1940-1945 — WWII
I went into the Army Infantry on July 26th, 1940 and was stationed at Fort Ord, California as a member of the 7th Infantry Division, which was being re-activated. When the first group of draftees came, in about the month of November, several of us who already had our basic training, were transferred to the 3rd Division to bring it to full fighting strength. We joined the 30th Infantry that was stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco, which was located near the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge. The rest of our Division, the 7th and 15th Infantry was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, near Seattle. Over the next year and a half, we made 3 trips to Fort Lewis to train with the rest of the division. During the summer of 1941, we spent about 6 weeks in San Diego making beach landings and also desert training.
On December 7th 1941, 2 buddies and I were on a weekend pass in Seattle. In the lobby of the hotel we stayed, just before noon, we heard on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. We ate lunch and had dates to go to an early movie. They also made an announcement at the movie about the bombing. When the movie was over and we were outside, there were men in army vehicles driving around the streets with loud speakers telling all military personnel to report back immediately to their unit. After walking a block or two, we were offered a ride back to Fort Lewis.
A couple of days later, we shipped out and did guard duty along Puget Sound. They thought there was a possibility the Japanese might try to make a landing on the West Coast. We were housed in a high school gym in Sequim, Washington, population about 500.
The first pass I received after Pearl Harbor was St. Patrick’s Day in 1942. I went to Bremerton, Washington on an overnight pass. I remember a couple of our ships that were hit at Pearl Harbor were there being repaired.
During the spring of 1942, our division was sent to Fort Ord, California where we went through some very vigorous training. Then in late July, we boarded a troop train in San Francisco, and six days later we arrived at Fort Pickett, a camp near Blackstone, Virginia. We spent much of our time on the rifle range and also taking hikes of 20 or more miles with full field packs.
On October 23rd, we boarded a troop ship (USS Joseph Hewes - AP50) at Newport News, Virginia and were told that it was a practice landing maneuver. After 2 days at sea, we were told that we were making a landing near Casablanca, Morocco.
We had an escort of several Battleships, destroyers, destroyer escorts, and also a couple of aircraft carriers. We took a course in case we were spotted to make the enemy believe we were landing near Dakar, which was the central part of Africa.
Early on the morning of November 8, 1942, we climbed down the rope nets into small Higgins boats in preparation to making a landing at Fedala, Morocco near Casablanca.
On the way to shore, which was about 3 miles from where the ship was anchored, we began taking on water because of the high waves. We hit a huge wave, and the front half of the boat went under, but righted itself because of a center partition that kept water out of the back portion of the boat. The navy man who was driving, jumped overboard, but got back in when the boat righted itself. We bailed out the water with our helmets and continued with the landing shortly after daybreak.
About 300 or 400 yards before we hit shore, we began to draw artillery fire from a battery about a mile down shore. We had 3 casualties, one killed and 2 wounded (before we hit shore).
Our platoon had just landed and I was about 30 feet from the water, when I was hit by shrapnel from an 88 artillery shell. I was hit in my upper thigh, shoulder and head which was slowed by my helmet.
I spent the day just off the beach and was attended by a medic. That evening, I was taken back to the ship that I had just left that morning. A navy doctor operated on me that night and removed the shrapnel that was deep in my thigh. He said it would have been better if the shrapnel had gone through, as it would have eliminated the cutting to get to the shrapnel.
We were told that the wounded would be going back to the U.S. after the ship was unloaded but they couldn’t get into the harbor to unload because of the enemy ships that were sunk in the harbor by our battleships.
Just before dark on November 11th, several enemy submarines floated in with the tide and opened fire. 3 ships were hit, including the one I was on. Our ship was hit near the tail and also near the center. The wounded were loaded into a landing boat. I was wearing only thin pajamas and no shoes and had to climb down a rope net into the landing boat, having just been operated on a few days before. While we were being loaded, we were strafed by a couple of German fighters. The navy personnel had to jump overboard and were picked up by boats shortly after. Our ship sank in only 42 minutes after it was hit. One ship that carried oil and ammunitions burned and explosives went off for several hours.
An old hotel in Fedala was set up as a hospital. Many of the patients were burn victims from the oil tanker that caught fire after being torpedoed.
While recovering from wounds, six or seven of us were sitting on the front porch of this old hotel when George Patton drove up in his jeep. Two ambulance drivers really got chewed out for not saluting, but he couldn’t have been nicer to us. He shook hands with each of us and seemed real concerned about our welfare.
After about a month, I was reunited with my company.
In January of 1943, our company was picked to guard the leaders of the U.S., England, and France at the “Casablanca Conference”. I had the opportunity to see Roosevelt, Churchill, Eisenhower, Montgomery, de Gaulle, and many other Generals and Secretaries of State. I was on guard duty immediately in front of where they were lined up on the hotel patio to have pictures taken. Later, Roosevelt rode through our ranks in a jeep, for a Saturday morning inspection.
Shortly after, we moved to Oran, Algeria by cattle cars to be back up to the fighting in Tunisia. Later, we moved to Tunisia as the Germans surrendered. About 250,000 German soldiers were taken prisoner in May of 1943.
On July 9th, we boarded landing craft near Tunis for a landing the next morning near Licata, Sicily. The British also landed on the southeast coast. We had very few casualties on the initial landing. We headed across the island and ended up in Palermo about a week later after a few skirmishes along the way. We then headed toward Messina and ran into much more resistance.
On August 6th, 1943 while on a scouting patrol, my partner tripped on a wire setting off a land mine and we were both hit by shrapnel, his in the thigh and mine in the elbow.
