| Staff Sgt.
James A. Besong
Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria
E Company, 86th Infantry Blackhawk Division
This outfit will
never go overseas! We may send replacements, but go as a unit? Never!
That wishful thought had stood up remarkably well. Hadnt we
gone through basic training, D series, maneuvers? Didnt
we send out replacements in large numbers on three different occasions?
Hadnt we taken amphibious training? Hadnt we been hot
before and cooled off each time? Werent we, even now reposing
in the carefree routine of Camp San Luis Obispo, California, before
again going on maneuvers, this time at Hunter Liggett Reservation?
Yes, we felt pretty secure on the basis of our
past good fortune. And then it happened. It was on the 8th day of
January 1945. There was nothing we saw in writing, and nobody, in
so many words, said we were going overseas. But there was unmistakable,
increasingly ominous signs pointing to it each day. Inspections,
packing, issuance of new clothing, were a few of the signs. Where
were we going; that is, if we went? (Still that if). Was it to be
Fort Meade, Fort Lewis, Seattle, San Francisco, Texas, Joyce Kilmer,
Myles Standish, or the old favorite, Camp Atterbury, Indiana?
On February 7th the first 0288-F train pulled
out of Obispo with a send-off by the band. For six days we wended
our secret trainward away from the warm sunshine of Southern California,
across and through the beauties of the Rockies, over the vast, fertile
Plains area, into the Eastern States, and finally to Camp Myles
Standish, Massachusetts, snowbound and cold, on February 13th. New
speculation arose as top how long we might be at this new staging
area. Probably two, three or even six months. Oh yeah? Five days
later on February 18th, grim faced GIs of the Well
never go overseas outfit answered their first names and middle
initials one by one as their last names were called out and they
single-filed up that fateful gangplank.
We were barely on board when we were funneled
fore and aft, starboard and portside to our respective decks; then
to compartments; and finally to a triple-decker bunk, one of the
three being assigned to each of us. A small card served as a combination
passport, meal ticket, fare and luggage check. One was given to
each of us as we came aboard. It was our claim to this space of
about six feet in length, two and a half feet wide and two feet
deep (less the sag of the guy above you). This area
was all yours. All of that thirty cubic feet of space provided ones
stateroom for the voyage.
If you were in the lowest bunk and wanted to read,
someone was sure to be standing in the semblance of light 98% of
the time; if you had a top bunk and wanted to relax, it was 10 to
1 there was a poker game in progress; and if you were in the middle
one and wanted to sleep, all the neighbors were sure to have heaped
your niche full of gas masks, mess kits, packs, duffel bags and
any other excess lying around; or if one did get to his middle bunk,
some guy with a size sixteen shoe, supporting 200 pounds of bulk,
was sure to step on some part of your anatomy in getting where-ever
he wanted to go!
On the 19th of February, towards evening, our whole new world began
to ease out of its docks in Boston harbor and headed into the formidable
expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. At almost exactly 5PM the sun went
down, literally and figuratively, on our whole world our home. Nobody
said much. Silence told the thoughts in each mans mind. These
thoughts turned from the singular pronouns I, my
and mine to we, us and ours.
The old, childish prattle and argument about my city and my state
being better than yours, gave way to our homes, our families, our
country. In our silent thoughtfulness some of us reminisced about
a somewhat similar grim voyage to America by the ancestors of all
of us sometime during the last tree or four hundred years. Those
pioneers pulled themselves out by the roots from the ties of home,
families, friends, and dared the ravage of the elements, of savage
natives, of an unknown quantity on the other side just as we were
doing in reverse.
Without stating in so many words what our forebears
sought, we know now that it was freedom of worship, freedom of thought
and speech, and most important, freedom of opportunity a chance
to make a decent, honest living. They were seeking what later became
to be known under that all-inclusive word Democracy economic, social
and political freedom. Now, after having made great advances towards
those ideals at home, this generation found itself going forward
under the banner of the Four Freedoms, to (1) protect what we had
established; (2) to destroy a foreign social and political tyranny;
(3) to replace that tyranny abroad with our democratic ideals, and
(4) to bring peace, security and contentment, according to our standards,
to the whole family of nations, while we continued to seek higher
levels of security for the common man at home.
