But, I will try it but I want a heavy artillery barrage set down before we attack." "Colonel, that will cost too much money and we can't afford it." "I don't give a damn General if it costs fifty thousand dollars and only saves one life it's worth it." "Colonel, you do what I have told you to do." "General is that an order?" "Yes." "Okay General, but you be down here tomorrow to accept my resignation and don't tell me I can't because you know very well I can, GOODBYE."
Well, General Allen did come down and he brought all the fixin's for a victory celebration including a citation and lots of praise. What actually took place at that party I can't rightfully know. But I do know that General Allen couldn't get into his jeep under his own power after it was all over with.
At The Turn Of A Ratchet
by Theodore W. Sery
Company C, 329th Combat Engineers
The brief episode in Holland of the 104th TIMBERWOLF Division was finished latein November, 1944 and the unit was now released from its connection with the Canadian army. All of the infantry, artillery and supporting units were now making their journey in a southeasterly direction to begin a new campaign starting from the city of Aachen in Germany The motorized drive would take several days and would include passage through a corner of the country of Belgium. The roads were of a type of excellent stone construction with a well-built foundation and finely patterned, closely knit cobblestones, famous for the stonemason craftsmanship of Europe.
On one cold, clammy night in November our unit reached a road block somewhere in Holland, or Germany. It consisted of two large cement abutments about six feet high and three or four feet wide. They were square concrete pillars that the Germans had built, one on each side of the road, so as to limit the passage between them to only one vehicle at a time. Directly behind this pass they had blasted a huge ten foot deep crater. Any attempt to bypass this obstacle would only end with our heavy motor vehicles getting mired down in impassable mud and clay so common in the high water table of this lowland terrain.
Captain Max Eisner had the men unload all gear and equipment from every truck in the company so that they could go back to fill them with bricks and rubble. It was going to be a long night filling that crater to make passage for a large body of tanks and motor vehicles the next day. There was no worry about anti-personnel mines because hundreds of our infantry soldiers had been filing through the pass all day. Seven of us: Gilbert, Reiter. Rowe, Greenberg. Ponzevic, Saiusky and myself were left at the site to guard the huge stacks of equipment. The rest of the company went with the trucks to fill up with stone rubble.
Time was hanging heavy and, out of curiosity, I decided to take a walk a hundred yards up ahead to see what kind of a job we had on our hands. As I passed between the concrete pillars I chose to walk in the very center figuring, that if any mines had been planted there. the sensible locations would coincide with a vehicle's tires. The crater that we had before us was huge and must have been opened with a massive charge of explosives. It would require many hours to level it out. Down below in this large excavation Ponzevic and Saiusky were already there examining the site. Turning to go back I had a second thought, maybe a mine left for a right and left wheel of a vehicle might also have included one more in the center. I therefore measured my steps in between the imagined sites. Back at the equipment location I told my buddy Greenberg about the sizable task we had and he also went up to see it and returned. A few minutes later we were rocked by a deafening explosion followed by a rain of stone and debris.
We ran up to the two concrete abutments and found Rowe badly wounded. In the dark I had him lay his head on my lap and had a poncho thrown over us as a hood so I could safely use a flashlight. I found his entire face bloodied and pitted all over with black grainy particles; it was better left for skilled treatment. Rowe said he had walked up with Gilbert and Reiter to observe the crater. Gilbert was in front of them and it must have been he who stepped on a mine. It was pitch dark and Gilbert could not be found; but the others found Reiter who had been behind Gilbert. Ile showed no outward marks of the blast and must have been killed by concussion of the intense explosion. When the rest of the company returned Captain Eisner called a halt to all operations until morning .when a thorough mine check or the area Could be completed safely. We also needed daylight to make a search for Gilbert.
After Sunrise the space between the abutments revealed a hole on the left side where the tire, or tread of a vehicle would trigger an antitank mine. The cobblestones on the right side were still in place. It was up to Siegel, who was best trained for this task and he spent about two hours carefully removing the stones before he could Find and inactivate the second mine. This mine proved to be of an unexpected and unusual type. It was designed with a ratchet device that could be set to remain neutral until a predetermined number of people. or vehicles. had clicked off a predetermined number before discharging its payload. This explained why hundreds of troops had passed through all day without a mishap.
It wasn't too long into the morning when Gilbert was found, but only in part; he had taken the full blast of a German antitank mine. Those mines were intended to kill a large number of our men and, in retrospect, Gilbert and Reiter gave their lives for a very large number of their buddies.
No other mines were located in the area and our southern trek was resumed after the roadway was leveled and made safe. Our wounded friend Rowe would recover and write back to us to let us know that he had to lose an eye and was being sent back home to his farm.
