Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Between the Lines: Bill in Combat Jan. 11 to Jan.30, 1945

The rest at Siersthal lasts for four days. The men shave, shower, write letters and even see a show. Most of all they sleep. For the first time in a month they are able to sleep the entire night through. The resting is temporarily interrupted when the Third Platoon is sent out on a combat patrol near their old position at the “Splinter Factory”. Their mission is to knock out an enemy machine gun nest that is threatening key positions along the battalion line. The job is well done. Not only are all the enemy killed, but the machine gun and ammunition are brought back to Siersthal by the patrol.

On January 15 Able relieves a company from the Third Battalion on the line above Glassenberg, where the CP is located. The Third Platoon and a part of the First are positioned along a ridge. The Fourth Platoon mans an outpost and prepares defensive mortar fire.

On January 23 the Company moves back to Enchenberg for a short rest. As the town is over-crowded, Able is moved back to Glassenberg the next day and takes residence in houses there.

About Letter 174

Writing from the relative safety of a French farmhouse Bill notes that, "The news has been full of odd things. Maybe with the Soviet offensive rolling forward so fast and furiously the Germans will let us come in on the Western Front. I hope so. This mess can't end too soon for me."

Letter 174- January 28, 1945

January 28, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Another day—another letter. I wish I could do that every day. It gets me down more if I can’t write than it does if I don’t get any mail because I know how you look forward to my letters. Today has been one of wonderment to us. The news has been full of odd things. In sectors where a few days back the Jerries were attacking like the very devil now seem abandoned. The news reports are very sketchy but something’s up for sure. Maybe with the Soviet offensive rolling forward so fast and furiously the Germans will let us come in on the Western Front. I hope so. This mess can’t end too soon for me. And then the Pacific, I’m afraid. Many of the fellows over here swear they’ll only go over there at the point of a gun. That’s just so much talk, I suppose but if I have to go, I imagine it will embitter me considerably. There are still too many men back in the states who’ve had no overseas service at all. From the way our new men talk they’ve got plenty of troops still back in the States. Oh, I don’t know. In some ways I feel that all of us should go and finish things up in a hurry and in others I feel like we ought to get a break and get to come home. It wouldn’t be too bad if we were able to get back to the States for 6 months and get about 30 days furlough, but all they can talk about is going home by way of the Suez Canal. (Old “Yoo Hoo” Ben Lear, you know.) I hate to think about it.

I received a letter from you today dated the 9th. It was V-Mail and it took 18 days to get here. Airmail comes in 10 to 14 days generally.

Well, that about does it. I’ll close with another request for a package—cookies, candy bars, anything.

Bestus Love,

About Letter 173

Able Company is back at rest as Bill reports that "I've been having a pretty soft time of it for the last several days. All I've done is eat, sleep and listen to the news of Russian advances." He gets paid and is hopeful that he will soon make PFC. and receive a $5.00 monthly raise. Bill gets "P.A. Rations" which include 2 cans of beer which he trades for candy.

Letter 173- January 27, 1945

January 27, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Here I am again. Still hanging around. I’ve been having a pretty soft time for the last several days and I should have written more letters than I have. I guess I’ve been more or less in the midst of the reaction one generally feels when he’s back resting. All I’ve done is eat, sleep and listen to the news of the Russian advances. So far they seem amazing but I still have my doubts as to whether the drive will end the war. Everyone out here expects the worst and hopes for the best. It saves a lot of heartbreaks.

I’ve now finished the last of the edible contents of the 3 packages I’ve thus far received—a few candied peanuts—Oh me. That reminds me. I sure owe a lot of letters. I got one from Richard, Jesse, Mrs. Levinson, and then there’s your letters. I’ll try to answer them all today. By the way, Jesse also sent me a radiogram—had me worried when I first saw it.

I finally got paid the other day—first time since October. I want to send that old $40.00 check home now but the only way I can do it is to endorse the check and mail it. I don’t like that but if I carry it with me much longer I’ll lose it for sure. I think I’ll put it in this letter—I will. $40.00.

The next time I get paid I should draw combat pay and it’s barely possible that I may make P.F.C. before long. That would be another $5.00. If and when all this comes about I’ll change that $15.00 class “E” allotment to $30.00 or $50.00. If I change my bond allotment to $7.50 I can do that and still have a few francs for P.X. rations.

