Robert Woodrum: Recollections of WWII


On December 7, 1941 I was about seven or eight weeks shy of my eighteenth birthday. I was out of high school and interested in possibly joining the Army Air Corps in some capacity, maybe as an air cadet, if I could pass the requirements. Since I had two brothers in the army (Charles enlisted in the Army Air Force and Harold was drafted in the ground forces), my parents were reluctant to have me enter any of the services at that time, saying that I would have to wait until my age group was going to be drafted, and then they would sign the necessary papers for me to enlist.

In the spring I followed another of my brothers, Walter, to Baltimore, Md. to work at Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Co. I worked there for about five months and in the fall congress passed legislation that, indeed, they would begin drafting eighteen year-olds. I gave the customary two weeks notice and quit my job there and headed back to Southern Ohio where my parents lived and where I grew up. I made a visit to the Army recruiting office and signed up for Army Air Cadet training. They sent me to Columbus, Ohio for testing and a physical, and, as fate would decree, I didn't pass the physical. I was 6'2" and weighed in at a robust 124 pounds, not quite acceptable, so they gave me 30 days to put on 20 pounds.

Before I could get back, an announcement came that all enlistments would be ended effective by a certain date (I think it was at the end of November, 1942). That cut about a week off my 30 days, so after gorging myself on bananas and milk, I headed back to Columbus for a recheck. I had gained the weight okay, but now my heart rate was too high and they rejected me again. Back to the drawing board, so to speak. By now all enlistments were ended and I was destined to wait for the draft and take whatever was in store for me. Since I had registered for the draft in Baltimore, that would cause an extra eight-month delay before it got around to me.

In late July 1943 I got a notice to report to an induction center in Huntington, West Virginia for a physical prior to induction into the Army. Wouldn't you know, I passed with flying colors, was sworn in and told to get my affairs in order and report for active duty in two weeks.

My reporting in consisted of going to the Norfolk and Western Railroad station in Portsmouth, Ohio and boarding a packed troop train headed for Fort Thomas, Kentucky (across the Ohio river from Cincinnati). In the next few days we got tested and re-tested, got shots for whatever was required, and were issued our uniforms and equipment, and in a couple of days we were under way to where ever.

When we got off the train several days later, we were at Camp Haan, California, (across highway 395 from March Air Corps Base south of beautiful Riverside, Ca.). I was assigned to a Coast Artillery (anti-aircraft) Artillery unit for basic training. I can't recall the unit number but we trained on half-track vehicles equipped with four 50caliber machine guns mounted on the turret (soon to be twin 40 mm cannons). Our stay there included two trips to Camp Irwin, on the Mojave Desert where 120 degrees temperature was common during the summer and fall. Once, back at Camp Haan, when we had finished a particularly busy day of hiking, etc., and we had finished with chow and all "flaked out" on our cots in the barracks, Sgt. Greathouse (our barracks sergeant) was on his way back toward us from the orderly room when he stopped, turned toward the orderly room and shouted fairly loudly, "OK Sarge, I'll get a couple of them for you." The barracks was emptied in seconds, out of the back door, except for myself and one other guy. We were rolling with laughter and it really looked funny. Sergeant Greathouse stuck his head in the door and said, "Woodrum, you and you (the other guy) get into your dress uniforms and report to the orderly room in fifteen minutes, you're going to a stage show at Camp Anza." That night we saw Xavier Cugat and his band, featuring a Cuban bongo drum player named Desi Arnaz and also Desi's new wife Lucille Ball. Another time, near the end of basic, we saw the world heavyweight champion, Sgt. Joe Louis, in an exhibition bout in an outdoor boxing ring there in Camp Haan.

At the end of basic training, around the end of November 1943, I was told to get "my stuff" together and get ready to move out for some "special training". It turned out to be a new assignment at a STAR (Special Training and Reassignment) Unit at Compton Junior College in Compton, Ca. Since I had graduated from a pretty small high school, and had very little guidance in my course of study, I was ill prepared for the study routine that we undertook there at Compton J.C. I understood most of the math, knew something about physics, but knew nothing at all about chemistry, and these subjects plus physical ed were the things that were drilled into us day in and day out. I remember studying all weekend more than once to get the gist of what we were covering in chemistry. Eventually it began to soak in. If we failed in more than one subject, or if we failed the same subject two weeks in a row, it was off to Fort Bliss, Texas (near El Paso) --- some of our guys called it "ignorance is bliss" when someone flunked out.

