I have been told that WW II Vets are dying at the rate of 17 thousand per week. That means there are many stories out there that will never be told. This is an attempt to tell my story, for what it is worth. On August 30, 1943, I was 18 years old. The war in Europe was going well for the Allies. My biggest worry was that the war would end before I got there. I had a friend whose father was a member ofthe selective service board, and I asked him ifthey could call my number soon. He said it would be hard to interupt the system. However, in about two weeks I received that important letter. I was to report to the Grand Trunk Railroad Station on October 31, at 8 o'clock in the morning. I was close to my grandfather, Calvin Rose, and I asked him to come to the train station to see me off. My grandfather said yes, but my father said his job would have to come first. There were still six kids at home, and we were just coming out offthe depression.
My grandfather was at the station as the train pulled out, and I saw my father driving along side the tracks as we left Muskegon. I think that moment is one ofmy greatest memories. An all day trip took us to Detroit, with many stops along the way to pick more new soldiers. We arrived in Detroit late at night, so we slept on the train. The next morning, in groups ofabout 20, we entered a large building with lots and lots ofrooms. A corporal said take off all ofyour clothes except your shorts. Roll them up and carry them with you into the different rooms. First came the ears check, then the nose, then the heart, and so on. At the last door, the Corporal said, 'Stand in front ofthe doctor, turn your head, and cough.' The doctor said: "Put your clothes on, son. You're in the army now!".
The corporal in charge gathered us all together and gave us each a coupon, and told us to go into the restaurant and take a seat, and tum in your coupon to the waitress. She will bring you your meal. Everyone got the same thing, and the corporal told us to be sure and drink our milk. After you eat, he said, return to the same train car and settle down for the night. Some time during the night, the train moved, because when we awoke in the morning, we were at Camp Grant, Illinois. We unloaded, got in line again, and marched to a building to receive our first complete G. I. Army wear. We had our first army meal, and were told we could mail our civilian clothes home, or donate them to charity. We spent the next two days waiting for our names to be called to be sent to our training camp. My name was called, and I was told I was being sent to Camp Blanding, Florida. The train ride there seemed to take forever. But we made it.
I soon learned that our training would be as replacements for divisions as they lost men in combat. I became an expert on the rifle, and then we went to our speciality, which was the watercooled 30 caliber machine gun, and the 81 millimeter mortar. This took a six man crew, and it was necessary to learn each job. A corporal, who was the boss, carried the machine gun. Another guy carried the tripod and the rest carried the ammunition. Everything was very heavy, but we got used to it. It seemed like it took forever to get through our three month training to graduate, they took our squad miles and miles into the country. We were given a compass and told to find our way back to camp. We were told that when we returned to camp, pack up your clothes, because we were on our way to combat. We used every bit of our training and found our way back to camp - to a porterhouse steak dinner and a two week pass to go home. We were to report to New York after that for a trip to Europe. On my two week furlough home, I made sure every one in town saw me in my U. S. Army uniform. The old people would smile and nod their heads. It was true that there is nothing like a man in a uniform - the girls were everywhere.
That two weeks went fast, and I was soon in New York, waiting to board a ship for over seas, the I'll De France. She was a big ship, and could outrun any subs that might be in the north Atlantic Ocean. That's what they told us as we set sail. My bunk was four levels down, but we came up on deck once a day to exercise. I was assigned the job as postmaster for our trip over. I was to collect all the letters during the day and give them to our lieutenant, so he could read them to be sure we were not giving out any information about where we were going.
We arrived in England and were sent to a camp made up of hundreds oftents. We spent most ofour days hiking and training. I don't remember how long we were there. But one evening about 5:00 o'clock, our sergeant came to our tents and said to pack all our things in our duffie bag, and be in line in an hour. We boarded trucks and rode for hours. Then we boarded a train. After a long wait, the train pulled out ofthe station. We would stop, back up, and start again. By that time it was dark outside. Rumors were fierce. Everybody knew where we were going, but nobody really knew.
