Monday, January 25, 2010

Between the Lines: Bill in Combat March 5-15, 1945

On March 11 Company A is sent back to the Garrison position in the Bitche sector. Back at the Garrison everyone senses something big in the air. Men from the rear bring tales of feverish preparation, such as the massing of units and the building up of supplies. By the 14th the Company knows that the big push is about to start.

On March 15 Able moves into the attack, retaking the old positions of December 15 outside of Bitche. Some of the men move into the same foxhole they previously occupied. They meet light resistance. That evening a patrol of the Second Platoon is sent out from the positions to learn enemy points of resistance. At a distance of 500 yards the patrol is pinned down by machine-gun fire. It looks as if the morning attack will be rough.

The following morning, March 16, the Company shoves off. Proceeding cautiously, the men discover that the enemy strong points encountered the night before have been evacuated during the night. The soldiers move all the way down into Bitche without meeting resistance. The Germans are again on the run.

Bitche shows many signs of the winter siege. The first thing most men see upon entering the main part of town is a huge German Tiger tank knocked out at an intersection. The XII Tactical Air Corps had done a terrific job of smashing important targets. Many evidences of the effects of Corps Artillery are present too.

The French who still remain in Bitche are overjoyed to see the long awaited entrance of American troops as well as an end to the siege and destruction of the city. This marks the first time in history, dating back to the 17th Century when Louis XIV had the bastion built, that its defenses fail. The city had held out against the Prussians in 1870, again during the First World War, and finally against the Nazis in 1940.

Able Company continues through the city and directly along the main route from Bitche toward Camp de Bitche. Tanks are to follow the Company. Fire is opened upon an enemy OP, but no resistance is met until the edge of the camp is reached. At this time no tanks are available. The enemy detects the unit’s approach and plasters the general area where the men are deployed with mortars and SP guns. It is decided to go in without the tanks, squad by squad. A squad from the Second Platoon stealthily works its way into the first building into the camp. Each squad advances man by man, until the Platoon holds the building. Finally the enemy spots the new position and concentrates mortar fire on the building. Only about half the Company has worked its way into the camp at this time. As soon as the entire unit is moved into the camp the platoons begin to spread out and prisoners are taken. Meanwhile the enemy fires on the Company with tanks. Rapid action taken by a bazooka team succeeds in destroying the lead tank and its crew. Pushing steadily in conjunction with other units, Company A finally secures the greater part of the garrison.

Chow is brought up after dark and the Company is relieved. The march back to Bitche is a real opportunity for reflection. Fires dotting the countryside dispel the tired thoughts of loneliness as each dogface trudges through the all encompassing darkness. Houses are ready at Bitche. After fighting all day it is the greatest of luxuries to roll up on the floor and sleep.

About Letter 184

Bill apologizes for the condition of his last letter saying, "it had gone through a battle and about 5 days inside my helmet before I was able to mail it." Company A is back off the line for a brief respite. "One minute a person is neck deep in this 'unpleasantness' and the next he is hardly aware that there's a war going on....Sessti la Guirri."

Letter 184- March 21, 1945

March 21, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Well, here it is the first day of spring. The weather is beautiful. For the last week the sun’s been shining bright, clear and warm. Last night it was foggy, but this morning it’s nice again. I haven’t been able to write much lately and you know why. The newspapers make that clear enough. You undoubtedly noticed the condition of the envelope on my last letter. It had gone through a battle and about 5 days inside of my helmet before I was able to mail it. But, as the French say, “Sessti la guirri”. One minute a person is neck deep in this “unpleasantness” and the next he is hardly aware that there’s a war going on. Right now is one of those occasions. Just loaf around all day and sleep twelve to fourteen hours a night (generally no one up here gets more than 4 or 5 hours a night) and three hot meals a day. Of course, it’s hard to say how long it will last but I’m satisfied. I don’t want “an egg in my beer”.