Hank and Buddy by Theodore W. Sery,
Company C, 329th Combat Engineers
The two of them were close chums and very much resembled the fictional characters known as Hank and Buddy - a couple of Americans in the French Foreign Legion from Christopher Wren's novel "Beau Geste. " Hank was a very tall, broad shouldered, robust individual and, in contrast, Buddy a real short, wiry, gregarious type of person. They had been out with others late in the afternoon scavenging in the fields surrounding an old German concentration camp that Company C was using for a shelter. This was on the outskirts of the town of Weisweiler. The snows of January and February were now melting and the daily minefield and road repair tasks were finished, so a little scrounging around by a group of us to search for some old Jerry rifles was in order When we were about a half mile behind our cluster of shacks we came upon a gruesome scene of four dead German soldiers whose bodies had been well-preserved under the winter snow drifts, perhaps for many weeks; but in this morbid scene their bodies were doubly distended in all bodily dimensions such that they appeared to be from a formidable race of ten foot giants. At this old battle scene our group found three mud-covered Jerry rifles and one American weapon, an officer's carbine. With these prize finds we made our way back to our Gulag type shack and set about taking care of personal interests where Hank devoted his entire attention to cleaning and polishing up his carbine and where Buddy settled down to write a letter to his mother. They sat facing each other on their bed-bug cots busily occupied for about an hour when Buddy, distracted by something close to his face, suddenly looked up and found himself staring into the muzzle of a clean and polished carbine. With this he quietly remarked to his good friend, "don't you point that friggin thing at me you oversized mountain goat," as he gently reached up and pushed the muzzle aside with his forefinger.
Hank, now feeling a little more playful, returned the weapon to its original target and chided Buddy with the reply, "what's the matter Buddy, this war beginning to get on your nerves?"
Buddy pushed the empty carbine aside again, but now flaring with a little anger challenged Hank, "tell you what Hank," and reaching for his M-1 rifle leaning against the wall, "I'll take this piece off safety but I won't check it out to see if the chamber is empty. We will both aim these things at each other and, at the count of three, we will pull the triggers."
Hank now also became angry, not only for being annoyed at this mistrust by his friend but also for being jolted by this reminder of an oft repeated lesson in basic training. Losing his friendly good humor he replied with an angry shout, "damn you, Buddy, I thought you were getting a little edgy and out of sorts lately." With that he aimed his carbine at the ceiling and pulled the trigger ... BLAM.M.M... The flimsy hut shuddered, as did all its occupants, with the explosive discharge of this empty carbine, and when the smoke cleared everyone in the squad was staring up at day light now shining through a six inch hole in the ceiling.
This time it was Buddy who lost his composure and, although no match for his six foot friend, he jumped onto him and was all over him as they rolled over onto the other side of Hank's cot with Buddy shouting all kinds of invectives. He was beating up on him, while Hank played a very passive role, not resisting, feeling guilty for what might have happened from a very playful but senseless jest. It took three other members to pull Buddy off his beleaguered quarry.
It did take a few days and Hank and Buddy were good friends again but it was an experience that reemphasized how lethal a so-called "empty" firearm can be.
To Men Of Good Will, Peace On Earth
Amid war's lustful devastation, the unchained soul of manmay still sing ... (A story of Christmas in Germany, 1944) by Ragene Farris 329th Medical Battalion
Christmas has come down over the ages as a celebration and commemoration to the birth of Christ. Yet, over the world, after 1944 years, the Christmas Spirit has come to a distortion which is distasteful to those of Christendom who seek to pattern their lives after the Christ of Nazareth. Stumbling, failing; striving, gaining ... we see men traveling the path of time; unable to follow Him who taught them the lessons they have never learned, and yet have never quite forgotten.
The Spirit of Christmas is a spirit of joy and good tidings. Through it we may overtly renew our faith in a better world; we may keep alive the structural progress toward brotherhood among peoples, in order that more men of good will might seek a real true condition of peace in our world.
With this spirit at its core, a story was born in Germany at Christmas-time 1944 that might help someone to renew his concept of Christianity, and move him to a fuller effort in the living of these days.
Habit seemed to have prompted my thoughts to Christmas preparations. 1944 was fast pouring out its last of Time's shifting sands; it was natural, after planning and preparing two previous "big Christmas programs" in the Army, for me to think again of the Christmas Story and its music, the traditional tree, and yes, to be sure, the turkey dinner with cranberry sauce. Work in Special Service had made it possible for me to conduct Handel's "Messiah" Christmas '42 with a chorus of 70 voices. Vocal and instrumental groups. of 150 men comprised the clay for molding Christmas '43 - There had been great music, cooperative, inspiring friends - and a free land - where such programs in commemoration of Christ's birth might be conceived and presented.