Back in the realistic world it began to look,
confidentially, as if we were going overseas! The first couple of
days were okay a new experience for most of us. It was smooth sailing.
We thought we had our sea legs. By this time a large number of ships
had formed our convoy. We were near the center of it and a fighting,
naval escort skirted our approach, our flanks and our rear all of
which was very reassuring. Then the Edmund B. Alexander, of the
pre-war SS America Line, captured from Germany in the last war,
began to grow uneasy. It tossed and rolled gently but so damnably
persistently that many of us found that our equilibrium had failed
us or gone to our stomachs. Be sure to eat all meals,
they said. That will keep your stomach settled and your props
under you. Oh yeah? So you try to be brave and decide not
to miss a meal. You try to convince yourself that that step isnt
going down, as you reach for it on the ladder; or that the next
step didnt come up to meet you with a good konk on the ankle.
That wasnt too bad. But that steamy stuffy mess hall. Oh well,
its just your attitude; dont think about it. Feel better,
dont you. Just then, Splash! The guy ahead of
you lets loose on the floor, on the table, in his or someone elses
mess kit. Poor devil. He cant help it. Stay with it, boy;
youll make it. Go ahead and eat. Eat what? This greasy, slimy
stuff? Nope, cant do it. L
Well, that was the trial, either you made it or
you didnt. From then on it was smooth sailing. Occasionally
there would be rumors of wolf packs and a few precautionary ash
cans would be dropped. And always at dusk there would be that grim
reminder, Attention all military personnel. Black-out regulations
will now be observed." On March 1st we sighted land through
the haze and fog of the English Channel. It was a welcome sight
to most of us. Even though it was foreign territory, it was land.
We edged as far as we could into what had once been the fine port
of LeHavre, France.
Here we had our first view of the devastation
that couldnt be truly portrayed by newsreels and commentary,
regardless of how realistic they might have been. This was the real
thing. There was no mistaking it. All was quiet now. But in the
harbor were blasted Ducks, capsized ships, German gun emplacements,
some blown wide open, others still in tact. On shore were knocked
out vehicles; railroad tracks broken, twisted and strewn over the
landscape in heaps as one could crunch and drop a handful of jackstraws.
Since docks, factories and rail-yards were prime military objectives,
they were pulverized into heaps of rubble by bombs, artillery shells,
and every other destructive device of modern war. Farther back in
the city, residences and other establishments of little or no military
value were intact, except for windows shattered from concussion.
In spite of the destruction of property and the
suffering that must have been endured by a great many people, human
life continued to move about in these ruins. The harbor was alive
with every conceivable type of small craft. The people were hard
hit and destitute. They had been bombed so often and by so many
forces that they probably questioned if there was anyone fighting
for them. For instance Germany bombed and took this area; then the
Allies softened it up for invasion with more bombing; and after
we had retaken it, the Germans tried to bomb out what was left for
When we struggled ashore under the burden of huge
packs and duffel bags, we found ourselves in a strange land and
in the ruins of willful man-made destruction -- something none of
us had seen before. The natives looked and dressed differently;
they spoke a strange tongue; they all walked or rode bicycles; they
probed in the rubble for fuel or anything else that could be of
value to them. But there were familiar, and in a weird sort of way,
welcome sights too. They were GI trucks! We loaded into them, not
knowing exactly where we were going, but we knew from experience
theyd get us there. Before we had gone many blocks we gasped
a little at seeing our first real French pissary in operation. We
had heard and read about them, but seeing is believing.
We saw signs of spring in green shoots of grass
and gardens. The gardens were confined to the tiniest plots, every
inch of which was tilled and carefully nurtured by those who would
probably have to be supported almost entirely by what they produced.
Our road led us through the greening, hilly countryside of famous
Normandy province. The narrow, winding, surfaced road was shared
by GI trucks and primitive looking horse drawn carts and wagons,
many bicyclists and pedestrians. One of the fellows had the GIs
and it bore down on him on this trip. Pass the versatile steel helmet!
Cold, formidable looking steel dragons teeth, which had served
their purpose as tank traps, still were in place. We snaked through
a number of villages with their narrow streets, stone buildings
and blacked-out windows until we reached our new tent city, home
of Camp Old Gold, France. This was the coldest spot on earth or
so it seemed. No winter in the north, no Louisiana maneuvers, or
no Texas Plains wind could compare with the penetrating, damp cold
of this place. And yet fields were greening, farmers were tilling
the soil, and spring was in the air. What a paradox!