By the way, we got P.A. rations yesterday—2 cans of beer, 3 cigars, 5 Butterfingers, a box of gumdrops, a box of hard candy, and 6 pieces of Whitman’s chocolates. It’s too cold for beer for me so I traded them for candy. We’re supposed to get those rations every week but ha! ha! Everybody gets everything—That is, everybody but the frontline infantryman. I haven’t been eating so badly of late, however. Even had French toast this morning and I managed to do a little inveigling here and there.

Better close now. I’ll write again as soon as I can.

Bestus Love,

Sunday, December 27, 2009

About Letter 172

Bill is back in a warm house "toasting myself by a fire and generally enjoying myself." He apologizes for a 9 day delay between letters saying, "one can't write a letter when he's covered with snow and ice and has a couple of inch thick mittens on his hands." The toasty fire is great but Bill notes that, "the best thing of all is catching up on my sleep. In a foxhole one sleeps 2 hours and then stands guard 2 hours. You know how that works out."

Letter 172- January 23, 1945

January 23, 1945
(Somewhere in France)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Hmm! It’s been 9 days since I’ve been able to write you a letter but I know you’ve been following the doings of the 7th. in the papers and know that the weather on this front has been miserable to say the least. We’re well equipped but one can’t write a letter when he’s covered with snow and ice and has a couple of inch thick mittens on his hands. Oh! This is a rough life. When this thing is over I’m going to slug the first bird who says “what did you do during the war?” Really. When I was in the Engineers I had no idea just how rotten a deal the Infantry got. I think the extra $10.00 they give us is a because there’s not one man in a thousand who wouldn’t give all his pay and more to be in any other branch. We have 10 times harder a life than anyone else. At least one can certainly be proud of being an Infantryman. Most people don’t realize it but the combat infantry badge means a “helluva” lot more than things like wings and so forth. One has to go through hell to get the former.

Now for some good news. My Christmas finally arrived. The day before yesterday I got a box of cookies from Grandma and Jess. Boy oh boy! That fruitcake was moist and as fresh as if it had just been made. It was delicious. The other box contained the compass, candy, gum, game, etc. it’s sure swell. The box from State College was full of cookies and I must say they were expertly packed. Not one was broken, although the box had obviously taken quite a beating. Half the box was full of Tollhouse cookies and the other half was full of ginger cookies with sugar icing. I passed out some cookies and a very few pieces of fruitcake to fellows who had given me some of their packages, but mainly I feasted myself on the contents. It was the best eats I’ve had since I left home.

Today I’m again back in a warm house toasting myself by a fire and generally enjoying myself. The best thing of all, however is catching up on my sleep. In a foxhole one sleeps 2 hours and then stands guard 2 hours. You know how that works out. No one gets any sleep at all. Even now I find myself waking up at regular intervals during the night. Lying on the cold ground really does your kidneys a lot of dirt too.

We’re supposed to get P.X. rations today—2 cans of beer, some candy bars and cigars, etc. I’ll probably trade my beer and cigars for candy. I like beer, but I like candy better and as for the lousy cigar……

We’re in the midst of a “helluva” lot of overoptimistic speculation on the outcome of the current Russian offensive. Rumors have been rampant for the last several days. As for myself I’m suspicious of all the claims that are being made. These things have blown up in my face too often.

I certainly wish they’d try a little harder to get some news to us. Battalion or somebody stole a radio somewhere and they get radio news but by the time it’s passed by word of mouth down to me it’s so garbled and exaggerated that it’s worthless.

Getting pretty near chow time so I’d better cut this short.

Best Love

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Between the Lines: Bill in Combat- Life in a Foxhole

Existence in a foxhole at this time became a series of rituals, the most important of which was conversation. Men learned to know each other extraordinarily well, for they talked of the past, the future, their plans, their friends and families, politics, sex, hobbies, and anything else they could think about to pass the time. Each man’s hole was his little home, and friends would pay regular social calls- bringing their canned rations if they wished to stay for dinner. Preparing each meal became a ritual. One always had to discuss the time to eat, which can of rations to eat, (if there was a choice), the best way of heating, etc. As always, mail was the big event of the day, and if men received packages, they would share them with men in neighboring holes. Everyone read avidly anything he could lay his hands on. The “Stars and Stripes” was eagerly pounced on each day. However, these things could not relieve the continuous tension of necessary vigil nor could they help pass the endless numbingly cold nights. Then there were the long periods of depression and utter discouragement. The longer the time stretched out, the dirtier, more discouraged and weary the men became. It was a happy morning on January 11, when Company A evacuated their foxholes and pulled off to go back to Siersthal.

