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US Army

My WWII Story

 My WWII Story
 
While attending my senior year at Olney High School in Philadelphia in 1943 I turned eighteen and was required to register for the draft. A notice came down that anyone who wanted could be tested for ASTP, Army Specialized Training Program. I took the test and passed making me eligible for the program. On June 22, 1943 I was ordered to go to the Philadelphia Armory to be inducted into the army, that night was my graduation exercises from high school. I was given two weeks to get my affairs in order and then report to New Cumberland Army Depot as a new recruit. After a few days and many shots I found myself on a train heading south. We arrived at Fort McClellan, Alabama for thirteen weeks of basic training. The hot southern weather only added to the rigors of training.
 
Finally basic training was complete and we were given a short furlough and orders to report to CCNY, City College of New York. I thought I had it made in the Army going to college for a couple of years and come out as an officer and gentlemen. Much to my dismay the program was canceled and I was once again on a train heading south. This time we arrived at Camp Mc Cain, Mississippi, where the entire 87th Infantry Division had moved from their barracks into the field now living in pup tents. Imagine the cultural shock of moving from college life to the fields of Mississippi.
 
The reason for the move was to go on Maneuvers in Tennessee for ten weeks during the winter of 1943-44 living in the fields of Tennessee practicing “War Games”. The weather was awful, rain, sleet and snow prepared us for what we would experience later in the Battle of the Bulge.
 
After maneuvers we convoyed by truck to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for further training and bringing our Division to full strength. At this time we received many new recruits from ASTP and the Air Force. We continued our training until September 1944 when we shipped overseas to England on HMS Queen Elizabeth, the largest ship afloat at the time. Our entire Division, fifteen thousand men were on the ship. The ship was so fast, we traveled unescorted, randomly changing course to prevent the enemy submarines from waiting to torpedo us. The German submarines sank many of our ships in these waters, so it was a real concern for us to be traveling the seas.
 
Our company was fortunate enough to be assigned watch on the guns, which meant four hours on and eight hours off. To be near the guns we were berthed in the Cinema on the Promenade deck. This was much better than being below deck. Bunks were stacked eight to ten high as the ceiling was high. After a few days our ship arrived in Glenock, Scottland where we disembarked and by train went to a small town in central England. The town was Congelton, Cheshire County, near Manchester. We were billeted in an old factory building. The food was all dehydrated, getting the cooks prepared for what they would be serving when we got into combat. One of my best memories of England was Fish and Chips. With their paper shortage, newspapers were formed into cones and the Chips (French fries) were put into the cone.
 
One family was nice to me and invited me to their home. They gave me a boiled egg, which was a real sacrifice for them as they were rationed. They had a son stationed in India and said they hoped someone would look after him as they did me. Each week the “Honey Dipper” would come by with their horse drawn cart to dip the “Honey” from every ones out house. We were given passes to nearby Manchester several times. Passage was by train from Congelton. On one occasion there was an air raid alert and we had to join the civilians in their air raid shelter.
 
When we were given our Thanksgiving dinner one week early we knew something was up. Sure enough we shipped out before Thanksgiving. Crossing the English Channel to Le Havre, France was uneventful. Because of the war damage to the harbor we had to anchor in deep water. Small boats (LCI) Landing Craft Infantry pulled up alongside our ship and we had to climb over the rail and down the side of the ship on cargo nets, to get into the boats, carrying all of our equipment, packs and rifles. When we reached shore the bow doors opened and we went ashore getting our feet wet in the process.
 
After leaving the LSI we were marched up a hill to an apple orchard where we set up our pup tents, in the rain. It just rained and rained and the fields got deeper and deeper in mud. Someone found some hay bales and we spread the hay inside our pup tents to stay out of the mud and help keep our sleeping bags dry. Each squad had a gasoline fueled cook stove and since we were in an apple orchard most squads made fresh cooked apples.
 
The next day out transportation arrived, a French train with steam locomotive and small wooden box cars called “Forty and Eight” a term carried over from WWI the cars held forty men or eight horses. A little straw on the floor was the only convenience we had. No seats, windows or heat. When the train would stop everyone would get out taking care of their personal needs. If we were near a town or village someone would run to see if there was a bakery and return with loaves of fresh hard French bread.
 
Several days later, on my twentieth birthday, December 9, 1944 we arrived in Metz, France on the German border, near the Maginot Line, a French defense line to protect them from German attacks. We were now within sound of Artillery fire from our forces.
 
The next day we went on line, relieving the 26th Yankee Division. Within minutes we were pinned down by enemy Artillery fire, were we lost several men, either killed or wounded on the first day of battle. Within a week our company of two hundred was down to about one hundred men as the result of wounds or killed in action. Some of them eventually returned to our outfit. Replacements joined the company whenever more men were required. Many of the replacements became casualties before we even got to know their names. By the end of the war only fourteen men from my original platoon of fifty remained. I was one of the lucky fourteen.
 