Our ship had to wait for some time - the weather, I think. The longer we waited, the bigger the rumors grew. We left port on June the 9th, 1944, and soon we sat there facing the shoreline of France. The Army Engineers had sunk large boats to make a breakwater. They were building a port to unload small boats. I am amazed at how skilled they were, and how fast they worked. I wonder how many ofthem were killed building that port. Our boat was able to get close to shore, and we had very little water to wade through. We then had to climb a thousand feet up a hill. On the way we passed many dead American soldiers waiting to be taken back to England. The beach was cluttered with burnt out jeeps and tanks and trucks.
I believe our thoughts ofwhat war was like changed as we saw the loss that was suffered on that hill. (Somewhere there must be a better way.) When we reached the top ofthe hill, a soldier met us and asked our names. We answered, and he said, "Follow me." We walked a short distance to an officer. He said, "My name is Captain Chandler. You are now in Company M, 120th Regiment of the 30th Division. You are to replace 5 ofmy men that have been wounded. Do any ofyou have any office experience?" I told him that I was mail clerk on the ship to England. He said, "Fine. You are my new company runner. You are to stay close to me at all times, and relay messages to my squads - information that cannot be sent over walkie-talkies." This was the morning ofJune 10, 1944.
The next morning my captain told me to follow him. We were walking along the side of some hedgerows, (Hedgerows are mounds of dirt with scrub bushes planted on top) when a German shell hit the other side. I was sent flying, and knocked unconscious. I was taken to an aid station and they put a bandage on a small wound. My ears were checked, and I was told my ear drums were busted. They told me I would get a Purple Heart. I rested for a while, and was sent back to my captain. Captain Chandler smiled at me and said, "Don't do that again." We were able to move only a short distance each day, as the Germans were dug in very good. We stalled just outside a small town named St. Lo. I found out later that this was to be a major battle in the fight to reclaim France.
The Germans were dug in at St. Lo. The army sent in bomber planes to bomb the German lines just beyond our lines. Then the 30th Division would attack while the enemy was stunned. However, the bombs were dropped on the American lines. Many good American soldiers died in that battle by what we call 'friendly fire'. That plan was halted, and we brought up replacements. The next day General McNair came in to observe the operation from the front lines. Captain Chandler was to accompany the general, and I was still under orders to stay near my captain. For some reason, I still do not know why, my captain did not go with the general. General McNair was killed by American bombers.
For the next several weeks we moved rapidly through northern France. We turned north towards Holland and Belgium. We bypassed Paris, so as to allow the French Army to enter Paris. (They say it was a great day for General De Gaulle.) We moved slowly across France, walking all the way. Every night we had to dig fox holes for safety, get fresh supplies, and rest. Each day there were new replacements for those soldiers we had lost that day. It was my job to take these men to their squads, and I knew that many of them would be dead very soon. (This is something I shall always remember, and I knew in my heart how Captain Chandler must have felt.) On the road ahead ofus was a town names Mortain, a place the Germans were planning to counter-attack, and we had to take steps to be prepared.
I know very little about how things work in the army. I just made it a point to move fast, and do as I was told - I was just a 19 year old kid. My captain had orders to be at a certain place at a certain time, and to do it without being noticed by the Germans. We started out, and soon came upon a German patrol. They had not seen us, and we crouched down to let them pass. We watched as they went into a house. They did their business, also, and we waited while they had something to eat. It was about an hour before they finished. It was odd, laying there, listening to them talk and joke. And they had no idea we were there. They left, and we continued on to our destination.
The battle began soon, and the records show that this was one ofthe major battles ofthe war, and I can in no way explain how it all fits in. (I said to myself again, there has to be a better way.) We had more and more replacements every day. And every day the new recruits became seasoned soldiers in hours. My captain was a fine, southern gentleman, and I could watch the lines in his face get longer as he would welcome the new recruits, and know in his heart that many would not make it home after the battle. We made our way through Belgium (the first American troops to enter Belgium), and then on to Holland. The first to enter Holland, too. There was still a war, but it seemed to be less and less daily battles. We soon entered Germany. (The first to enter). The weather turned bad, and the snow began to pile up. We slept when we could, and where we could. Sometimes in fox holes, and some times in old buildings.