About Letter 171

Bill is in a warm, dry place in Siersthal, France "staying close to the fire" and recouperating from 27 consecutive days spent in a foxhole. He gets a "verbal spanking" from the censor and must rewrite the letter. In closing Bill rereads his letter and exclaims, "I must admit I've never found anything so garbled and disjointed. Must be my state of mind."

Letter 171- January 12, 1945

January 12, 1945
(Somewhere in France)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

This is the second letter that I’ve written to you today. The first I had to tear up because it contained too much information. Don’t feel cheated, however. There was nothing good in it. Since then I received 4 letters from you—an airmail and 3 V-Mails. As usual the airmail came the fastest. I’ve finally decided that the only way we should work this mail is for you to write all your letters airmail and in each one or every other one enclose an airmail envelope with stamp, address and special delivery stamp too if you feel it’s worthwhile—and a couple sheets of paper. In that way, I’ll be able to write under almost any circumstances.

Well, after the verbal spanking I got this morning I guess you’ll have to be satisfied with the information that I’m feeling O.K and am now in a warm safe place.

Still no packages from you and is my tongue hanging out. The army chow certainly doesn’t hit the spot and the very thought of fruitcake, cookies and candy makes my tongue hang down to my shoe tops.

Saturday 13, ’45 -cont.
(Somewhere in France)

Interruptions—always interruptions. Well, it’s another day and I’m still waiting around. Everybody seems to be getting packages but me. There’s no use complaining I know, but as long as they’ve been coming I’ve had something to look forward to. You have no idea how much it means to have something like that to look forward to—even if it does take a month of Sundays. If you will it would mean an awful lot to me if you would keep something in the way of packages coming out at regular intervals. I don’t want you using up ration points or anything but a little candy, cookies, or whatever you have would make things a lot nicer over here. I’ll keep the requests coming in.

It’s a nice sunny day and cold so I’m staying close to the fire.

Let’s see what else I can write about. I’ll look over your latest letter.

Oh! I’m glad to hear you make the acquaintance of the Cottles. I like them all very much.

That about does it for now. It seems that I’ve written on both sides of the paper and that’s bad if the Lt. wants to do any censoring.

I just reread this damn thing and I must admit I’ve never found anything so garbled and disjointed. Must be my state of mind—“non compsmentis” or sumpin’”.

I’ll write again tomorrow if possible.


PS. I brought the stamp from the states originally so this is the 4th. time across for it.


Monday, December 21, 2009

Between the Lines: Bill in Combat Dec.22, 1944-Jan.11, 1945

Just before Christmas, warm winter clothing arrives at the front. The weather by now is extremely cold and miserable. Practically all the men have trenchfoot to some degree.

On Christmas Day the men enjoy a hot meal. At midnight the Germans attack several positions. Company A has no trouble and even captures two enemy prisoners. On December 27 the Company CP is moved to Reyersviller. The men have now been existing in holes for fourteen days in brutally cold weather.

At exactly midnight on January 1, 1945, the Germans start the New Year with a banging attack. Against many units this attack is bitterly and fanatically fought by the Germans. With thin, long-stretched lines it is necessary for Company A to withdraw. It is a bitter pill to swallow- the first loss of ground to the enemy. During the general confusion of the withdrawal the First Platoon is cut off from the Company. The platoon is finally able to take cover in three houses in Reyersviller. The town is now held by the Germans, but miraculously under the cover of darkness the platoon manages to slip out of the houses through the rear and make its way back to the American lines and Company A.

The Company assumes a new position above the Reyersviller-Siersthal road. This position on the wooded hillside above the road comes under continuous fire from German artillery and mortars. There is so much shelling that the trees are reduced to splinters. The new position becomes know by the men as the “Splinter Factory.” The whole area is covered with two to three feet of snow. It is bitterly cold. The men have now been on the line in holes continuously for 27 days, living for most of the time on field rations. Everyone is bearded and dirty. Finally, on 11 January 1945 Able Company is relieved by F Company. The unbelieving but grateful men are marched back to Siersthal for a short rest.

