Occupation Duty at Linz-Urfahr, Austria
I took a train, all alone, from Rouen to Paris, and then changed to another train to go on to Linz, Austria, which sits right next to, and south of, the Danube River, where the remaining men of the 355th Infantry Regiment of the 89th Division, i.e., those who had not been previously shipped home, had been transferred to the 331st Infantry Regiment of the 83rd Infantry Division. From the center of Linz there is a bridge, which crosses the Danube River to a town called Urfahr. The real name of "Linz" is Linz-Urfahr. We were the occupying forces of Linz, and therefore southern Austria, while the other side of the bridge, i.e., Urfahr, and therefore northern Austria, was occupied by the Soviet Union! We Americans used to see Soviet troops patrolling on the other side and wave to them and call to them in friendly banter but these 6-foot tall (minimum) "crack" troops, in long winter overcoats and shiny leather boots, carrying their long rifles with fixed bayonets, never even turned their heads towards us or otherwise acknowledged our existence! This seemed very strange behavior for people who had so recently been our allies?
Strangely enough we were billeted in the Linzer Hochschule, exactly the same place where Hitler had been a high school student when he was a teenager! At least that's what was proudly proclaimed, in German, of course, on a bronze plaque inside the front entrance!
As if one could imagine Hitler, the world's most evil monster, who mesmerized the German people and initiated World War II, resulting in the deaths of about 57,000,000 innocent people worldwide, as ever having been a teenager!!
My first job, during our stay in Austria, was as "message center clerk", which was an Army term, in this instance, for "mailman"! The 83rd Infantry Division HQ Message Center was the central distribution point for all mail and other communications to be sorted and delivered to all the US Army units in Austria. I remember one of these, the 42nd Infantry (Rainbow) Division which was stationed quite far away. We had to deliver their mail by driving a Jeep over some roads running through the rugged Austrian Alps and about 3000 feet above the Danube River!!
Also, it was January 1946, and the Alps were covered with an average of about 3 to 7 feet of snow with an average temperature of 10o F below zero, but which sometimes rose to a high of 15o F above zero! On one occasion, we were ordered to patrol a town called Steyr (?) in the Alps, which, because of the heavy snowfall could not be reached by Jeep! Guess what? Our infantry squad became, at that time, probably the only horse-mounted Infantry unit in the US Army! After the success of our first patrol, we had to go on patrol about 3 times a week, e.g., to Steyr and to 2 or 3 other towns, each week for another 2 or 3 weeks! Incidentally, I think Steyr was well known for manufacturing fine handguns and hunting rifles? Actually, I used to alternate between mail delivery and mail sorting in the Division HQ Message Center. During my mail sorting days I would frequently pass the Commanding General of the 83rd Division in the corridor and salute him. He would return the salute and say, "Good morning, Sergeant!" I wondered why he called me Sergeant when he could see I was just a PFC? I asked an original 83rd Division mail clerk why the General did so? He told me that the General had great respect for any enlisted man who had earned the Combat Infantryman Badge and his way of acknowledging it was to greet me, and others like me, with the form of address, "Sergeant"! One day a notice was placed on the 83rd Division HQ Bulletin Board naming 8 of us former 89th Division infantrymen, myself among them, who were granted a week of "R & R" at a ski-resort town named Ebensee which was not too far away! The S/SGT in our group was to be in charge; we would draw 2 Jeeps and travel there; and would leave the following weekend! I don't remember the General's name but I thought he was a real gentleman to treat us like that! Ebensee was a beautiful place; it was a town that was nestled in the mountains and was built in a circle around this lake named Ebensee, of course! We parked our Jeeps with locally stationed US Army MP personnel, checked into a pre-arranged inn which was right on the main street, had dinner and then walked around town. etc. One day we went, via cable car, to a ski-chalet 1000 (?) meters up, on "Feuerkogel" (Firepudding?) mountain! Looking out of the gondola during the cable-car ride I noticed that 100-feet tall pine trees far below looked like toothpicks! At the chalet they had an Austrian ski instructor, who spoke English, to teach us how to ski if we wished to learn. I took one look at the steep slope, which appeared endless, and never having skied before, decided that combat had been risky enough and I wouldn't take any more chances! I'd stick to my favorites, e.g., fencing (foil and epee) and swimming, and leave well enough alone! I entered the small chalet, ordered lunch and good wine and conversed in my passable German, which by the way, seemed to work nicely in Austria, with the pretty waitress who served me, till the other guys were ready to leave! That evening I thought to myself that I'd had some very pleasant times after combat was over, e.g., 10 days leave in Great Britain, 3 months TDY in school in Paris (the best vacation I have ever experienced!) and now, a week in Ebensee! Of course, my feelings of guilt set in immediately, thinking of Bill Guest, and the many thousands (about 160,000) of other guys, lying in the Allied cemeteries of Europe (in Normandy, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and Italy) and the untold numbers of MIA's, who couldn't be here! Or anywhere but where they were.... forever!!