Most of the three weeks time at Old Gold was spent in getting quartered
away for the big show. Vehicles, ammunition and other combat essentials
were issued. Conversion of good old American lettuce to those French
shinplasters and saddle blankets was part of this new order. Our
vocabulary enlarged here too. Nor D Guerre was one term; ETO
another, which when prefaced by BTO became a popular dub upon slightest
provocation. And French had its place too. Merci, Sil vous
plais, were most popular. Some of the fellows could only master
the word, Pardone. Oh well, someday the war will end
and we wont have to endure it anymore.
Non-fraternization was another new term. It was
an English one, but it had a French, and later German, Austrian
or what have you meaning. Even so, eggs, wine, cider and bread of
French origin became popular chow supplements. With a long loaf
of that dark bread under one arm and a bottle of cee-der
under the other, the average American GI could hardly be distinguished
from a French shopper, except by dress. This barter may have been
a little tough on the cigarettes, chocolate and soap, but no one
suffered or even cared. A few passes to Yvetot, Rouen, Grainville
and other nearby places revealed the hopelessness, the slovenliness,
the degradation of a people sold out by political rottenness and
too tired or beaten to go forward aggressively in reconstruction
for a better day and a better France.
On March 25th Sunday, of course; and raining of
course we left our tent city in France. We rode about ten or twelve
miles in trucks and then boarded the trains for an unknown
destination. Such trains! They had miniature engines like the kind
we use for switching or for jockeying coal cars in a mine. The boxcars
were four-wheeled wagons. The wheels were about 2 _ feet in diameter,
and were spoked instead of solid or disced. The cars had leaf springs
rather than coils. Every car had two buffer like, shock absorbing
bumpers on each end. The cars were 25 or 30 feet long and designed
to hold 40 hommes or 8 chevaux 40 men or 8 horses the famous 40
and 8s! Each car had about two feet of clean, coarse oat straw
for bedding nothing less, except a supply of K rations. And that
was to be our home for the next couple of days.
Have you ever compressed your winter clothed body
into the shape and space of a trunk murder victim for two days and
nights? Then you cant appreciate what a ride in a 40 and 8
is like! You sit that way, you eat that way, you sleep that way.
If you stretch out your over-shoed foot lands in someones
solar plexus, groin or face. Or if you are one of those who has
the guts to stretch out (and you can get away with it) some wandering
bastard is sure to step on your shin and slide off with your skin
rolling painfully under the rubber grip of his new overshoe. It
doesnt help any either if someone gets out to defecate while
the train is stopped and then, in the darkness tramps through his
own feces and brings the fetidness back into the car for all to
But if you got to see Europe its better
to see it from such a vantage point then crawling on your stomach
from shellhole to shellhole. So far we were seeing it the easy way.
We had already rechristened our outfit the sightseeing Division
rather than the never go overseas outfit. But the land
was not destroyed by war; nor was the peasant who plodded behind
his fine percherons, habitually planting another crop for his and
his countrys sustenance. How important his contribution for
holding together a semblance of national stability was probably
least known to him.
Eventually we reached Belgium. It was cleaner,
more active industrially, and apparently recuperating faster than
France. The V for victory salute was genuinely meaningful
here. We waved the V sign too, hesitantly and self conscious
at first, but soon with enthusiasm and feeling. People still begged,
but they cheered too. We were liberators. We felt encouraged in
seeing their smashed industries and rail lines rapidly being repaired
and already back on our side actively helping in the war effort.
Into Holland where the famous canals cleansed
the countryside. Well tended gardens and attractive flower beds
added cheer to the desolate atmosphere of war. Fresh, clean washes
were laid out on the green lawns for drying and bleaching. People
dressed trim and neatly in styles similar to our own although wooden
shoes were quite prevalent. The Dutch too wanted our cigarettes
and candy, but they were proud and insisted on paying or offering
to pay for whatever we gave them. In Holland we saw more cows and,
as in Belgium, fine Belgian draft horses. Much to our surprise most
of the Dutch we contacted understood English and many of them spoke
it brokenly. As we approached Germany, near the boundaries of the
recent Ardennes Bulge, our progress was slow and halting. Other
essential war traffic had to get over the treacherous rails, too.