By February 1, 1944 (my 20th birthday) we were on the move again, this time it was across town to UCLA. I was assigned to ASTU 3904, housed in the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity house at 10924 Strathmore Drive, in Los Angeles (Westwood), CA. Four of us shared a small room near the front door, the others were my good friend Bill Purcell, from Lexington, Ky., Walter Bergmueller from New Jersey and Don Rutter from West Virginia. (Bill went to Co. "B" 353rd Inf. Regiment 1st Bn., I'm not sure where Walt and Don went. In 1957 I was traveling on a train between Chicago and Cincinnati and saw Bill there. Having passed him and going to the next car after having dinner, I told my wife that I thought there was a guy in the car ahead that I was in service with. I went up there and said hello, and it surely was him. He was working for Proctor and Gamble at that time and had attended a sales meeting in Chicago and was returning to Cincinnati. Sorry to say that other than "Cincinnati", I didn't have presence of mind to get his address. I was somewhat under stress since my brother Charles had died, and my wife and I were on our way to his funeral).

On weekends we sometimes went to Hollywood to the Stage Door Canteen and other places, but one Saturday Bill Purcell and I decided we'd go to an ice rink called Sonja Henie's Polar Palace. I had never been on ice skates before but I managed to creep around the outer perimeter basically skating on my ankles. There happened to be a partially melted area on one side and it was right in my path of travel. Sure enough, I splattered down on my backside right in the middle of it. My uniform was soaked through and that ended our skating adventure. Occasionally, when we had assembly in beautiful Royce Hall there at UCLA we were entertained by a young singer with a beautiful bass voice. He sang such songs as "Stout Hearted Men" and "On the Road To Mandalay". He sometimes substituted for ASTP teachers and Navy V12 teachers. We had him a couple of times in class. His name was Jerome Hines. He went on to become a very well known opera singer with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. (In the spring of 1986 I happened to be in Newport News, Virginia on a wind tunnel test and saw a notice that he would be appearing in a local concert hall. I called and got a very good second row seat. After the concert was over I got to go backstage, and when I mentioned spring of 1944, he was very pleased to be reminded of those days. He autographed a program for my wife Kathleen, and she really treasures it).

We were there about six weeks when we got notice that the program was being cancelled. On March 15, 1944 we were loaded in trucks and taken to beautiful Union Station in Los Angeles. After a short wait we were loaded on a train to go to Camp Roberts, Ca. We got there in the wee hours of the morning and were told to bed down there at trackside. What a switch! We were on innerspring mattresses one night, and on the ground the next night.

The next morning I was assigned to "A" Battery, 341st Field Artillery Battalion, 89th Infantry Division. They were on maneuvers up in the coastal mountains at a place called Hunter Liggett Military Reservation. We were taken there that same day and started some preparatory training prior to joining our unit. Here we were housed in pyramidal tents and, since I was to be involved in the telephone communications aspect of an artillery battery, I was taught how to "field splice" telephone wires, telephone courtesy, laying and retrieving wires, and so forth, before actually joining the battery. I knew nothing about what kind of division I was with, but when we got to the maneuver area I saw that our enemy were people way down there in the valley with mules for transporting their supplies and equipment. I was assigned to 1st Lieutenant J.J. Stach (pronounced stack) who was one of the forward observers for our battery. He showed me how to look for potential targets and how to give firing commands over the telephone.

On my second day there, I was designated as a casualty by one of the observers. The medic came, bound me up with a splint from shoulder to ankle on my right side, loaded me on a litter, then on the back of a Jeep, and they took me to the field hospital. There they looked over the medic's work, removed the splint and said I could go. Problem was I had no way of knowing which way. Some kind soul pointed me in the right direction and said, "It's only a couple of miles up that trail". In the future I paid closer attention when being transported somewhere.

The night before maneuvers ended I caught good ol' guard duty and most of the next day I was pretty tired from lack of sleep. We started our "march to the sea" just at dusk and the more we walked, the sleepier I got. Periodically we got a ten-minute rest break, and more than once I just leaned up against an embankment and fell asleep standing up. I never would have believed that was possible until I did it. When we got to the coast in the wee hours of the morning we were told to sack out where ever we could find a spot. When I woke up in the morning I had slept on top of some rocks, which weren't hard enough to keep me awake.

