Well, it was finally over - the European part, that is - but we knew it wouldn't be long before most of us would be heading to Japan. Meanwhile, the Division was reassigned to occupation duty in the province of Thuringia, which would eventually end up in the Soviet zone thereby freeing us for other duties and eventual reassignment, either as a division or as replacements. My battery was first located in the town of Reinsdorf and comfortably ensconced in some sort of a garden club (but I may have this confused with Waltershausen, discussed just below). One late night on guard duty under a railroad trestle, I heard the unmistakable sound of German spiked boots and watched from my hidden position as the figure came closer. The war was just over and you didn't know what kind of nuts or fanatics were still roaming out there. When within accurate range of my carbine, I loudly called out "HALT" which is the same in German as English. The figure, now an obvious German soldier, came to an immediate halt maintaining a rigid posture while I called for the Corporal-of-the-Guard. He said he had been just released from a POW camp and showed us his papers (which none of us could understand) and told us that this was his hometown where his wife and family lived. The MPs or someone took him into custody but his papers proved to be valid and the next day he joined his family and profusely thanked me for not shooting him when he came in. That event remains vividly in my memory to this very day. Reinsdorf is also where I learned, for the first time, to like beer. German PWs did everything but cook the food, and they did that sometimes, and suddenly life for a PFC became much easier.
To some extent we retraced our steps and the 563rd was eventually assigned to Waltershausen, near Eisenach where we had a lively battle with the SS troops. It was a nice town not too damaged by the war. It had been know for its doll-making, not industry, which might explain why war damage was slight. Our 'barracks', which I may have confused with the one in Reinsdorf, was located next to the railroad station near the edge of town. I think it was here that I had my first encounter with displaced persons, or DPs as they were called. They had been located in enclosed camps near the factory or fields where they worked. These camps were not concentration or termination camps in the Nazi mode but were filled with forced, that is slave, laborers from conquered territories, mostly from the Ukraine, Poland and Russia. They were men, women and children of all ages. The camps were, in some respects, similar to our own camps for Japanese-Americans in the west with the only mitigating difference for this shameful act in our history being that our ill-treated citizens were not forced to work. While not, in most cases, purposely maltreated by the German civilians they worked for, they suffered greatly particularly as the war drew to a close and food became scarce. It was to take, in most cases, months after the war's end before these unfortunate people could be transported back to their homes. In the meantime, most remained in their now open camps and subsisted on food they scrounged from the landscape or was eventually supplied by the Allies. Some, however, took to the road in caravans, which didn't help the logistical problems facing the Allied Forces.
Even so, they were mostly a happy group, at least the people in the camp outside of the town we were quartered. Often, during the day, using a commandeered flat bed truck, they would come racing through town playing their balalaikas, singing loudly and dancing in the famous Russian style of crouching and lifting each foot alternatively in time with the music. How they stayed on the truck I'll never understand. One night a few of us visited their camp. It was probably forbidden but we didn't give a damn, after all, they weren't the former enemy. Of course, we brought some goodies with us. Around a large bonfire, they were dancing and singing and I met a sweet young girl named Tina who was from Kiev in the Ukraine. She was cute, a bit short and built solidly in more ways than one. We couldn't communicate orally a bit but just had a lot of fun together like two kids, dancing, singing and stealing an occasional kiss. Somewhere I think I still have her picture. I like to think that she will also have a pleasant memory of her first meeting with an American soldier.
Tina from Kiev
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