Railway labor battalions were hard at work, fixing blasted trackage,
reconditioning damaged and badly needed rolling stock, searching
out sabotage; in fact, actually relaying the track ahead of us in
some places. Acres of captured Nazi equipment, particularly stacks
of 5 gallon cans, stood out on the landscape.
The many stops gave us an opportunity to survey
the slam-bang results of hard toe to toe infantry combat. Personal
clothing and equipment of Germans and Americans alike were strewn
everywhere. There were canteens, helmets, packs, blankets, shelter
halves, entrenching tools, mess kits, and first aid kits. While
there were no visible dead, death was everywhere. There was a tell-tale
whole right through a helmet; there a burned out German gun emplacement;
communication lines, cut and tangled, were everywhere; countless
dead horses littered the fields; the earth was marked from bombings;
trees were sheared; buildings perforated or demolished. But all
was quiet now. And while our train stopped, GIs satisfied
a suppressed boyish desire and smashed with stones the useless and
undamaged insulators on a grotesque and battle-scarred telephone
pole, nude of all wire.
Aachen and Duren were our first German towns.
They were lifeless! There was positively not a building that wasnt
destroyed or badly damaged. No natives were in sight. But GIs
had already taken over and were doing repair work on our vehicles
and using these ghost towns as supply depots. Duren was the end
of the line. While waiting for trucks here, everyone was quiet and
awe struck at first. We were warned that the place was probably
mined and booby trapped. But soon curious GIs overran the
place. Im sure it wasnt booby trapped we had no casualties!
This was our first exposure to loot and while our eyes blinked,
civilization still had a hold on us novices and we left everything
Soon, trucks came and picked us up, we were off to battle, stopping
on the outskirts of a town called Surth, about midway between the
great city of Cologne and Bonn.
So this was the Faderland that will
never be invaded! Well, something went wrong with your plans, Adolph!
Our first night in Germany we shall all remember. After a few winks
of sleep, we marched into town in the wee hours of morning.
We relieved the famous 8th Division, and we were now facing the
enemy across the Rhine River. Our initial troop engagements
were patrols sent across the river. Soon casualties were reported,
mostly unfortunate accidents, but the first 86th blood had been
drawn. It was there we learned to recognize the difference in the
whistling and whining of our own artillery and that of the enemy.
There was little activity but it was enough to teach us the fundamentals
of warfare. While on guard, we had little difficulty in imagining
footsteps following us, hot on our breath, shiny green eyes peering
out of the darkness, and rifles in our backs at all times.
In a way, we felt a lot like civilians, for we
were living in up-to-date houses. Even so, shades of Nazism still
lingered in the surroundings. Posters hung everywhere; those weird
Pst shadow men, warning all not to talk to strangers.
Neednt have bothered, Goebbels, we had a non-fraternization
policy of our own. Approximately a week after arriving in Surth,
we were on our way again. We went south on the west side of the
Rhine, through the scene of recent bitter engagement where Americans
forced the crossing of this famous river. Just above Remagen, we
crossed the Rhine on a pontoon bridge, christened the General Hodges
Bridge by the engineers of the First Army who built it.
If one dared to stroll in this vicinity it revealed
ghastly sights. Trolleys appeared as if caught in transit by shell
fire and were riddled with machine gun bullets. Tracks and pavement
were broken. Everything was smashed. MPs directed native pedestrians
and cyclists through the ruins of their own town. Heads protruded
from windows of dwellings, staring in scorn, defeat and unbelief
at what had and was happening.
After traveling through many little towns, we
finally arrived in Milchenbach, along the southern edge of the Ruhr
pocket. The road was hard surfaced all the way and in good shape
except for occasional repaired bomb craters. Trees evenly spaced
and of equal height bordered each side of the road. A little imagination
marked this as sort of a triumphal arch, and we were playing a leading
Many vehicles from the largest war machines to
the smallest were knocked out, and strewn along the road. War leaves
weird and grotesque scenes. One in particular sticks in my mind.
The wall of a house was completely blown away and the rest was in
tact. On the second floor all the furniture was in place (davenport,
chairs, stove, rugs), exposed to public view. It looked like a sheet
out of a mail order catalog showing a cross section of a room advertising
furniture or room arrangements. Upon this movement we saw blitzkrieg
in reverse. Innumerable German civilians with bundles on their backs,
were going west as the French and others were forced to do in 1940.