From there we went back to Hunter Liggett for a few weeks and, except for the pup tents in formation, row upon row, the troop formations, the bugle calls in the morning, evening and taps, I can recall very little about what else went on. I did get acquainted with others in the wire and telephone group having spent most of my time up to now with the observer and his radio operator, Charlie Vitale. It was during this time that I began hanging around with Ed Ebert from Cardington, Ohio and John Vaughn from the Zanesville, Ohio area (we buckeyes stuck together). We started attending church services together in Hunter Liggett and continued doing so until we left for overseas.

Our regular switchboard operator was T/5 J. F. Sutter and he was from Vallejo, California (on San Francisco Bay). I think his name was John, but we all just called him Sutter. He was as tall as I was, but probably weighed in about a hundred pounds more. He was the regular guidon bearer when we had a parade or were in marching formation. He was quite a bit older than us new guys in the battery. Corporal Norris, our battery clerk, notified me that I been selected to become the substitute guidon bearer. He showed me how to carry it while marching, how to dip it down on the "present arms" command, how to bring it back up at "order arms" command and how to position myself one pace to the right (or was it left?) and two paces behind the commanding officer, both while marching in formation and while stationary.

The first time I had that duty, Sutter had gone home on some kind of leave from Hunter Liggett and we were going to have some kind of gathering of the whole battalion. We practiced in the afternoon on the day of the parade and I was confident that I could handle the situation. That evening, during the "present arms" part, that chrome plated tip thing came off and plopped down in the dust with a thud. I was shaking in my boots, not knowing what to do, so I did nothing. After "order arms", and just prior to moving out, Captain Pachak (pronounced paycheck) said out the side of his mouth, "Pick it up!" and I did that very thing and stuck it in my pocket. I'm not sure what caused that to happen, but I kind of think I was sabotaged because the retaining screw probably had been loosened or removed by some one who resented that a rank newcomer to the battery was doing a pretty prominent job.

From there we returned to Camp Roberts, boarded a train and left for parts unknown. We traveled, as I recall, pretty much in the South. I do remember seeing cotton fields, and in some areas, red clay embankments along the tracks. We ended up at Camp Butner, North Carolina (Near Durham).

Shortly afterward I got my first, and only, furlough. I went to visit my family in Southern Ohio and while there, D-day happened at Normandy on June 6, 1944 (my mother's birthday). My oldest brother, Harold, was home on furlough at the same time after serving in the Panama Canal area on some islands for about three years. After his furlough he was to report to Camp Butner for reassignment. Talk about coincidence. We visited each other when he got to Camp Butner and went to Durham on a couple of occasions and then he got reassigned to Camp Kilmer, N.J. doing Quartermaster duty until the end of the war.

At Camp Butner I learned more about telephone and switchboard operation in support of forward observer duty. We had several field exercises where live artillery ammunition was expended on distant, but visible targets, and where high up officers plotted the forward observer's efficiency. Sometimes Colonel Bissell, the Division Artillery commander (soon to be General) would be among those looking on. We kept on our toes when he was around. During this time I made PFC and thought that I was something else. Sometimes I was involved in stringing the phone and switchboard lines out to various positions when we went on field exercises (to the howitzer locations, to the command post, to the battalion headquarters, etc.) Sometimes we would string wires out "on the fly" (from the back of our ton vehicle) if we were in a special hurry and a couple of us would trail along behind at a running pace to secure the wires away from traffic hazards. When we were states side we were always expected to recover the wires for reuse.

The mosquitoes there at Camp Butner, especially in the field, were the hungriest that I have encountered, and I dreaded going out on overnight exercises. Sometime in October I made T/5 and it was shortly afterward when Capt. Pachak gave me a special assignment. He wanted a large chart made which would show all of the battery personnel with a listing of all the requirements that we needed for overseas duty. The chart was probably 6'X6', on lime green poster paper, and showed such things as name, rank, serial number, all the shots and inoculations, qualification on various weapons, gas mask drill, attendance at various training films, and such as that. It was posted outside our orderly room door and each of us could monitor his status as it was updated daily from information furnished to me by Cpl. Norris, our battery clerk. By December everyone was qualified in all categories and we were ready to go.

Shortly before Christmas I got a five-day pass to go visit relatives, so I headed for Southern Ohio again. Everybody in the services must have been traveling at that time because when I got to Durham there was no space left on the train. I caught a bus to Lynchburg, Virginia and there I boarded the Chesapeake and Ohio train going west. This train was really packed too, as I think I must have stood up for at least 100 miles. The car I was riding was a real "oldie" with a potbelly stove for heat. That stove really did heat, too. The porter kept the coal in it and it glowed red most of the time.