We’re not getting much mail nowadays but it’s understandable. I did receive one letter from you and another from Jess the other day. I had to pull out though and since no one can carry letters, etc., with them when moving I burned them. “Sessti la Guirri” or T.S. as we say in the army. However, Jess said she had sent me a five pound box of candy bars. She asked me in a recent letter what I wanted and I said a few candy bars and she really came through.

Gotta close now—chow!

Best Love,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

About Letter 183

Bill returns to his company and is delighted to receive a cherished fruitcake from home, exclaiming "boy, oh boy! Need I say more?" The company censor compliments Bill on his letter writing skills, "not that it's any of his business" Bill caustically remarks.

Letter 183- March 14, 1945

March 14, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Here’s another late letter, you see. I wrote one to you 5 days ago and was unable to mail it before it disappeared. I hate to keep you waiting for mail but that’s the way it goes. I’ve been back with the company now for several days.

I received a letter from you today, Mudder. The one acknowledging my acknowledgement of the first fruitcake you sent me. Now there’s a brainy sentence. It’s the first letter I’ve had in several days. I shouldn’t complain though. Last time I did get mail there were eight letters: seven from you and one from Jess. In the letter I wrote and lost I answered several questions for you. Now I haven’t got your old letters nor mine and I can’t remember what the questions were. Alas! Wot a life.

Anyway, when I returned from the rest area the other day what should be waiting but a package. It was the second fruitcake. Boy, oh Boy! Need I say more?

I’ll tell why it took so long for my November Bond to show up. You see I didn’t get paid for almost 3 months and when I don’t get paid the Bond doesn’t go through.

In a few days, if I get the chance, I’m going to send my combat I’m going to –what am I doing?? anyhow. I’ll send my Combat Infantry Badge home along with a couple souvenirs I picked up in the rest area. I’d like you to wear it, Mudder. You know, it really means “sumpin”.

I see where Bob Brewer was up at school the other day. I can’t understand it. I can’t write home about my outfit yet he seems to know more about it than I do.

Thanks for the compliment about my letterwriting. The Co. censor told me I wrote well the other day—not that it’s any of his business. I suppose he means well, however.
That about does it.

Best Love,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

About Letter 182

Bill continues to unwind during his 4 day break off the line. "Until one gets back to a place like this he doesn't realize the nervious tension he's been under." The morning paper says that American troops are across the Rhine and have captured "some 8 divisions or more." Bill confidently exclaims, "It shouldn't last long unless they are determined to die for 'der Fuhrer'. If so, we'll oblige the SOB's."

Letter 182- March 6, 1945

March 6, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Thought I’d knock off a short note to you before lunch. There’s not much to write but I know you want to hear something. I’ve been doing a lot of relaxing for the last couple of days, seen a couple of shows and wandered around in general. Nothing that amounts to much but it suits my mood. Until one gets back to a place like this he doesn’t realize the nervous tension he’s been under. Compared with the rear echelon boys most of us look tense and tired. Didn’t notice it before.

This morning’s paper says that American troops are across the Rhine, and have trapped some 8 divisions or more. I can’t see how they keep going. Well, it shouldn’t last too long unless they all are determined to die for “der Fuhrer”. If so we’ll oblige the S.O.B’s.

I haven’t received any mail from you for about a week now. I hope there’s some at the company when I get back.

Best Love,

Monday, January 18, 2010

Between the Lines:Bill in Combat January 30 to March 5, 1945

Company A remains in houses in Glassenberg until the 30th. of January, when ordered to take over positions at the French Garrison. At the Garrison a line is built around the French fortifications, so that it is possible for some of the men to be in buildings or pillboxes. The weather begins to break from snow to rain creating water and mud where the snow had been.