Many of these were French and Belgian slave labors, recently released
by our advances.
From Milchenbach we started north into the Ruhr
Valley. Our objective was the city of Hagen, and it was there we
all received a real baptism of fire. We did our job, and split the
pocket into smaller segments for assimilation for the Allied meat
grinder. It was a difficult assignment for our green
outfit, but the boys did a brilliant job, not without the loss of
life andlimb, however. The mission was achieved completely and in
short order. The 86th had won its spurs.
Our attack on Hagen was on Friday, the 13th of
April, 1945. Some of us were superstitious, but since then lost
all trace of it. We are still alive! It was there we first started
our sipping of the famed German champagne, schnapps, wine and beer.
Our Polish, Russian, French, British, Italian and other Allied Prisoners
of War had saved such for the day of their liberation. In Hagen,
we first heard of the death of President Roosevelt. Unbelieving,
stunned, we soon had the report confirmed on our liberated radio.
The man who in depression or war, with his infectious personality,
figuratively slapped every faltering American on the back and said,
All we have to fear is fear itself, is gone. He saw
realistically long before his peace-loving electorate, the war clouds
gathering and painstakingly, almost single-handedly, made the nation
conscious of the great danger that was ahead. He set astronomical
goals for production which we were sure couldnt ever be met,
but which were exceeded, surprising ourselves, and proving that
America was truly the arsenal of Democracy. This great commoner
and world statesman was a war casualty of the greatest loss to all
On the 18th of April, we loaded up on trucks and
left the city of conquest behind. Via, Limburg, Frankfort on Main,
Wurzburg and finally to a little village near Ansbach. The long
distance took us to a new front and a new Army the rip-roaring Third
Army. (Blood and Guts Patton in Command). We had been in the new
Fifteenth before going into Germany, and were in the First Army
during the action in the Ruhr, (the industrial heart of Germany).
The drive to nearby Ansbach was about 190 miles cold, rainy, and
miserable but a panorama for sightseers that we were. The potato
country gave way to small grains as we neared Hanau on the Main
River. Cows still provided the farm motive power, with horses, few
and far between, tractors being a rarity indeed. Part of the country
was very hilly but every inch of soil was utilized by terracing.
Most of the little villages we passed through
were touched little by war, probably because white flags fluttered
from every window, indicating surrender without resistance. Other
towns and cities of military importance bore evidence of all the
devastation that modern war can bring. Even the country around these
towns showed signs of opposition, semi-circular gun emplacements
in fields were already filled up by farmers, but the scars were
still on the earths surface. Markers along the German highways
warned Mines swept to ditches. We wondered how many
innocent people would be killed in the future by these bastardly
contraptions. Road blocks and bombed out bridges were common sights
Wurzburg revealed one of the most thorough-going
job of mass, precision saturation bombing we had seen. Block after
block of brick walls stood unsupported by roof or floors. The floors
and roofs were so much rubble in the basements of these buildings.
There were no windows, just gaping holes where they had once been.
Refugees of all descriptions clogged traffic at
all times. They headed away from the front if they were Germans,
French, Belgians, or English; or followed the front if their homelands
were to the east. They all carried bundles of necessities and walked,
or rode bicycles if they had them, or could appropriate them. Tanks,
trucks, jeeps, halftracks, semi-trailers with supplies, food and
gas jammed the highway. Many times when our convoy would be held
up, all eyes and words went to the pretty blonde German Frauliens,
who seemed to be everywhere.
Apple trees were blooming everywhere, as were
lilacs, pansies, marcissus and tulips, and the air was fragrant
with spring. Many of the towns we passed through had old churches
and forts of medieval architecture. Old middle age castles, with
moats surrounding them, were not at all uncommon. American military
units had taken over many of these castles for their headquarters.
Every night we had a new home. As evening closed
down upon us, we picked out a nice home, having a good strategic
position for defense, and got ready for a few winks of sleep. After
evicting the occupants of the house, (where they went we didnt
care) the first thing we looked for were chickens and eggs. Most
homes had food and fuel aplenty in their basements. An evening meal
consist of eggs (any way we wanted them), french fries, coffee bread,
jam, and the old reliable German schnapps, champagne or beer. Beautiful
little trinkets that may have been found, can be found today in
many homes of America that I am sure.