On this trip I used one and a half of my precious five days to go from Portsmouth, Ohio to Detroit, Michigan to visit with my older sister, Ella Willis. While I was there she gave me a Christmas present that I still have, a pocket-sized New Testament with thin, steel cover. I carried it in my shirt pocket (over my heart) all through the coming months. I then went back to Portsmouth to say goodbye to my parents, my younger sister Betty, and my two younger brothers Ray and Jim (large family to say goodbye to).

When I got back to Camp Butner things were pretty hectic and we were close to shipping out. Our train trip up the coast was something of a blur in my memory, and what I do remember is that it was snowy, and icy and very cold when we got to Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts near Boston. I don't recall anything specific that we did there for the next few days but we all boarded trains on January 10, 1945 to go to the docks in Boston. I remember the ladies giving us coffee and doughnuts and a small bag of "goodies" of some kind as we were moving toward the gangplank of the Edmund B. Alexander troop ship. I think I broke some kind of record for getting seasick the fastest, as I did that afternoon while we were out in Boston Bay riding at anchor while waiting to join our convoy when it got dark. The seasickness lasted most of the way across the Atlantic. I've always heard that when one is seasick, only the hope of dying is all that keeps him alive, and I believe that may be true in this case.

By the time got to Le Havre, France I was okay again. The weather was cold and miserable and it was overcast as we debarked and were trucked to Camp Lucky Strike. There we were greeted by occasional snow and lots of ankle-deep mud. We were put in large twenty-man tents with folding cots. At least the tents were dry inside, but we had no heat other than what we generated ourselves. We were issued a thin bedroll cover but no liner. We used our regular issue blankets inside the cover and it kept us fairly warm but not really comfortable.

We eventually were moved to a small town in the interior (I'm not sure I ever knew the name of the village). Our battery was the only unit in this village, which was a rural, farm like community. Our wire and telephone group was given a chicken house for quarters. Cpl. Lawrence Marrett, our wire chief, directed the cleaning out, and hosing down, of the chicken house and I remember that, because the weather was still rather cold, the floor was rather damp when we all bedded down that night. The weather had warmed up somewhat, but the mornings were quite brisk. One early morning we got a report that the phone line to one of our officer's quarters was out and I was sent to find the trouble with one of our other linemen. I never really got the routine right on how to use spurs and belt when climbing telephone poles, but there I was about ten feet, or so, up a pole using our spare phone to troubleshoot the problem. When we had found the problem, I loosened the belt, and just as I loosened that second spur, down I came. Fortunately, I was wearing gloves because they picked up splinters all the way down. Also, fortunately, I never had to use those spurs again.

Our next stop was Luxembourg. I'm not sure whether we were in the town itself, or whether it was some outlying village. I do remember hearing the booming of artillery almost incessantly. We were billeted in a regular home and an elderly lady came to tend to the heating every morning. She used coal briquettes for fuel, I had never heard of those until then. As I recall they really did work good.

From there, forward observer1st Lt. Stach, driver T/5 Bob Lewis, radio operator T/5 Charlie Vitale and myself, now being a forward observer unit, made a trip in our Jeep (I think this was the first time we were ever all together) up nearer to the front. Now we could really hear the artillery booming, and see tanks up close for the first time. I suppose we were getting familiar with working together, sort of a shakedown cruise, so to speak. It wasn't long after that when we got our first taste of the real thing, what we were there to do. On March 14, 1945 we were getting ready to cross the Moselle River minus our driver and Jeep, of course. We were in a field with troops from the 353rd Infantry Regiment. I think it was a Wednesday, but I'm not confident of that, anyway, someone came by with some bottles of wine that had apparently been "liberated" from a monastery nearby. Apparently, the monastery had a fairly well stocked cellar, and they gave us permission to use some of it. We bedded down there in the field shortly after the wine-drinking and slept quite well until one or two in the morning, when we were awakened and told to get ready to move out. We left the field and started down a small road toward the Moselle River. When we got to the riverbank we boarded small craft (they looked like pontoon sections), each was given a paddle and we paddled across to the other side. Not much activity thus far, but on the other side, as we were progressing up the hill through a vineyard, suddenly the Germans launched a flare. Almost immediately machine gun rounds were flying everywhere. We had been taught in basic to stay low and not move in situations such as this, and I think everybody did. In a few minutes it was dark again and we continued up the hill. I was only a few feet from our radio operator when I almost stepped on a dead German soldier, still in his foxhole, and looking extremely young and shot in the head. Charlie told everyone afterward that I turned almost as white as dead German.

