Overseas to European Theater of Operations
We crossed the freezing North Atlantic, on a converted 28,000 ton Grace Line ship named the S.S.Uruguay, in very rough seas and with numerous submarine alerts announced by our accompanying US Navy destroyers. After 12 days in convoy, we finally dropped anchor in the English Channel near Le Havre. Debarking by rope ladder into LCT's…landing on an ice-covered beach in Normandy…riding about 40 miles to the campground in overcrowded 2˝ -ton trucks, which stalled almost every mile or two in the 15-degrees below-zero weather… embellished with a raging blizzard! We then set up our 14-man tents on the icy ground at 0300 hrs and were allotted only 1 blanket each and were left without stoves or coal for heating each tent! No food rations were available till 1000 hrs next day, and even then we each received only 1 single-portion box of dry Kellogg's Corn Flakes and 1 small orange to last for the next 8 hours! Maybe the Army imposed these conditions on us to make us wish we could enter combat as soon as possible? If so, they were overwhelmingly correct !!
Many men of the 355th Infantry, including myself, those from the Regimental AT Co., and each of the Battalion AT Platoons, were assigned to the task of degreasing, cleaning and re-lubricating all our 57mm AT guns, after their 12-day sea voyage. This "gala" event took place in a huge commercial steam laundry in the town of Pavilly, in Normandy. Not only did we work there for about 5 or 6 days but we had to sleep there on GI cots so we could start our work of cleaning out the cosmoline as early as possible after breakfast. This job turned out to be very grueling, tedious work.
The third (?) morning, while returning with breakfast from our nearby field kitchen, a small (5'-1"?), blond, blue-eyed young lady with a sweet smile, who I guessed to be about 16 years old, began following me into the laundry while smiling at me and looking at the food in my mess kit? I realized that she was ravenously hungry and offered her the mess kit telling her to eat as much as she wished! She ate a good bit of it, with both trembling lips and hands, and returned more than half of the food to me, saying that I was the most "sympathique", i.e., sympathetic, American soldier (out of the 100 or so that were in the laundry) and that in return for the food, and my "warm heart ", she would bring me a gift! A couple of days later she returned and gave me a small, slightly worn, silver plated religious medal from the shrine of "Our Lady of Lourdes", to keep me safe during the fighting!! Although I was not a pious person I felt that it couldn't hurt to carry it with me! (I saved that little medal after combat ended and later in civilian life always kept it stuck onto my automobile dashboard and always remembered her name, Gilbert, because I'd christened our 57mm AT gun with her name which I painted on the upper front armor shield of our gun.)
While we were billeted in the village of Fourcigny, a group of soldiers from 2nd Battalion who were Roman Catholics thought it would be a good idea, before becoming immersed in combat, to visit the Cathedral of Amiens, and be blessed! As I was the only French-speaking guy in my battalion, I was chosen to accompany them as an interpreter. The prelate who they told me to ask to bless us, speaking only French, turned out to be a bishop! He noticed, as he began the 'blessing' ceremony, that I'd stood aside. He asked why I'd hesitated and I told him I was Jewish, upon which he smiled and said that the Lord's blessing applied to me as much as to any other soldier who was setting out to fight against the Nazi barbarians! I thanked him and thought to myself that this bishop had a very refreshing viewpoint about Jews when compared to my CO!
Later on, in 1980, while living in Southern California, I was involved in a bad, multiple-car accident, on my way to work, in which my car was "rear-ended", and sandwiched between 2 other cars while I was waiting in line at a stoplight. When I left the hospital, I went to the wreckers who had towed my car, as it had been considered totally destroyed, to look for Gilbert's medal, but it had already been stolen!! I missed it, but as it had at this point, already done its work numerous times I really couldn't have expected to keep it forever!