After leaving the little village near Ansbach,
we pushed forward to the town of Immelsdorf, that being the 21st
of April. On the 22nd and 23rd we were in Spalt. The morning of
the 25th found us starting out on foot again, driving down near
the Altmuhl River. A cold night it was, lying in a foxhole in an
open field, watching the snow flurries rain down upon us, and wondering
how much longer this had to go on. The bridge ahead had been knocked
out by the enemy artillery.
On the morning of the 26th we crossed the river
on a hastily built pontoon bridge. From there on it was a walking
and fighting marathon; it seemed to go on for days, a never-ending
march forward. Finally we did come to a stop, it being in Ingolstadt
on the famous Blue Danube River. Ingolstadt was shot
to pieces. Smoke rolled from the ruins, rubble lying everyplace,
and thousands of Russian and Polish slave laborers, liberated by
our advances, overran the ruins like rats. They were in stores,
in basements, in homes, coming up with every kind of wearing apparel
from boots to scarves; and any kind of conveyance from a go-cart
to a horse. Rooskies received us with a regular Union
Square speech, but the only words we could recognize were, Roosevelt
and Stalin. Many of us participated in some of these
liberation parties (given by the liberated), and reports are that
they were really rough parties indeed.
We crossed the Danube under fire during a snowfall.
We were the first outfit to cross, and it was anything but blue,
romantic and beautiful that day.
On the 29th of April we were relieved on the outskirts
of Windham on the Isar River, some 25 miles north of Munich. After
one day of rest, we started out again through a driving snowstorm.
A miserable life, to be sure; stopping at Wasserburg, we were off
again, never stopping until we crossed the Inn River. On the 4th
day of May, we left the city of Berghausen behind, and pushed across
the Salzach River into Austria.
All during our advances, POWs were being
brought in and it was a steady stream to the rear. Packed in large
personnel trucks, so tightly -- they looked like fence posts. Many
surrendered of their own accord, others needed a little persuasion,
but all seemed to be glad the war was just about over win or lose.
They were on the move to the POW cages in the rear, 24 hours a day,
by the thousands; it looked like we had run out of war. Yes, after
a sensational 120 mile drive in 12 days, we routed the staggering
defenses in the vaunted Redoubt area, capturing thousands
upon thousands of prisoners, and releasing additional ten of thousands
of Hitlers slave workers. We had come out at a point where
the Third and Seventh Armies joined. All opposition in our present
area had surrendered to the Seventh Army. We were now part of the
inactive Seventh Army, waiting for the end of hostilities, which
we knew had to come soon.
On the fifth day of May, our long and torturous
advance ended, we were in Eggelsburg, Austria. At this point, we
were not far from Salzburg, the birthplace of the great musician
Mozart; the beautiful lake, Chiem See, was nearby, the home of Hitler
(Bertchesgaden) was just an hours drive away. An awe-inspiring backdrop
to the green valleys and rolling hills, were the majestic snow-capped
Alps. The colorful dress of these people was like a picture book.
High pointed Tyrolean hats, knee high pants, and flashy colors made
us expect anyone of them to start yodeling. But many were destitute
and waited in our garbage lines for scraps and left-over coffee,
which they gulped like starved vultures.
It was here in Eggelsburg, in the shadow of the
Alps, that we got the glorious news of victory in Europe. Although
it was a great day, most of us observed it in a quiet way. Church
services were held and everyone went, we had so much to be thankful
for; even though there was still a war in the Pacific, and we felt
certain wed be in on it, or be stuck for occupation in Germany.
At any rate we were sure we wouldnt be going right home.
On May 14th, we moved nearly 300 miles in a convoy,
arriving at Vierheim, just 2 miles from Mannheim in Western Germany.
It was a long trip, but we overlooked it this time, because of what
we saw. We crossed the Salzach River and went to Munich where we
took one of the splendid Autobahn Highways to Augsburg. Munich,
the birthplace of the Nazi Party, had been a large, modern city.
Now most of it lay in ruins, and clean-up parties were moving rubble
from the streets and alleys. Long lines of natives waited their
turn for rations and supplies, now being given out by the Allied
Military Government. Flags of the United Nations waved over these
headquarters. Just outside of Munich we passed within a few kilometers
of infamous Dachau.