By now it was getting almost daybreak and we continued up the hill unimpeded. We had crossed at Bullay. By the time the day was over we had traveled several miles east of the river. We stopped at nightfall near a fairly dense forest. I tried digging a foxhole but the ground was so hard and rocky (and maybe frozen) that my little entrenching shovel had little effect. That night it got pretty cold again and I woke up several times shivering, then I would try digging some more to warm up enough to go back to sleep.

About ten days later we got the chance to repeat the operation all over again. This time we were in support of the 354th Infantry Regiment. We approached St.Goar on the west bank of the Rhine River in the very early hours of March 26, 1945 and we were lined up along a small road that ran down to another road that paralleled the river. We were delayed there for quite some time and, while we were there, a terrific artillery bombardment began, lighting up the sky across the river in St. Goarhausen. They (our side) were using phosphorous shells and the whole town lit up and was soon on fire. It seemed that hours passed before we got moving again and before long it began getting light. By now we knew that this was not to be an easy crossing like we had at the Moselle, because our boats were being shot out of the water by something a lot farther away than our small arms could reach. We continued inching our way toward the shore as much as we could. We were almost to the riverbank, thirty or forty yards away, when we saw an officer dead at waters edge. He had been directing the loading of the boats and getting them underway and had taken a 20 mm anti-aircraft shell in the chest. We eventually got loaded on much larger boats manned by Navy personnel, and got across in short order.

As we climbed the hill north of, and behind, the famous castle there at St. Goarhausen, we could see where the German defenders had built up sandbag supports so that they could elevate their anti-aircraft guns and then could aim down into the river valley where we were trying to cross.

We continued up the hill behind the castle and in a while it leveled off and we were on a ridge going east. About noon we had stopped for a lunch break and I was looking south into a valley to our right where there was a paved road. The hill on the opposite side of the valley was wooded and there was a small clearing with some kind of small building near the road. I saw two German soldiers in their black helmets and long gray overcoats run out of the woods and into the building. I notified Lt. Stach and he notified the Infantry officer in charge and they opened up fire with BAR's and M1's and immediately the two targets ran out of the building and into the woods where they came from. We never knew if either was hit, but the firing did start some grass fires from the tracers, or at least some smoke, and they soon went out on their own.

About two in the afternoon we were notified by radio that the engineers would have a bridge across the Rhine by about five o'clock in the evening. Lt. Stach told me to get back to the river and help guide our vehicle to our overnight stopping place. He pointed out a wooded area a mile or so east and said that was our objective. I went down the road in the valley, which I had watched earlier, and it took me pretty close to the bridge location. By this time it was getting close to dark but I found Bob Lewis and our Jeep okay. He said that there were others there who had come back also, and they would guide us to our position. So I climbed into the Jeep and promptly fell asleep. I don't know how long I slept, but when I awoke our little convoy had stopped, and we were lost. It was quite dark by then and one of the other drivers said that there was supposed to be someone here who knew where our troops were located. I guessed he was talking about me and I let him know I was there. He showed me their map, and I suspected that the road they had been following was on the ridge just south of the one we followed during the afternoon. Anyway, the road had just stopped and we were in a wooded area. I told them I thought we should bear to the left, down the hill and would probably find the road in the valley. They had me string some toilet paper (Which we all carried folded in our helmets) from my helmet to my backside so they could follow me while I walked in front of the vehicles, their "blackout lights" gave very little illumination. We hadn't gone more than three or four hundred yards until we came upon a narrow trail, and further on, the paved road in the valley, what a lucky guess! We got to the bivouac area in short order and, after digging in, I went sound asleep, I had been awake for almost 24 hours again. When I woke in the morning, it had rained, I was in a mud puddle, and heard reports that machine gun firing had gone on most of the night across the adjacent valley (Our own troops firing at each other).

In a day or so we were at a resort town called Bad Schwalbach for a few days rest (I think we were there two or three days) and when we got started again we had to drive many miles on the Autobahn to catch up to the front lines. We could see lots of wreckage of the buildings that we passed along the way. Somewhere along the way we drove through the downtown part of some nameless (in my memory) town where the street was littered with furniture, paper, and debris of all kinds. We forded streams, cautiously went around roadblocks where trees had been cut down to block intersections (one place there was a German soldier, freshly killed, and he still held a "potato masher" grenade with the string pulled, but fortunately not yet exploded, and he was avoided like the plague).