Captain Chandler had been promoted, and our new company commander was Lieutenant Snow. I never got close to him for he was wounded, and replaced by Captain Buzzard. He was a short man, and did not move as fast as Captain Chandler, but he was an able commander. It was Early December, and we were in the Aachen Forest. Things were rather quiet when we got orders to ready to move at a moments notice. Did that ever start the rumors. The Germans had broken through our lines in Belgium and were heading for Paris. It was the"beginning ofthe battle ofthe bulge. We loaded our trocks and were on our way to Malmedy in short time. When we got there, we learned that the Germans had captured 118 Americans and had marched them to a field and shot them all. We arrived just after the massacre. It was a sight we could hardly believe. We were able to find out who the German officer was that ordered the killing, and I heard later that he was captured, tried and shot. The fighting was very heavy around Bastogne, Luxemburg. We were stationed just north ofthat battle, at Malmedy. The battle at Bastogne is one that all Americans can be proud of. We spent three weeks getting ready for our orders to move out. The snow was very deep, and I think that helped us resupply ourselves. It was Christmas, and we made the best ofwhat we had amongst us. Those that got mail read- it out loud to the others. The end of 1944 came right there in Malmedy.
The snows were very deep, but we knew it was just a matter oftime before the sun would come out and we'd be on the attack again. We were primed and ready one morning, and we looked up and there were the American bombers, hundreds. The war had started again, but the bombs were dropped on us. It was St. Lo allover again. We ran for cover, we lost some good American G. I.s that day. We got ourselves ready, and the next day the bombers returned and destroyed what was left of Malmedy.
We were into January now, and the going was slow. Our objective was St.Vith. We were in a wooded area, and were following a path when the Germans began shelling the woods. The trees would splinter and fall, and we had to fall back, We found a safe place and dug in. We received word that we had wounded up front. Another G I, I don't remember his name, said, "I know how to get them." We took a jeep and drove it up the creek bed and found the two soldiers. We loaded them on the jeep and started back. They didn't fit so well, so I walked behind the jeep, in the water, holding the stretchers to keep them from falling. We got them back to the medics, who sent them back to field hospitals.
It was getting dark. I had no socks to change, so I bedded down with wet feet. The next morning I could not stand up. The medics came and cut my boot off. My feet were black. I was loaded on a jeep and sent back to the nearest airport, and I was flown back to England. When I arrived at the hospital I still didn't fully understand what had happened. The nurses would spend hours rubbing my feet. The doctors decided that it might help if they removed my toenails, after which the nurses continued rubbing my feet. It soon began to work
and the color came back to my feet.
I had been there for about a week, when an officer came in and gave me my second purple heart. I was surprised, but he said.I received it for combat. I asked one ofthe nurses to send it to my mother in the states. When my mother died, my sister returned it to me. My stay in the hospital was two and a half months. By then the war in France was nearly over. Rather than send me back to my division, the army transferred me to the quartermaster corps. I was with a group that guarded German war prisoneers that were doing the laundry for American troops. I returned to the United States in November of 1945. The army gave me a furlough and I went home and got married. I served the army until February of 1947.
Reflecting on my company commanders: When I became Captain Chandler's company runner, I think my life was saved, because the 5 other soldiers that were with me were soon killed in battle. Captain Chandler went home to Georgia after the war and ran for the Georgia House, and won. I visited with him in 1959. I didn't get to know Lt. Snow very well. He was a good officer, and was wounded and replaced. I visited Lt. Snow once in Florida. He died several years ago. Captain Buzzard was a short man who did not get friendly with any ofhis troops.
When I returned home, my grandfather told me to call him anytime I wanted to talk. When I thought ofthe waste ofthousands ofgood American soldiers, and ofthe good they might have done, I wondered what was there to talk about. And then I read about the 17 thousand vets that are dying every day, and I thought my telling my story might help some other vet to tell his story.