About Letter 170

Bill writes to his worried parents after 10 days between letters. He says that "Really it was unavoidable. In 3 more days I will have spent an entire month in a foxhole on the lines." Bill describes his appearance saying, "You should see the beard I've got. About 3/8" long and red. It would be even redder if I wasn't so dirty. I look sompin' fierce."

Letter 170- January 10, 1945

January 10, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

I’m sending this airmail to you with the slight hope that it will make good time and save you a little worry. Even so it’ll be almost 10 days between letters for you and I realize that it’s an awfully long time. Really, however, it was unavoidable. In 3 more days I will have spent an entire month in a foxhole on the lines. It could have been worse but it certainly hasn’t been very pleasant. For the last 10 days the weather’s been godawful with cold and snow and to tell the truth I just couldn’t write. The mail I’ve received from you has been spotty for the last few days but in general it’s been coming pretty good. Yesterday I got V-Mails 50 & 51 from you Dad, however, I got a regular airmail from you, Mudder that was mailed Dec. 22 on Jan. 1. I think that about cinches it for airmail. T’ hell with V-Mail. I more or less have to use it out here but if they can’t do better than that there’s no reason why you should use the stuff. Still no packages but now’s about time to make a request. If you want I’d like to have those vitamin tablets and food anytime. Tell the postal people to let you send it or I’ll murder them personally. After all the waiting I’ve done on them already I don’t want any o their lip. I wouldn’t be surprised if packages mailed to this address wouldn’t get here before my Christmas stuff. If you think it would keep I’d like some of that orange bread. Oh! Hell you know what I like—candy, cookies, just almost anything good to eat. I won’t turn it down. Ha!

You should see the beard I’ve got. About 3/8 inch long and red. It would be even redder if my face wasn’t so dirty. You should really get a load of me. You’d probably disown me. I look sumpin’ fierce.

I’ve lots more to write but I’d better close for now. Hope everything’s “tolerble” with you.

Best Love,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

About Letter 169

Bill's disillusionment is beginning to show. He writes, "Daddy says that he is becoming more isolationistic. I'll bet not half so much as I. These Europeans want us here like I want hives. They just aren't like us."

Letter 169- December 29, 1944

December 29, 1944

Dear Mudder & Dad,

Received another letter from you this morning. They’re coming quite regularly now and they sure pep me up. The god awful thing about this war to me is the distance, both in time and space that I’m away from you. However, these letters are now arriving in 12 & 13 days and that’s OK.

Daddy says that he was becoming more isolationistic. I’ll bet not half so much as I. These Europeans want us here like I want hives. They just aren’t like us. They just live from day to day not caring who gives the orders as long as they don’t. I really don’t think we can establish any lasting peace over here.

That’s enough orating. No packages yet, dammit. I’m getting mad. Some of these bums back in rear echelon aren’t on the ball. If I had such a nice job like they I’d do something to deserve it.

Bestus Love,

About Letter 168

The war news continues to be bad. Bill cites a newspaper headline of December 25 which announces that "IN 3 DAYS NAZIS RETAKE LOSSES OF 3 MONTHS". He gloomily states that " It's just like a kick in the face."

Letter 168- December 28, 1944

December 28, 1944
(France; V-Mail)

Dearest Mudder & Dad,

Well, it’s 3 days after Christmas now. I’ve got a newspaper dated the 25th. here right now. “GERMANS 20 MILES FROM SEDAN.” “IN 3 DAYS NAZIS RETAKE LOSSES OF 3 MONTHS.” It’s just like a kick in the face. Even the pessimistic thought it would be over by late spring or early summer at the very worst, but now what? I hope things’ll be better by the time you get this.

Still no packages although mail is coming through fine. The weather continues cold but sunny so life isn’t too miserable. Haven’t been feeling so well today, however. Same cold thing I was in the hospital at Abbot with. I guess I’m not getting enough of the right kind of food. Hope you both are well.

Best Love,

Friday, December 11, 2009

About Letter 167

Bill continues his previous letter. With nothing else to do he reviews his financial situation and discovers that, " I counted $66.00 more than when I left the states." He adds that, "I now make $70.00 a month and have absolutely nothing on which I can spend it."

Letter 167- December 26, 1944-2

December 26, 1944-2
(France; V-Mail)
(part two)

Dear Folks,

I received your # 36 letter of Dec. 8th. Mudder, and you’re pretty near right about my finances. I counted $66.00 more than I had when I left the states plus the $7.00 aunt Marge sent makes me a millionaire, especially when one considers that I now make $70.00 a month and have absolutely nothing on which I can spend it.