We went through the city of Jena, home of the Carl Ziess Company noted for their cameras, and other optical equipment, but now we saw that it was also a location of the Messerschmitt aircraft manufacturing company. We saw jet aircraft in various stages of completion sitting in an open area outside what appeared to be on underground factory. None of us knew what jet aircraft were because that technology was very new.

It was in this time that we were in a wooded area overlooking a valley with a fairly large patch of woods on our immediate right (southeast). There were several of our infantry personnel, Lt. Stach, T/5 Vitale and myself in this building that we had heard was a former SS barracks. I was studying the wooded area at our right and thought I saw the outline of a motorcycle and a halftrack vehicle that had been pretty well camouflaged. I pointed it out to Lt. Stach and he agreed that it was. Always before, because of our speed of progress across Germany, we hadn't had time to establish telephone communications. This time was different. We called in the artillery orders and got to see the wooded area, with most of its contents, disappear in short order.

About this time, we came to the town of Ohrdruf. Lt. Stach and our driver, Bob Lewis had gone into to the Concentration Camp area, leaving T/5 Vitale and myself in a building where we intended to spend the night. I think this was another SS barracks. When they got back later that evening, they told us about the horrible sights they had seen at the camp. The next morning it was business as usual, and we continued our push to the East. We were progressing eastward on a two-lane road that had some kind of a deep pipeline ditch at the right side. Most of the infantry guys were hanging on to the four tanks at the front of the column and our Jeep was probably about the fourth vehicle behind the tanks with other vehicles behind us. At about nine in the morning a flight of four P-51s flew over, and I thought it was comforting to have our air force there. I watched them pass over going east probably at about a thousand feet up. Then they banked to the left and headed for our column of vehicles. It was then I remembered how similar, in anti-aircraft basic classes, the silhouettes for P-51's and the ME-109's were. I guess we were going at 10mph or less and I called out that we were going to get strafed, then I jumped for the ditch on our right side. Somehow I made to the bottom of the ditch in one leap and, immediately, several others found the same place. The planes, indeed, did make one pass, guns blazing and then encountered fierce anti-aircraft fire from our defending forces, and they climbed out and then continued east. When I climbed out of the ditch our Jeep was maybe five hundred feet further down the road. Both Lt. Stach and Bob Lewis said they didn't hear me call out and they had no idea of where I was when they stopped. I had jumped with all the customary equipment plus the binoculars, plus a Walkie-Talkie radio that recently became part of our stuff that we used. Other than a bit of dirt, I was the same as I was before I jumped. Our column got underway again after a few minutes.

One thing I remember vividly was the field shower facility that we had on one occasion. We drove down in this valley where there was a couple of large tents set up. We got there, went in, got stripped, bathed in a hot shower, got out, got sprayed with DDT, got fresh clothing, and went on our way. It must have been the right time for that because I'm sure we must have been rather ripe after several weeks without real bathing and in the same clothes.

At one time along the way, Lt. Stach told us that it was okay, it wouldn't be censored out of our outgoing letters, if we told our folks back home that we were the easternmost of all Allied ground forces. I'm sure that I must have sent out that information in a letter home, but I don't recall just where we were on that day, or even which day it was. We suspected that the war would soon be over in Europe.

When we got to Zwickau, we were assigned to a house where we were to be billeted. I went to the outside of the house to check it out. As I went around the house I saw something that looked like brown leather stashed in some shrubbery. I reached in and pulled out two cameras and a pair of Italian field glasses. When I showed them to Lt. Stach he said that since the owner had not turned them in as instructed by the Military Government officials, I could keep them as souvenirs. Nice haul at the very end of the war. The war did end shortly and I got two copies of "The Stars and Stripes" with banner headlines "VICTORY" and "NAZIS QUIT" (the Paris edition and the Germany edition respectively) that I still have. In a day or so, I was on my way to Brussels, Belgium on a five-day leave. It was a very nice change of pace, being among civilians again and having a secure feeling of no impending violence hanging over me.