We were shipped back to Oran in North Africa to a convalescent hospital. My arm was in a cast for a couple of months and then a couple of more months to get the full use of it. They did not remove the shrapnel so as not to do more harm to the elbow. I had a chance to see Bob Hope while there.
I had my tonsils removed while at the hospital and a week later I came down with a fever of 106 and pneumonia. After recovering from that, I was ready to rejoin my unit.
In February 1944, we were loaded onto an L.C.T. and we headed for Naples, Italy where I was supplied with equipment to return to Anzio, where our division had landed just the month before. While at Naples, we were privileged to see the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, the first eruption in many years.
At Anzio, we were joined with our division just a few miles down from shore. While there, we went on several night patrols, usually with a squad or platoon strength. We were outnumbered 10 German divisions to our two. Although we had a lot of support from our Battleships offshore, we had a lot of casualties from the enemies' constant artillery barrage.
On March 8th, 1944, we went on a night patrol. Our mission was to seize a large stucco farmhouse about 1/2 mile in front of our lines. We had platoon strength, and we were to take prisoners and booby trap the house and then withdraw.
As we got to within 300 or 400 yards, we were fired upon by rifle and machine gun fire, and shortly after, by artillery fire. Two of the squads had orders to withdraw, but the order never got to us. We were the forward squad and were pinned down. Before we realized what had happened, the enemy moved around behind us. When we ran out of ammunition, most of the squad was either killed or wounded. I received a wound to the forehead from a machine gun blast. My friend, who was 3 or 4 feet away, was hit from the same blast and was killed instantly. My helmet saved my life, as it caused the bullet to ricochet. A piece of the helmet is what gave me the cut on my forehead.
The three of us that were captured as prisoners were taken to a prison camp near Rome. They treated our wounds there. We spent about 1 month there and were fed one bowl of soup and one piece of bread a day. We slept on the floor where they had dumped straw which was lice infected.
After a month in Italy, we were loaded into cattle cars and shipped by train to a prison camp near Munich (Stalag 7A). The guards took all of our shoes before we were loaded and after we got to the prison camp, they dumped all the shoes in a big pile and the prisoners had to scramble to find shoes that fit. I doubt if anyone ever got back his old shoes.
The conditions in Germany were much better. We had double bunk beds and we received Red Cross Parcels from the U.S. every week. About 200 of us were sent to Munich on a work detail where they had us clearing the streets after American and British air raids.
During that summer of 1944, Munich was almost leveled by air raids. The Americans bombed during the day and the British bombed at night. We had several close calls, but we were glad when the planes came. One 500-pound bomb landed within a block of where we were housed and I completely lost my hearing for almost an hour from the concussion.
While we were there, the airport was hit heavily by an air raid. They took the 200 of us out to clean it up. We refused to work since it was a military installation. They threatened to shoot us if we didn’t do the work. They lined up a few machine guns on the perimeter and we weren’t sure what to expect. After an hour or so, and evidently after they called their superior officers, they shipped us out and brought in Russian prisoners to get the work done.
We arrived in Munich in May, and shortly after the airport incident, which was in September, we were shipped to Stalag 2B, East of Berlin and near the Polish Border.
We spent about a month at Stalag 2B, then we were sent to Janikow on a work detail. About 30 of us were split into 3 groups. One group unloaded boxcars of potatoes. Another group worked in a mill where they made flour from the potatoes. Our group loaded the flour on boxcars to be shipped out.
About February 1945, we began to hear Russian artillery to the east. We were given a couple of days notice that we would be moving out.
They started moving us to the north and west, toward the Baltic Sea. We hiked on the average 20 or 25 miles a day. We were mostly on the back roads and passed through small towns. At night, we usually stayed in large barns and started getting only 1 piece of bread or thin soup a day since we were no longer getting Red Cross parcels.
Along the way, other prisoners joined us and we became a group of about 200. A few of the prisoners decided to hide out hoping to be liberated by the Russians as they overran the area. Sometimes we would stay in the same location for 3 or 4 days before moving on.
On April 12th, 1945, our guards told us about the death of President Roosevelt. It was about this time that we began to hear American artillery. We were now about 100 miles west of Berlin. We estimated that we had walked 500 miles since we started 2 months earlier.
On April 14th, 1945, Patton’s 3rd Army was on a drive toward Berlin and when the forward echelon of tanks began to be sighted, all the German guards took off and we were on our own until our troops appeared. After a few hours, we were taken by truck to the town of Salzwedel, where we spent the night at the hotel Deutscher hof.
The next day, we were transported by a C-47 transport plane to a camp near Le Havre, France (Camp Lucky Strike). We waited there about 2 weeks for a ship to transport us back to the U.S. We boarded the USS General MC Meigs (AP-116) on April 28th in Le Havre and set sail for the U.S. via Southampton, England on April 30th, 1945.
We were on our way back when on May 8th, 1945 we heard word that the war was over in Europe. Our escort ships were still on the lookout for German subs, just in case they hadn’t gotten the word that the war was over. We landed at Newport News, Virginia on May 14th 1945, the same port that I had left 31 months earlier. From there, I went to Fort Sheridan by train where I was issued a 60-day furlough and was to report to Miami Beach for examination.
After about 30 days, I was transferred to a convalescent hospital at Daytona Beach, where we made roll call once a day and then we were on our own to go swimming, play golf or tennis, or whatever we chose to do. After 60 days at Welch Convalescent, I put on 12 or 15 pounds to the 40 that I lost while prisoner. I received an honorable discharge from the army on October 18, 1945.