First night on line: We had been drilled on the care of our feet. Everyone had multiple pairs of socks and we were to change them every day. The spare socks were to be kept dry, so they were kept around our waist, under our clothes. After digging a slit trench and preparing to climb into my sleeping bag, I removed my shoes and dutifully changed my socks, not putting my shoes back on.
 
At daybreak we were awakened by machine gun fire with tracer bullets flying over our heads. These bullets were from a German tank coming over a ridge, right toward us. I never put my shoes on so fast and never slept without them again. Many of our soldiers had frozen feet, called trench foot. Many had to be hospitalized and many lost toes or even their feet. Following our good training, I never had a problem with my feet. That’s not to say they were never cold.
 
Early on our arrival to the Saar Valley the weather was rainy. We traveled mostly across farm fields which became very muddy. Mud would stick to our overshoes forming a clod about one foot in diameter, becoming very heavy with each step a chore. Rain soaked our long GI overcoats, they also became a burden. We cut off about one foot from the bottom to make them lighter. Anything the make our load lighter was discarded, gas masks and cook stoves.
 
When artillery shells landed on the soft mud they would penetrate deep into the soil and explode vertically causing minimal damage, but as the weather got colder and the ground froze the shell would explode and scatter horizontally, parallel to the ground causing much more damage. Tree bursts were very damaging also raining shrapnel over everything below, especially in the Ardennes Forest.
 
Small arm fire was especially feared by me, as I felt someone had me in their gun sites. Artillery fire was aimed in my general direction, not me alone. Many an Artillery shell would land within a few feet of me and I would hear a thud but no explosion. We attributed our good fortune to the slave labor at the munitions factory for sabotaging the shells.
 
As the weather got colder, many times way below zero degrees Fahrenheit, the weather was worse than the enemy. Although we didn’t like walking many miles, at least it kept our blood circulating and made the cold less destructive. I saw one jeep driver with his feet in a sleeping bag still able to drive and keep his feet warm. One destructive action the Germans devised was to string a wire tightly across the road and when a jeep came along the wire would catch the driver’s neck, many times decapitating him. To counteract this, an angle iron bar was welded to the front bumper, vertically to prevent the wire from hitting the occupants of the vehicle.
 
On December 16, 1944 the Germans began an offensive, later called “The Battle of the Bulge” that caught the Allies by surprise, penetrating deep into Belgium. Everyone thought the war would end by Christmas. We all felt badly for the Belgium people since they were only recently freed from five years of German occupation, by the United Troops.
 
Our 87th Infantry Division, part of General George Patton’s Third Army, was assigned to the battle area, but we were several hundred miles away. By now it was snowing and getting colder every day and our transportation that time was open stake bodied tractor trailers. The only comfort we had was a little straw spread out on the floor of the trailer. It was only the beginning of the coldest, snowiest winter in recent European history. Can you imagine living outdoors, sleeping in a foxhole, twenty four- seven for a whole winter?
 
Arrival in Belgium from the Saar valley:
 
We had just arrived in Belgium, which was Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944. Luckily my company was assigned to a large bam. There was plenty of hay in the lofts which made very comfortable bedding. Since the cows were still in the bam, their body heat made it very comfortable even though the weather outside was snow covered and hovering around zero degrees. Later that night a Chaplain came around with his field organ and we sang Christmas carols and had a short service. This was comforting to us believers. The next day the cooks prepared a full turkey dinner for us. This was the last of the comforts for many months. We were so thankful for what we had.
 
Arriving in Luxemburg then on to Belgium we were given the task of cutting off the German supply lines in the area of the town of Tillet. Sergeant Curtis Shupp, from my company, took out a German machine gun nest after being mortally wounded; he received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
 
On another lucky night I got to sleep on a feather bed with a soft comfy down comforter. Even with no heat in the house it was warm and comfortable. Remember I didn’t even take my shoes off. By this time the ground was frozen to about eighteen inches deep, making it difficult to dig a fox hole. To solve the problem we were given a block of dynamite, about the size of a quarter pound of butter. We would dig a small hole, bury the charge and explode it. Once we were below the frost digging was easier.
 
Since we were in the open field all the time we could not shower, bathe or change our cloths. Our last shower was back in England at Thanksgiving time, it was now mid March and we had not had a change of clothing, even though most to us had dysentery at one time or the other. Field showers were set up, which consisted of a tractor trailer fitted with canvas curtains, shower heads and warm water. We were given two minutes to lather up and two minutes to rinse off, then all new clothing from head to foot. Even though it was still very cold outside we enjoyed the clean feeling.
 
About February 1945 a call came down form Battalion Headquarters for a need to form a special group they would call a “Tiger Patrol”. Now everyone knows you never volunteer for anything in the Service, but after months of carrying a heavy sixty milometer mortar, as first gunner, I felt anything would be better than being on the front lines 24/7, living in fox holes and exposed to the harsh weather. The Tiger Patrol was to consist of about 15 men, including one officer and attached to Battalion Headquarters, who would be behind the front lines three to five miles. This meant shelter in houses, or barns, regular meals, a chance to wash and shave, but it also meant more personal risk by going out after dark into enemy territory. This was not to be a combat patrol but rather to determine the enemy position and strength; we were encouraged to bring back a prisoner if the opportunity occurred. The most frightening part was going out through our outposts and then having to return to our lines without getting shot by our own men.
 