When I got back to "A" battery, they had moved from Zwickau to central Germany. We were there for a few weeks, and then it was back to Camp Lucky Strike. After a few more weeks there we were sent to a small town (Ed Ebert told me later that its name sounded like Syracuse, but he wasn't sure of the spelling) where our assignment was to feed train loads of troops which were going to the "cigarette camps" for processing and return to the States. While we were there, our supply sergeant, S/Sgt. Rudniki and driver PFC Griffin were on their way into Fe Camp on a foggy morning when the Jeep came upon a farmer with a horse and wagonload of logs on the roadway. When they were seen, it was too late to avoid a collision, and Sgt. Rudniki was killed. On another occasion, we lost PFC Bjorge who was being driven to guard duty when the vehicle he was in collided with a stonewall on a narrow street. The reason we needed guard duty was that we used POW's for most of the labor at the train feeding station and we had a rather large contingent of POW's there. My job at that location was as helper in the supply tent. My main job was to take care of the laundry requirements for our personnel. We must have been there for two or three months when we were sent back to Camp Lucky strike.

Back at Lucky Strike we filled our days with volleyball, softball and listening to Doris Day singing "Sentimental Journey" on the camp public address system. One day Ed Ebert and I discovered a boxing ring set up in one of the tents. I challenged him to a couple of rounds, and got the boxing lesson of my life. He knocked me around at will and I regretted ever thinking about it in the first place. (When I reminded him of that day in June 2000, he had no recollection of it at all).

On August 9th (I think) we got word over the radio that a new weapon we had never heard of, an "atomic bomb" had been used on Hiroshima, Japan, and it was awesome. Of course we were excited because it might mean that we would possibly be going home instead of to the Pacific Theatre. A few days later our Air Corps dropped another one over Nagasaki and that brought Japan to the peace table with an unconditional surrender.

A few days after that, 1st Lt. McCoy, a West Point graduate, also a forward observer in our battery, came into our tent and asked me if I would like to go to West Point. I thought it over a couple of seconds and gave an enthusiastic answer, "yes". He said he'd get back to me and left. On the next day he got back to me with the information that I was too old. I had turned 21 on February 1st, and in order to go to West Point, I needed to be younger than 21. As I said earlier, back to the drawing board.

In a few weeks we were split up, some going back to the States, some going to the 83rd Division in Austria and some staying in France. It seems as though we traveled by train most of the way, but by the time we got to Passau, Germany on the Danube we were on trucks. We spent the night there in what seemed to be some kind of castle on a rocky island in the middle of the river with a bridge on each side connecting us to each riverbank. Next morning it was on into Austria. We were stopped at a Russian checkpoint and then continued on to our assignment with the 83rd Division.

The town where I was assigned was called Frankenmarkt. It had quite a large displaced persons camp there. I was called into the captain's office almost immediately and told that I was in charge of the wire and switchboard operations. An immediate concern of the captain was the large amount of telephone wires strung haphazardly along the main street. I had to agree that they looked awful. We, as a group, didn't have that much to do so we spent a couple of weeks tying up the loose ends, eliminating the unnecessary wires, and generally making them a lot neater. We were housed in a two story school building there with the living quarters on the second floor and the building where our switchboard was located was about half a block away and it was also on a second floor location. We had to man the switchboard 24 hours a day but that was no problem since we had plenty of trained men for the job. We had guard duty about eight to ten miles away to the northeast at a smaller town called Frankenburg. The Germans had built an underground V2 assembly plant there with its launch sites pointed to the northeast (toward Moscow). You could suspect something was odd about the place because the small railroad just came to the hill and disappeared into the hillside. I got one tour of the facility by one of the 83rd guys who had been there for a while. Once you were inside the plant, you could go all the way to the launch sites underground on the other side of a large hill in a dense forest.

One of the good things I learned there was that beer was an enjoyable drink. There was a small "pub" near the school, and a few of us would go there in the evenings occasionally. They made good beer in Austria, I didn't know the brand because we got it by the glass.

When winter came it got quite cold, snowy and icy (that's what I said about Camp Myles Standish a year earlier). The streets were slippery and dangerous. One day S/Sgt Bob Swift and I went to a carpenter shop on the outskirts of town and ordered some footlockers, since none were available through the army that we knew of. The craftsmanship was really nice and the price was amazingly low. I had the idea that S/Sgt Swift had come to this organization about the same time I did possibly from the 89th. I had the same thoughts about T/5 Sam Margello from Columbus, Ohio. He and I went out on one snowy Sunday morning to watch local skiers doing their stuff on the local hillsides. Somewhere I have a photo of Sam posing with a pair of skis, note that I said posing, not skiing.