Augsburg, an important industrial city, had those
industries stilled forever. Smokeless stacks stood as solemn markers
over the graves of once intensely active war factories, now dead.
The only productive German activity the whole distance was in agriculture,
where hand workers toiled laboriously to eke out an existence.
One couldnt help admiring German thrift and industry. It was
apparent everywhere in the splendid highways, fine bridges (what
were left of them), power lines, forest stations, modern conveniences,
parks, recreation, facilities and health. Even what agriculture
lacked in modern methods, was made up for in the hard work rotation
of crops, and the general know-how. Yes, Germany had a sturdy, healthy
people, and a beautiful country, a great industrial production.
But for what? For the greedy appetite of conquest and war, turning
good into evil, and security to destruction kaput" is
the German word for it.
Vierheim was a respite from the damaged cities we had been in. The
town was spared. It was grateful, but uncertain of the nature. We
had very nice homes to live in, made homelike by the hospitality
of each and every German Frau and Fraulien. Flowers everyday decorated
the rooms, cleanliness was throughout every German home and family.
It was here in Vierheim, just 4 kilometers from the great German
city of Mannheim that we all settled down and began to enjoy life
once again. We visited fine old churches, splendid orchards, gardens
and flowers; the Displaced Personnel Camp, nearby Heidelburg; and
(to the single men only) the lucious, tempting, buxom but very verboten
frauliens. What a display on a bicycle!
Out of a clear sky, while we were still wondering
what would happen to the 86th, came the almost unbelievable good
news that we were the first Division to go home, enroute to Tokyo
but soon. A soldier learns to live from day to day. Any dread of
Tokyo was lost in the exuberance of being home for a month. On May
31st we left Germany, going through battered Mannheim, where we
crossed the Ernie Pyle Memorial Bridge (pontoon). Soon our trucks
raced through to our old reliable 40 and 8s, waiting for us
there on a siding. Once more we loaded in these cars, only this
time going the opposite direction we were going to the coast and
from there, a waiting ship could carry us home once again. The return
trip through France was more cheerful and encouraging. The fellows
were in better spirits, and all loaded down with their prize war
souvenirs. The people were working, beginning the long task
of reconstruction, perhaps wondering if this time it would again
be in vain.
By noon of June 2nd we were back where we came
in, three months previous to the day Camp Old Gold, France. We thought
staging was rough at Obispo, and especially at Standish, but brother
we hadnt seen nothing yet! It only lasted five days, however,
because on June 7th, the heavily laden (mostly loot) 341st Regiment
boarded the General T.H. Bliss, through the active and alive port
of Lehavre, and headed home. The trip was uneventful except for
that breathless moment when it was announced over the ships PA system
the orders have been changedƯ... However, instead of
heading directly for the Pacific we were relieved to learn that
we were slowing down for the other 86th ships to catch up so we
could all enter port together. We cursed the delay, but it was entirely
forgotten when we saw everybodys girlfriend, that
grand old girl with the torch in her hand in New York harbor, who
symbolizes freedom and liberty and America. And those white stones
on the green landscape that said, Well done welcome home,
were tear jerkers. The reception of photographers, blimps, airplanes,
The clean, busy, undamaged life and property,
and industry of this great city were at once astonishing and soothing
after what we had seen. For a second our perverted minds thought,
Gads, what looting territory!
On Sunday, June 17th we debarked, loaded on ferries and went up
the East River past the world famous skyline to waiting trains that
whisked us to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. There we were given a grand
American steak dinner, hurriedly processed and issued new clothes.
Did your clothing fit?
Who the hell cares, Im going
home!And the next day we did.
James A. Besong
Black Hawk Division Patch.
James A. besong with his brother Jack who was in the navy.
E Company somewhere in Germany.
This picture taken by him when he snuck a camera in under his coat
to the JapaneseGeneral Yamashita's war crimes trial. After VE Day,
they were sent to Okinawa to invade Japan. They were bluntly told
that this was a suicide mission. However, on the way to Okinawa,
the U.S. dropped the bomb and Japan surrendered. They were then
diverted to Manila in the Phillipines where he snapped the war crimes
photo of Yamashita..