On the night of February 2-3, an attack is ordered by the battalion CO. A Company is the only unit to participate. The plan is for one platoon to attack a certain enemy hill, and if successful to move around back toward the American line where the rest of the Company is to push out and meet them. Then the whole company is to dig in the new position. The First Platoon makes the attack. Three enemy machine guns are emplaced in well situated positions high on the hill with plenty of rifle protection. Interlocking and cross fire from the guns, the difficult terrain and darkness cause the platoon to split up and lose contact with one another. Meanwhile, artillery rounds fall on the rest of the Company as they await the signal to push out and meet the First Platoon. The linkup fails and Company A must move back to its original position.

Except for more miserable rain, and limited patrol activity, nothing particularly important happens until February 14 when the Company is relieved and retires to Siersthal. By this time both combatants are well acquainted with each other’s lines and strong points of resistance. On the 20th Company A is back up on the line at the Glassenberg flank. On March 5, they are pulled back for another rest.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

About Letter 181

After being on the line for 3 months, much of it spent in a foxhole, Bill is entitled to a four day rest. He is located in "a fairly large town where it is possible to obtain almost anything I want.....Boy,oh Boy am I taking it in!" The war news looks good with "the German 15th. Army pinned up against the Rhine."

Letter 181- March 5, 1945

March 5, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

It’s been a long time since I’ve written to you. It must be 10 days or better. The last one was written from the field but this one is from behind the lines—not just a little behind as usual but way, way behind. You see having been on the line for better than 3 months I’m entitled to a four day rest and this is it. Boy, oh Boy! Am I taking it in. Life here is wonderful. No guard, K.P., responsibilities of any kind—just loaf, relax, and do what I want to do. It does seem odd not to hear the thunder and whistle of the guns but I can take it. I’m located in a fairly large town where it is possible to obtain most anything I want. There are ice cream and pastry shops, places to buy souvenirs and also there is a photographer. I haven’t inquired there yet but if it is possible I would like to have a picture and send it to you.

We have movies every night and various sorts of entertainment during the day—swing sessions, a snack bar, and occasionally a 100 piece military band—very good too. We eat in a modern hotel where the food is excellent though there’s not enough for a growing boy like you know who. We have French waitresses and generally music with our meals. You can see that after living for months in the mud all this luxury is pretty nearly overwhelming.

The news certainly looks good this morning with the German 15th. Army pinned up against the Rhine. I just hope that by the time you receive this letter the news will be even better.

That about does it.

Best Love,

About Attrition and Troop Replacements

Throughout the latter part of December and the months of January and February there is a continuous flow of men in and out of the organization. Many men are lost to all types of sickness, and as the Company keeps losing strength more and more replacements come up to the line to fill in.

Trench foot and Yellow Jaundice are the most common maladies. Both are quite serious and will keep men off the line a long time if not permanently. Also, men go off the line as a result of combat fatigue due to mental strain and the miserable climatic conditions.

Bill seems to be holding up well despite the considerable hardships he is facing.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

About Letter 180

In this short note Bill writes to let the folks know that "I'm well and so forth."

Letter 180- February 20, 1945

February 20, 1945
(France; V-Mail)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

I thought I’d get off a short note while the sun shines. You know, just to let you know I’m well and so forth. I received two letters from you this morning dated the 9th. and 10th. One of them was the one in which you told of Bob Brewer coming to school. He was right about my outfit the second time. I’m surprised that he only gets 90 days in the States after what he went through. He should get a discharge.

I must close now. I will write again as soon as possible.

Best Love,

About Letter 179

Bill and Company A continue to be "off the lines" and "there is not a 'helluva lot to do except eat, sleep and write letters." From what he reads in "Stars and Stripes" Bill understands that things are going OK, but he adds that "Frankly I'm damn sick and tired of this mess."

Letter 179- February 18, 1945

February 18, 1945
(Somewhere in France)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

While I’m trying to invent a new way to start this letter I might as well begin writing. Enclosed is a money order for 50.oo. It’s been some time since I’ve been able to get off $50 to $75 a month. This month I saved some of my pay for rations or so that if I get back for a rest, to Paris or something else equally as unlikely I will have a little cash on hand. That’s somewhat awkward, but I imagine that you can understand it.