Sometime in this period I made T/4 and I was very happy about that. Also, about two weeks before Christmas I got a weeklong pass to go to Rome, Italy. We loaded on trucks there in Frankenmarkt, traveled through Salzburg, through Innsbruck, through the Brenner Pass and on to Verona, Italy. We stayed there overnight, and next day were trucked on to Milan, where we caught a southbound train through Pisa and on to Rome. We were put up in buildings that were erected for use in the Rome Olympics, of 1940 (or maybe 1944) but the Olympics were cancelled for those years. The facilities were beautiful, and I got several good photographs. We saw all the usual sights, the Coliseum, St.Peters Square, Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel with its wonderful museum, the Pieta still in storage under St. Peters Cathedral to protect it from any war damage, and, most beautiful of all, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, those two final items being works by Michelangelo. The group of G.I.s that I was on tour with (twenty or so) were also given an audience by Pope Pius X11 in his study. While we were there we heard the sad news that General George S. Patton had been in an auto accident in Bavaria and was near death. He did pass away shortly afterward.

Going back to Austria, we took a slightly different course, train to Milan, stopping overnight there, then to Brenner Pass by truck and overnight at some kind of British guard station I think it was at Innsbruck, and then on to Salzburg and Frankenmarkt the next day.

It must have been in March that we turned in our vehicles at a big open field like area that had thousands and thousands of our various types of vehicles. Trucks of all types, Jeeps, ton trucks, ambulances, you name it, it was there. I guess everyone who had an army driver's license, drove something there. The weather was still pretty cold, especially in the mornings, and on the way, I hit a patch of ice at the end of a small bridge, and almost lost control of the ton truck that I was driving. When we got to the large storage field, we were directed to park according to the type of vehicle and then report back to the spot where we got the directions. While I waited at that spot, I asked the director non-com what would become of all those vehicles, some were like new. He told me that they would all be burned, and in answer to my next question, he said it had something to do with the economy back in the USA.

When we got back to Austria it was only a short time later that I was transferred to a new location. I don't remember the name of the small town, but it was on the shore of a lake called Attersee. There was a type of small ship with a smokestack that went from town to town around the lake. I must have been there no more than two to three weeks when we got moving again. We were trucked to somewhere in Germany and put on a train to Camp Twenty Grand, in France. Finally, we were positive that this was the move that would see us leaving Europe.

We weren't very long there in France, and were on the high seas again on a troop ship with "Anderson" in its name. I got seasick again but it only lasted two or three days. The ocean was a lot calmer at this time of year, and I enjoyed the trip back to the States. I remember seeing a movie on the ship going back to the States. First movie I had seen in probably eighteen months or so. The name was "Lost Weekend" starring Ray Miland.

When we came into New York harbor, I was really choked up with emotion seeing the Great Lady with the Torch there to greet us. I don't remember exactly where we debarked in New York, but I think we boarded trucks and were taken possibly to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. I think we were loaded on a westbound train either on that same day, or possibly the next.

When we got off, we were at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. My discharge says we departed France on April 8, 1946 and arrived in the USA on April 15, 1945. My discharge date was April 19, 1945 so I'm totally blank about those missing days. It seems as though the only place we spent overnight was on the train going west, but that can't be right.

On that final day, April 19, I finally got through the processing and was out the door late in the afternoon. At the main gate they had buses waiting for those who needed to go into town (Indianapolis). I caught one of those and got off in front of the train station there. When I asked about outgoing trains, they told me I had missed the last one to Cincinnati. I picked up my duffle bag and went back outside where there some taxis waiting. I got into one of them and asked the driver to take me to the Greyhound Bus station. He took me there and I asked him to wait as I asked about buses to Cincinnati. I got the same story there, no more buses today. When I got back to the taxi I was really dejected. The taxi driver asked where I was going and I said I was trying to get to Cincinnati where I knew I could catch either a train or bus to Portsmouth, Ohio. He said that he'd take me to Cincinnati for twenty-five dollars. Since it was probably ninety miles away I took him up on his offer. We had gone maybe three or four miles down US highway 52 when we came upon two GIs thumbing for a ride. I asked the driver how much he'd charge to take them along and he said they could ride for five dollars each. I told him to stop and offer them a ride. He asked them how far they were going and they said they couldn't afford a taxi, but when he told them I was picking up the tab, they said they, too, were going to Cincinnati. We repeated that routine another couple of miles down the road, and ended up with a driver and five passengers for Cincinnati. When we first started out, the driver had radioed in and gone off "call" for the night. He told me he had a girl friend in that area that he was anxious to see. We had four Gis who were happy to be getting free transportation, a driver who was getting extra fares and a chance to see his girl friend, and I was happy that in a very few more hours I would be home, and WWII was finally over for me.