RECOLLECTIONS OF A WORLD WAR II INFANTRYMAN
By Sol R. Brandell

An autobiographic account from 1st December, 1942, through 31st March, 1946
in the European Theater of Operations


Table of Contents
At City College of New York and Enlistment
Call to Active Duty
Infantry Basic Training, Camp Wolters, TX
Examination and Assignment to ASTP
ASTP and Pre-Med at University of Cincinnati, OH
89th Infantry Division, Camp Butner, NC
Overseas to European Theater of Operations
Combat Duty Begins
Discovery of Concentration Camps at Ohrdruf
Combat Duty Continues
V-E Day and Return to Normandy
At University of Paris
Occupation Duty at Linz-Urfahr, Austria
Second Return to Normandy and Return Trip to the US
Postscript

89th Infantry Division, Camp Butner, North Carolina

After a long train ride from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Durham, NC, all alone with my duffel bag and an envelope containing my Army records, I reported to the transient barracks at Camp Butner. The next day I was welcomed into the 89th Infantry Division, 355th Infantry Regiment, and was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, Antitank Platoon to be trained as an anti-tank gunner to serve on a 57mm AT gun squad.

After having been trained on the 57mm gun I was informed by my Platoon Sergeant that he would ask the Company Commander to promote me to squad leader, i.e., Staff Sergeant, of an AT gun squad because I had exhibited great skill with the AT gun and because I had already completed 1 years plus 3 quarters of university schooling, including 1 years of Infantry ROTC, had memorized most of the part names, and their functions and locations, of the 57mm AT gun, etc., but another man who shipped into our platoon, already a Sergeant, had to be trained, by me, a Private First Class. Of course, according to the laws of poetic justice, he became the squad leader of another squad. Note that I who trained him, and quite arduously so, remained a PFC! The platoon sergeant then promised that he would ask the Company Commander to make me 1st Gunner, i.e., Corporal, because I'd made the highest scores in the 2nd Battalion with the '57', both in 30-06 cal. (sub-caliber) firing and full caliber (using actual 12 lb. total shells, with 6 lb. projectile 57mm AT standard armor-piercing rounds). Somehow it never came true and I remained 2nd Gunner, i.e., reloading the semi-automatic breechblock after every shot and took over the 1st Gunner's job only in case of emergency. Note, that even at this point, I felt I was a victim of circumstance only and did not, at the time, suspect any anti-Semitic discrimination! As a matter of fact, I received an Expert Infantryman Badge at this time having met the required qualifications.

Sometime later, in early November, 1944, before we were ordered overseas to Europe, the Company Commander sent his orderly to fetch me from the barracks to the Command Post. I knocked on the door, was asked inside, stood at attention and saluted, the Company Commander returned my salute and told me to stand at ease. He told the CQ to leave us alone, which I thought strange, and accordingly, the CQ made his exit. The Company Commander began by telling me that the Platoon Sergeant had told him that I was the best all-around soldier in the entire AT Platoon, knew everything that was necessary to know about the 57mm AT gun, was better educated than any other soldier in our AT Platoon, was quick-witted, had fired a very high score and recommended that I be promoted to Corporal so that I could be 1st Gunner in one of the AT squads of the platoon. I was about to thank him for what I thought was a compliment.... but was completely taken by surprise when he cut me short saying that, and I quote: "Because you are a Jew you'll never be able to advance in HQ Co., 2nd Battalion, 355th Infantry Regiment, as long as I remain Company Commander, and that I would be willing to transfer you out of the 89th Division to any other non-combat service outfit you choose before we ship overseas!" I could hardly believe my ears, was instantaneously taken aback and was shocked for a moment or two, having truly expected a compliment by virtue of the Platoon Sergeant's prior praise. When I'd recovered somewhat, I said I wished to make a complaint to the Inspector General's Department (IG). He said that such a complaint would be of no use because, as there were no third party witnesses to our conversation, the IG would certainly not take my word over his! I finally understood what he was telling me! Although I was very disheartened by his statements, I tried not to show it, and told him I wished to remain with the Platoon Sergeant's platoon and go into combat with them! I also reminded him to check my records and see that not only had I enlisted in the Army (my ASN begins with a "1", not a "3", like those who were draftees) to begin with, and had subsequently volunteered for duty with the Infantry while I was in ASTP Pre-Med School at the University of Cincinnati! It was to no avail!

Also, I thought to myself: Had I accepted the transfer as he wished it would somehow imply that I was cowardly and would appear, in the "eyes" of the Army, to justify his original desire to get rid of me! I therefore was determined to be the best soldier I could be in spite of him, and remained in the Anti-tank Platoon throughout combat duty until I was transferred to the Combat Intelligence and Reconnaissance Section after our AT gun was retired from combat duty later on in Germany. I was ashamed to mention the Company Commander's anti-Semitism to the Platoon Sergeant, as I thought he might not believe such a thing could be possible in the U.S. Army! Actually, the Platoon Sergeant had a Czech name and had once mentioned to me that some of his relatives had lived in Czechoslovakia but he had never been able to contact them after the Nazi occupation took place in 1939!

We received an invitation for 50 soldiers from the 355th to attend a dance at a small women's college, i.e., Meridith College, in the nearby town of Durham. During the dance, a pretty young college student exclaimed, after I'd introduced myself using my first name, and asked for a dance: "You're mighty cute for a lil' ole damn-Yankee, New York, Jew-Communist!" Although I was somewhat shaken at this crude salutation I realized that it was only a local figure of speech because not only did she dance with me, but snuggled very close! I guess it was just a fleeting moment of mutual desire!

(It seemed ironic, but during our stay in Camp Butner, about 4 or 5 weeks before we were slated to depart for Europe, a clerk from 355th Infantry Regimental HQ, having looked through my records came to ask me if I could play the Hammond electric organ in the Chapel, for both Catholic and Protestant services on Sundays? It seems the regular chaplain's assistant had succumbed to a case of spinal meningitis! Therefore, I, who was one of the few Jewish guys in 2nd Battalion, became the organist for all Christian services till we shipped out overseas to join 3rd Army in Europe.)

Soon after, we left Camp Butner, NC, by train and traveled to Camp Myles Standish in Massachusetts, which was our staging area near Boston/Providence. I must admit that the people of Providence were more friendly to us than most of the people of Durham had ever been as I thought of a sign at the entrance to a small park in Durham which read: NO DOGS OR SOLDIERS ALLOWED!

 

< back | next page >