The V-Mail comes about as fast as does airmail this way but I like airmail better. I would write airmail myself but I have no envelopes and my stamps are all ruined. If you send me any more stamps or stationery send also some sort of stiff waterproof case for me to carry them in. That’s about all.

Bestus Love,

About Letter 166

It's the day after Christmas. The men get a Christmas day meal that Bill says, "for the front lines wasn't too bad." The weather was clear and sunny, but cold. In the evening Bill manages to get 2 cans of American beer and some cocktail peanuts.

Letter 166- December 26, 1944

December 26, 1944
(France; V-Mail)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

This probably won’t be a very long letter because it’s still pretty cold and my fingers will probably get stiff. Yesterday was Christmas, of course; but one would hardly know it. Still, for the front lines it wasn’t too bad. It was clear and sunny all day though the temp. hardly got above 32◦ all day long. We had a nice Crhistmas dinner (look how I spelled that) but there wasn’t enough. I got a neck. We had enough potatoes, cranberries, beets, raison pie, bread and butter, apple butter, & hard candy, however. Later in the evening I got 2 cans of American beer & some cocktail peanuts. Beer and peanuts is a good combination and I really enjoyed it. Then this morning I got a chance to buy 7 bars of American candy; Hershey almonds, Butterfingers, etc.—the first since I left England. I’ve only one bar left. You guessed it, no packages yet. However, one of the other kids got a nice fruitcake and gave me two nice pieces, and to overwork “nice” completely, I think it was damned “nice” of him. I figure that whenever the package comes that’s Christmas.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

About Letter 165

In a rare and perhaps unguarded moment Bill make an allusion to the "dangerous life" he is living. He says that the war news is the "worst I've heard yet" .... "RUNSTEDT 35 MILES INSIDE BELGIUM."

Letter 165- December 24, 1944-2

December 24, 1944-2
(France; V-Mail)

(part 2)
Dear Mudder and Dad,

In case you didn’t get part one, I’m feeling fine “all stuff like that there.”

Received a letter from Jess the other day in which she said now I was living “dangerously” like Bob Hughes. I had to laugh at that. I don’t know what Bob’s doing but I only wish I were living his dangerous life. I know she means well, however. She said she sent a couple of packages. I thought that was nice.

I just received the latest news. “RUNSTEDT 35 MILES INSIDE BELGIUM.” That’s bad. The worst I’ve heard yet. Please write as much as possible—what you had for dinner—if it was washday—anything. Well, all my love.


About Letter 164

It's the day before Christmas and Bill is still "up on the lines" on the ridges above the Citadel of Bitche. The weather has become very cold as the men await word on the "big German drive up north."

Letter 164- December 24, 1944

December 24, 1944
(France; V-mail)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Yes, it’s the day before Christmas, and I’m still up on the lines. I had some hope for being back for tomorrow but I guess that’s too much to expect. The weather’s become very cold during the last few days but I have enough heavy clothing to get by. I received three letters from you during the last 2 days—I should say 4, dated the 6, 7, & 9 of Dec. and the 21 of Oct. Two letters from you dad, were numbers 21 & 43. You can see how the mail’s coming in. I know you’ll be disappointed but I still haven’t received any packages. Considering how long ago you sent them, it’s a damn shame. I wish I knew whether or not we’re winning this war. The news we get is three or four days old and with all the hush-hush about the big German drive up north it’s getting me down. “The American soldier is the best informed in the world.”----------PFFFFT.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

About Letter 163

Bill has been at the front for about 20 days now, the past week in " a wet, cold foxhole." He tells his folks that " I'm what is called a Combat Infantryman."

Letter 163- December 21, 1944

December 21, 1944
(France; V-Mail)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Just a note to let you know I’m still all right. All week we’ve been laying around. Yes, I’ve been lying in a nice wet, cold foxhole. I haven’t mentioned it before but I’ve been at the front for about 20 days now. I’m what is called a Combat Infantryman. You know, one of those guys who wears a badge and gets $70.00 a month. To me that extra $10.00 seems grimly ironic. I’ve not been anywhere I could spend one lousy franc for the last month.

I see where the war news has been rather bad for the last few days. I guess this winter’s going to be pretty rough. Well….

Best Love,