I’ve been fortunate in being able to see 2 movies during the last couple of days. The pictures were both old, I guess, but they were new to me so I’m content.

While I’m back off the lines like this there’s not a “helluva” lot to do except eat, sleep and write letters. As usual it’s all just a matter of sitting and waiting. I’m waiting for mail, or “chow”, or a rest, or an attack, or some other damn thing. We call it “sweating it out”. I guess I’ll never quit “sweating it out” ‘til they hand me my discharge papers.

I haven’t heard much news for the last few days but from what I read in the “Stars and Stripes” I understand things are going all right. Frankly I’m damn sick and tired of this mess and hope we begin pushing on the Western Front before long.

I received 3 letters from you today, the last having been dated February 4. You did manage to sound cheerful despite the fact that you had received no mail from me for nearly 3 weeks.

I’ve got some bad news for you. I lost my watch. I know where it is but that doesn’t do me any good now. Probably some Kraut has it or maybe another G.I., I hope. At any rate it’s gone and “I ain’t got no watch.” Too, it was practically the last one in the platoon. What I should have is a pocket watch. Maybe I can pick one up somewhere.

Best Love,

Saturday, January 9, 2010

About Letter 178

Bill gets paid and discovers that "for the past month I've been a Private First Class." With his $4.80 raise and combat infantry pay he now makes "about $75 a month." He learns that his grandfather's estate "back east" has settled to the tune of about "twenty-five thousand greenbacks. That would certainly make for post war security in the old homestead."

Letter 178- February 15, 1945

February 15, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

I don’t plan to send this letter V-Mail but it’s all I can find to write on. It’s another lovely day with me in a passably comfortable place. Yesterday I got paid and found out that for this past month I’ve been a Private First Class. Some stuff, huh? At this rate I might make buck sergeant in 30 or 40 years. I don’t think I can wait that long, however. Anyway it means about $4.80 more a month. That’ll help a little. Along with that Combat Infantry pay I’ll be making about $75 a month. Tomorrow, by the way, I’m sending home a money order for $50. That ought to do my account some good. How much have I got now, anyway?

The news of the settlement of the estate back east is being eagerly awaited by me. It sure sounds good to me. Twenty-five thousand of those “greenbacks” would certainly make for post war security in the old homestead, what?

I received 3 letters from you today written between Jan. 20 and Feb. 2 and still you’ve received no mail from me. Circumstances make it impossible for me to write for quite some time but you should be getting mail by now unless something I don’t know about has happened. I know how worried you must be, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I won’t say “C`est la guerre”, however, since that phrase has always seemed rather provoking to me. Someone uses that for an explanation and I feel like slamming the bloke in the kisser.

The news is pretty good these days and I hope it’s better by the time you get this letter. We had an orientation lecture today and the Russians claim their big drive hasn’t even begun yet. Oh boy!
Gotta close.

Best Love,

About Letter 177

From the safety of "a comfortable room at a table with plenty of sunshine to write by", Bill tells his folks that " I'm growing a'd be surprised how much it makes me look like you, Dad." Bill notes that the papers are reporting that "the 3 big cheeses have finished their 'momentous confab'." He sarcastically adds that "I think we'd all be better off if all 3 of 'em were in hell."

Letter 177- February 14, 1945

February 14, 1945
(“Somewhere” as usual)

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Well, once again I am in a place where writing a letter is possible. I’m sitting in a comfortable room at a table with plenty of sunshine to write by—yes, I said sunshine. It seems as if spring has hit this country at last. Since I last wrote there’s been a steady rise in temperature; and now there’s not even a trace of snow left on the ground. It’s amazing how green everything has suddenly become. But inevitably with the last of the snow came the spring rains. Oi! Mud. I guess one must accept the bitter with the sweet. Anyway, today is beautiful. Temporarily, at least. I think of France without muttering something unprintable to myself. I can even see myself visiting this place again in the distant future.

I’ve got a laugh for you. I’m growing a mustache. As yet it doesn’t amount to much—maybe it never will--but you’d be surprised how much it makes me look like you, Dad.

As yet I’ve received no mail from you written later than the radiogram so I don’t know whether or not you’re receiving my mail or not. I sure hope so. I got quite a kick out of the clippings about Elliot’s pooch. Millions of men involved in such a desperate struggle and then that palooka can pull something like that—Jesus!

I’m surprised I haven’t received any more packages as yet since you mailed them all just about the same time. They’ll probably be along any time now.

I note by the paper that the 3 big cheeses have finished their “momentous” confab. I think we’d all be better off if all 3 of ‘em were in hell. I wonder if they ever really accomplish anything with these meetings.

The news these days seems damned good even if not as sensational as it was a week or so ago. However, the darned Jerries around here don’t seem too downhearted. They still shoot at me now and then.

I’ll close now with a gentle hint—How about a box of candy or cookies—subtle, huh? Lots of love—in fact.

Bestus Love,

Monday, January 4, 2010

About Letter 176

From "somewhere in France" Bill continues to await additional combat action. He complains that "it's hard to write when there's so little to write about. Either they won't let me write about a thing or it isn't worth writing about anyway."

Letter 176- February 7, 1945

February 8 or 7, 1945
(Somewhere in France; V-Mail)

Dear Mudder and Dad

It’s Feb. 7 just in case you’re curious. I couldn’t recall for just a minute. How time flies. One would think that it would go “as slow as molasses in January,” to quote an old cliché; but it doesn’t. It doesn’t seem possible that it is February already and I’ve been with the 399th. for better than 2 months and been overseas for better than 6. By the way when I get home you’ll probably not be able to recognize me for the “fruit salad” I’ll be wearing: combat infantry badge, good conduct ribbon, E.T.O. ribbon with at least one campaign star, I don’t know how many overseas service bars on my sleeve—I’m entitled to one now, regimental badges, divisional patch and if they do send me to the Pacific I’ll end up looking like a Christmas tree.

Jesus Christ! It’s hard to write when there’s so little to write about. Either they won’t let me write about a thing or it isn’t worth writing about anyway. I can tell you the weather’s rotten which you know anyhow. I can say that things are about the same but the only trouble with that is that I couldn’t tell you how they were in the first place. Well, anyway I’m well and I guess that’s what you want to hear; running off the page so….

Best Love,

About Letter 175

It's been a week since Bill has written, but "not a 'hellova' lot has happened in the interim." It is warmer and the snow has turned to rain. The ground is thawing, becoming mud. The war news is "heartening", but Bill remains skeptical about it ending anytime soon.

Letter 175- February 6, 1945

February 6, 1945

Dear Mudder and Dad,

Yesterday I received a radiogram from you and it certainly made me feel rotten. Evidently you’re not getting any mail from me and I know how worried you must be but the worst of it is that there’s not a damned thing I can do about it. Generally it’s too cold, too wet—just impossible to write except when I’m back for a rest or in a house or building. My paper gets all wet or the officers are too busy to censor them or a combination of these things hinder my letter writing. As it is I don’t know when I’ll be able to answer your radiogram. Maybe in a few days, I hope.

It’s been a week again since I’ve written but not a “helluva” lot has happened in the interim. The weather here has turned better or worse as you will have it. The weather is warmer and that’s good, but it’s raining, the snow’s melting and the ground is thawing—mud; that’s bad, but “pozzitivle”.

The news is sure heartening these days. I guess the damn thing could end anytime but it possibly won’t; stubborn cusses, these damn Dutchmen. It looks as if I’m going home by way of the Suez Canal anyway.

Best Love,