But in Germany, December 1944, one could not enjoy the rich privileges of talented musical groups; one could not overlook the din of war, the devastated land, the broken - leveled towns. But, what about Christmas? How could the spirit of peace be felt out here, where experiences we had known were out-of reach -- suspended! The packages from home had been rolling in, slowly but definitely, since early in November. But no one could escape the depressive, handicapped, confused, yes, even acute homesick feeling of spending a First Christmas away from home-soil, away from contact with loved-ones, and all the trimmings of the "Gay Holiday Season."
John Barrymore made a particularly clear observation about too many peoples' idea of Christmas when he said, "I have always been subconsciously embarrassed by the 'function' of Christmas and New Year. The spirit of 'loving kindness' is presumed to come to a head like a boil once a year, when it has been magnificently concealed up to that moment." (Good Night Sweet Price, Gene Fowler) At home, this abuse of the Christmas spirit had smoothed itself into a pattern of life. Christmas for most of us had meant a dinner with home-folks, church services, and in general, a time of relaxation as the old year burned itself out and sign-posts ahead spoke of new horizons, new plans, new hopes! All too often this sacred time had become a time of "spirits" minus Christmas; had become a commercial gift race minus the warm-felt exchange of a friendly greeting; had become a celebration of the dollar-sign. $ Christmas!
But Christmas could never be weighed down in its dynamic meaningfulness by these! There were about us, only to be "let in," the joys of Christmastime. I had learned in recall of choice memories, that through dynamic efforts, many little things for good, became big things for God! What about a program? Amid the din of the battlefield - the active environment of war, would there be a way? "God is a worker; He has thickly strewn Infinity with grandeur." (Alexander Smith, motive, October 1944, p.24) Thus, whatever the circumstances, faith and work would see us through to some remembrance - some renewal of the spirit without which, the world of men would be long-since dead!
The tactical situation, that governess of a soldier's current destiny, might at any moment place us in tents, in some muddy field, replacing the comfortable school building in which our medical installation had been located for several days. Shells were still dropping in - decisions uncertain, but Christmas would not be thwarted. We remained. It became evident that military positions might stabilize for a time - taking this cue for action, the wheels of a Christmas program began to roll. That same afternoon, about a week before Christmas, a ten-foot spruce appeared in the Casualty-Admission room. It was a real "war" Christmas tree, cut by an artillery shell, lying near a forested road - not far from the scent of powder and the noise of whirring steel. I had probed for mines in retrieving it from the edge of the woods, loaded its bushy branches into a tiny jeep, and had sped down the road, thinking of this, my quaintest acquisition of a Christmas tree - to date, anyway! Late the same afternoon, ornaments covered the evergreen. Lights, dipped in German oil-paints were rigged out of our electrical equipment. Tinsel of a new sort appeared. Its real role had been radar deflector materials dropped by planes to confuse ground gunners! Now it draped in majesty on our "Christmas Tree." The Germans as we remember on history pages, used the Christmas tree tradition as early as the seventeenth century. (Readers Digest, November 1944, p.32) whereas the middle of the nineteenth was its introduction date in the United States. The German people had observed Christmas from the standpoint of tree decorations. They were to be found everywhere. By the next day our tree had brought the atmosphere of Christmas to the room. The Chaplain and two patients had snipped a shining star out of a tin can which topped the already sparkling tree!
This beginning loosed the latent desire of many boys to help. Someone dug three statues out of the attic. They were the highlight of this decorative effort. Two waxen angels, about eighteen inches high, watching over the creche, a (Continued on Page 14)
I prayed that more men might light up from inside and build into their lives the spirit which promoted our group on December 25, 1944 into shell-pitted war-torn places for the reading of the Christmas Story.
Shifting To The Left, or Was It Rightby Richard R. Snyder D Company, 414th Infantry Regiment
This happened when we moved up to replace the divisions on the left of Battle of the Bulge. The Company Commanders and another Officer and their drivers had to cross an open field. When we were nearing the line. right there the Germans zeroed in on us with artillery, I must say we did some fast scratching. I was lucky to find a fox hole. and about the time I hit the fox hole, one of the rifle Company Commanders came rolling in on top of me. In a way it was funny, we really had a good laugh over it.
When we reached the line. I was sent back to bring up the Company. Needless to say, I didn't cross the open Field. I skirted streets on the edge of town, but still hit German artillery. Right then I had the fastest jeep in the army. It took us all night to move up and hit the line about daybreak. But to get in position, we had to cross an open part of the town. We piled about rive guys in each jeep and high-balled across. We took one jeep at a time, didn't lose a man or vehicle.
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