VE to VJ Day: Occupation

It was difficult to believe the war was over. From Gruna on the North to Aue on the south, just above the craggy, projecting bulge of Czechoslovakia, GIs of the 89th crawled warily from their outposts to watch the Germans plod past in an endless, tired procession to the PW cages. Even though the unconditional surrender of all German land, sea and air forces in Europe had been signed, it would be a long time before men could move about without first instinctively reaching for a weapon, without avoiding silhouetting themselves against a blackout curtain or a lighted doorway. The sign and countersign for the night, the spare clip in the pocket, an alert ear and eye for suspicious movement and sound, had become as much a part of life as once had been setting out the milk bottles and driving on the right-hand side of the street in Chicago.

When the surrender terms became effective on May 9 at 0001, the 89th was flanked on the north by the 76th Infantry Division and on the south by the 87th Infantry Division. The Russians were less than fifteen miles away. The Division still was alerted to full defensive precautions because of possible delays in relaying the surrender orders to enemy troops with disrupted communications, but little trouble was encountered, and gradually the realization came that the last shot had been fired in the ETO.

Less than a week later, the Division received marching orders again. For once nearly every Gasthaus commentator was right. Everybody knew that the outfit was headed for an occupation chore in the vicinity of Gotha and Arnstadt, which the Division had conquered in battle only a few weeks previously. On May 11 and 12, the combat-wise Rolling W wheeled back down the Autobahn 150 kilometers while at the same time being transferred from the First Army to the Ninth. This was the last Army assignment for the Division. On June 15th, the Division was transferred from to the control of the XVI Corps, under which jurisdiction it remained for the rest of the summer.

Occupation duties included guarding camps for displaced persons (DPs) at Ohrdruf and Gotha, and such places as hospitals, laboratories, railroad bridges, art treasures, etc. One of the most ticklish jobs fell to the GIs who were assigned roving patrol detail in German towns, particularly those near camps for DPs, to prevent the ex-slave laborers from running wild over their former masters. In addition, liberated inhabitants of the concentration camps, many of whom had vowed to devote the rest of their lives to vengeance, roamed the territory in confiscated German automobiles, seeking out their former captors. The hatred of the DPs for their ex-bosses at times ascended to heights of murderous fury.

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