While serving as first gunner on the Mortar, I was issued a forty five caliber revolver, when as part of the Tiger patrol I was issued an M-l Rifle. One day while talking to a tanker, we discussed our weapons. He was issued an automatic machine gun, which had a magazine that held 30 rounds of ammunition. His gun was called a “grease gun’ because it was made from pressed steel and resembled a grease gun. With that much additional fire power I felt it would be a better weapon to carry so I traded my M-l rifle for his grease gun. After a few weeks we had a break so we decided to test our weapons, to my dismay my grease gun did not fire even though I had thought I had protection with it.
 
One time we were challenged and after being identified were told not to move, because they had a wire strung between two trees, the end of which was tied to the firing pin of a hand grenade. If we had hit the wire it would have pulled the pin and the grenade would have exploded right next to us.
 
Being winter everyone had a cough, so we could hear our people and the Germans coughing so we knew where everyone was. One night on patrol as we were crossing an open field, suddenly a flare went up and it lit up the field like a night game at the ball park. We hit the ground just as the German machine gunners opened fire on us. Luckily there were depressions in the ground enough to give us cover to crawl out of their range; luckily no one was injured.
 
One day as we were driving down a road we came upon a German riding a motorcycle, going in the same direction, we waved him over, after debating what to do with him, it was decided that I would take him back to our Headquarters. So I got on the motorcycle and he got on behind me and off we went back to our lines and he became our prisoner. He probably was glad to be finished fighting and I am sure he was treated well.
 
Along the Rhine River:
 
While regrouping and getting ready to make an assault crossing of the Rhine River, we were in a small riverside town called Boppard, Germany. Since the Germans by now were all on the eastern side of the river, we had some free time. One day I was walking down by the water and noticed an MP’s motorcycle lying on it’s side. The MP had been shot by a lucky shot from across the river. A lucky shot for the enemy but not for the MP. I never heard if he had been seriously wounded. I picked up any motorcycle I could find, this GI issued Harley-Davidson was no exception, and I had several German bikes before.
 
To pass the time we took some assault boats that were assembled for the pending river crossing in a few days. Out on the river and just for fun we would drop a live hand grenade into the water. When it exploded, stunned fish would float to the surface, a few minutes they would swim away, unharmed.
 
In the same town of Boppard where I had my first taste of potato soup, Kertoffel soup, they called it. We had been assigned a private home and only the lady of the house was still there. One evening she offered to make some soup. Since she was German, the enemy, we were somewhat reluctant to eat it, we did and it was delicious. It is now my favorite soup. I often said the Germans treated us better than the French. Which reminds me; we would often go into the basement of homes and find canned goods. Home jarred preserves, peaches, cherries, pears etc all very tasty, but then again we had our thoughts of possibly poisoned preserves. Most of the GFs were more interested in the home brew, which was everywhere, especially along the Rhine and Mosel Rivers.
 
After a while I began to feel bad and could not eat my rations, so I went to the Battalion Aid Station and they diagnosed me as having Hepatitis and I was evacuated, by air, to a, Hospital in Verdun, France, where I stayed for thirty days. While in the hospital President Roosevelt died and the war ended May 7,1945. After being discharged from the hospital I returned to my original company in the 87th Infantry Division, who by that time were now in Plauen, Germany near the Czechoslovakia border.
 
They were preparing to return to the United States, to be sent to the Pacific to invade Japan, We regrouped at Camp Lucky Strike, France where I was given a short pass to Paris and saw the usual sights, Eiffel tower. Champs Elyse, Follies Bergere, Notre Dame Cathedral and rode the Metro, all in a few hours. We returned to the US on a liberty ship, the Fredrick Lykes and hit a severe storm, everyone was sea sick. I remember one meal when I started to eat, ran upside to the rail, threw up and returned to finish my meal.
 
After eleven days we pulled into Boston Harbor and were greeted by fire boats spraying their hoses into the air and blaring welcome home music to greet us. We were one of the first division’s home and given a thirty day furlough. I was at my family’s summer home in Wildwood, N.J., when President Truman authorized the dropping of the Atom bomb on Japan, thus forcing the Japanese surrender ending the war and saving thousands of lives, both US and Japanese, as well as our scheduled invasion of Japan.
 
After our furlough we returned to Fort Benning, GA where the 87th Inf. Div. was disbanded and the soldiers were sent to Camps near their homes, waiting till they had enough points for discharge. I was sent to Fort Indiantown Gap, PA and was discharged Jan 6, 1946.
 
Our Division was awarded three bronze stars for serving in Central Europe, Rhineland and Ardennes sectors of Europe. I also received the Bronze Star.
 
Every day I thank God for sending his guarding and protective angles to watch over me.
 
Source: Bulge Bugle website 2013
By Sgt John M ROWE

 

"I" Company

 

346th Infantry Regiment

 

87th Infantry Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium