30th Infantry Division
The material contained in this autobiography was derived solely from memory and no events were knowingly embellished. The only exceptions not dependent on memory are exact figures such as battle casualties that were obtained from historical data of the 30th Infantry Division and from other historical documents.
Because my working career kept my immediate family distanced from relatives my children had very little contact with grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Being the son of immigrant parents, I likewise was denied these treasured relationships. The purpose of this personal discourse has therefore been to provide some meager ancestral data and recollections of personal events for my family. However, other readers who have lived during this same time frame as I might find pleasure in relating to the reported events.
When I attended a 50th high school reunion I was asked to say a few words about our small senior class of 1942. I mentioned how fortunate we had been to have lived during such an interesting period in our nation’s history. We were born approximately midway between the end of WW I and the beginning of WW II. In between these two 20th century, world events the great depression of 1929 provided youthful hardships but gave us character for the upcoming war. I entered kindergarten in 1929 but this beginning of my academic career was in no way responsible for the great depression! My age group spent our school years during these trying times and graduated as the first June class following the beginning of WW II for the United States and just in time to enter military service as 18 year olds. I didn’t refer to us as the “Greatest Generation” as Tom Brokaw later coined the phrase but we certainly fit his definition.
Although the recorded data trend to be in chronological order there are digressions relative to the subject. Basically, the discourse consists of general information on ancestors, early youth, military service, family and professional career. It was 50 years after WW II that veterans of the war were encouraged to relate their experiences. It was this request for individual accounts that created the interest for me to pursue this endeavor. Consequently, a large portion of this autobiography is devoted to WW II, a short but most important time period in my life.
According to my birth certificate signed by Dr. John F. Miller, I entered the 20th century on October 4, 1924. With my first breath of air at 9:15 AM, I sensed the smell of sweet rubber that impregnated the air at 622 Sumner Street, Akron, Ohio. At this time I believe that every tire manufactured in America was made in Akron, at Goodyear, Goodrich, Firestone, General, Seiberling, Mohawk, Miller and other smaller plants. This birth event coincided with a little known birthday, that of our 19th president, Rutherford B. Hayes, also born in Ohio but a few years earlier in 1822. Also, born on October 4, 1924 is actor Charlton Heston. A brother, René, born on Present Lincoln’s birthday, February 12, 1921, preceded me in birth.
Parents were George Schneider and Rose Marie Raccordon Schneider, both having emigrated from the French part of Switzerland. At home we spoke French and English. Dad insisted that we were American and we were to speak English. An explanation is required here to account for our claim of French heritage with a name like Schneider. My father’s father was one of six brothers living in either Colmar or Mulhouse, Alsace, then a part of France. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 three of the brothers fought with the French and three fought with the Germans. The French lost and Alsace and Loraine were assimilated by Germany. Almost overnight schools began teaching German as the official language, street signs were changed to German and the overall atmosphere of the area became Germanized. Grandfather had been on the French side and found the changes more than he could take so he moved to the French part of Switzerland to the city of Delémont where father was born on June7, 1892.
After the First World War the areas of Alsace and Loraine reverted to France but were conquered in the invasion of WW II and came under German rule again only to be returned to France at the end of the war.
Today, many of the cities and villages in Alsace have German names such as Strasbourg. Mulhouse, Colmar, Riquewihr, Selestat, Kayserberg and Koenigsbourg to name a few. The typical French provincial cuisine is notably absent in this region and consists of sausages, cold cuts and smoked meats with emphasis on German dishes. Almost all citizens of any nation who have German names and claim French heritage can trace their roots to Alsace or Loraine. Among some notable ones are Albert Schweitzer and the Schlumberger brothers, Conrad and Marcel, the founders of the Schlumberger well surveying company, the world leader of electrical, mechanical, sonic and nuclear devices used to examine drilled holes in search of oil and gas. Their first log was run in a small field in Pechelbrun, Alsace around 1927.
The largest munitions maker in France before and during the First World War was Schneider Munitions in Alsace. This was the French equivalent of Germany’s Krupp Works. The most famous weapon produced during WW I was the French 75, a 75-millimeter cannon and howitzer. Also produced were larger, 105 and 155 guns. Many of these are on exhibit in French military museums and carry the Schneider nameplate. The first French tank constructed during WW I was the Schneider tank. Unfortunately it was poorly constructed and did not perform well in battle.
Other evidence of French Schneiders can be found in Paris. Engraved in the Arch of Triumph are numerous names of French heroes and you can spot a Schneider among them. My wife Elaine and I have a favorite bridge in Paris. This is Pont Alexander, which crosses the Seine from the right bank to the entrance to Les Invalides, the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. On the upstream side near the left bank end there is a plaque indicating that the bridge was built by Schneider. Another Schneider influence is found in the Eiffel Tower where a plaque on the superstructure of the elevator system identifies the Schneider Company. Today, one of the largest, aggressive French companies called Schneider Electric, operates in Europe and throughout the world.
Another location for many Schneiders is in Normandy. Unlike the French Schneiders, at this site we find German Schneiders. In the German Military cemetery at La Cambre, Normandy, there are buried 21,222 German soldiers. Many of these are unknown and simply identified as ein Deutsche Soldat but of the remaining known dead I counted 69 Schneiders cataloged in a directory located in a small pagoda at the entrance to the ground. This cemetery is quite different from the American cemeteries, which mark the graves with either a white Christian cross or a star of David. The Germans are identified with a flat plaque and the cemetery is decorated with irregularly spaced black granite crosses. Although the area is much smaller than the American cemetery only a short distance away overlooking Omaha Beach, the La Cambre cemetery contains more than twice the number of bodies - 21,222 versus 9,386 Americans. The casualties of both countries are from the Normandy campaign. Visits to both of these revered sites will never be forgotten. I highly recommend visits to both.
Little is known of my ancestors on both sides of my parents. My father had two sisters, Maria and Cecile. Maria married a Yugoslavian civil engineer and moved to the city of Split on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Her husband’s name was Ivo Girgic. I’m not positive of the spelling of his last name. He was a very ambitious and competent engineer. He constructed an electric plant and supplied the city of Split with electrical power. Consequently, he became quite wealthy and invested in two ocean freighters and a sumptuous villa overlooking the city. This affluence came to an abrupt halt at the end of WW II when Tito confiscated all of their possessions. Tito’s officers shared in the booty of the villa. One chopped the crystal chandeliers from the room ceilings, another rolled up the tapestries and another helped himself to Maria’s fabulous stamp collection. One of the ships had been sunk during the war but the other was in port and duly confiscated. The Lloyds of London insured the ship that was sunk and it’s possible that he eventually collected for that loss. Besides depositing profits in New York I believe Ivo had a large cache in London. The power plant under Tito’s regime began generating electricity to the city with no revenue for Ivo. The couple was given a small apartment in town. Earlier in the war, in the early forties, dad’s father died of natural causes during an American air raid on Split. He had been staying with Ivo and Maria.
In 1948 my parents decided to take a trip to Switzerland. This was to be their first return trip since emigrating after WW I. While in Switzerland Maria had a serious operation in Split and, learning that my parents were about to visit she requested a visa to Switzerland to recuperate. The government agreed only with the condition that Ivo remain as a hostage so that she would return. The visa expired before my parents arrived so she requested an extension, which was granted. Ivo then got word to her that she should remain in Switzerland while he made plans to flee the country. He had buried some jewelry and other valuables that he retrieved and paid to a fisherman to take him to Italy. How he entered Italy I don’t know but the voyage was successful and he had a rendezvous with Maria.
Their next move was to immigrate to America. I wrote to our congressman and asked if he could obtain entry for them as displaced persons. This was not possible since displaced persons were those from other Balkan countries and Yugoslavia was not one of these. However, he said that because of Tito’s freeze on exit visas no one was getting out of the country and since they were already in Switzerland they would have no problem entering under the immigration quota for Yugoslav citizens. The only provision was that we sponsor them and attest that they would not be a drag on American society and not take on work thereby denying an American worker of employment. None of these restrictions was a problem. In peacetime, freighter trips had been made regularly to the states, notably to the port of New York. It was on these trips that some of the shipping profits were deposited in New York banks. Either the Chemical Bank or the Hanover Bank harbored a nest egg of $80,000.00 in Ivo’s name. My parents learned the amount of this deposit when they returned from Europe in 1948. They had been instructed to report to the bank in New York and inform the bank that under no conditions should any funds be released to anyone except to the legitimate depositors. Ivo was afraid that Tito would try to recover the money. This was a sizable amount of cash in 1948 and entitled the owners to live comfortably. After living on the farm in Sterling, Ohio with us for a short period of time Maria and Ivo moved to Wooster where they would be more comfortable associating with instructors at the College of Wooster. They portrayed a certain aristocratic aura, which my mother detected and called Maria “The Duchess”. Although Ivo was to refrain from taking employment he wanted to work on American bridges and he received approval to work for the county designing bridges. After three or four years they became restless and returned to Switzerland where they settled in Montreux. They eventually returned to Split and we heard no more from them.
Dad’s other sister, Cecile was an interesting character. By today’s terminology you could classify her as the original hippy. She was a kind-hearted soul who played the guitar and apparently didn’t have too many cares. She married someone called “Grillon”. It’s the only name I have for him and I assume that it was his last name. Having heard of Dad’s adjustment to the American way of life Grillon and Maria joined them in Akron where Grillon got a job with Firestone. He developed some mental or emotional problems, which climaxed one day when he announced that he was going to return all of his earnings to Mr. Firestone. This unusual decision necessitated a commitment to the asylum in Massillon. Apparently he stayed there for a while because I am told that he was still there when I was an enfant and I would accompany the family on visiting days. Many of the inmates got to know me and they would play with me. Both eventually returned to Switzerland. For the next few years Cecile would send us French children’s books for Christmas. They were usually about Becassine, Matresse d’école, a bungling schoolmistress.
Dad was born in Delémont, Switzerland on June 7, 1892, the only son of Jean Schneider. I don’t know his mother’s first name but her maiden name was Montavon. Jean was not wealthy but he made a comfortable living as a wine maker. He was not a big operator but he had barrels big enough for Dad to crawl inside to clean them. For part of his advanced schooling Dad commuted by train to a nearby town where I believe he received the equivalent of a high school diploma. While in school I believe he received instruction in the German language. He never had any great love for the Germans and in my lifetime I heard him speak German only once.
When he was eighteen years old he left for America to seek his fortune. He arrived in New York all alone without an English word in his vocabulary. He sat on his solitary suitcase and wondered what to do when he heard two women speaking French. He approached them and when they realized that he needed help they told him to pick up their luggage and follow them. The carriage took them to their apartment where they gave him some kind of accommodations and found him work in a hospital that was run by French nuns. He worked as an orderly until the day he was carrying a block of ice that slipped from his grasp and went sliding down the corridor and upsetting a cart loaded with sterilized surgical tools. The nuns came running after him calling him an imbecile. He took off running and never returned to the hospital. This episode terminated his career in the Big Apple. He managed to take a train heading west and stayed in the Akron area of Ohio where he worked in machine shops in Akron and Alliance. Seeking more adventure he headed farther west with a stop in Illinois where he searched for a cousin who had a large farm somewhere in southern or central Illinois. After a short stay he headed farther west and stopped in South Dakota where he found work for a rancher. He was a part time cowboy and farmer, rounding up cattle, mending fences and planting and harvesting wheat. The rancher liked dad and offered him a section of land (640 acres) at a few cents an acre. He offered to loan Dad his mules to plow the land and plant the wheat and he wouldn’t have to pay for the land until he harvested the wheat. Dad missed trees which were notably absent and wanted to return east so he declined the offer and left. That year there was a bumper crop of wheat and the profit he would have made would have paid off the land. He went to Ohio where he found trees and rolling hills that satisfied his image of America. He found work as a machinist in Alliance, a village southeast of Akron. He loved working metals on the lathe, the milling machine and the usual machine shop tools. This was to be his working-career profession except for the depression years when he lost his job. The machinist job in Alliance was not meant to last. The First World War had now begun and Dad wanted to serve his new country even though he was not yet a citizen. He joined the U.S.Army and in doing so he automatically became a US citizen. He spent most of his army career in Camp Gordon, Georgia where he was a bugler and cook. He wanted to go overseas and fight in his ancestral country but the army would not send him because of his recent citizenship.
After the war he returned to the shop in Alliance and resumed his machinist trade. While here he met a fellow worker who kept drawing cartoons on the shop wall. This fellow machinist was an artist and he would soon move on to become one of the best-known cartoonists of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. His name was Williams and he produced several different cartoons at the same time alternating them daily. These were The Willits, Born 30 Years Too Soon, Out West and The Bull of the Woods. The Bull of the Woods was about a machine shop and depicted typical relationships between workers and the boss who was the bull. Out West was about a cowboy who I believed was called Curly. The cartoons by Williams were American classics and until recently I saw shop calendars with Bull of the Woods cartoons.
Meanwhile in Switzerland Mom was maturing as a teenager in the village of Porrentruy. Mom was born in Courgenay, a small village near Porrentruy on April 4, 1895, one of three sisters and two brothers. These villages are located in the extreme northwest portion of Switzerland in the Canton of Jura. Her maiden name was Raccordon and her mother’s maiden name was Petterman. Mom’s early life was harder than Dad’s and her father had a rough time supporting the family. I don’t know what he did for a living. Because of the near-poverty conditions at home Mom had to leave school early, probably around the 4th grade and worked in a knitting mill making stockings. This must have been close to slave labor conditions as the supervisor walked behind the knitters and cracked a whip imploring them to knit faster. As a teenager she worked in the fields and it was while making hay in 1918 that a most interesting event took place in the hay field. This unusual story deserves a deviation from the current subject.
First, a geographical setting must be visualized. In the northwest portion of Switzerland there is slight protrusion from an otherwise fairly regular border. Located in this extreme protrusion is located the village of Porrentruy, the home of mom during her childhood. During WW I the front between Germany and France, running essentially northwest to southeast terminated at the Swiss border near Porrentruy. During the war, the nighttime volleys of artillery could be seen in the night sky and on occasions wounded from either side would find their way to Switzerland. On June 29, 1918 while making hay with other friends Mom recalls seeing a German aircraft having engine problems and loosing altitude. When it was apparent that the pilot could not return to his base he made an emergency landing in the hay field bringing his craft to an abrupt stop in a haystack. The workers including my mother rushed to the downed plane and essentially took the pilot prisoner until the local police arrived and took him away to be interred in neutral Switzerland for the remainder of the war. Upon disembarking with slight wounds the first question the pilot asked was, “ Is this Switzerland?” Upon learning that he was in Switzerland he did not hide his satisfaction. The plane was a biplane, number N 62 N, a two-seater with the pilot in the front and a gunner-observer in the rear. The plane was equipped with four machine guns. The observer was not as fortunate as the pilot and had taken six bullets in his body.
During a recent visit to Switzerland my brother René and a Swiss cousin developed an interest in the story and researched the archives of local newspapers and retrieved many details of the following: The aircraft had flown from Habsheim near Mulhouse and had departed at 7:30 AM with the mission to attack and bomb the cities of Belfort and Montbéliard. On the return of the mission a group from the French Escadrille, which included some American volunteers, attacked them. A fierce battle ensued and one of the German planes was shot down in Alsace and the other was the one in the haystack. The actual location of this downed plane was in Vendlincourt near Porrentruy. The killed observer-gunner was on his 68th mission, which was to be his last before returning to Germany to get married. His body was brought to the church in Bonfol and was later carried to the German border where the transfer took place. During the body transfer a German plane flew 50 meters over the group honoring the body. It was learned that the pilot who shot down the plane in the haystack was a lieutenant Ashenden from Chicago, an American flying with the 147th French Escadrille. Lieutenant Ashenden was flying a large French biplane
This story does not end here. During the school year 1949-50 I was doing graduate work in geology at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and, for the master’s degree, participation in a two-week field trip in Western Maryland was required. Most of us attending had been in military service and in the evenings the bull sessions invariably led to war stories. The professor conducting the field camp was Dr. Ernst Cloos, an internationally recognized structural geologist from Germany. His brother Hans Cloos was also a well-known European geologist. During one of the evening sessions someone asked Dr. Cloos “Dr. Cloos weren’t you a German soldier in WW I?” He acknowledges that he had been a pilot but didn’t want to talk about it. It didn’t take much prodding to start him reminiscing. This is his story. “ I flew a biplane with a gunner-observer and had flown many missions without any problems from the enemy. At first it was a sporting war with the enemy. If one of our planes was shot down by the French or the British, honor was bestowed on the enemy by the victor the next day by dropping a wreath near the downed plane and the flying craft would tip its wings in salute. We performed the same acts of recognition. Then one day in June 1918 while over France I was attacked from above by the French Escadrille with American pilots. The war was no longer sporting and the Americans wanted to fight! My plane was shot full of holes, my gunner was killed and I began losing altitude. I knew I couldn’t make it back to my base in Germany and I didn’t want to crash in France. I was familiar with the area and realized that I could probable put down the damage plane in a narrow band of Switzerland between France and Germany. This I did successfully terminating the flight in a haystack.” I responded with “Dr. Cloos, what was the name of the place in Switzerland?” Whereupon he responded “It was some little place you never heard of.” I then said “I think I’m familiar with the village. Was it near Porrentruy?” A shocked expression appeared on Dr. Cloos’s face and he responded “How in the hell would you know that?” My answer was “My mother was one of the women in the hayfield and she saw you shot down 32 years ago. She was one of the teenagers armed with pitchforks and guarded you until authorities arrived.”
Dr. Cloos was quite taken back by this “Small World Tale” and added additional comments. While interred he signed an affidavit stating that, as a German officer, he would not try to escape and he was able to pursue his studies in geology. A copy of the affidavit was part of the material brother René recovered from the newspaper archives. He added that, as far as he knew the plane was still located in a Swiss museum somewhere near Basel where a plaque identifies the plane and the conditions in which it was shot down. It had something like 150 bullet holes in the fuselage. This could represent one half the number of bullets penetrating since the plane had a thin shell and each projectile made an entry and an exit hole. This incident proved such an interesting event in the life of Dr. Cloos that, upon his death, the US Geological Survey under the Interior Department published his biography and the incident is included in the report.
Back to my mother’s family. Other than knowing her family name of Raccordon and her mother’s maiden was Peterman I know little else except for some information about her siblings. She had two sisters and two brothers. The Petermans can be traced back to the thirteenth century. One brother, Joseph became a watchmaker and an accomplished musician. He was once the director of the Swiss Army Band and the lifetime organist of the church in Delémont. He maintained his watch repair shop on Rue de L’Eglise and for many years he could watch his old childhood friends walk past his bay window fronting the cobblestone street. He was not the only musician in the family. Most of the other members were quite talented and played an instrument. Mom played the base violin and younger brother, Able played the trumpet. Able was a handsome young man but he was sickly and eventually died at an early age from tuberculosis. His family thought it would not be particularly helpful for him to play the trumpet because of his lung problem. He wanted to play so much that he would hide under his bed so that the sound would be somewhat muffled.
Mom’s sister Jeannine became a nun and eventually the mother superior of the hospice in Delémont. We visited her in 1964 while Elaine was pregnant with our last daughter and we were so impressed with the old nun that we named our last child Jeannine. Third child, Jeannine was born on April 24, 1965 while we were in New Orleans and eleven years after Tom was born. One week before going on a three-week motoring vacation through Europe we discovered Elaine’s pregnancy. Considering the problems Elaine had experienced with the other pregnancies we were hesitant to take a lengthy, potentially hazardous trip. A doctor who confirmed the pregnancy advised canceling the trip and, if we didn’t, he didn’t want to see Elaine again. We disregarded his recommendation and the pregnancy was probably Elaine’s best. We had planned the trip for more than a year and the itinerary covered the entire route of the trip but made hotel reservations for only the first night in London and the first night in the Netherlands. At any time whenever physical stress appeared we could revise our schedule. Only one revision was required, an extra night in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany and the elimination of one night in Paris at the end of the trip. Our trip included a visit with the nun, who was the mother superior for a hospice in Delémont, Switzerland. This aunt and a small group of additional nuns cared for almost one hundred elderly persons. Our trip was so well planned that we arrived at the exact time we had advised her of our arrival. We found the nuns on their “recreation” period, which meant that they were relaxing, knitting or conversing among themselves. It is coincidental that the nun Jeannine was in charge of a hospice and more than thirty years after our short visit, our Jeannine would be in the process of establishing the first pediatric hospice in the United States.
The old nun had never seen any of her nephews and proudly exhibited the two of us to the rest of the nuns. A modern, government hospital was located nearby and she gave us a tour of the facilities. A lab technician wishing to show her proficiency in English addressed me as Mister and Elaine as my Mistress. That night Jeannine insisted that we not spend our money on a hotel so she made arrangements through the nuns’ secret little underground to smuggle us into the hospital after all of the doors were locked for the night. What we didn’t know was that we had been given accommodations in the maternity ward. Early in the morning I almost got a rectal thermometer inserted by the duty nurse checking on the progress of my pregnancy. All was resolved and we were served breakfast in the room. The old hospice dated back to the 15th century. We paid another visit in 1994 but the hospice was no longer there as modern hospital facilities assumed these ends-of- life cases.
The other sister was Cecile who married a railroad worker and, because of economic problem, did not have an easy life.
The only other relative of historical interest was my mother’s great grandfather. I don’t know from which side of the family he came. He served with Napoleon Bonapart when Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812. He was wounded near Moscow and died in a hospital fire near the front.
EARLY LIFE IN THE US
Back in America Dad found a machinist job in Akron, Ohio while Mom was in Switzerland. It was now time for Dad to return to Switzerland and find a wife. With this objective he returned to Delémont and approached the Raccordon home. At the front gate he was confronted by the man of the house and immediately ask for permission to marry his daughter. The father asked “Which one, Cecile?” Dad said, “I guess that’s the one” whereupon Cecile came from the house but she was the wrong one. Dad said, “No, it’s the other one.” Upon the appearance of Rose Marie he was satisfied that she was the right one. He then explained to the father that he had a job and a home in Akron and two steamship tickets to New York and wanted to marry Mom and take her to America. The father told Mom, “You heard what he said. Do you want to marry him?” Mom simply replied, “I guess so.” A quick wedding was arranged and the couple left for America not to return until 1948. It was now probably 1919. I find this truly amazing. They didn’t come over on the Mayflower but they were every bit the stereotype immigrants that would help found this great nation!
I don’t know the steamship line or the name of the ship but it wasn’t a luxury cruiser. I believe that sleeping accommodations were dormitory style with separation of the sexes. Mom spoke no English but Dad had picked up quite a bit of the language. Mom told Dad that there was a nice English gentleman who always greeted her with a tip of his hat and some English greeting. She wanted to learn a few words so that she could respond to this kind person’s greetings. Dad tutored her until she had the greeting well memorized. The next morning on deck the encounter was right on schedule as the gentleman greeted with a warm good morning. Smiling and proud of her new language she responded in her strong French accent, “Go to hell you SOB”. The Englishman doubled up in laughter and my mother turned the color of her name.
The last night at sea the newlyweds stayed on deck until they saw the distant lights of New York and by early morning they saw the statue of their liberty. In Akron they set up housekeeping in a rent house on Sherman Street then bought the house at 622 Sumner Street, a little three-bedroom bungalow that backed up to the rental house on Sherman Street. The area was quite nice with red paving bricks on the street. Bricks were used as a common paving material and all of the streets in the area were covered in this manner. These streets have now been blacktopped which is a shame because the bricks added a certain charm to the community. Directly across from the home was a red brick grade school covering the best part of one half of the block. This was Legett School, the school where I would begin my American education. Since the couple was still childless they both went to work in the machine shop where Dad had established his job in Akron at the Akron Selly Gear Company a private shop owned by the Howard family, an affluent, Akron family. The Howard matriarch and her sister lived in a large estate near the University of Akron. The house resembled a typical, Hollywood, haunted house with a tower capped with a four-sided roof, each side containing an elliptical window. In the 1930’s all houses in the entire block were razed leaving only the Howard mansion. The Davey Tree Company then landscaped the property with gardens and full-grown trees. The only remaining outbuilding was a large garage with a loft that connected to a house for the chauffer. The chauffer had a son a few years younger than brother Jim. Jim and I would sometimes visit with this friend and in exploring the property we found a door on the upstairs landing that led to the loft over the garage. Here we found piles of antiques that the Howards collected and below in the garage there were old electric cars dating to the turn of the century.
The Akron Selle Gear Company was located one block off of Exchange Street near the north end of the B.F.Goodrich Rubber Company. Several families in the Akron area had emigrated from Switzerland and found work in the rubber plants and machine shops. This relationship provided a common bond among the group. There was an active Swiss Club and a smaller Alsace-Loraine Club. The chauffer and gardener for the Howard family was French-Swiss and became my Godfather.
Mom got a job as a punch press operator and became quite dexterous as she pounded out stampings on a piecework basis, being paid for the number of pieces produced. The machines had a safety harness, which strapped on to the arms and when the die came down the traps would jerk the arms away from the table. This action was brutal on the arms and none of the workers used them. As Mom was going through the ritual of inserting stock, punching and removing the stamped article she made a slight miscalculation and lacked about one quarter of an inch from complete withdrawal. This error neatly removed the tip of the middle finger of her left hand. Remembering the harsh treatment she had experienced as a young girl working in the Swiss knitting mill she feared being reprimanded by the boss. She shoved the removed digit to the side of the machine and continued working. A small number of pieces were punched before the girl at an adjoining press detected a faint condition in my mother, came to her aid and stopped her press. Unlike the treatment she expected she was cared for immediately. With the loss of only a small portion of a finger, healing was normal and she soon returned to work. The surgeon that treated her at the hospital made a slight mistake in repairing the severed finger. The amputation was at the base of the nail. This left two slight remnants of nail at the cuticles that grew as protruding horns of nail. Mom had to keep these filed the rest of her life.
Only a few English words were in Mom’s vocabulary and she felt embarrassed at lunchtime when the girls would unwrap their sandwiches from the newspaper wrapping and chat while they read bits from the paper. Mom began carrying her lunch in newspaper like the rest of the girls and pretended to be reading the paper. She began associating words with dialog of the cartoon characters and with pictures in store ads. This was the beginning of her English education. She learned to read and write English and could speak fairly well but she never lost her strong French accent.
While both parents were working they were saving all that they could to pay off the house and managed to also buy the old farm in Sterling, Ohio that proved to be our refuge during the depression. The house mortgage was with an Akron Savings and Loan bearing the name Dime Savings and Loan. Mom must have taken the name seriously because she would apply ten cent pieces (dimes) to the mortgage every chance she had!
Sterling was approximately 20 miles west of Akron and bisected by the main lines for the Baltimore and Ohio and the Erie Railroads. An additional spur of the B & O cut across the Erie from south to north and continued to Cleveland. This made for a treacherous crossing right in Sterling and would contribute to a serious train wreck sometime in 1953 or 1954.
FAMILY BEGINS - THE ROARING TWENTIES
With the beginning of the decade that would come to be known as the Roaring Twenties the family began to develop. René was born on February 12, 1921 and Mom’s factory days were brought to an end. For a few critical minutes it appeared that she might return to work without having her firstborn. René was not breathing at birth and he was not expected to survive. In an effort to restore life the doctor carried him outside and rolled him in the cold, February snow. The shock worked and he is still breathing after more than 80 years, thanks to a primitive technique by Dr. Miller who delivered all of us. René began kindergarten at the age of five or six. Legett School was directly across the street so he needed only for Mom to escort him to the street curb, look both directions for vehicles then make a dash. Although Dad spoke English at home Mom was quite restricted to French so, when attending school René spoke very little English and was ridiculed quite a bit. One of his first great accomplishments in kindergarten was to color a squirrel purple, which drew laughter from the other kids and a comment from the teacher. Playing with neighborhood kids helped develop the English vocabulary. Next door at number 628 lived the Rohner family with two boys, Herbert and Martin About the same ages as René and me. Other playmates could never pronounce his French name so they called him Raymond. Another younger playmate was called Raymond so he became Baby Raymond.
On October 4, 1924 it was my turn to make an entry into the world. Another addition to the family at the same time was our first vehicle, a 1924 Model T Ford purchased for $495.00 brand new. Dad was real proud of his Model T and I am told that I likewise took a great liking to the vehicle. Whenever I heard the engine start up I would run to climb in even if it meant only riding from the drive into the garage. On one occasion dad did not see me and I was almost crushed against the side of the garage. This Ford would be the instrument for several more narrow escapes before it went to the junk dealer. While still an infant we went for a Sunday drive with my godparents and while descending a steep hill in Akron called Sherbondy Hill, falling snow caused the Model T to begin sliding, hit the ditch on the side of the road and rolled on its side. My godmother hung on to me and all escaped without any injuries
Although I spent only about five and one half years in Akron before being forced to move to the farm in 1930 I have managed to retain vivid recollections of much of that short, early period of life. To this day I could draw an accurate house plan of 622 Sumner Street with even a recollection of the furniture and its placement in the house. I especially recall the location of the gas water heater in the bathroom. I was suspicious of this contraption and I was sure that someone was hiding behind it waiting to do me great harm.
One of my favorite recollections is waiting for dad to come home from work. He usually walked to and from work, as the distance was probably less than a mile. If inclement weather prevailed he could catch a bus that traveled Sumner Street with a stop at the corner. In the winter he wore a large black overcoat and when he entered the house we would rush to him and reach into his coat pocket because he always had a piece of pastry, which he bought at lunch time to treat us. We called it a “Machin a la crème” which translated from this colloquial expression meant “something with cream.” It didn’t take us long to discover that the whipped cream occupying the inside of the delicacy was concentrated near the center so we had to take turns for the center. Younger brother Jim was born in 1926 and now shared in the three way split. They don’t make these long johns or cream horns like that anymore! The same overcoat pocket also provided the means of transport for our first pet, which was a tiny, abandoned kitten, that dad rescued at the shop and brought her home. The only name she ever had was La Veille which means the old one. The name didn’t make sense for such a young animal but she didn’t mind the name and lived a long life with the handle. She was a good old cat and provided the nucleus for the cat community that would eventually attempt to control the rat and mouse population on the farm
When the proper time came I was enrolled in kindergarten across the street. One recollection is the overwhelming size of the urinal we had in the school. It was only three feet tall and looked like a vertical bathtub. It looked like it was just waiting to swallow me. We even had show and tell in those days. I had two favorite toys that I brought for two separate occasions. One was a fire engine that had a crank-up extension ladder, which extended to what seemed like the tremendous height of six feet even though it was more like three feet. The other was a black steam shovel with a bucket you could raise, swivel the cab on the base, then trip the bucket and drop the load wherever you desired. During one show and tell the steam shovel stayed in school overnight and I spent a good part of the night staring at the classroom visible from our home. I had to make sure that no one was stealing my prize and that the school was not on fire.
As my first Christmas in kindergarten approached we began making vases for our mothers. Mine was a real piece of art. It consisted of a glob of clay molded into a donut shaped base painted green with a glass test tube inserted in the center. When dry, the teacher provided a Christmas seal to paste on the clay base to finish the decoration of the masterpiece. I believe that the Christmas seal depicted Santa Clause carrying a Christmas tree. When I presented it to my mother I sang “Silent Night” for her. She cried as she hugged me and for years she wondered why we sang “Silent Night Oh Flash Light.” To this day I cannot listen to Silent Night without strong emotional recollections.
I quickly developed friends and, living directly across from the school our home was a natural rendezvous on the way to school. Every morning three or four friends would come to the kitchen porch, stop their feet on the porch floor and holler my name. After we left for the farm in 1931 I never saw these friends but I still recall some of their names. One insisted that his full name was Richard Dick O’Harry. Others I recall were Robert Goudy and one I knew simply as Julius. I hope these guys are still around and have enjoyed as blessed a life as I. I once read in the Akron Beacon Journal an article about a Robert Goudy who was a singer. Maybe exercising his vocal cords on our kitchen porch helped his voice.
Sometime before we left Akron, Goodyear entered the lighter-than-air dirigible program and was to become the only builder of these giant airships in America. During WW II many “blimps” were built and today others are still being built for use mostly to cover sporting events. These are single inflatable bags filled with helium and are much smaller than the dirigibles that had several bags enclosed in a rigid skin attached to a large gondola. The word dirigible comes from the French word “diriger” which means to direct or steer. Plans were to build airships even greater than those already built by the Germans who already had the Graf Zeppelin among others. The disadvantage for the Germans was that they had no access to helium, a non-combustible, light gas. They had to use hydrogen, a lighter gas but highly combustible. To build an airship of such a magnitude that could rival those the Germans had, it was necessary to build a large hanger. This was at the site of the Akron airport where we often picked mushrooms before construction of the hanger began in the late 1920s. While driving in this area one raining day during construction the Model T ran out of gas on the main road to the hanger. We pulled on to the shoulder of the road but it was not enough for the constant truckers who complained for blocking their way. While we endured the insults of the truckers Dad walked to a gas station and returned with a can of and we were soon one our way.
The completion of the hanger constituted the largest building under one roof in the world being 1,175 feet long, 325 feet wide and 200 feet high. By definition, under one roof means no pillars or any other braces to interfere with or interrupt the overall volume of the building. This record fell with the advent of domed sports stadiums, the first being the Astrodome in Houston. During WW II Goodyear Aircraft was formed to construct navy fighters and to house these facilities a plant was built near the hanger. An attempt was made to utilize the hanger but it was so large that the atmospheric conditions could not be controlled. Under conditions of high humidity and a quick drop in temperature clouds could actually form within the hanger and rain would fall. Still determined to make use of the hanger, large tents were pitched over shop equipment.
It was in this hanger that the Macon and the Akron were built, the Akron being the largest American airship built. Seeing one of these monsters floating overhead was a sight to behold. After the hanger was built the German Graf Zeppelin paid a visit to Akron and flew directly over our house as it approached the mooring mast at the hanger only three or four miles away. One of our neighbors was an old German widow and she was almost hysterical as she ran down the street in pursuit of the Zeppelin.
A few years later after we had moved to the farm the Akron was still flying and we often got glimpses of this large silver fish hovering in the distance near the hanger. One night shortly after bedtime on the farm our mother awakened us to see the Akron only a few hundred feet overhead on its descent to the hanger. All of the lights were on in the gondola and it looked like a passenger train in the sky. Seeing the blimps of today can’t compare to such a sight.
Near our home there was a bakery on Kling Street that specialized in French bread. The baker and owner was Burry and he had a brother elsewhere in Akron who was also a baker of French bread and competitive. Both baked excellent bread and supplied the finest restaurants in town. They were maybe Swiss in origin and it’s possible that Dad knew them from the old country. Dad would often walk to the bakery on Sunday morning and buy a loaf of French bread and some hard rolls. Our breakfast would consist of these rolls with butter and jam. I’m sure that Burry’s are no longer in Akron, but I have noticed that individually wrapped biscuits and crackers found in trays in restaurant dining rooms are baked by Burry’s in Florida. I suspect that these are the same Burrys who escaped the northern winters in favor of Florida
A special memory of the short stay in Akron is that an old family friend and fellow Swiss named Charlie. His last name was something like Voegly. He was a big-hearted clown and a bachelor. Every Christmas he would deliver gifts to all of the kids he new; however, I always thought that he favored us. A few days before Christmas we would be on the lookout for his old car, a Maxwell or a Dodge that he called the coffee pot. He did his shopping at the M. O’Neil Company whose store bags were a bright green. Charlie disembarking from the coffee pot with green bags told us that Santa Clause was here. He once gave me a set of ceramic building blocks that were still around when I got married but are now lost. René once got a real fine erector set.
The two social clubs in Akron that the Swiss and the Alsatians belonged to were appropriately named the Swiss Club and the Alsatian Club. Charlie belonged to both of these clubs and at all of the various events that were held such as picnics, the October Fest, Christmas Parties etc. he would always distribute tickets that were exchanged for ice cream, pop corn etc. After we moved to the farm Charlie would hold an annual event for his friends. A couple of weeks before the big event Dad would make a batch of home brew beer and on the Sunday of the party Charlie would show up early and begin preparing the meal. He insisted on being the chef and had the same menu each year, consommé, meat loaf and noodles. He ground the meat himself and baked a fine meatloaf. When Charlie was cutting the meat the family cats stood by for a handout. He would trim off undesirable slices of meat and tossing them to the cats he would say, “Pour le chat” and we would all laugh. The consommé was basically dissolved bouillon cubes and the noodles were homemade by Mom. Most of the guests were more interested in the beer and in playing cards and tossing horseshoes than in the food. The most distinguished guest we had was Mr. Isaly who had a chain of ice cream parlors and now makes the famous Klondike bar.
In the late 1920s we were about to usher in the great depression but we were too young to realize what was happening. In fact we had just bought our first radio, a Stromberg Carlson. We were to enjoy it for only a few months before we had to leave for the farm where there was no electricity.
Around 1929 the member of the Howard family in charge of the Akron Selly Gear Company where Dad worked was hospitalized and his replacement was someone Dad didn’t like and didn’t trust. He was dishonest and while in charge he tried to get the employees to produce fewer pieces of product from a given piece of stock. This resulted in a greater percentage of scrap and he had a side business going on with a friend who was a scrap dealer. Most of the metal was brass and commanded a good price in the scrap market and a nice profit for the boss who was in effect stealing from the firm while the owner was in the hospital. Dad would have no part in his scheme and finally got in a fight and slapped him in the face with his oily, machine-shop hand. Although the depression was about to cause his dismissal the slap hastened it.
Now unemployed Dad exhausted all means of getting any income for the family. One short-time job was a pick and shovel job at the school across the street paying ten cents an hour. When this short project ended he sought work with a friend who owned a tavern on Exchange Street on the approach to the railroad viaduct. There he washed dishes, waited on tables and attended bar. His meager income from this job could not meet our basic needs and it was evident that the depression was taking its toll. The decision was made to move to the farm where we could at least survive.
At the beginning of the winter semester of 1931 I began first grade at Legett School. The school system was apparently feeling the effects of the depression and additional classrooms that were needed could not be added to the school. To solve the problem two wooden shacks were moved on to the school grounds to house first grade students. Each unit had a pot bellied stove for heating and there were desks for all. The students were slowly evolving from coloring and pasting to serious learning but I don’t remember doing anything except kindergarten work. I had not learned to count numbers or the letters of the alphabet when the time came to flee to the farm. The lasting emotional experience I recall from first grade occurred on Valentine’s Day. There was only one black boy in the class and he sat next to me. For a week before Valentine’s Day we would deposit valentines addressed to friends in a decorated box on the teacher’s desk. On the final day the box was opened and the recipients were delivered their greetings. All of us had several valentines except for the black boy who received only one – from the teacher. How hurt that poor kid must have felt!
In March 1931 the time had come to make the move that would provide a chance for survival. A scene from the “Grapes of Wrath” would best describe the 20-mile journey. The caravan consisted of the Model T loaded with the family and a few possessions while a Model T stake truck held the rest of our possessions. Prior to the move Dad had done what he could to make the farmhouse habitable. There were none of the city amenities such as running water, electricity or gas. Electricity and water were not available; however, a natural gas line had been laid along the country road adjoining the farm property. The problem was that the house was at the end of a long lane measuring approximately 200 yards. Dad hand dug a trench this distance and laid a pipeline all by himself so that we could have at least one convenience and Mom could cook with gas. The house was badly leaning to the west and Dad jacked it up as best he could by using timbers from around the barn and tree trunks from the property. The floors never reached perfect level but were level enough so that we never developed sea legs. Our lost marbles could always be found on the west end of any room.
The gas connection provided lighting in two rooms, a double globe in the kitchen and a single globe in the living room. Water came from a broken pump outside the kitchen. Only the handle connection was broken and a makeshift repair enabled pumping for excellent fresh water. A second pump at the barn also provided excellent water even though it was located next to the barnyard. Testing of this well revealed no contamination from the barnyard. The reservoir for both wells was a sandstone formation only about 40 feet deep with an intake for the formation probably many miles away. The water was soft in contrast to water from wells one mile downhill where the wells were completed in glacial fill and the water was hard.
My brothers and I went about exploring our new home and the surrounding out buildings but my mother sat down and cried. The inside of the house was filthy. Most rooms had wallpaper that had mostly peeled away and behind the remaining strips of faded paper bedbugs waited for nighttime when they would feast on the new city slicker arrivals. The most pressing job was to sanitize the house by fumigating the entire house with sulfur. To insure an effective fumigation all cracks around doors and windows were stuffed with newspaper. A canister of sulfur with a wick was lighted and the burning sulfur produced toxic gas that killed all of the critters. The gas was probably hydrogen sulfide, a most deadly gas. After 12 hours we entered the house that was free of bugs thereafter.
None of the doors fit tightly and the kitchen door was supplemented with a screen door that fit worse than the kitchen door. It served no purpose since the bottom panel had a large hole through which children of the previous tenants crawled through. The screen was replaced in time to deter some of the flies that would swarm in the summertime but the fit didn’t improve. At the top of the screen there was a gap of one half inch on the far side from the hinge. The old family cat was pretty smart and figured how to take advantage of this defect and enter the house. She would climb up the screen to the gap, pry at the gap with a front paw increasing the opening enough to get her head through, then swing the rest of her body inside and lower herself to the floor.
One of the first priorities after getting rid of the house pests was to get us enrolled in school. Dad had met some of our neighbors and we were invited to meet them and get some advice about enrolling. After supper we took an old kerosene lantern and walked through the fields to our neighbor, Emile Wald. Their son, Ralph was older than any of us so he sold us some of his used books that we would need. I think that the amount paid was $0.10 for a spelling book and an arithmetic book
DEPRESSI0N TO WAR
To get started Dad borrowed $300.00 from and good friend and with this amount he bought two horses, one named Barney and the other Daisy. Both were real plugs and were not capable of doing much work. The remainder of the loan went toward the purchase of two cows, one called Jersey the other was Patsy. I don’t know how Jersey got her name because she was definitely not of the Jersey breed. She was as solid black as Barney. Patsy had some Holstein blood in her and after a short life got something else in her - some green apples from which she bloated from the gas and died. Needless to say we were definitely not in the dairy business with only one cow. I guess the good friend came through with another loan and two more cows were purchased. The milk supply from this herd was not enough for any milk company to bother with but Mom managed to skim off enough cream every week to sell at a local creamery. After much persuasion Dad managed to get the Averill Dairy in Akron to buy our milk. Since the dairies didn’t need the extra milk they would grant the farmer a base price for a maximum amount of daily milk delivery, say 20 gallons a day, then a lesser amount for the surplus. We barely made our base amount and were constantly threatened to have the base reduced. This highly technical farming we had entered into was now bringing in about $3.50 a month. The local farmers eventually banded and built a cheese factory near Rittman. All of the members of this cooperative venture could sell their surplus milk to the cheese factory at a price higher than the price paid by the dairies for surplus milk. The factory produced an excellent swiss cheese that shareholders could buy at a slight discount. Our neighbor, Emile Wald solved his surplus milk problem by making his own cheese. This was a new experience for him but he soon learned to make an excellent cheese. The operation began with his wife stirring a large copper kettle of milk on the kitchen stove.
An attempt to get extra cash by selling some baby pigs at a weekly auction netted us the obscene sum of $0.50 per pig. Mom kept the receipt for this capitalist transaction among her faded memoirs for many years
I was now enrolled in the first grade in Sterling school but since the school was not on a semester basis like the one in Akron where I had just begun the first grade, the first grade in Sterling was finishing when I joined them with only three months of first grade. The first three months in Akron had not been very productive since all I did was to color and draw pictures. No one had told me that I was supposed to be learning my numbers and letters. I must have passed on condition because the next September I reported to the second grade. I sat next to an older boy who had probably flunked the second grade a couple of times. His name was Herman and he was not going to be a particularly good influence on my education. The entrance to the gymnasium had two doors leading from the basement hallway, one leading to bleachers and the other on to the gym floor. The one to the gym floor was in a small well surrounded by a railing. Some of the older boys found it a great sport to run down the hall, grab on to the rail, slide under it and drop to the door opening on to the floor. One day Herman conned me into attempting this gymnastic maneuver just in time for the Principal, Simon Miller to catch us and escort us to his office where we were given a stern lecture and displayed a large paddle with air holes to reduce friction when wielded on a backside. We were asked if we would like him to apply it to our rears whereupon we replied in the negative. He excused us and we refrained from any more of these gymnastics.
Tolerance to religion was more prevalent than now and every Friday we held “Chapel” in the auditorium. By high school time this session was changed to “Assembly.” Other than a short reading from the Bible, which was usually a Psalm, this gathering of the entire school body had no religious implications. Each class would have a turn during the school year to put one the program. These usually consisted of songs, musical solos or skits. While in the second grade the teacher wanted me to sing a French song. I was to wear a leather beret and announce that the beret was brought to America by my mother. The program began on schedule with me sitting somewhere in the audience with classmates. When I thought it was about time to sing I got up and walked toward the stage. Approaching the stage I upset a music stand being used by one of the band members. At this point Mr. Miller placed me on his lap until the current performance was completed and I took my turn. After making my announcement about the beret I rendered a flawless version of “C’etait une bergère et rond et rond petit pataploon; C’etait une bergère qui gardait ses mouton mouton.” Although grammatically incorrect this is what it sounded like. So much for my singing career.
Meanwhile back on the ranch things were not improving. Dad bought two or three hundred peeps (baby chicks) and housed them in a dilapidated old summerhouse we called the shack. It had also been fumigated and seemed like a respectable home for our new feathered friends. When morning came Dad checked on his newly acquired flock and found that a weasel had entered the shack through a hole in the floor and had killed almost all of the chicks. Mr. Mast who operated a hatchery in Sterling felt badly about the hard luck and gave Dad some replacement chicks that he was preparing to destroy because they were mostly roosters and all he could sell were laying hens. Some of these survived until we needed meat for a Sunday dinner.
In a desperate move to save some of the chicks from the weasels it was decided that new quarters would be necessary. The only solution was to move them into the house. The upstairs bedroom over the kitchen was selected as the new indoor henhouse and the remaining chicks were moved to their new quarters. This worked fine for the chicks but proved embarrassing for the rest of the family. Fortunately they were removed before the roosters began crowing and the hens began laying. René recalls having a school friend comment that he thought that he saw a chicken in an upstairs window. René assured him that he had only imagined such a sight and, surely there were no chickens in the house!
Summers were not too bad because we always had a nice garden and there were many fruit trees on the farm. One side of the lane was lined with sour cherry trees, two sides of the garden were lined with concord grape arbors and a third side had five plum trees, three were purple and two were the yellow variety. There were also numerous apple trees, some peach trees, one pear tree and several sweet cherry trees. We gave names to the apple trees we could not identify. Our favorite apple was the Baldwin, a hard, delicious winter apple that provided part of our school lunches for a greater part of the winter. Others were named “Early Apple,” “Snow Apple and “Rohner Apple” named after our Akron neighbors who liked them. We always had more apples than we could keep through the winter or for canning applesauce. These surplus apples were collected from the ground and taken to a local cider press. The operator of the press would take part of the cider in payment if the service could not be paid in cash. We enjoyed all of the cider stages from apple juice to cider with a little bite to hard cider and eventually vinegar.
Mom spent many summer hours canning vegetables from the garden and fruit from the trees. We also picked many wild blackberries that grew in the woods to the east and adjoining our property. We would later acquire this wooded area. Cabbages were always plentiful and we made a large crock of sauerkraut each year. Dad mashed the sliced cabbage in the crock as he rolled up his sleeves and attacked the cabbage until juice appeared, occasionally adding salt and caraway seeds. Ask any sauerkraut maker about curing the cabbage and he will agree that the mixture must be weighed down with only a certain rock. The weight had to come from one or more rounded glacial boulders. We followed this tradition. The farm was within the bounds of the glacial fields and many glacial boulders were available
In the spring and summer there were always plenty of dandelions for salads. The best place to find the most tender ones was on the shoulders of the cinder roads. Because of the coal-burning factories in the area there was always an abundance of cinders. These were spread on the unpaved, country roads instead of using gravel. A dandelion on top of the ground is tough and dark green but if one is found partially buried in the cinders the buried part will be a pale yellow and quite tender. I found it hard to eat even the most tender ones. Mom would fix them with onions, hard-boiled eggs, vinegar, oil and salt and pepper. The eggs were good.
The grape arbors provided a sufficient amount of grapes to make a 55-gallon barrel of wine each year. Dad had learned winemaking from his father and was quite talented in coaxing a full barrel out of a lean crop by adding some sugar water. The grapes were ground into an open-end barrel and stomped with a steel disc attached to a rod and handle that dad had made in the machine shop when the boss was not looking. After allowing the grapes to work they were pressed and the pure juice was poured into the final barrel. After proper aging the barrel was capped and in a few days the wine was ready for consumption. The wine served as a magnet to bring card-playing friends to the house at least until the barrel ran dry in the spring. We also made root beer and on one occasion concocted a brew based on a vague recipe in Mom’s memory. It consisted of lemonade to which was added a few raisins to each bottle and capped. The batch was stored in the cellar for aging; however, instead of a quiet aging period we were greeted with loud explosions as bottle after bottle exploded day and night. No one dared to venture into the cellar for several days for fear of being cut by flying glass. After the bombardment had subsided we mustered enough courage to sample some of the remaining bottles and were surprised to find the brew sparkling and similar to champagne.
We always had two or three pigs that were ready for butchering in the fall. The first butchering was done on the farm. Large kettles of water were heated over an open fire to provide hot water to soak the pigs’ hair so that it could be scraped off. After gutting them, we would strip off the fat, cut it into small cubes and render it in a large kettle. When all of the liquid was cooked out of the fat the mass was placed in a lard press and liquid was collected in a lard bucket. When cooled the product was a snow-white shortening that would provide 100% cholesterol for all of our frying needs. The other parts of the pigs were cut up into hams, shoulders and loins. Other meat trimmings, kidneys, liver etc were ground into sausage meat. This was mixed with salt, pepper and garlic and stuffed into casing that consisted of the pigs’ intestines. Before filling, the intestines were soaked in salt water then scraped on the outside before being turned inside out and scraped again. This was no easy job turning an eight-foot intestine inside out but Mom was very proficient at this task and the resultant casings were clean and sanitary. After being stuffed with a sausage stuffer some was kept for use as fresh sausage and the rest was wrapped on poles and hung in the smokehouse for smoking. There was no refrigeration so what could not be kept in the prevailing weather was smoked for preservation. The hams and ribs were salted for several days either by rubbing salt over and into the meat or soaked in salt brine before smoking three or four days. The hams were some of the best I have ever eaten. When I graduated from the eighth grade Mom baked one that was served with fresh-baked bread. My godparents from Akron, the Albert Landrys were invited as well as my best friend, Walter Graber whose mother had died recently. My godparents gave me a white shirt with green stripes and my parents bought me a very nice gray and white striped suit. We feasted on ham and bread. This in 1938 was a sign that things were getting better.
The butchering was not a pleasant job to watch or perform. In subsequent years Dad made arrangements with Andy Hostetler who ran the local slaughterhouse to pick up the pigs, kill them and dress them. I don’t know why we speak of dressing animals when they are prepared for cutting up. To me they get undressed! On Saturday when the slaughterhouse was not being used he would allow us to use the facilities to make our lard, sausage etc. Andy and Dad got to be good friends and later server on the school board together. The snout, knuckles, feet and ears were boiled then the meat was picked off the bones and placed in a bread pan to cool and solidify so that the meat could be cut into slices and layered in shallow plates. The juice from the boiling was then poured over the meat and the final mixture was allowed to cool and solidify. The resultant dish was hogshead cheese, a dish I never liked. We once tried butchering a calf and canning the meat but something went wrong with the process and all of the meat spoiled.
When I was in either the first or second grade Dad decided that it was time for one of our sows to be bred so that we could have more pigs. The old sow was loaded in the back seat of the Model T with me as her companion and we took off for a neighbor’s farm where the breeding was to take place. By the time we reached the end of our property the sow decided that she was not in the mood for any pig love or maybe had a headache. Regardless what was on her mind she decided that she would attempted to exit the moving Model T. There was nothing I could do to restrain a 300 pound, determined pig. Dad reached back from the front seat to settle her down and promptly ran off the road into a deep ditch. The pig and I slid freely from the vehicle and, once free, Miss Pig ran home through the fields to the safety of her pigpen. René sat in the front seat and we never found why he wasn’t assigned as the pig’s escort. My biggest concern was how we were going to get out of the steep ditch. The recovery was accomplished with neighbor Fred Eshler’s mule team. I think that Miss Pig eventually made her final trip to the slaughterhouse as a virgin.
Because of established school boundaries we were supposed to attend a one-room school called “Lancetown.” Lancetown was on the other side of the hill (Ridge Hill) bordering the east side of our property and was as far away from our property as the central school in Sterling. Dad wanted us to get the best education possible and would not send us to Lancetown. The boundary for the Sterling School stopped at our property line. We could go to the Sterling School but we were not entitled to ride the school bus that came as far as our property then turned around to continue the round picking only the entitled students. This situation gave us no choice but to walk to school taking the most direct route cross country for two miles through the fields. This means of traveling to school was in effect for me from the first grade through the sixth grade. The biggest obstacle we faced on our chosen route was the crossing of the main lines of the Erie and Baltimore and Ohio Railroads. These were heavily traveled main lines for these two carriers from New York and Washington to Chicago for freight and passenger trains. There were four tracks for this traffic plus additional sidings for the steam engines to take on water and two spurs of the B&O crossing the Erie to connect lines to Cleveland. There were no diesel engines then and it was common for the long freight trains to stop in Sterling to either take on water or wait for a safe passage on the crossover. The watering process would often leave the long freight trains blocking our way and rather than waiting for the engine to take on water and move on we would listen for the clanging of the cars as the engine started up and if no sound was audible we would quickly crawl under the freight cars to the other side. René and I did this until we felt that I was big enough to climb onto the cars then cross between them rather than below them.
If the train was heading east and stopped off to take on water the engine was positioned in our path so that we could walk in front of it. As long as the tender was hooked up to the water tank there was no fear that the engine would move. One day as I walked in front of this monstrous engine I was looking up at the front end and almost stepped into the path of a passenger train moving at top speed on the main line. The old depot for Sterling was near where we crossed the rail lines and was positioned between the two sets of tracks. On some occasions the clerk would invite us into the depot while a fast-moving train passed.
I still miss seeing these steam engines go roaring by and blowing their forlorn-sounding whistles. I tried to imagine where all of the freight cars came from and where they were going. At night I would stare out of my bedroom window and listen for the passenger trains I could hear in the distance. The irregular levels of the window shades gave a jagged appearance of light as they sped by and I envied the passengers on their ways to interesting places. While we still lived in Akron I would hear the train whistles and I visualized what these workhorses must look like when they leave the factory in brand new condition. I pictured them as finished in gleaming gold. It was after I finally saw one up close that I concluded that the difficult work they performed among the coal and smoke had finally taken their toll and the gold was now tarnished.
We always tried to get to school regardless what the weather was. One winter morning we got as far as our property line where the snowdrifts were more than I could handle and I turned around and returned home. René continued and shocked the teacher when he made a frosty appearance. He was one of only a handful of students who had made it in the foul weather. On another occasion a cinder road we had to cross had washed out during a rainstorm in the night. Water was flowing through the washout like a small, fast-moving stream and René successfully jumped across. From the other side he assured me that I could likewise maneuver the jump and I landed midstream. Soaking wet I returned home.
Our clothes were adequate if not in fashion. Our prize piece of clothing was probably the sheepskin coat and the “longear” cap. The longear cap was a World War One aviator- type cap that buckled under the chin and kept the ears warm. I also had a royal blue stocking cap Mom knitted. It had a blue pom-pom with white yarn mixed with the blue. This was to distinguish mine from my brother’s that had a solid blue pom-pom.
The friend who had loaned Dad the cash for the farm move was a heavy man, a Swiss named John Vuilleman. He often passed on to us some of his used clothing that Mom could sometimes alter to partially fit us. One rainy morning we had no rain gear to wear so Mom gave us some of John’s not-yet-altered clothes. Remember, he was a large Swiss fellow and I was in the second grade. René and I each sported a suit coat that was to serve as a raincoat. My hands were completely covered and I kept tripping on the coat tails. We successfully crossed the railroad tracks then stopped to hold a conference. We were both ashamed to wear this ridiculous gear to school so we decided to hide the coats in a field and we would pick them up in the evening on the way home. Between the railroad tracks and the school there was only a long hayfield that was in the process of being plowed for the spring planting. Adam Bachman, René’s future father-in-law, owned the field. Due to the rainy weather we didn’t think that he would be plowing during the day so we decided to bury the coats under some newly turned-over sod. So as to locate our burial spot upon our return in the evening we located Adam’s sulky plow, a riding plow that was now unhooked from the team of horses and left standing until plowing could resume. At this location we duly buried our coats and continued to school. Lucky for us the rain persisted sufficiently during the day to prevent any additional plowing that could obscure our hiding place. We retrieved our soggy coats and no one ever knew our secret.
About the time I was in the third grade I noticed that some of my friends wore a two-piece underwear now know as shorts and undershirts. The underwear we had was a one-piece probably better known as a union suit. Maybe it’s what John L. Lewis wore! The leader of the miners’ union often spoke of a “union suit”. The summer style had short sleeves and legs and the winter version was the common long john. Both had the convenient slit in the rear to facilitate Mother Nature’s call to the outhouse. I was envious of the friends and their two-piece jobs and asked Mom if she could buy me a set. There was no money for this large purchase, but she promised that she would make one for me. She went to her old Singer sewing machine and tailored a two-piece underwear that could never have been matched by the couturiers of Paris. The top piece was made from an old dress and sported a white background with purple violets adorning the entire shirt. The shorts were a masterpiece of style also. They were made from a 100 pound salt sack, the trade name being “Colonial Salt.” Great care had been taken so that none of the lettering appeared on the creation; however, it was impossible to avoid the colored trademark of the company which was the face of an American Indian with the traditional feathers in his head. Careful tailoring positioned the trademark perfectly centered on the rear end of the shorts.
Whenever the weather was especially bad, Dad would try to pick us up after school. He would wait at a friend’s house about a quarter of a mile away on the far side of the “prairie” a name we had coined for an open field between the school and Dad’s friend, Albert Rastofer. This field ran parallel to the hay field where we had buried our coats. He would park the old Model T next to the barn so that it could be seen from the classrooms that I occupied from the third grade through the sixth.
SOME DEPRESSION STORIES
Times were especially rough in the early 1930s and Dad decided that he would make some extra money by peddling eggs to his friends in Akron. The grocery stores were not all equipped with proper refrigeration as they are today and transportation from farmers to the market was not as rapid. Consequently, eggs were not always fresh when purchased. Customers were willing to pay a few cents more a dozen to get relatively fresh eggs. I say “relatively fresh” because Dad made the trip only once a week. An egg could conceivably be one week old when delivered to the customer. Before long he had established a route in Akron that demanded more eggs than our hens could lay so he began buying eggs from other local farmers. He would check the morning paper and pay them the going Cleveland price for the day. Soon customers were asking him to bring a chicken, some lard or other farm products. For the return trip from Akron he would sometimes bring back a five-gallon jug of bootleg whiskey that he would pick up at one of his contacts. The local farmers knew when he returned and they would show up at night with their bottles to be filled.
About the time he had established the egg rout a local farmer, another old Swiss by the name of Gus Giet died and the farm items were auctioned off. Dad returned from the auction and proudly announced that he had purchased a truck for his egg route. We were quite excited and I imagined something like a big dump truck or a large stake truck. When he drove home he was sporting another Model T, this one a roadster with a converted truck body no more than four by six feet and occupying the space formerly held by a small trunk. The price was $5.00 so it wasn’t a bad buy. Gus had bought it new, converted it into a truck and proceeded to drive into the barn’s haystack when he confused it for a team of horses and it failed to stop when he hollered “whoa.” It was like new and purred like a kitten.
The Model T had the gas tank under the driver’s seat and reached the engine by gravity. There was no fuel pump. Our farm was on the west side of Ridge Hill and Akron was to the east. This meant that the first lap of the Akron trip was uphill. Sometimes there was not enough gas in the tank to go up the hill because of the gravity feed so Dad solved the problem by backing up the hill and the remaining gas flowed to the engine. From the top of the hill it was mostly downhill and he could make it to Rittman or Wadsworth where he could buy a gallon to hold him over until he sold a few eggs.
One of the biggest thrills at the time was the chance to accompany Dad on the egg route. Whenever it was my turn to go I would sleep very little the night before the trip in anticipation of the adventure to the big city. An occasional cookie from some kind old lady customer supplied additional rewards. Once I received a leftover, dried out waffle that I didn’t really appreciate but I gave thanks to the donor. The route ended in the evening at the restaurant where Dad had worked after he had lost his job only a couple of blocks away. A stop at “Schilli’s” was always the highlight of the trip because Dad would splurge with some of the egg profits and we would each have a hot pork sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy.
On one special occasion it was Christmas Eve and all three of us boys had gone along on the egg route because the Swiss Club was holding their annual Christmas party for children of the members. The event coincided with the day of the egg route and the timing was such that we would make the party at the end of the day. The building where it was held was the “Liedertafel”, which was only a short block from Schilli’s restaurant. We were each given a toy and a small box of hard candies after following Santa Claus in a procession around the hall. When the party was over it was dark and we still had 20 miles to get home. As we were driving past the corner where the Akron Selly Gear Company was located Dad stopped at a Pure gas station to gas up for the trip home. In front of the gas station there was a small pile of left over Christmas trees with a sign from the benevolent owner of the station reading “FREE TACK ONE.” He wasn’t much on grammar but his heart was in the right place. We selected the best looking tree, threw it in the Model T and off we went. We surprised Mom with the tree and immediately set it up while Mom went through a box of ornaments. We had two sets of lights but no electricity. This didn’t deter the decorating and we strung them, electricity or not. Mom also found a few ornaments and some small candleholders she had brought from Switzerland. No matter how bad times were our parents always had our stockings filled on Christmas morning even if it meant stuffing it with an extra orange. The orange was a special treat because Christmas was one of the few occasions when we saw an orange, one other being when we were given an orange half to suck on after receiving our spring tonic of castor oil.
When I was in the third grade I saw in the Chicago Mail Order Company catalog what I wanted for Christmas. It was an Uncle Wiggly game. It was played on a board printed with various paths along which one moved depending on instructions found on a drawn card. One evening Dad saw Mom making out an application for a money order for the sum of $0.39. When questioned she told him that it was for the Uncle Wiggly game. He gave his approval but asked that she not spend too much money.
The lack of any money was a reality that can be illustrated with the following story. In order to feed the horses, chickens, cows and pigs it was necessary to get our grain products ground into feed at the mill in Sterling. Dad would load a few sacks of corn, wheat and oats in the Model T and with $0.10 he could get it ground into feed. One day he was all loaded but didn’t have the cash. He was confident that the milk check for two or three dollars would be in the mail due any minute. When the mailman stopped at the mailbox at the end of the lane Dad cranked up the Model T and headed for the mill only to return and unload the sacks. The check had not arrived and there was not ten cents in the house.
Our monthly gas bill arrived in the mail in postcard form and usually indicated only a few cents for our monthly consumption. We had no checking account so the bill was paid at one of the two grocery stores in Sterling. Ours was paid at Krabill’s, a market about the size of a living room and operated by Mr. Krabill and his wife. He impressed me as being a big, tough man. He played the tuba in the town band and was a very friendly person after getting to know him. He and Dad eventually became good friends and he got our grocery business when times improved in the 1940s. Before we began patronizing his business Mom was always embarrassed to enter the store to pay the gas bill without any purchase so to avoid any embarrassment she would send Jim in to make the payment and she would give him three cents to buy a cake of yeast that she needed for her bread baking.
One of my favorite tricks whenever Dad went to the mill was to hang on to the Model T’s spare tire as Dad drove from the corncrib to the house where he would pick up the $0.10 for the grinding charge. One day he changed his routine and he already had the money so that he didn’t have to stop at the house. As he drove past the house and accelerated up the lane I had to make a quick decision while hanging on to the spare tire. I released my tight grip from the spare tire and dropped to the ground where I proceeded to roll with the momentum. Realizing what happened, Dad stopped and after dusting off the cinders and dust I joined him on the inside this time and we continued our trip.
Entertainment outside of the home consisted of the free movies shown in two neighboring towns, Creston and Seville. The movies were sponsored by the local merchants who contracted the owner of a movie house in Akron to present shows on Fridays and Saturdays during the summer. The idea was to lure the local community into town to spend some money. When times were good we were each given a nickel to spend. This was payment mostly for collecting eggs and keeping the hen house clean. I usually spent mine on a nickel’s worth of freshly roasted Spanish peanuts from the dime store or on a Popsicle. The movies were shown on a vacant lot where a screen was hoisted onto a frame and the movies were projected from a truck equipped with two regular movie-house projectors so there was no time lost in changing reels and, except for being outside and standing up, it was like being in a regular theater - well not quite. The location in Creston was between the same mainline railroads that passed through Sterling, the Erie on one side and the B&O on the other. And it seems like a freight train would highball through town just at the critical part of the movie. The other negative factor was the unpredictable weather.
For additional income the promoters set up wooden benches in the “orchestra” section of the lot and roped off the area. If you wanted to sit you paid five cents. Times must have been getting better around 1936 when Dad told Mom, “If things keep improving we might be able to sit down next year.” Apparently our finances did improve because the next year they were sitting on the benches and even enjoyed a pre-movie beer with their friends, Eli and Bell Pernod.
After the movies in Creston the return trip of two miles back to the farm often presented some navigation problems. Upon leaving Creston there was a direct county road leading to the farm; however, the direct route was not complemented with a good surface. It was a gravel road with a corrugated surface. The jarring of the old Model T would sometimes cause the headlights to go out. This driving danger was corrected by placing René over one of the front fenders while he dangled a dim kerosene lantern to light the way. This was a far cry from sealed beam headlights but we always managed to make it home.
Maybe times were improving but we were not witnessing any dramatic changes on the farm. Improved finances resulted in 1937 when Dad was called back to work at his old machinist job in Akron. This pleased him because he never liked farming. Brother René says that he must have been the worst farmer in the state. He had now bought a 1933 Ford V-8 and was able to commute comfortably to Akron, a distance a little over 20 miles. At that time a commute of that distance was unheard of in our area but Dad managed well. During any extreme winter weather he would spend the night with friends from the old neighborhood. Mom and the three boys now ran the farm. None of us liked the farm work and looked to the time we could leave. We didn’t realize that the upcoming war would relieve the three of us of the farm duties.
Depression hardships were widespread in our small community. Within an area defined by a circle with a one-mile radius there were six suicides in one short period. Out of my senior class of twenty-four the parents of three of my friends were among the six.
In 1936 we were still walking to school and the old one-room Lancetown School was still operating. A new superintendent of the Sterling School became aware of the situation and suggested to Dad that he could circulate a petition among the residents of the Lancetown School District to shut down the school. If the one-room school could be shut down, busses would cover all homes in the area and we would get transportation. Dad got an official document drawn up and began soliciting signatures. Most of the old timers wanted to keep the school and could not see the advantages of the centralized school in Sterling. Some were adamant about the issue and Dad received some threats but he continued his campaign and eventually got enough signatures. One farmer got physical and began chocking Dad but the confrontation was cut short and Dad left without the signature. This person later befriended Dad and all was forgiven. We were now entitled to ride the school bus. The diehards would still not capitulate and hired a teacher to continue their school on a private basis. This lasted a year or two then they gave in. Eventually they realized the benefits of the central school and some apologized to Dad for their behavior when he circulated the petition
In 1937, the year Dad returned to the machinist job the local electric company offered our area electricity. The government-run Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was in operation by this time; however, for some reason we were not included in the program. Since we had such a long lane the electric company had to install two extra utility poles along the lane and to cover this additional expense we were required to pay a total monthly electric bill of $3.50 This charge entitled us to use up to 44 kilowatts per month. To illustrate the increase in electrical consumption since then, we never used the allotted amount and today we use more than 44 KWH in one day in our present condominium.
Dad contracted an electrician in Sterling to do the wiring, which included the house, barn and pig shed. Included in the contract was a string of five wires running from the house to the barn, a distance of about 200 feet with a pole light in between. Total cost was a staggering $92.00! All fixtures were minimal but adequate. If I remember right, the electrician complained that he had not made any money on the deal and Dad gave him a few extra dollars. Mom brought out her electric iron, the only appliance we had. The first electrical purchase other than light bulbs was an electric motor for the water pump at the barn. Next came a refrigerator. With electric power we were now in a position to install indoor plumbing. The old outhouse with a four by four on the east side to prevent tilting from the strong west winds was about to become history. An old room next to the kitchen used mostly for storage was the room selected for this modernization. Dad found an old retired plumber who had a bad case of arthritis to do the job. This must have been around 1939 and I was a high school freshman. René was in college by now so I was selected as the plumber’s assistant. Because of the physical condition of the old plumber his job was mainly to direct the work that I did. I cut the pipes to his specifications, made the connections, leaded the sewer joints etc. A new water well was drilled next to the existing one and an electric pump and storage tank were installed. This pretty much completed our plumbing.
With plumbing and electricity in the house the electricity gave us a new tool for conducting experiments. One of my first experiments was to build an electric motor. I thought that this would be an easy job. I reasoned that if a generator produced electricity the wiring in a generator could be reversed and I would have a motor. I performed the wiring on an old Model T generator, put an electrical plug on the end, plugged it into a socket and proceeded to blow our first fuse. The next big thrill was the construction of a projector. When we moved to the farm we found an old railroad lantern in the cellar. On one side of the lantern there was a large magnifying glass and on the opposite side a red lens. I found that if I held an electric bulb behind the clear lens and move the lens in front of the bulb I could project the image of the bulb on to the wall. It could be projected clearly enough so that the wattage printed on the glass could be read. A cigar box contraption was then constructed so that a postage stamp could be positioned between the bulb and the lens and the stamp image was projected. We collected stamps so there was a large supply of projection material for viewing. This doesn’t sound like a great innovation to today’s computer generation but to us it was like the first step on the moon.
We must have been rolling in money from Dad’s job in Akron because at this same time we built a new garage where the old shack had stood. Fred Rastofer, a local contractor, did this work and again, I helped with the construction. I screwed up on one of our first jobs when Fred and I cross cut a four by four to be used for a corner post. I didn’t follow the line very well and we ended up with a beveled post we corrected with a shim. The garage was quite nice consisting of space for two cars and a work area that was actually large enough to accommodate the tractor that was also purchased about then. The floor was not paved. We three boys eventually paved the entire floor, mixing all of the concrete by hand. The cost of the garage was $310.00.
The tractor was a Ford-Ferguson that was a new concept in farm tractors. Ferguson was a British company that came up with the concept of a hydraulic system for operating the associated implements attached to the tractor. The concept worked very well and the Ford-Ferguson marriage produced a good, affordable system. I think that the final price for the tractor and the attached plow was around $350.00 with the two horses and harnesses thrown in on the horse-trading deal.
WORK AND PLAY
In the summer time we three boys earned our own spending money by working for a neighbor, Almond Brando who operated the “Hilltop Fruit Farm”, a small fruit farm at the top of Ridge Hill. His main crop was strawberries that we picked for about four weeks in May and June. We would pick on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Brando would take the berries to a farmer’s market in Kenmore, a suburb of Akron on Saturday. He paid us $0.015 a quart and the baskets had to be heaped up. He had inherited an old 1924 Maxwell touring car from a friend and upon approval from the friend’s widow he converted it into a small truck. The truck was parked at the end of the berry patch where Brando would sit under a tarp and wait for us to bring our trays of six full boxes of berries to him. He would punch our personal card with the corresponding number of quart baskets then, after we left, he would proceed to level off our heaped baskets and pack a few extra baskets for which he didn’t have to pay for picking. He would sometimes feel generous and have a container of lemonade and a box of graham crackers for our refreshments on hot days. During the peak of one season I picked 92 quarts and Jim picked an even 100. We picked for about four or five years until around 1939 when the Schneider brothers showed Brando the meaning of “solidarity.” René began college at Kent State in 1938 and was spending some of his summer vacations working at jobs more strenuous than berry picking. One day he came along to Brando’s to make a little extra money and while picking he threw a rotten berry at one of us. Brando caught him and fired him on the spot. One of his strict rules was that throwing berries, rotten or not, was strictly prohibited and grounds for immediate dismissal. René was paid for his day’s work and Jim and I kept working. The way Brando paid us was to pay for the previous picking. In this way he could get the cash for the picked berries before paying for the picking. Jim and I didn’t like the treatment René got so we spent the rest of the day making plans. At the end of the day we presented our punched cards from the previous picking and I told Brando that I was quitting and wanted to be paid in full. Jim followed with a “Me too.” This visibly upset Brando who proceeded to inform us that we would not get recommendations from him when the next owner took over the farm. He was about to move to Arkansas and was completing his last year on the “Hilltop Fruit Farm.” The next year the new owner asked us to work for him.
When strawberry season drew to a close, cherries and raspberries were generally in season. For these we were paid $0.03 a quart but we could never make as much money as picking strawberries. I kept a record of my earnings and remember one entry which read, “Picked gooseberries today; made $0.07.”
When I reached high school age I was ready for more strenuous work. I would shock oats and wheat and help during threshing time for $0.10 an hour. These were hot, dirty jobs, especially threshing. The older men would get the easier jobs in the field, usually pitching the bundles of grain on to the wagons that would then haul the loads to the barn area where the threshing took place. My job was usually catching the grain in sacks or in iron baskets and carrying it to the granary or loading it onto a truck. One time after working for 24 hours at a neighbor’s I returned home to a mother who didn’t recognize me. The wheat grain had suffered from a black mold that filled the air when it was threshed. All that my mother could see was two eyeballs. That night I had a bad nosebleed. Besides being a bad workday I didn’t collect any pay. We had an agreement with this neighbor that we would help with his threshing and his bull would service our cows when breeding was required. The bull made out better than we did and I don’t think he ever got a nosebleed!
Around 1940 we were demanding and getting the obscene sum of $0.20 an hour for the same work. One of the last jobs René and I had was just before René went into the army when we shocked oats for an old miser named Joe Wurgler. His son drove their John Deer tractor and Joe sat on the binder. Joe’s job was to catch the bundles on a carrier until he had a decent load then drop them in a pile so that they would be concentrated with other bundles thereby making it easier for us to gather them for shocking. In theory this works pretty well; however, the binder did not live up to its name and loose stalks would go flying in all directions. These loose stalks of oats had to be gathered by us and hand tied. When lunch came we were looking forward to a good hot meal. Instead we got lukewarm boiled fish and leftover vegetables. We were treated to a week-old pie for desert. This was about the time we decided to tell the local farmers to shove their slave jobs. We had to wait another month to get paid for the oak-shocking job.
I don’t want to leave the impression that we were miserable and hated our home. It was a loving home and, considering the economic conditions of the depression, it wasn’t a bad existence. I guess we just had too much adventurous blood to remain on the farm.
Most of our recreation we created ourselves. When we were in grade school we spent much of our leisure summer time playing with our toy cars. Just beyond the garden there were two large sweet cherry trees about 30 feet apart. At the bases of the trees we set up our individual areas we called factories. We built underground garages and used drainage tiles standing on end for silos that were filled with sand to load into the trucks. Between the factories we built roads out of mud and troweled the surface that hardened into smooth roads. After every rain shower we had major road repair jobs. One of the curves along one road was called “dead mans curve.” The business end of our entertainment consisted of trading loads of sand or the swapping of vehicles.
Of course, another sport was playing war games or cowboys and Indians, sometime with cap guns and at other times with homemade rubber band guns. My favorite gun was a cap gun with a yellow grip and the name “Tony” stamped on the side. I believe that Tony” was Tom Mix’s horse’s name. Rubber band guns were made with a block of wood 1” by 4” by 8” with an eight-inch trigger attached on one end against the grain with rubber bands stretched around the eight-inch length. The rubber bands were cut from discarded Model T inner tubes. The ammunition consisted of another rubber band pinched between the trigger and the body and stretched to the far end where it was looped over the end. Firing was done by releasing the trigger. Another favorite homemade weapon was the slingshot that was easily made from a Y-shaped tree limb Model T inner tube bands and a pocket made from the leather tongue of a shoe.
We always had plenty of marbles that were usually kept in cigar boxes. The larger ones were called shooters. The pretty ones were called crystals but were seldom used for fear of chipping them. The most inferior ones were called combonies. I have no idea where this name came from. René was especially good at shooting with marbles and would play for keeps at school and would always bring some home. Packing cinders into a nice flat surface made the best courts. All of the local factories generated plenty of cinders from the coal that was used for steam generation that in turn powered the engines and the machinery.
One of our winter sports was our version of bowling. Each player would arrange a group of spent shot shotgun cartages in any pattern he chose but confined to a given area at one end of the room. The object was to upset the opponent’s pins before he got yours. Turns were taken rolling a large marble toward the opponent. We always looked forward to the first day of hunting on the 15th of November. This was for rabbits only and the hunters would leave a trail of empty cartages in the woods and in the fields. It was always a thrill to find a fresh shell that still had a hard shell and the smell of gunpowder. The most common size was the 12 gauge. Other sizes were the 16 gauge, the 20 gauge and the 410.
Our most dangerous activity was playing in the barn. The barn was a bank barn which means that it had two floors, the access to the upper floor being through doors at the top of a slope or bank. Large sliding doors allowed large wagons of hay to enter easily. Once inside the hay was unloaded with a system of pulleys and rope attached to a large hook. Directly above the parked wagon and at the peak of the barn there was an assembly called a frog. The frog locked at this position and the hay hook was pulled down from the frog and onto the wagon and fastened into the hay. Fingers in the hook assured a good grip so that a sizable load could be lifted. In the peak of the barn there was a steel track that ran along the peak to the haymow at the end of the barn. At the far end of this rope and pulley assembly the end of the rope was attached to a horse in harness. When the horse pulled, the hook would rise vertically until it latched into the frog then move along the track to the mow at which time the horse was stopped to avoid knocking out the end of the barn. The load was released with a pull on another rope attached to the finger mechanism and the load fell to the haymow. When there was no wagon in place we would hang on to the hook and someone would pull on the rope hoisting the person hanging on to the hook into the air, up to the frog then a swift ride along the barn peak to the haymow where a long drop ended in the soft hay. This was pretty scary and required a tight grip on the long trip to the peak that was several feet above the barn floor.
Most other activities were the familiar pastimes such as snowball fights, ballgames etc. outdoors and card games, puzzles, lotto etc.indoors. As we grew older basketball and softball dominated the sports. The shop in Akron where Dad worked dad a contract to make steering wheels for one of the major truck companies. The outer ring of the wheel was almost the same size of the official basketball hoop. One of these rings fastened to a backboard provided a fairly good contraption for the sport. At first, the hoop was fastened to the corncrib located on the north side of the pigpen. We eventually moved it to the inside of the barn on the upper level. Many years were spent shooting baskets in the barn. René was a very good player and in 1937 or 1938 he broke all county records by scoring 44 points in one game. I recall watching the game in the old gymnasium. The ceiling was especially low for a basketball court and the visiting teams were at a disadvantage because their long shots would usually hit the ceiling and would be judged out of bounds. René specialized in the hook shot and on this night he couldn’t be stopped. The game was a league game with Marshalville and Sterling scored 92 points. Scores of this magnitude were unheard of in those days even in the pros. The rules at that time required that the ball be returned to the center court for a jump at center after each basket was scored. This resulted in a slow game and low scores. The rules were changed shortly after 1938 so that the return to center was eliminated. René’s total scoring for the season remained unchallenged in the county until around 1943 when brother Jim broke it.
In between these superstars I played a less than mediocre game and presented no threat to these outstanding records. My fifteen minutes of glory in sports occurred when I was a freshman and we were playing a non-league game with Seville. All of the freshmen were on the reserve team and we played before the varsity game. Seville had just built a new gymnasium that was twice the size we were used to and we were running ourselves ragged. At the end of the game we were tied and had to go into overtime. After the designated period of overtime each team with single foul shots had scored one point. This meant a second overtime. The referee ruled that the first team to score two points would win. One of the Seville players got fouled after a considerable amount of time and we called time. We had no special plays so we decided that as soon as the single foul shot was taken I would run as fast as I could toward our basket. Hoping that the shot would be missed and we would get the rebound I would catch the ball over my shoulder and make an easy two-point shot. I remember the words of our captain, Bill Kerstetter, “When Seville shoots, Schneider will run like hell toward our basket; I will get the rebound and throw the ball down court.”
To our amazement all worked out as planned. The shooter missed, Kerstetter got the rebound, I was on my way down the court, caught the ball over my shoulder, took one dribble and went up for the shot when all of a sudden one of their guards jumped on my back. This constituted a two-shot foul. The first shot swished through the net then after taking careful aim up went the ball, hit the backboard and through the net. The game was over and I was the hero - my only great moment in sports. René and Jim both made all-county and I believe they also made positions on the all-state teams.
The late 1930s were bringing many exciting changes in our lives. In 1937 I had an interesting tooth problem. As a result of being hit in the mouth during a football game during recess I developed an abscessed tooth that was so painful I could not even allow a drop of water to touch the tooth. In school I would fashion a funnel out of a paper towel and channel drinking water down the throat past the tooth. Dad took me to a dentist in Rittman who diagnosed the condition and performed a root canal. Several trips were required during the treatment and I would hitchhike to Rittman after school and Dad would pick me up on his way home from work. I mention this event because it occurred in 1937 and I don’t’ think root canals were yet a common practice especially by a small town dentist. The dentist said that he didn’t know how long it would last and predicted anywhere between six months and a few years. It lasted over fifty years until the tooth broke and required a cap.
On one of these trips to the dentist I had hitched a ride into Rittman and was dropped a few blocks from the dentist. It was a cold day and I was wearing my blue stocking cap and my sheepskin coat when I approached two teen-age girls and as I passed them they giggled and made fun of my clothes. To this day I don’t find anything funny about what some poor person must wear.
HIGH SCHOOL DAYS
In 1938 I graduated from the eighth grade and René graduated from high school. Through his determination and Dad’s encouragement he made plans to enter college in the fall. There was not much money for college but Dad found enough to pay for tuition and books. René enrolled in Kent State which is not far from Akron and majored in chemistry with the intention of teaching. Under a government-sponsored program he got occasional work grading French test papers at $0.10 an hour. His friend and fellow basketball player, Eddie Graber who was one year ahead of René in school was already attending Kent State and worked part time in one of the local dime stores. René got a part time job at the same place and picked up a little extra money. He rented a room that had a hotplate and the landlady allowed him to cook meals in the room. On Friday he would take a bus to Akron and Dad would pick him up after work and bring him home. During the weekend Mom would make soup, spaghetti etc. seal the food in jars and on Monday René’s suitcase was loaded with some clean clothes and several jars of food.
Around 1940 we bought a second car be used for school events, basketball practice etc. as well as for running errands on the farm. This was a 1934 Chevy coupe, green with a fair motor but pretty poor brakes. I learned to drive in this vehicle and took my driving test in it after only a few test runs on the local country roads. My friend Walter Graber accompanied me to the State Police Barracks in Wooster where I took the driving test. The examining officer had me drive around the block then enter the police station through a rear entrance at the bottom of a steep hill. I descended the hill in second gear and the officer complemented me on my choice of gears to descend the steep hill. What he didn’t know was that if I had not geared down the brakes would not have stopped me. In the winter we didn’t keep antifreeze in the radiator so we had to add water when we made a trip and drain it at our destination. On very cold days we could drive all the way to school with nothing in the radiator although the engine would sometimes get quite hot and it could not be turned off because the engine would diesel. No spark was needed to ignite the gas. It would combust from the extreme heat in the cylinder. This situation proves quite scary and the motor would eventually stop by placing the transmission in third gear and braking at the same time. This surely wasn’t good for the engine.
At the time I was in high school Jim was two years behind me. Finances were improving and we were able to eat occasionally in the school cafeteria. The cost of the meal was $0.10 and on Thursday the special was a hamburger on white bread and on alternating Thursdays we had hot dogs. With this specialty there was the option to purchase an extra sandwich for $0.05. Thursday was our weekly treat and we always enjoyed the extra sandwich.
While René was in college and Dad was working in Akron the farm chores were in the hands of Mom, Jim and me. We hated the job but managed to get things done. Winters were pretty miserable but the summers were much more pleasant. In the wintertime when we finished our chores in the barn we would seal cracks around the doors as best we could with clumps of straw. In the morning the poor cows would have frost on their whiskers. Ice had to be chopped from the watering trough so that the cows could drink. In the summer the cows would be left in the pastures for the night. A constant fear was to find some of them missing in the morning. When located, the cows would usually be in a neighbor’s cornfield. The neighbors were more tolerant to these episodes than we deserved.
One advantage of having ice on the watering trough was that it provided one of the ingredients for making ice cream. We had the milk, the eggs and the ice. All we needed to buy was sugar, cornstarch and vanilla. We always had a 100-pound sack of salt to feed the cows in the wintertime when they had no access to a salt block in the field. The old crank-type ice cream freezer made many delicious tubs of ice cream. Mom always cooked the mixture to a custard stage. This resulted in ice cream much like the French Vanilla currently offered in our super markets. I seldom run out of this flavor!
Winters were generally harsh enough by Thanksgiving to provide the ice we needed for ice cream; however it was not necessary because Mom always had some specialties on this day of thanks. She made jello and a cream custard called “Boule de Neige.” White sugar was caramelized over heat and at the proper time cold milk was added. This caused the caramel to harden and further cooking with egg yokes made the creamy custard. Before all of the sugar was hardened Mom would fish out a piece and we would enjoy a delicious piece of caramel. When cooled the “Boule de Neige” (snowballs) would be floated on the top. These were either whipped cream or simply whipped egg whites. Every Thanksgiving we received a coupon in the mail for a six-pack of coca cola that we would redeem at Krabills. We each had a bottle with our dinner. These ice cold drinks were a real treat and satisfied me until I could afford cokes in Army camps.
I did well in high school and concentrated on available science courses. In spite of not having all of the facilities of a large metropolitan school we had good dedicated teachers and a good basic curriculum that included four years of English. The English grammar proved especially beneficial. In my professional career I had a reputation of composing well organized and grammatically correct scientific reports that were often used as examples for employees in Texaco’s worldwide company operations.
When in the seventh grade I was approached by Mr. Sprunger, a newly hired music teacher who asked me if I would be willing to learn to play the baritone horn also known as the euphonium. He was starting a new school band and already had enough trumpets, clarinets, trombones etc but he needed a baritone player. One subtle reason he needed a baritone player was that someone had donated an old baritone horn to the school. I accepted but I never practiced like I should have. I never knew the scales but I could recognize the position of the note on the sheet music and relate it to the proper valve position on the instrument. My friend Dick Rich played the trumpet in the relatively strong trumpet section so he switched to the baritone section to help me. His music was in the treble clef and mine was in the bass clef. As long as Dick played I could follow along but if he stopped I was in trouble. We played in the county contests in Wooster and even went to the regional contests at Kent State.
Other activities in high school other than sports consisted of participation in annual school plays, concerts occasional parties etc.
While in junior high I constructed a crystal set with the help of one of our teachers, Hr. Haight. It was a rather fancy model with a coil and a variable condenser, two components not required for a basic crystal set. Dad laughed when he saw my radio in a wooden Kraft cheese box and wondered how it would work without electricity or batteries. I strung a long antenna from a large oak tree about 100 feet from my bedroom window, borrowed an old set of earphones from a neighbor and I was in business. I would pick around in the crystal until I got a strong signal. The main station I picked up was WTAM in Cleveland, an NBC affiliate. On rare occasions I would pick up Akron and Detroit. It was a special thrill to lie in bed in total darkness and listen to something originating miles away. In order to get better reception I tied in the antenna to an electric fence that circumscribed a four-acre pasture and turned off the current in the fence but there was no improvement in the reception.
On Saturdays and Sundays I would usually go out with my friends, Walter Graber and Dick Rich. On Saturday we often went to the movies in Wooster where the movies were rather expensive at $0.25. Walter had a 1934 Chevy coupe that accommodated the three of us nicely. Dick’s mother was a staunch Mennonite and at first she didn’t really approve Dick going to ball games on Sunday but when she realized that we were not a bad influence we had these days quite free. Next to the theater in Wooster there was a small ice cream parlor run by an old couple named Kaltwasser. The old man popped corn for theatergoers and the wife prepared ice cream dishes. The Sundays were enormous and cost $0.10. Every week a particular flavor was offered for only $0.07. Needless to say which one we indulged in.
When Elaine and I moved to New Orleans on my first professional job we met a young geophysicist and his wife living in the same apartment complex as ours. They were both from a small town somewhere in central or west Texas. I think it was Sweetwater. When they found out that we from Ohio they told us that an old retired couple from Ohio had moved to their hometown. The old couple had told them that they had operated an ice cream parlor in Wooster and their name was Kaltwasser. It’s a small world.
OUR WORLD CHANGES
On Sunday, December 7, 1941 while I was a senior in high school I was listening to the big band of Sammy Kaye when the program was interrupted to announce that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor. At this moment many of our young lives changed. We had been following the war in Europe and anticipated our possible involvement in a European war but the Japanese attack initiated a new dimension in our thinking and involvement by us suddenly became a reality. There were no classes for us the next day in school even though school was held. The senior class received permission to remain in our homeroom where we listened to the radio that constantly broadcast developing news about the attack. None of us had heard of Hickam Field, Wake Island Pearl Harbor and other Pacific areas that were to become common names in the daily news. We referred to maps and I drew a map of the area of interest on the blackboard on which we plotted data as events were reported. We listened to President Roosevelt make his famous speech wherein he spoke of the “Day of Infamy’ and the declaration of war. As we heard these events make history our destinies were etched in granite
I was 17 years old and distinctly remember meeting our superintendent, Mr. Roy Sinclair at the bottom of his office steps and he asked me how old I was. When I told him that I was 17 he said, “Before this is over all of you will be involved.” There were twelve boys and twelve girls in our senior class and almost all of the boys wanted to sign up that day. Walter Graber who was now eighteen was the first to go. He joined the navy right after graduation in May. We were the first war-time graduation class and of the twelve boys eight entered the service
It had been traditional for the graduating class to take a trip to Washington, D.C. Since war had begun all school trips to the capital were either discouraged or restricted. It was decided that we would take an alternate trip to Detroit by way of a Great Lakes steamer from Cleveland. The class had made some money by performing some class plays but the balance of the trip had to be paid individually. Our total cost was about $10.00 per student and somehow Dad came up with the money and I made the trip. With a teacher chaperone we drove to Cleveland in three or four cars and took an overnight steamer to Detroit. The passenger ships sailing the great lakes were named after cities on the lakes. We had either the City of Cleveland or the City of Detroit. There was also one named the City of Buffalo. These vessels were quite nice and had been elaborate in their time that dated probably to the early 1920s. We set sail in late evening and most of us stayed on deck until the lights of Cleveland disappeared then retired to our staterooms where we doubled up with a friend of the same sex. In early morning we entered the Detroit River and we passed under the Ambassador Bridge that connected Detroit with Windsor, Canada. In Detroit we visited the Henry Ford Museum at Greenfield Village and the zoo on Belle Island. We had lunch at the Greenfield Village restaurant and it was at this meal that I had my first frozen green peas. I was impressed by the emerald green color. We returned to Cleveland on the same ship and in Cleveland we visited the zoo before returning home to face our adult futures.
About this same time René graduated from Kent State. It was June 1942. He tried to enlist in the Air Corps but he failed the colorblind test and instead of the Air Corps he was assigned to the Medical Corps and sent to Camp Grant located near Rockford, Illinois. He never got a furlough and, with about four months of training he was in the first wave to hit the beaches of North Africa in November 1942. He brought his D-Day landings to four as he was in the landings at Sicily, Italy and Southern France. He survived all of these plus the associated battles. I believe his worst experience was at Anzio. He witnessed the blunder of the Navy as they shot down our own transport planes loaded with airborne soldiers. Earlier, German planes had come in low and undetected as they bombed and strafed while the Navy was asleep at their guns. This event shook up the Navy gunners and when the American planes came shortly after the Germans they were prepared to gun them down. René wrote me a letter and said that he hoped that I would not join the Navy but he didn’t say why. It was after the war that I found out his reason.
I wanted Dad to sign for me so that I could volunteer but he wouldn’t sign. Farming was considered an essential occupation and I could get deterred if my draft came up. I was approached by a county official one day and he took a survey of the number of cows, chickens, pigs etc. we had on the farm. When I asked him the purpose of the survey he explained that I would soon be drafted but if we had enough livestock I could be deferred. He said that we were close to having enough. All we needed was one more cow or a couple of pigs. I wanted to get in the service so I never told Dad because I knew he would meet the requirements with a cow purchase.
On a spring day, 1943 I checked the mail and was elated and excited to find “Greetings” from my draft board with a request to report for my physical examination and subsequent induction. I ran all the way down the lane waving the notice and cheering at the top of my lungs only to find Mom in tears for she knew the source of my excitement. She was about to lose son number two.
IN THE ARMY NOW - BASIC TRAINING
The next era in my life covers a period of less than three years but these years were such exciting and meaningful times that quite a bit of space is devoted to this period.
On May 6, 1943 I reported for induction into the Army. I had already passed my medical examination in Akron so all of the preliminaries prior to swearing in had been handled. Mom and Dad went with me to Orrville where a short swearing in ceremony took place in a building next to the train station. After the ceremony I boarded a train for my first train ride. Mom and Dad had already sent off one son less that one year earlier and now the second was leaving. Before the end of the war the last remaining son, Jim would leave for the Navy. I can’t say that it was a happy occasion, and after being a father myself, I can understand the anguish they were experiencing at that time. Reminiscing about events like this reminds me of how wonderful my parents were.
Only those who have lived during these war years can understand the patriotic feelings that prevailed. I mentioned earlier that of the twelve boys in my senior class, eight were in the service during the war. The last words I heard from a friend who was leaving for the Navy at the same time as I was departing were, “See you in Tokyo.”
My first train ride took me to Fort Hayes, a permanent Army installation located almost in downtown Columbus. The only recollection of the ride is that, as we entered Columbus, we passed next to the Ohio State Penitentiary. It seemed like we could almost have touched the dark gray stones of this fortification. The next week or so was spent getting uniforms, shots, doing some close order drill, KP duty etc. While marching to the clinic to get shots “veterans” who had been there a few days earlier would encourage us with shouts like, “You’ll be sorry” and “watch out for the needle with the propeller.” After receiving our ill-fitting uniforms and our shots we were given passes into town where we exercised our new manhood by having a couple of beers and returned to camp.
Near the end of the week, after a full day of close order drill, I was put on night KP. The mess hall in Fort Hayes was a large structure that provided meals for the entire fort. This KP turned out to be easy duty as the work consisted essentially of preparing food for breakfast. All I remember doing was stirring a large kettle of dried apricots. When reveille was sounded early in the morning I was off duty and could report back to our barracks where I would be excused from duty that day. The barracks was a large brick, two story building and I was bunked on the top floor. As I was tying a towel to the bedpost to indicate that I could sleep in, someone told me that I should check the bulletin board because he thought that I was shipping out. Sure enough, my name was posted. This meant no rest today. For a farm boy to have gone twenty-four hours without sleep this would be a day with heavy eyes. As was standard for the Army, we packed our two duffel bags then waited in the hot sun for several hours for some action. Near the end of the day we were loaded on to a train for my second ride and by nightfall we were on our way to somewhere. We had a Pullman car and I had a bed at the front end of the car. We moved westward and by now I had overcome my need for sleep and spent much of the time gazing out of the window for fear of missing something. There had been some heavy rains in the area and as we passed through Indiana I could see people in boats in flooded areas. As we passed over a swollen river the water was almost to the tracks. The windows of the train could be opened so I lay in bed with the windows open as we rode along. There were very few diesel engines at that time and we were being pulled by a steam engine. By morning I was scrapping cinders out of my ears.
I was abruptly awakened by someone shaking me and informing me that I was on KP. I told him that I had just been on KP in Fort Hayes and he said that the only reason he had chosen me was because I was the first one in the car and if I didn’t want the duty I could decline; however, he said that KP on the train was good duty. There was very little to do and I would have access to any food I wanted. I had not yet learned that you never volunteer in the Army so I got up and followed him to the mess car. It turned out that he was right; duty was as he had described. The kitchen facilities resembled a WW I facility rather than one would expect in 1943. in 1943. The troop train was quite long and the kitchen was situated in the middle. It was an old boxcar that had gasoline stoves set in a sand box in a corner of the boxcar. At feeding time the front half of the train would move to the rear with mess kits in hand then do an about face and move back to their seats in the front. As they passed through the kitchen we dished out the food. The process was reversed to feed those in the rear half of the train. My job was to place a couple of fingers in a tub of cold water with floating pats of butter and with a twist of the wrist deposit a couple pats on each mess kit. The feeding process went quite smoothly except that not much thought had been given to the food inventory. We had piles of ice cream and no refrigeration so the melting ice cream could not be served. We ate all that we could and the rest was thrown out of the car.
Judging from the position of the sun and the increase in temperature we were now heading south. There were two by fours nailed across the open, sliding doors of the boxcar and we spent most of the day leaning on the two by fours enjoying the southern countryside. As we traveled farther south we kept passing many obviously poor kids along the tracks waving to us. The cooks had several large jars of jam that they didn’t care to serve so they would throw them at the telegraph poles as we rode along. I thought this was a terrible waste as we observed these underfed kids along the tracks.
Late in the evening we arrived in camp that would be my home for the next ten months. This was the infamous Camp Shelby located near Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Training grounds and maneuvering grounds were extensive and extended southward almost ninety miles to the Gulf of Mexico. Much of the camp had been constructed by the Ohio 37th Division soon after their activation at the beginning of the war and, except for a few brick buildings in camp headquarters, the buildings were wooden or tarpaper shacks. Our facilities were shacks raised a few feet on piling. There were no windows but openings were screened and covers of plywood could be lowered during rain or cold periods. Each unit housed about one half of a platoon of men and the units were grouped into sections. Each company had its own kitchen and one latrine. There were two little coal stoves in each hut and these provided the comfort we needed in cold weather.
I was assigned a bed for the night and soon fell into a deep sleep. The next morning I awoke and discovered my new home, a tarpaper hut. A sergeant by the name of Poley showed me how to roll a full field pack and informed me that I was now in the infantry, more specifically in the I and R Platoon of Headquarters Company, 273rd Regiment of the newly formed 69th Infantry Division. I learned that I and R stood for Intelligence and Reconnaissance and I was to be a scout with an Army spec. number 761. I don’t think that intelligence was a requirement for the assignment but my youth and knowledge of French were certainly some of the consideration for the classification; however, I was too naïve to realize the significance of being an infantry scout. The 69th Division had just been formed and, except for a small cadre, was staffed with inductees mostly from the north, mostly from Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and Indiana. Our quickly adopted moniker was “The Fighting 69th” named after the famous “Fighting 69th “ of World War I. This was a misnomer because the Fighting 69th of World War I was the 69th Regiment, and not a division. It had no connection with the newly formed division. Our newly designed division patch was a red numeral six intertwined with a blue nine. The insignia gained popularity after the war when it was the unit used in the Sergeant Bilko TV series.
I immediately made friends with most of the platoon. Out of twenty-four in the platoon I disliked only four. I quickly learned to distrust these four who turned out to be screw-offs and not soldiers you would want at your side in combat. Our platoon leader was Lt. G.W. Clark a fairly decent fellow. I think he had been a schoolteacher in New York. Other non-coms were Sgt. Orton and Sgt. Zoss, both nice guys.
The following months were fairly routine infantry training with special training in areas pertinent to intelligence and reconnaissance. Three months of basic training were followed by advanced training and maneuvers. Various infantry weapons were fired on the rifle ranges and we all had to qualify as either marksman or sharpshooter with the M-1 Rifle. The M-1 Rifle was the name for the more common lay name of” Garand” The official name of this weapon was “The US Rifle Caliber 30 M-1” Reference to this classic weapon by any other name could earn you a double time around the block. During a training session on the M-1 the instructor, Capt. Craig asked anyone to name the best rifle in the world which, of course, was the US Rifle Caliber 30 M-1. I knew the answer but I was not about to chance a run around the block. Someone in the platoon finally stood up and said, “Sir, the best rifle in the world is reported to be the Italian 30 caliber." Capt. Craig interrupted him and said, “Double time around the block.’ The next person correctly identified the world’s best rifle and the session continued. Before long we became to depend on the M-1 and regarded it as a friend that could some day save your life. We learned to keep it clean and could take it apart and reassemble it blindfolded. Before qualifying with the M-1 we practiced dry shooting with 22 caliber weapons. This was a unique training method in which three persons worked together.
The shooter would lie prone with a partner lying next to him. About fifty feet away a third person sat on a crate on which was fixed a blank piece of paper. This person handled a small center-punched bull’s eye attached to a stick. The shooter would then take a sight on the target and through hand signals to his assistant he would have the bull’s eye moved until it was on target. When the shooter was satisfied the position was marked through the hole in the center of the bull’s eye. The bull’s eye was then moved and the procedure was repeated two more times. The three marks were then evaluated for proximity. A good show was to cover the three dots with a dime.
On one of these training sessions I was lying next to the shooter giving instructions to the target man. It was a very hot day and the sun was bearing down on my steel helmet. I saw no reason to make eye contact with the target and had my face down as I relayed the hand signals. Suddenly I heard Capt. Craig shouting at someone. I soon realized that I was his target. He didn’t approve my casual position and I was ordered to double time around the block. Capt. Craig was our G-2, the Regimental Intelligence Officer. I think he had been a schoolteacher in Tennessee. He was well qualified and I liked him.
The I and R Platoon also had training in hand to hand combat, map reading etc pertinent to scout training. The most strenuous exercise was bayonet training. This was done with a partner a few yards away and facing you with his rifle-mounted bayonet. This fixed weapon weighed 10½ pounds. At the command you would charge your opponent and perform a long thrust, short thrust, jab or butt stroke as instructed. Other commands were “ On your opponents rifle, on your own rifle” back and force as you double-timed and quickly became exhausted. The obstacle courses were good tests of our stamina.
Near the end of our advanced training we noticed times of less strenuous training. After a particular rough night, Lt. Clark would instruct a Sgt. Miller to take the troops out and give them calisthenics. Upon Lt. Clark’s departure, Sgt. Miller would assemble us under some trees and we would be given finger and eyeball exercises. These goofing off times were rare.
We really screwed up on one occasion while in unfamiliar camp territory doing motorized reconnaissance exercises. It was late in the afternoon and our platoon leader decided that we could find a short cut out of the area. As we navigated through the campgrounds we came upon some red flags that indicated a rifle range in the vicinity and currently active. We paid little attention to these warnings and continued on uncharted paths. Suddenly we were being fired upon as bullets whizzed overhead. We made quick exits from the jeeps and took prone positions on the ground. Dragging ourselves to the jeeps we reached for the horns and signaled with blasts of SOS. In the distance we heard a whistle and a command to cease firing. We proceeded toward the origin of the firing and found that we were entering the main street of a mock village where troops were engaged in an exercise in street fighting. The officer was duly chewed out and, embarrassed, we passed through the village among hoots and hollers.
We learned to recognize the smell of various gases and had gas mask drill. Unmasked, we had to enter a building filled with tear gas then open the bag containing the mask and place the mask over the face and begin breathing. Gases we learned to recognize were mustard, phosgene and chloropicrin. Either phosgene or chloropicrin smelled like new-mowed hay and the other smelled like fresh-cut corn, two smells readily recognized by the farm boys. These smells were created for identifying purposes by impregnating a small specimen in charcoal and covering it with a cotton swab in a test tube. These samples would then be passed among the soldiers to sniff and record the odor in their memories. While sniffing mustard gas, someone in our platoon was not satisfied with only a sniff. He removed the specimen from the test tube and examined it between his fingers. Shortly thereafter we were given a break and allowed to go to the latrine. This curious person immediately experienced a burning of the penis and was taken to the hospital where he had to be circumcised because of burned skin from the mustard gas.
Much of our platoon training consisted of what we would theoretically be doing in combat. This was to scout ahead of the rest of the troops during an attack. We had three or four jeeps and the idea was to drive on the advancing road and whenever we approached a curve or a hill we would dismount the jeep and reconnoiter on foot around the curve or beyond the hill. The jeep driver would hide the jeep along the shoulder of the road then when we signaled an all clear he would pick us up and we would proceed to the next area to reconnoiter. Luckily, this is not how the operation was conducted in combat. If we had operated in this manner we would probably not have survived the first curve or hill. A waiting 88 zeroed in on the curve or hill would have picked off the first jeep in sight.
The greatest deficiency in our training had to be the lack of emphasis on artillery. In combat, artillery and mortars killed far more than small arms fire and I don’t recall getting any training in this potentially deadly danger. I was to learn this during the first exposure to combat.
On one training session I was able to apply a simple mathematical solution to a problem in the field. I remembered that in high school my science teacher Mr. Haight had shown us a trick to estimate distance to an object. It involved stretching the right arm full length before you and, closing one eye, placing the forefinger on the object. Without moving the arm do the same operation with the other eye. In doing this the fingertip moves across the objective. The distance moved is estimated and multiplied by 10 to get the distance. The distance you see your finger move gives a good estimate if there is reference material of known dimensions such as bricks on a wall. The multiplication by 10 is general and dependent on the length of your arm and the interpupilary distance between your eyeballs. On a training mission in the woods we were fired upon by a machine gun that was visible at an unknown distance. Our problem was to estimate this distance. Estimates ranged from lows of 50 feet to highs of a couple hundred. While we were estimating the distance our lieutenant sent someone out to pace the distance. I applied the secret eyeball maneuver and came up with 145 feet. I endured laughter and howls from my comrades until the scout returned to announce that according to his pace the distance to the machine gun was 145 feet. I then had to explain the technique to the platoon.
Sometime in February, 1944 while I was in Camp Shelby I was called to the orderly room to see the first sergeant who had a confusing message. I was to report to a certain building in camp at a certain time that evening. There were no other details. Not knowing what this was all about, he assigned a jeep and driver to deliver me to the designated rendezvous and wait for me. Upon entering the building I recognized someone I had seen in Fort Hayes. He was of Serbian background and spoke a Croatian dialect. We noticed a couple of Orientals and before we could deduce what the rendezvous was all about a Major entered from a back door and we were all called to attention. He was wearing a garrison cap (cap with a visor) that was not standard gear in Camp Shelby. We were called at ease and he introduced himself as a representative of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) that was later changed to the CIA. He explained that each of us present had been thoroughly investigated and all had been summed because we qualified to be under cover agents in a foreign land. This meant that we could work as spies or with friendly underground forces in an occupied country. There were about fifteen of us. Each was young, in top physical condition, had completed advanced training, had an above average intelligence and spoke some foreign language fluently. Out of the entire camp of approximately 45,000 soldiers I was the only chosen one who spoke French.
He made it clear after giving us a few details that the assignments were strictly on a volunteer basis and in a short time he would turn his back and anyone could leave the room. What had transpired was to be kept secret. He turned his back and about half of those present left the room. I decided to stay and get more details. Being a scout in the infantry I didn’t have too much to lose. His answers to questions were as follows: If you volunteered you could be on your way out of camp in the morning. The training would consist of commando training, hand-to-hand combat, parachute jumps, map reading, and instruction in the latest slang expressions, songs, sport figures etc. to the country of your assignment. After your training you were given an assignment in the states as a test. You might be asked to find out how many medium tanks were being produced daily in a certain factory in Detroit and where they were being sent. If you were caught the OSS would do nothing to expose your cover. Instead you would be arrested, booked and when checked through the FBI you would be identified as an agent and cleared. The overseas in my case would originate in England and I would be dropped in France at night by parachute or be brought to the beach in a little rubber dingy. Contact would be made with the French underground and I would have only one assignment at a time. The mission would be to destroy or impair enemy facilities such as blowing up a bridge, ammunition dump or train. I would have civilian clothing and fake identification and if caught I would be shot on the spot. These were not particularly encouraging words. The more he answered questions the less attractive this high -risk job sounded. I was still interested but when he said that the OSS would even try to provide names of members of the underground I might not be able to trust I made up my mind to pass up this wonderful opportunity to die young. The questionnaire he wanted filled consisted of seventeen pages that had to be completed by morning and contained such questions as “Did any or your grandmothers have a nickname and if so what was it?”
I often wonder what would have happened if I had volunteered. Actually, had I been given the complete training that the OSS promised I could never have been prepared for a drop in France before D-Day. I suspect that the training would have been curtailed and I would have been dumped out of a plane with a parachute, civilian clothing with a French dictionary in one pocket and a cyanide pill in another. This was before the expression “Have A Nice Day!” Fewer than four months later I would get a taste of work with the underground when I made contact with the resistance in Normandy.
While in Camp Shelby I applied for the ASTP program. This stood for Army Specialized Training Program and was intended to train specialists at colleges and universities in disciplines useful to the Army. While waiting for something to develop in this area, combat units were getting desperate for more foot soldiers so most of the ASTP programs were discontinued and those enrolled in the program soon found themselves back in the infantry. This opportunity and an application for the Air Force were hopeless attempts and I was destined to be an infantryman or a dead spy.
In March 1944 plans were made to break up our division and send us overseas as replacements. Officers and non-commissioned officers remained to organize and train our replacements that were coming mostly from the discontinued ASTP program. When our replacements arrived we shared our barracks for a short time. Some of these were to be recognized later in a famous picture of my old platoon, the I and R Platoon of the 273rd Infantry Regiment, 69th Division shaking hands with the Russians at the first meeting on the Elbe River in Germany. I recognized some of the Americans exchanging handshakes with the Russians. The 69th Division entered combat in Europe shortly after the Battle of the Bulge and their main claim to fame is the encounter with the Russians.
Regular duties in Camp Shelby were KP and table waiter. KP involved a full day’s assignment but table waiter required regular training for the day then a quick shower and cleaning to wait on supper tables. As food platters were emptied at the tables the table waiter had to collect them and get refills in the kitchen. After supper they had to clean up. KP was the choice assignment because it was a full day’s job and many leisure minutes were enjoyed if only while peeling potatoes.
Another duty that was not universally enjoyed was latrine orderly. After the troops of the company had done their morning toilet and gone out for the day’s training the orderly had to mop the floor, clean all of the commodes and sinks and heat some water for the cleanup before retreat. I didn’t get this assignment very often but on one occasion I had trouble getting a fire going in the coal-fired boiler located in a separate little room adjoining the latrine. I tried starting a fire with a few pieces of crumbled paper and coal but the coal would not ignite. I got a wide-mouth glass jar from the kitchen and went to the motor pool where I filled it with gasoline. With a few glowing embers in the heater I heaved the gasoline on to the fire and ignited an explosive blaze. The fire backed up to the jar that I was still holding but the jar quickly and instinctively dropped from my hand. The jar broke and flames covered the floor. The floor was concrete and I managed to stomp out the flames. By now I had the coal burning and a roaring fire. That evening, steam was notably emitted from the faucets and no one complained about cold water.
Except for occasion night problems we were free for a couple of hours after retreat and supper. After training all day we had to get cleaned up for retreat and at our young ages this refreshed us for the evening. I was free to go to the PX (Post Exchange) and plank a nickel on the counter and get a large Payday candy bar or for a dime a bottle of 3.2 beer. Each company had a day room that contained a table and chair for letter writing and a coke machine. For a nickel we could get an ice-cold bottle of coke. These cokes were especially welcomed when returning from the field and before showering for retreat.
Camp Shelby usually had two infantry divisions plus other units housed in camp for a total of approximately 45,000 men. Passes were usually Sunday passes to Hattiesburg. A camp bus would take us to town to a bus station that was next to a dairy. The first thing we would do was to get a milk shake or some ice cream. The rest of the day was spent going to a movie or visiting the USO. The USO was a nice building where we could buy snacks and write letters. The building is still in Hattiesburg and is used as some kind of a civic center.
I don’t recall when, but I did get two furloughs, one sometime after advanced training and the other in March before going overseas. On furlough I would catch a train around 11 PM in Hattiesburg at the Southern Train Station. Others going to more central areas of the nation would leave from the Illinois Central Station. The Southern train originated in New Orleans and, in anticipation of a record crowd in Hattiesburg every available car was used. As the train approached, the object was to grab a rail at a door and jump on while the train was still moving otherwise you might not get a seat and end up standing all the way to Chattanooga where arrival was the next afternoon. When the sun rose the first morning we would be pulling into Bessemer, Alabama. In Chattanooga a few hours later I changed trains for Cincinnati. Those going to New York and other destinations on the east coast took a different train. On both trips that I took the conductor got off at his home in Somerset, Kentucky in time for supper. Arrival in Cincinnati was late evening and at 11 PM twenty-four hours after leaving Hattiesburg the train departed for an overnight trip to Akron arriving around 6 AM. The train in Ohio was never crowded and the cars were newer. From Akron I would take a bus to the shop where Dad was now working or hitchhike home.
After ten months in Camp Shelby we were leaving our comrades. At our last retreat our company commander Capt. Rice and his staff reviewed their troops for the final time and bid us farewell. Capt. Rice was a fine gentleman and regarded his young troops as his children and his farewell was emotional as he shook hands with each of us.
We boarded the train in camp and headed north arriving the next day at Fort Meade, Maryland located midway between Baltimore and Washington. While in camp for a week or ten days we were kept guessing what our overseas destination would be. One day we would be issued summer khakis suggesting the Pacific then the next day we might exchange this gear for winter ODs (Olive Drab).
After a week in Fort Meade passes were issued so that those whose homes were no farther than New York could go home. One provision was that your hair had to be very short and pass inspection before you could leave. One of the soldiers from New York didn’t want to take a chance of being turned down so he shaved his head. His name was Savalas and with his shaved head he looked like the Telly Savalas who we would later see on television in the role of Kojack.
A fellow scout named Goebel and I decided that we would use our pass and go to either Baltimore or Washington. We walked out of the main gate and on US Route 1 we waited for the first bus coming from either direction. The first bus was heading south so we flagged it down and boarded for Washington. Neither of us had ever been there and we had only a few hours to spend before returning to camp. We bought tickets for our return trips to camp and with the change we had left we got on a streetcar and told the conductor to remember where we got on. We would ride to the end on the line on our improvised sightseeing trip then return to our point of origin where the conductor would remind us to disembark and we would again get our bearings. While riding the streetcar an older couple spoke to us and when the lady found that we were about to go overseas and had come to get a last look at our capital she felt sorry for us and offered us $10.00 to enjoy our final days. Goebel had fed her a big line about us being scouts and that we would probably not return from overseas. We appreciated her generosity and thanked her but refused the offer even though we were broke and had only our return tickets and a few coins of cash. As the kind lady proceeded to show us pictures of her son who had just received his 2nd Lieutenant bars from Fort Benning her gentleman made a remark that suggested that they were not married.
From Fort Meade we boarded the train thinking that we were headed for a port of embarkation only to find ourselves in a swampy-looking camp in Virginia. We arrived at what we learned was Camp Patrick Henry in early morning. Some of the soldiers from Virginia had never heard of the camp that was isolated from the countryside. The barracks were set among large trees so that the camp was probably difficult to detect even from the air. Several German prisoners were enjoying a leisure life of captivity in a portion of the camp. As we went on forced marches past their enclosures they would be playing volleyball. During the week we were here the same uniform-exchange routine took place. In summer khakis we moved again, this time north to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.
In Camp Kilmer we were organized into companies of 200 men. These companies were further broken down to convenient units of 50 men each. We went through the usual training sessions including abandon boat drill. After a week we had a repeat of Fort Meade. On a Saturday afternoon after a morning of routine drill we were granted passes for the remainder of the day. These would be available for departure at 1 PM, 2 PM and 3 PM. A friend and I were ready to leave at 1 PM but another friend in a different barrack across the street was not ready so we waited for the 2 PM group. Just before 2 PM we were ordered to fall out and it was announced that all passes were canceled because we were shipping out. MPs were posted so that no one could leave and we were marched under guard to the mess hall for supper. We were being treated more like prisoners who might make a break. After dark we were asked if we were short of any clothing or other supplies and were given a final physical - a short arm. Trucks then stopped in front of the barracks and we were ordered on. Our duffel bags filled a trailer in tow. All of these activities were conducted under the watchful eyes of the MPs. We later learned that a ship in New York was ready to leave and still had room for a few more soldiers and those of us remaining after the 1 PM departures were just the right number for the complement. Two MP jeeps with flashing red lights and sirens wailing escorted us down the Pulaski Highway to New York City. Although the highway had some limited access routes there were some roads crossing the highway at traffic lights. The MPs would get in advance of us and stop all of the cross traffic at the lights and we had the right of way. The jeeps would leapfrog the column so that there was always one ahead of us to stop cross traffic. We drove right through New York City up to the docks where our ship was waiting. On the way through the city, civilians in cars would pull up alongside, wish us good luck and try to shake our hands. We boarded the ship and found ourselves in the hold of an old British ship called The Highland Brigade. The friend who we had waited for at Camp Kilmer did not leave with me and he was later killed in Europe. He was Lou Proietti, a fellow member of the I and R platoon. He was from Bellefontaine, Ohio and surprised us upon the return from his final leave when he produced a marriage license confirming his marital status. Had he been able to join us for a 1 o’clock leave his destiny would have changed; however, mine would have been different too.
As SOP (Standard Operation Procedure) for the Army, we waited tied up at the dock for a couple of days after rushing from Camp Kilmer to catch a departing ship. We finally set sail on May 19 and joined a large convoy destined for England. While sailing out of the harbor we were not permitted on deck where we could be observed and provide information to the enemy who might keeping a tally on numbers of departing soldiers. In the convoy we regularly changed position with other ships and at times when we occupied a rear position in the convoy the rumor would soon circulate that we were having engine problems and we were being deserted and would become a good target for the U-Boats. Our small group was below the water line in a hold that I suspect had been a compartment for hauling beef from Argentina. There were hooks in the rafters and a pile of dirty hammocks piled up in a corner of the room. We made individual claims to the hammocks that were then stretched between selected hooks overhead. In the morning we would gather the hammocks and pile them up in the storage place. We could then congregate around the picnic tables placed below the hammocks. We quickly organized into clans claiming territorial areas of tables and overhead hooks. Each morning two persons would be designated to provide the food for the day. A set of greasy aluminum pots located at the end of the table was carried to the main kitchen on an upper deck where the kitchen crew would fill the containers with the meal rations. This gourmet English food consisted of fish and cold oatmeal for breakfast. I don’t recall what any of the other meals were as I was too sick to eat. I was seasick for the entire 12 days it took for the crossing and I survived on bread that was baked daily, apples that were plentiful and a box of Hersheys Bitter Sweet Chocolate Bars I bought from a PX on board. In the evening of May 31 we docked in Liverpool.
The sun was setting as we approached Liverpool and I recall the orange rooftop tiles reflecting the golden sun. Because of the northern position of Liverpool and the time of the year there was very little nighttime with darkness occurring only between 11 PM and 3 AM. We boarded our first double deck busses and rode a short distance to a waiting train that took us through the English countryside. Leaning out of the windows we could see pheasants flying away from the railroad right of ways. A few miles southeast of Liverpool we were billeted in what we called a castle but which was really a large country estate. The village is called Adderly Hall and until recently the estate in which we stayed appeared on detailed road maps as Adderly Hall Farm. I searched for the estate on a trip with grandchildren Tiba and Kevin O’Connor in 1994 but could not locate it. A kind lady living in a house on the property informed me that the main building in which we had stayed had been demolished. She showed me a photograph of the building as I recalled it.
Large rooms were assigned to groups and we were given mattress covers that we carried to the barn and stuffed with straw. These primitive accommodations were very adequate and luxurious compared to conditions we were about to experience on the continent. At Adderly Hall we underwent extensive physical training, in some cases assuming darkness as we maneuvered in daylight during hours that would normally be dark. Forced marches were the order of the day and the number of soldiers finishing the march was noticeably smaller than the number that had begun. On the night of June 5 we heard an unusually heavy amount of air activity and in the morning, as we sat under a large tree near the sewage disposal system for the farm, we were told of the D-Day invasion.
After a week at Adderly Hall we were moved to another camp that was a tent camp in open fields near Wrexham, Wales. The camp had a name like Plast Power. It was enclosed with a wire fence in an effort to contain the troops but the fence served only as a temporary deterrent and was easily breached to enjoy a few hours of freedom in Wrexham. Camp authorities soon recognized the futility of their attempt to restrict determined soldiers and issued blanket passes. A friend and I visited Wrexham, had a few beers, took in a carnival and, as darkness set in, headed for camp. There was now a slight problem. A total blackout prevailed and we had no idea which direction the camp was. A Bobby walking his bicycle while on patrol came to our assistance. After describing the camp he properly recognized it among several surrounding the area and walked us to the road leading to our destination.
From the camp we could see large slag piles from the coal mining industry in the area. It was one of these slag piles that sloughed off and buried a schoolhouse full of children several years later. Except for taking hikes through the countryside we did nothing much in camp.
One week seemed to be a magical time span to spend at any camp so we were again on the move. This time it was to the southwest of England on the plains of Salisbury. A short stay at Hinton St. George was much like the last. There was an old church nearby that was still in use. I entered it and climbed to the steeple to observe the countryside.
One more final move relocated us in the United Kingdom. This was farther to the southeast to a large, permanent British camp with red brick buildings and large, paved parade grounds in the center. It was here that we heard our first air raid sirens that prompted us to abandon our huts and take shelter in pre-dug trenches.
On a warm, drizzly morning we fell out with raincoats and mess kits to march to the large, central mess hall. While standing reveille we heard the clang of a mess kit striking the pavement and one of the men passed out. At the time I felt a little woozy but I gave it no thought. We marched off to the mess hall and as we entered this muggy structure with its institutional food odor we heard another mess kit hit the deck indicating that another had passed out. The next thing I knew, voices began fading into dreamland and I felt the mess kit slide from my grip and I lost consciousness. We were so tightly packed that I had a hard time falling completely to the floor and those next to me thought that I was joking. I came to shortly after being prone on the floor and everyone gave ground so that an officer could survey my condition. Before I was allowed back on my feet another mess kit clanged nearby. All of the casualties were hauled off to the infirmary for observation but nothing could be found to have caused the fainting spell. The problem was simply attributed to bad food in the mess hall and we were given light duty for 24 hours. The next day I felt well enough to run around the parade grounds with a friend. This bit of conditioning was cut short when we were called to our hut and told to pack up because we were moving out again.
NORMANDY - COMBAT
This time it was to the port of Southampton where a British ship was docked and building up steam for a short trip to Normandy. There were ships as far as one could see, most flying a barrage balloon tethered to the ship. These balloons and the suspended cables were for protection from low-flying enemy planes. The English Channel is very choppy from the currents of the North Sea and the crossing to France can cause seasickness especially for someone who couldn’t even sit in a porch swing! I was not the only one leaning over the ship’s railing. We anchored some distance from Omaha Beach and were lowered to the water below in a small assault boat that deposited us on the dry beach. Although the enemy had not yet been driven very far from the beach we were well removed from any action. Our Air force now dominated the air and only an occasional German plane dared to venture into the conquered air space.
I don’t recall being transported by any vehicle to our next area. I think that we walked to a field where we dug foxholes in the field across from a partially bombed out church. The church priest was still performing his duties in the church and judging from his complexion his wine supply was still intact. Next to the church the country road took a ninety-degree turn and at the turn there stood a small schoolhouse that was still intact but was not operating. Desks and books were still in place. While here a few days awaiting our next move we saw Edward G. Robinson drive by in a jeep.
I have no idea where we went from here. All I recall is digging a foxhole along a hedgerow and spending a few days here. Some of my friends from Camp Shelby were occasionally recognized, as was John Woods from my old platoon.
One last move would take me to a replacement camp near the French city of St. Lo. By now the Army had been successful in splitting us up so that each soldier was almost entirely among strangers. This must have been done to avoid any close friendship in combat. An impersonal relationship might be better in the case of a wounded buddy although I don’t think any close relationship was any different toward a wounded buddy than toward a stranger. A fellow scout that I had known in Camp Shelby was now with me and we pitched our pup tent on the side of a small hill and settled down for the next move. On this hillside we were at the extreme edge of the replacement camp. Most of the troops were in the uphill direction. This buddy was Tom Sneezak, a real nice guy from Amherst, Ohio.
We had landed in Normandy the first week of July and it was now July 12 or 13. In the valley just beyond our tent there was a French farm that we had visited and met the farmer. He had a son named André with whom we quickly struck up a deal to get our canteens filled with cider in exchange for a few cigarettes. I was still carrying a pair of brown dress shoes that I had no use for and gave them to André. Why I was still lugging these around I have no idea. On July 15, André’s father mowed some hay with a scythe until he struck an unexploded German artillery shell. This incident put an abrupt halt to the hay making and seemed insignificant at the time but was instrumental in creating panic throughout Normandy the night of July 15. There was a small stream running through André’s farm and an American Engineering unit had set up a portable shower on the stream. Water from the stream was heated slightly and pumped into overhead tanks that provided showers by gravity feed. The night of July 15 was a clear night with fairly bright light provided from a partial moon. The Germans lobbed a large phosphorous artillery shell that landed near the shower unit and the Engineer sentry on duty saw in the moonlight the white smoke from the shell and smelled the newly mowed hay. His imagination prevailed over any analysis of the situation and immediately screamed “GAS” and fired three shots. The signal for gas was to shout “GAS” and fire three shots, ring a bell three times or create and sound in a series of three. The sentry’s training to recognize either phosgene or chloropicrin as smelling like newly mowed hay was too well imbedded in his mind.
When Sneezak and I heard the alarm for gas we quickly donned our gas masks and covered our uniforms with chemically- impregnated clothing. The clothing was very stiff and it was with much effort that we were able to cover ourselves. The impregnated clothes were discarded soon after this incident. We cleared our masks by pulling the mask slightly from the cheek and blowing out any gas that might have entered, then we went to normal breathing. Sneezak kept saying that he was going to die because his mask was leaking and he could smell the gas. He finally calmed down and we both fell asleep with our masks on. Hours later I was awakened by a chomping sound outside our tent. I pulled a flap back and in the moonlight I saw a horse eating grass. The horse appeared very much alive and he was not wearing a gas mask. We reasoned that the horse had lungs and a respiratory system similar to ours so there must not be any gas in the air. Thanks to this profound scientific reasoning we removed our masks and concluded that the alarm had been false.
When we heard the alarm it quickly radiated from the sentry to all parts of Normandy. We could hear the three shots getting dimmer as the alarms penetrated into the countryside. Years later I mentioned this July incident to acquaintances who were in Normandy at he time and they recalled the event. It caused panic near the front where many had discarded their masks and as a substitute were urinating in handkerchiefs and using the substitute as a mask. For the remainder of the war I tried to keep my mask handy. The German soldiers we took prisoner were extra sensitive about their gas masks and always wanted to keep them. This was an item a captured soldier was permitted to keep according to the Geneva Convention.
Much of the other clothing and equipment I had were discarded. I cut off the portion of the field pack that held any bulk like a shelter half and kept only the canvass straps used as suspenders. The pouch holding the mess kit was retained on the pack and held necessary items like toilet paper and extra socks. The suspenders held the ammunition belt on which were attached a small first aid kit of a bandage and a syringe of morphine, a canteen and canteen cup, the bayonet and ammunition pouches. A lightweight raincoat was folded and held in place looped over the back of the belt. An entrenching tool completed the equipment on the harness. The gas mask was looped over the shoulder and carried on the side. The bag for the mask was also good storage for other items. The breast pocket of the OD shirt served as storage for a toothbrush and a spoon with a bent handle. Our underwear was a two-piece long john and the outer uniform was the winter OD. A field jacket sometimes was worn for additional cover. The M-1 Rifle and the steel helmet completed the accoutrement of the well-dressed American soldier.
The American troops were now at St. Lo and were not advancing as rapidly as expected. Progress was measured in yards from hedgerow to hedgerow through the Normandy pastures and apple orchards. The hedgerows had marked boundaries between fields and property for centuries and were covered with trees, shrubs and mounds of dirt accumulated over many years. Breaking through these barriers was not only difficult from a physical standpoint; the Germans had any opening zeroed in with their tanks and 88s. Machine guns positioned on the opposing hedgerow provided crossfire to cover any advancing troops moving across the open field or orchard. Orders to “Advance” were orders for suicide. The high command of the Allied Forces made a decision to attempt high-altitude, saturation bombing of the front lines to completely disrupt the Germans and open an Allied drive across France toward Paris. Such a concentrated air operation along front lines had never before been attempted.
The plan was to fly American bombers from England to the drop area flying in along the American line. Unknown to General Omar Bradley the Air Force changed the approach path to fly over the American troops rather than parallel to the front where the planes would be subjected to enemy antiaircraft fire. On July 24,1944 the 30th Infantry Division that I would later join was occupying the most critical position in the target area. The division withdrew 1,200 yards before the bombing began. From an altitude of 30,000 feet this narrow corridor was a vulnerable ribbon of protection. The bomb drop by heavy bombers was preceded by 350 P-47s that dive-bombed the antiaircraft positions and other German front units. Our lines were marked with smoke and colored panels but the P47s were hitting some of our troops as the drone of 1,500 heavy bombers could be heard approaching over the French countryside. Bombs from these heavy bombers were also falling short and landing on our troops. The blunder was quickly recognized and the bombing mission was scrapped. The 30th Division had 24 men killed and 128 wounded. Those in good foxholes survived but others receiving direct hits were buried alive or scattered in pieces so that burial was impossible.
In spite of the disaster of the 24th, there would be a repeat on the 25th. The same precautionary steps were placed in operation. Troops were withdrawn 1,200 yards and the identification panels and smoke were in place. General Lesley J. McNair who was Commanding General of all of the Ground Forces in Europe had come to the front lines with the 30th Division’s Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General William K. Harrison to witness the bombing. General McNair had survived the previous bombing but returned to boost the moral of the division’s troops. The 25th of July was a repeat performance of the 24th and the bombs fell short again this time killing General McNair who was with my Regiment, the 120th. In this blunder the 30th Division suffered 662 casualties - 64 killed, 374 wounded, 60 missing and 164 cases of battle fatigue. The two-day total was 814, all from friendly fire. Other divisions at the front suffered some casualties but their losses were much smaller than ours. The total casualties suffered by all of the American troops had to represent the worst case of friendly fire in WW II. Many of the missing were later found buried alive. The Germans were heavily fortified and suffered very few casualties. Kenny Bedford, a runner for I Company, 3rd battalion, 120 Infantry, who later became a good friend, experienced the bombing. He said that at the first bombing he noticed a little bird perched next to his foxhole and the bird was chirping loudly just before the bombs landed. On the second day he watched the planes approaching from England and noticed that the same bird was perched nearby and chirping wildly. The bird’s prediction was accurate.
I watched the entire bombing operations from the hillside where Sneezak and I were awaiting assignments to our units. On July 25, over 2,500 planes eventually participated in the operation. The sky was black with aircraft streaming from England. Before the day was over I believe that some of the early flights returned to their British bases, reloaded and made a second bomb drop. The first wave of bombers I recall were B-17s, the large four-engine planes known as Flying Fortresses. The German antiaircraft were not all eliminated by the P-47 dive-bombers and the bursts of flack at times were very heavy. I saw several bombers receive direct hits and the loads of bombs exploded with a large orange flame. Only pieces of the aircraft could be seen falling to the ground. The Luftwaffe did what they could to stem the attack but they were greatly outnumbered and did no damage. While the bombings were still taking place the P-47s continued to attack land positions until antiaircraft activity ceased.
Later in the afternoon when the bombing was over a German plane flew over our area; it was trailing black smoke as if it were hit. It was suspected that the smoke was a decoy so that additional firing to bring it down would not take place and the pilot was actually photographing our troop placements. Most of the troops in the replacement pool had not dug good foxholes and were probably photographed as vulnerable targets. That night a German bomber flew over, dropped a flare and saw hundreds of unprotected soldiers below and dropped a load of small antipersonnel bombs. I learned later that as many as 150 men were killed. Fortunately, I was not there because I had been called to join my unit that afternoon. Replacements following me could not tell me anything about Sneezak; however they were certain that the field we had been in was at the extreme of the camp and was not badly hit.
Several years later while traveling in Northern Ohio I visited the post office to inquire about Sneezak. The postmaster knew him and directed to his home. He was working for the Norwalk Trucking Company so I went to the truck terminal and waited for him to return from his truck run. He was as shocked to see me as I was to see him. He said that by leaving that afternoon I might have saved his life. After I left him on the afternoon of the 25th he felt uneasy and began deepening the shallow hole we had begun. We had become discouraged when we struck a layer of shale after penetrating only a few inches. The shale was weathered but difficult to remove. Sneezak had sufficiently deepened the hole so that his body was just below ground level when the antipersonnel bombs fell and the shrapnel flew above him. He said that we both might have been killed if I had stayed one more night and our only protection would have been a shallow hole. He was assigned to an outfit in Patton’s Army and he confirmed some of the stories of Patton’s wild exploits.
In the late afternoon of July 25 after the bombing at St. Lo I was ordered to report to someone in a Normandy apple orchard. About ten of us were lined up and given the most negative pep talk I have ever heard. It was one of the shortest but most profound lectures I have ever heard and vividly recorded in my memory. It was delivered by a 2nd Lieutenant walking back and forth before us and shouting these memorable words. “Alright you sons of bitches you are now going into combat. I want you to take a good look at the bastard standing on your left. Now take a good look at the one on your right. Take a good look because after tomorrow you my never see him again because in 24 hours some of you sons of bitches will be dead.” I was not too interested in getting a good look at the “SOB” next to me but I was shocked into the realization that this was for real and suddenly I visualized my little old bedroom on the farm. I would now have gladly exchanged an arm and a leg to be miraculously transported to that secure bedroom in the southwest corner of the old farmhouse overlooking the Baltimore and Ohio and Erie Railroads. The inspiring lecture continued with a vivid description what it would be like when you are on one side of a hedgerow and a Tiger Tank is on the other side. He described how you would be in shit up to your ankles as you hear the rumble of the tank. As he verbally advanced the tank closer and closer he kept piling the shit higher and higher. He then climaxed his pep talk with the concluding statement, “When the 88 muzzle comes over the hedgerow the shit will be up to your chin. This is the time to pull it down.” This was his way of saying that you better get hold of yourself. Fortunately, I never encountered a Tiger Tank under these embarrassing circumstances. He should have concluded his lecture with “Have a nice day!” I bet that this officer had never seen any combat.
Before getting into more of a shooting war, this is a good time to define some of the terms that will be commonly used. The Tiger tank was a large formidable German tank that our Sherman 35 ton tanks could not match. Besides being sometimes equipped with an 88 gun the armor was so thick that shells from the 75s on our tanks would bounce off of the Tiger. The only way to knock out a Tiger was with a bazooka fired between the bogy wheels so as to hit a less armored section of the belly or to maybe get a hit on the engine in the rear. Attack planes could knock one out with a direct bomb hit or if caught on a paved road by firing 50 caliber machine gun bullets behind the tank so that the ricocheting bullets would penetrate the under belly.
The 88 was a versatile weapon and probably the most respected and most feared in the German Arsenal. The notation “88” stands for the caliber of the projectile in millimeters. Different guns used the 88 from different mountings. Most were on tanks and field pieces for ground warfare. The antiaircraft guns also used 88s. They reached great elevations these weapons that could fire straight up. The shell casing would be four feet long and tapered in increments from a large-diameter base to the 88mm projectile. With this configuration the shell could pack a large supply of gunpowder to project the 88 to a great height. Several of these guns could be found in “Gun Cities” in open fields located along allied air runs to major cities.
The feature that made the 88 such a lethal weapon was its high velocity. When flying through the air it made a distinctive sound you immediately learned to recognize. Near the end of the war our tanks were bigger than the ones in Normandy and were equipped with a 90 mm gun to be a more even match with the Tiger. Other German weapons were equal or superior to ours except for our M-1 Rifle. Our semi-automatic M-1 was a faster-firing weapon than the German infantryman’s bolt-operated weapon.
From the apple orchard a small group of us marched toward the front near St. Lo. In combat zones you never march close together like they do in the movies. The expression was, “Spread out. One mortar shell would get all of you.” Another expression I never heard except for the movies is “Get down.” No one has to tell you when to get down! We walked with about 50 feet between men through the smoldering ruins of St. Lo. And past dozens of dead cows. The smell of dead bloated cows soon was identified as the “St. Lo Smell.” It was now near dusk as we marched through St. Lo. The only visible remaining structures were chimneys that were silhouetted against the western sky among wisps of smoke from the smoldering ruins. By dark we reached our destination where I was informed that I was now a scout in the Intelligence Section of Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 120th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division. This had been a North Carolina and Tennessee National Guard division but was already replaced mostly with Yankees. This was a fine division with a heritage dating back to the civil war where the 120th Regiment had fought. In the First World War the division fought in France in some of the same areas we would pass through in a few weeks. Our shoulder patch was an oval oriented with the long direction vertical, trimmed in blue and with a blue H in the Middle and three Xs enclosed in a double horizontal bar of the H. All of the blue was on a red background. The lettering reflected an O and an H standing for OLD HICKORY, in honor of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the US and nicknamed “Old Hickory.”
It was very dark now and I heard voices but saw no one. Someone took my hand and told me to go with him. He took me to his foxhole and introduced himself as Joe Cavalaro from California. In a short time we were told that there was hot food from the kitchen. Joe and I joined a line in the dark and felt food being dumped in our mess kits. We never knew what the food was but we ate. Joe then suggested that we get some rest and confided in me that he had two peculiarities he hoped I wouldn’t mind. Before going to sleep he kissed his wife’s picture and said his prayers. I had no objections to this practice and we settled down for a rest.
Only a few minutes elapsed before we heard the command that we were moving out. By now I had learned that all of our equipment was too much to carry. This was the time I again redesigned my equipment by stripping it to the necessities that were concentrated in a stripped pack, gas mask and ammunition bell supporting other items. The best friend I now had was my trusty M-1 Rifle, Number 449066.
As a result of the intensive bombing the St. Lo breakthrough was now on. We boarded trucks and slowly began moving out. After a few miles we heard planes so we abandoned the trucks and fled to the shoulders of the road. The moon was full or nearly full this night and in the moonlight that had broken out from the patchy clouds I saw one of our Black Widow airplanes fly by very low. It was a modified P-38, the twin fuselage fighter, and was designated the P-61 B-1-NO. It was equipped with the latest electronic and radar equipment and was painted black to make it less visible at night. We moved farther by foot and scattered in open fields and orchards and dug in. When morning came I reconnoitered the immediate area and found a nice abandoned German foxhole on the other side of a hedgerow. It was much nicer than the one I had hastily dug the night before in the dark so a friend and I decided to take it over. There was no action and all was quiet so I removed my shirt and was enjoying the warm sun when we spotted about 20 planes flying very low toward us. We thought that they might be P-51s until we saw the black Maltese crosses on the wings and the swastikas on the tails. These were ME-109s and FW-190s and were strafing and bombing our area. We new owners of the German foxhole dove into our new home and two or three friends who were still working on uncompleted holes piled on top of us. The only problem was that we had not adequately examined the hole that was full of ants that quickly feasted on my bare chest. After a quick strafing and bombing mission without any German losses the Luftwaffe headed home and we emerged from our hole.
While living in New Orleans in 1969 we were entertaining guests from foreign countries at the request of the State Department and on one occasion our house guest for dinner was a Mr. Heinz-Winfried Sabais from Germany. His biographical sketch that we received from the State Department prior to his visit indicated that he had been in the Luftwaffe during WW II. At the dinner table I questioned him about his wartime activities and accused him of perhaps bombing me, an American ground soldier. His immediate reply was, “On no, I flew only defense planes.” I asked, “Like ME-109s and FW-190s?” He said that yes, he flew an FW-190. After recounting my story about the attack by 20 German planes on a late July day in 1944, he immediately recalled the incident and said that he had been on that attack. He was able to describe the attack exactly as I recalled it. His family name suggested some French heritage but he had been born in Poland. At the end of the war he was in the Russian zone and fled to Western Germany where he began his civilian career. He was well liked in his hometown of Darmstadt and later became the city mayor. When he visited us he was the head of the school board of Darmstadt and wrote a column in the daily paper. He did well in politics and I learned that, if he had been willing to play politics he could have made Chancellor of West Germany. He gave us a book of poems he had written. It is in modern prose and speaks mostly of death and the futility of war.
After this brief aerial attack I was summoned to the farmhouse where we had set up headquarters. Our staff officers had already learned that I spoke French and they wanted me to question the farmer about the attack. They suspected that he had mowed a patch of grain in a field behind the farmhouse and in so doing he had fashioned an arrow pointing to the house. This was interpreted as a signal for the Luftwaffe to target the farmhouse in which our battalion headquarters were housed. I questioned the farmer and his wife and examined the suspicious cut in the grain field and could find nothing to incriminate the farmer. There was no reason why he would want his house destroyed. As I was leaving the house the Luftwaffe returned and I ran to an adjacent orchard and found an empty foxhole that I promptly occupied. As I was lying face down I looked up and found myself staring into the glassy eyes of a big toad. He cursed the Germans in toad language and we shared the hole until all was clear. We pulled out of the area that same afternoon and it was here that I saw my first American casualties lying along the road, having been killed by the air attack.
We walked to a French village named Barenton and learned quickly that during the last couple of days the Germans had allowed us to advance relatively unopposed then closed in behind us. We were now cut off from the rest of the Army in Normandy. On an adjacent hillside stood the village of Mortain where our 2nd Battalion was positioned. From here, the battalion had a commanding view of the terrain that flattened out to the east. The Germans pounded them continuously with artillery and tank fire in an attempt to capture this commanding position. After running low in ammunition, food and medical supplies the Germans approached under a white flag to offer surrender terms. By now most of the battalion had been destroyed but there were still enough Americans to remain and control our artillery fire on the enemy tanks and artillery on the plains to the east. The batteries for the forward observer’s radio were now almost dead. The American in charge was Captain Kerley from Texas who asked a dying soldier what to do. The soldier told him that we should not surrender whereupon Capt. Kerley told the German, “You heard what he said. Now get your ass off of this hill. We won’t quit until our last round of ammunition is fired and our last bayonet is stuck in your bastard Kraut bellies.”
In the meantime relief was attempted by firing artillery shells into the area, these shells being loaded with medical supplies, radio batteries and small arms ammunition. None of the first salvo of shells reached the besieged troops but five of the next six reached their destination. The final attempt scored a perfect three out of three. Our Division Artillery’s light liaison planes tried to fly in some supplies but they ere hit by enemy flack and were not successful. Airdrops by C-47 cargo planes were attempted but these were only partially successful with half of the relief supplies falling into enemy hands.
The heroic stand taken by the 2nd Battalion resulted in victory and the German offensive was stopped. Many excellent accounts of this battle have been written, but military historians have failed to recognize the significance of the Battle of Mortain. The entire 2nd Battalion received the Presidential Unit Citation for their stand on the hill coded Hill 314, the figure 314 indicating the elevation in meters. A German captured sometime later stated that the stand of the 2nd Battalion on Hill 314 was the turning point of the war. Had the Germans succeeded in their drive they could have perhaps driven to the channel and isolated all allied troops on land. A detailed account of the Battle of Mortain can be found in a recent book, Saving The Breakout, the story of the 30th Division’s heroic stand at Mortain, August 7-12, 1944 written by Alwyn Featherston.
While the attempted siege of Mortain was taking place we were at the neighboring village of Barenton. The local postman, proudly attired in his postal uniform, came to see me and asked if I would accompany him to his home. It was a little cottage nestled in the woods and surrounded by a white picket fence. He carefully leaned his postal bicycle against the fence and opened the gate. The setting looked like a picture from a child’s book of fairy tales. The inside of the house reflected a different view. It had the typical appearance of a looted home. The Germans had dumped all of the dresser drawers on to the floor looking for valuables that I doubt this modest couple ever owned. After he had showed me what the “Sale Boche” had done we retired to the kitchen and sat at the kitchen table for a glass of cognac. He proceeded to pour two water glasses half full of a clear liquid and hoisted his glass with the typical toast, “Vive La France, Vive L’Amerique.” I downed the drink and immediately drenched the kitchen table with tears from the potency of the drink. I later found out that it was Calvados; the closest drink the French have to the American White Lightning. After this toast my host asked his wife, Mart, to bring on the cognac. This time it was the real thing.
While we were in a Barenton farmhouse I had the French underground working for us. There were six or seven members of the underground from the village staying in some of the farm buildings. We used them to locate the positions of the Germans surrounding us by using various means. On one occasion we loaded a small one-horse wagon with hay and sent one of the young Frenchmen down the road. He returned shortly thereafter and reported that the Germans had stopped him and would not allow him to continue on his journey. This is what we had anticipated would happen. We spread out a map on the farmhouse table and he located the German position. Our encircled position was taking shape on the map and the German positions were targeted for our artillery. Another technique was to send one of our ambulances on a different road to the rear with two casualties, one badly wounded and the other less seriously wounded. When stopped by the Germans our medic who was accompanying the driver and the casualties told the less-severely wounded soldier to act sicker than he was. The fake moans and groans didn’t fool the Germans. They took the faking soldier prisoner and told the medic to return with the other casualty and driver to wherever he had come from. Actually, the Germans were quite humane about the incident by allowing the medic and the other two to return.
Many years later I read that the Frenchman in charge of this small group of underground fighters from Barenton was a famous member of the underground. While working with him I knew that he had been the police chief in town but I didn’t know of his reputation in the underground. The rest of the group were all young men in their late teens. One of our sergeants asked me to give one of them his trench knife but the recipient had to kill a German in return. The young man smiled, took the knife and said that he already had six of them to his credit.
While still in Barenton we lost almost all of our wire section, the group responsible for laying telephone lines to the various battalion units and for providing radio communication. They were laying a line to an observation post at the top of a hill. They had been warned to drive their wire-laying jeep only as far as a knocked out German 88 then continue up the hill on foot because the road was mined. They apparently ignored the warning and continued laying the line with their two jeeps. The second jeep detonated a mine then the first jeep tried to retrace the path taken on the way up and set off a second mine. Most of the wire section crew was killed by this stupid maneuver. The only one to escape any serious injury was the driver of the lead jeep that had tried to retrace his path back down the hill.
In 1984 our division was invited by the citizens of France, Belgium and The Netherlands to return to Europe to commemorate the 40th anniversary of their liberation. As part of the tour we held a ceremony on Hill 314 and unveiled a black marble monument dedicated to the stand the 30th Division took forty years earlier. Hundreds of Frenchmen including women and children were there for the ceremony and a French Military Band provided the music and led the procession to the top of the hill that is now a park. The little chapel, Saint Michel that overlooks the valley to the east from the highest point of the hill was used as an aid station from August 8 to the 14th while the battle took place. After the ceremony we were invited to a reception in the town hall where the local citizens had souvenirs of 1944 on display. We were served cider, wine and apple pie.
From Barenton we pushed on to the village of Domfront. I don’t remember much about this area except that there was a large church on a small cliff on the edge of town. Another scout and I dug a foxhole under a large tree and learned a lesson almost too late. That night the Germans fired quite a few rounds of 88s at us and after each detonation we could hear the shrapnel whistling through the air. One piece generated a sound that kept getting louder until it struck the other fellow on the heel of his boot. We learned from this experience that a foxhole should never be dug under a tree unless a strong covering can be built. A shell exploding in a tree showers shrapnel downward. I was surprised that in all of our training we had never been told of this danger and what steps could be taken for protection. Artillery and mortars killed far more troops in our units than small arms and aircraft.
It was at Domfront that one of sentries killed the farmer where we were staying. The old farmer walked out of the house during the night to relieve himself and when challenged in the darkness he responded in French. The sentry didn’t know the difference between French and German and shot him. His family laid him out on his bed and waited until we left to bury him.
From Domfront we began moving faster liberating one village after another. Because I spoke French I would often be on a patrol or on an advance party to contact the underground and, for our comfort, try to locate buildings for the night instead of digging foxholes. This desire to avoid nature’s elements in favor of more comfortable housing facilities often placed me in precarious positions mostly in the hands of Capt. Prichard who I believe was trying to earn more medals. Some of these incidents I will mention in this discourse are humorous and others are more serious. They my not appear in proper chronological sequence but I stand by the accuracy of the accounts.
One of the larger cities we liberated on the way to Paris was Evreux. Our company located in a wooded area overlooking the city. While here an old Frenchman and a friend approached us and I was asked to help him. He had received information that his son who was in the underground had been shot by the SS and was buried in a field adjacent to the woods we occupied. Joe King and I accompanied him to the spot he believed to be the execution site. We found a shallow grave piled with fresh dirt with a foot protruding from the dirt. He recognized the shoe as that of his son and as his friend placed his hand on the father’s shoulder they removed their caps and stood in silence for a few moments. His friend consoled him with the statement that he had died for the glory of France. Next to the grave we found several empty 9 mm shells from a Luger or from the more common German sidearm, the P-38. The SS had made the young patriot dig his own grave then shot him.
On a lighter note, a member of the French Red Cross who had fled Paris came to us in the woods. Apparently one of the cabins in the area belonged to him and he made himself at home. He had with him a donkey on which was strapped two small kegs filled with a sweet-smelling honey liqueur that was quite good. He filled a wine bottle for a few cigarettes. All through France we drank very little water since wine, cider, cognac and other various liqueurs were plentiful. I had the bottle of liqueur uncorked next to my foxhole when Joe King inquired as to what it was. I described the drink and invited him to have a drink. Joe took one swig and let out a holler as he spit the contents out. Among the discarded drink there was a honeybee. The bee had been attracted to the liqueur and had become part of Joe’s sampling of my delicacy.
Our first sergeant who generally asked me to help in French affairs decided to reconnoiter Evreux with one of the jeep drivers. As they approached town a crowd came their way chasing a civilian who had apparently been a collaborator. When the collaborator saw the Americans he ran toward them but he never made it because the crowd opened fire on him and riddled him full of holes as he fell dead at the sergeant’s feet. Sergeant Presnell was visibly shaken by this incident.
A Lieutenant King who was in charge of our ammunition bearers asked me to accompany him to either Evreux or a neighboring village. We threw a couple of water cans in his jeep and set off on our adventure. In case someone wondered what we were doing the answer would be that we were looking for water. We did in fact find a water hydrant and while we left the driver to try and recover some water from the hydrant Lt. King and walked toward town. There was a large crowd gathered at the town square that resembled an old western US town. Facing the town square was the town hall and outside of the hall a set of stairs on each end led to a balcony overlooking the square. As soon as I spoke French to some of the crowd they pushed us to the front of this mass of people and we realized what the commotion was all about. They were holding trials for women accused of sleeping with the Germans. The penalty after being found guilty was to have the guilty person’s head shaved in shame and to run her out of town as everyone shouted insults at her. I wondered who threw the first stone. While I was talking to the people in the crowd Lt. King was escorted to the balcony where he raised his arms in triumph while the crowd cheered. This sign of victory was in no way in recognition of the trials but for the liberation of the city. The crowd kept pushing me forward and wanted me to shave the head of the next victim. I declined saying that this was their affair and not mine. A trial for the next accused was held but before order could be restored the prosecutor in true western style pulled a revolver from his belt and fired a shot into the air. With order restored he then stated that Mademoiselle so and so was accused of sleeping with the Germans. Also, she was accused of sleeping with anyone, implying that she was a prostitute. He asked if there was any proof of this accusation and a few hands were raised. She was guilty and her head was shaved.
One afternoon I was with two others on patrol. I don’t recall why I was with them because they were with a rifle company. We approached a French village on a small stream and there was a tiny shop on the bank making wooded bobbins for thread. While checking out the area two women came running toward us. One was a good-looking blond and the other was an old snaggletooth woman. While I was looking at the blond the old lady grabbed me and kissed me saying that she had vowed that she would kiss the first American in town. The reward for liberating the village was hardly adequate.
Another village I recall is St. André. Of the many villages in France named St. André this one is located near Evreux. The interesting thing for us about St. André was the location of a German airfield contiguous to the town and on the side from which we were approaching. At regular intervals along the runways the Germans had placed bombs that were supposed to be detonated to destroy the runways and prevent our use upon capture of the airfield. Apparently we had advanced too rapidly and whoever was responsible for detonating the bombs left in a hurry without doing so. The main obstacle for us was crossing the open field to get to the village that was still in the process of being taken by our rifle companies. Captain Pritchard wanted to be one of the first there so that we could get a choice house for our headquarters. As soon as the rifle companies enter the town and began street fighting Captain Pritchard, his driver and I drove across the field dodging the planted bombs. As we attempted to make our way down one of the village streets tracers went streaming in front of us so we stayed put for a few minutes until the shooting stopped. We then moved on and spotted a nice big private home. While I stayed on guard to stake our claim for the evening Captain Pritchard went looking for the rest of our company. I checked out the house and found a dozen French people in the cellar hiding from the Germans and seeking protection from the fighting going on at street level. They were happy and relieved to find out that I was an American and that the Germans had been driven out of their village. I was immediately the center of attraction as they all gathered around me with a hundred questions. While I was talking to them a young girl out of breath and full of excitement came running up to the crowd and announced that she had seen an American and had kissed him. As the crowd surrounded me she failed to see me. One of the older women told her that there was an American here and that he could speak French. Somewhat embarrassed she kissed me and ran off. In a few minutes she returned with a bottle of wine. We spent one night in the comfort of this private home and moved on the next morning.
One of the most memorable episodes of the war occurred in a very small village called Miserey. For many years I had forgotten the name of this village and kept thinking that it was called “Joyeux” which phonetically is the opposite of “ Miserey.” I searched for Joyeux on detail road maps and could find no place around Evreux that fit the description. Then in August 1978 two American balloonists, Ben Abruzzo and Maxie Anderson flew the Double Eagle II across the Atlantic from Presque Isle, Maine to Miserey, France a total distance of 3,107.61 miles for a world’s record. When I heard about this record-breaking flight I immediately realized that this was the village I was trying to recall. Any psychologist would probably enjoy analyzing my thought process in trying to recall the name Miserey. Since I had a near-tragic experience here I apparently didn’t want to associate the event with a word like misery and mentally chose an opposite word, joy. The event that took place here culminated in my capturing my first German prisoners and almost getting killed by some SS troops. SS stands for the Schutzataffel who were Hitler’s personal bodyguards and the best of the German troops. These are the ones who wore black uniforms with black leather boots and a garrison cap with the insignia of a silver skull and crossbones.
We were encountering very little German resistance and moving on foot so rapidly that we were bypassing small pockets of Germans. While moving through the village of Miserey our First Sergeant Presnell called back to me and told me to talk to the handful of civilians congregated near the center of this tiny village and find out what I could about the Germans - how far behind them we were, what kinds of weapons they had, how many troops they had etc. As soon as I began talking to them they all mobbed me with hugs and handshakes. An old lady approached me and said that there were three Germans up a little alley to my right. I stopped Mike Jacobs, one our ammunition bearers and asked him to help capture the Germans When I told him that there were three of them he thought that we should make it an even match. The column was moving along and sergeant Vargas was the next soldier to appear and was selected as the member to complete our trio. I had my M-1, Jacobs had only a 45 pistol because he was an ammunition carrier and Vargas had a Carbine, a 30-caliber weapon but smaller than my M-1 and less powerful.
In order to appreciate the event about to take place one must have a visual picture of the lay of the area. As the main road on which we were traveling passed through town it curved to the left at about 10 o’clock (relating directions to hands on a clock). Right where the road turned, and where we were standing another narrow road went off to the right. This was the road on which the Germans were supposed to be. Approximately 100 feet up this road there was a tall stone wall on the right that obscured another trail coming from the right. At this intersection, on the far right side there stood a small two-story house.
As we made our way up the road a few Frenchmen and one French woman joined us. The only ones I remember were a young man next to me and the woman, a cute blond who was carrying two buckets of cider she planned to empty in our canteens. Before we reached the intersection with the stone wall we spotted the three Germans in the roadway. We aimed our weapons at them and ordered them to throw up their hands. As they complied with our commands we motioned them to walk toward us. We quickly searched them for weapons and found them clean. Whenever a German wanted to surrender he would usually discard his weapon and his helmet, two pieces of equipment that gave him the appearance of being belligerent. The only times you could capture the enemy with weapons and helmets were when you caught them by surprise or if a firefight took place immediately before surrender.
As we turned around to march the prisoners back to our company that was passing through town I heard the sound of a vehicle behind us. I wheeled around and there, just clear of the wall was a big, camouflaged touring car with three SS soldiers. There was the driver, another in the front seat and an officer in the back seat. The officer, wearing his black uniform and leather boots stepped out of the car and began looking at a map as if to determine his location. Apparently they had become lost or detached from their unit. To our surprise they didn’t notice us among the Frenchmen and their own three we had taken prisoner. My first thought was that some of our troops were still concealed behind the wall and that the SS had been taken prisoners. All of these thoughts had transpired only a few seconds when the German in the front seat stood up, put an automatic weapon to his shoulder and began firing. I was looking right down his barrel. I was fewer than 50 feet away when I saw puffs of smoke from his weapon. Fortunately I still had the safety off of my M-1. I began firing from the hip in true western style while running backwards and trying to get a glimpse of what our prisoners were doing. They were running away from the action with their hands still in the air and the civilians were screaming as buckets of cider flew in all directions. I was the only one of our group firing. Jacobs later said that, with his 45, he had drawn a bead on the German in the front seat but when he pulled the trigger he realized that the safety was still on. He dropped down while trying to release the safety and rolled back and forth to deny the German a good target. Vargas had tried to fire his Carbine but it misfired. Thanks to my trusty M-1 the firepower we needed was provided. The Frenchman next to me was shot in the shoulder and went down. While I was firing, the German who was firing from the front seat went down. The officer calmly stepped back into the vehicle while the driver took the best cover he could by sloughing down. All I could see was the top of his helmet. The driver threw the car into reverse and with a cloud of smoke backed behind the safety of the wall and out of view. By now we were back at the main intersection in town looking down the barrels of our own men who were reacting to the shooting up the road. One of our officers - I think it was Lt. King - came running up to find out what was going on and after we gave him a quick rundown he said, “Those are the same sons of bitches I ran into just a few minutes ago. In addition to the touring car they have a motorcycle and some foot soldiers.” We went back to the wall where the action had taken place and scaled the wall to observe the other side but there was no sign of the SS. After a few minutes we hear some machine gun fire and the next day the vehicle was found at another location with all three occupants dead.
Vargas later admitted that it was his fault. Instead of being more alert while the prisoners were taken he was busy watching the blonde’s boobs bounce up and down as she carried the two pails of cider. We never again saw either her or the cider or the Frenchman who got shot next to me. I guess he found our medics who patched him up.
Fifty years later, in 1994 while on a two-month tour of Europe with Elaine and two grandchildren, Tiba and Kevin O’Connor, our daughter Barbara’s children, we paid a visit to Miserey. I found the village mayor and introduced myself to him. During the war he had been a 15-year-old boy and recalled the liberation of his village by our outfit. He said, “In the center of town you bore to the left and left town going through a valley and you spent the night at a farm on the hill.” I assured him that his recollection of the events in August fifty years were exactly as I recalled. He then added, “Do you want to see the farmhouse where you spent the night? My sister lives there.” We couldn’t pass up this invitation so we piled into his little car and drove to the farmhouse. It was still the same as I recalled.
Our host then asked if we wanted to see where the balloonists had landed in 1978. Unless you are a balloon enthusiast you wouldn’t know about this historical balloon crossing of the Atlantic by Abruzzo and Anderson so we felt privileged to get this first hand tour. There is a plaque in the village commemorating the landing there of the “Aeronauts.” After showing us this plaque he drove us down a dirt trail between two fields where a memorial stands. This is a modest structure consisting of a stainless steel pyramidal structure about eight inches wide on each of the three sides at the base. The structure rests on an inclined, circular base containing words that describe the landing. The steel spire is inclined in a direction opposite to the direction of the base and terminates in a point eight feet in the air. Behind the memorial is a two-foot stone wall separating it from the field where the balloonists actually landed. The mayor said that it was his field and the sightseers and the landing itself had trampled much of his grain crop. The balloonists promptly paid for the damage. This modest site is worth a visit.
We joined our column and proceeded through Miserey and down a valley and up the other side to the farmhouse on the hilltop where we stopped for the night. Each day when we were on the move we had a target for the day. This objective on a map was called the phase line. I was cleaning my rifle the next morning when Capt. Pritchard said, “Come on Schneider, we’re going on a patrol” I finished assembling my M-1 and we organized for the patrol. The patrol was for the purpose of investigating the killing of an American officer that had taken place about the same time we had run into the SS. The officer and his driver from an anti-tank unit had been assigned to us. They had captured some Germans at a French farmhouse nearby and the officer had told his driver to return to our unit and get some help while he stayed guard on the prisoners. When the driver returned with help the officer was dead and the prisoners were gone.
We used a diamond formation in our patrol. As the name implies, four men formed a diamond formation and a fifth was in the center of the diamond. I was at the rear of the formation which is supposed to be the worst position because, if detected by the enemy, the one in the rear would be picked off first. We proceeded down the hill and veered away from Miserey to the farmhouse where the anti-tank officer had been killed. We cautiously advanced outbuilding to outbuilding until we reached the farmyard where the officer lay. He was lying face up and upon further investigation we found a small hole below one of his shoulders. The Germans had left a horse cart full of supplies and among these we found several artificial arms that belonged to one of the soldiers that had been captured. To some of these arms there was attached hands and on others various types of hooks or stilettos. Some of the hooks were like those depicted in fairy tales and worn by Capt. Hook. We concluded that even though the prisoners had been disarmed the German with the artificial arm had somehow maneuvered behind the officer and attacked with one his lethal arms. Since the prisoners had been disarmed, this was the only logical conclusion we could reach.
A Frenchman who was not the local farmer appeared and spoke to me. He had a crumbled piece of paper on which was written the names of American airmen. Their bomber had crashed in his nearby village and all of the crew had been killed. The civilians had buried all of them in the local cemetery. The stranger wanted to know whom he could notify about this crash. I told him that rear units would be passing through later and he could contact them.
The French farmer told us that there was a German soldier near his barn and he would surrender without any problem. He had asked the Frenchman for a glass of milk earlier in the morning. Capt. Pritchard told me to take someone with me and go after him. I chose Kenny Bedford, an I Company runner, and started up a densely covered trail looking for the German. If someone had been in the area and had wanted to, he would have had no problem picking us off from the dense foliage. We spotted the German standing in the middle of the trail and while I aimed my M-1 at him and ordered him to surrender Bedford ran to him and disarmed him. He was wearing a sling on his right arm and the hand of his wounded arm rested next to a pistol tucked in his belt. I had seen enough western movies to recognize this as a possible trick so we took no chances. I kept my weapon aimed at him until Bedford removed his weapon. He was wearing a Luftwaffe belt buckle that I removed from him and which I still have. We suspected that he had been transferred from the Luftwaffe and was not too happy with his assignment in the infantry. I doubt that he had any intentions of giving us any trouble.
When we returned to the farmyard we found one of our men tramping on a Nazi flag with his muddy boots and the farmer was trying to convey a message to Capt. Prichard. He told us that there was a wounded German in his house but he was not one of those who had killed our officer. The German had been there several days and the farmer’s family had been nursing him. We checked this out and found him in bed, wounded as described. He was not going anywhere. I told the farmer to continue caring for him and he would be picked up later and cared for by our people.
We took our prisoner and proceeded back to the farmhouse on the hill. When on a scouting mission you try to return by way of a different path in case you had been spotted earlier and the enemy was now in wait for an ambush. We altered our route slightly by swinging to the left and approaching the farmhouse from the opposite direction from which we had left. As we approached the house we were aware of an unusual silence. We were motioned out of sight because some Germans were coming toward us from the valley below. Apparently they were lost or separated from their unit otherwise they would not have been approaching us so unconcerned. Before they got very close they spotted us and began running back to the woods in the valley. Someone from our anti-tank section took a shot at one of them on a bicycle with a 37 mm gun and hit the bicycle. I don’t know what happened to the poor cyclist. We then realized that, on our patrol, we had walked right through their area and were not detected because they were probably asleep.
I guess Capt. Prichard was not satisfied with the activities of the morning so we went on another patrol. This time it was in another direction to a very fine estate nearby. The only thing I remember in addition to a beautiful home was a two-car garage littered with empty binocular cases. There must have been hundreds of them and not one set of binoculars among them.
As we moved across France in a direction toward Paris the military campaign became officially called the “Battle of Northern France” and we now encountered less resistance. This consisted largely of German elements left behind to slow us down while the majority of the Germans were retreating. One rainy afternoon we reached our objective that was a large farm estate on the east side of a hill. What we didn’t realize was that the Germans were on the next hill separated from us by a shallow valley. They allowed us to get settled in the farm complex then began to bombard us with heavy artillery. The farm was well zeroed in and they had no problem laying shells directly on us. When the first barrage landed I was in the main farmhouse with our staff officers. During a lull in the firing I ran to a large garage constructed of stone and crouched against the inner wall that was between the artillery source and me. I felt quite safe with the surrounding protection as shells exploded all around. After the Germans had fired their quota they either moved on or decided that they had done enough damage. I then emerged from my safe place in the garage and checked the other side of the wall against which I had taken refuge. I was surprised to find that on the other side of the wall the Germans had left live 88 shells stacked from the floor to the ceiling. If one of their rounds had landed against this stack every building in the farm complex would have gone up.
That night was one of the darkest I have ever seen. Before dark a French teenager came to the farmhouse carrying a letter from an American General addressed to the German Commander offering surrender terms. It was too late for him to proceed in search of the Germans and the Germans were probably more interested in retreating than in surrendering so I told him to spend the night with us. Any stranger wandering in the night without the password would surely have been shot. He and I bedded on the kitchen floor and fell asleep. During the night I heard some commotion outside and arrived just in time to prevent the teenager from being shot by the guard on duty. The teenager had gotten up to go to the bathroom and had been confronted by the guard.
In the morning some French civilians emerged from a shelter dug beneath a haystack and sought help for one of the older women. I found our medical officer who diagnosed her aliment as pneumonia and gave her some medicine. We moved on.
It is said that an army marches on its stomach. So far I haven’t mentioned the rations we ate and what occasional hot meals we had prepared by our kitchen. This might be a good place to describe our food. There were very few meals prepared by our kitchen. Most of us didn’t even have mess kits anymore and if a hot meal was prepared we would scrounge around for a plate, a broken piece of pottery or even a piece of cardboard that might hold the food. I can recall even sharing a plate with someone else. Once while in a German barnyard the kitchen prepared some pancakes with watery syrup. I found a plate in the farmhouse, wiped off the dirt and got a stack of pancakes. Before I finished a friend asked if he could borrow my plate. He shook out the scraps and syrup and got himself a hot breakfast. These were not the most sanitary conditions and we violated Emily Post’s rules of etiquette. We each carried a spoon with a bent handle in our shirt pocket so at least we had our own private eating utensil.
The regular daily rations in Normandy were mostly C rations. The C ration meal came in two cans each about the size of a Campbell’s tomato soup can. The main course was pork and beans, stew or hash. Later on, near the end of the war, other varieties like spaghetti and sauce became available. The other can contained hard biscuits, hard candy and a powdered mixture to make instant coffee, lemonade or bouillon. If the cooks could, they would heat the main course in hot water so we had a hot meal. Of the three varieties the pork and beans was the most edible. The cold stew and hash were consumed only for the purpose of staying alive. Since the war I have not eaten any hash.
The K ration soon took precedent over the C ration and was definitely an improvement. This ration also came in three varieties, breakfast, lunch and dinner. The complete meal came in a wax-coated, cardboard box about the size of a Cracker Jacks box and the box contained enough fuel to heat the main ration and drink. Each box contained a main course tin the size of a tuna can and a packet of biscuits, candy and powdered drink. Breakfast consisted of egg yolks and ham in the tin, powdered coffee, a fruit bar of prunes and other dried fruit and biscuits. This was my favorite of the three. Lunch was a tin of cheese, powdered lemonade, candy and biscuits. Supper was a tin of “corned pork loaf with carrots and apple flakes” (how could I ever forget that!), powdered bouillon, biscuits and hard candy (charms). The lunch candy was not bad and was usually the toffee-type marketed under the trade name Walnettos.
There was another ration called the D Bar. This was taken mostly as an emergency ration or to supplement the others. This was an extremely hard, bitter chocolate bar supplemented with vitamins and minerals. One block of chocolate stuck in the side of the mouth lasted a half hour. A choice ration was the Ten in One. This package was mostly for tank crews and the contents were quite good. This was not a regular ration for us and the only times we had any was when we could get some from a tank crew or if we found some. The best part of the package was a large tin of smoked bacon.
Moving across France we could hear the sound of the village church bells as they announced their liberation. When the villages in Europe were liberated, the first recognition of their liberation was the ringing of the church bells. On a late afternoon as we neared Paris we reached our objective without encountering any resistance. Our phase line placed us in a relatively open area with a few apple trees and an oat field. It was raining slightly and we were looking forward to a miserable night in the rain. There were no buildings around to offer any shelter from the rain and we were not anxious to dig foxholes in the wet ground. A check of our maps revealed that there were no farms or buildings of any kind except for a village on our left flank several hundred yards away and out of our area. I began questioning a local civilian who was wandering in the area and he assured me that we could find some houses nearby. I showed him our maps and he assured me that the maps were not updated and that he could come up with accommodations nearby. Capt. Pritchard was willing to try anything to avoid a night in the rain, so he, his jeep driver, the Frenchman and I set out to find this sought-after shelter that took us in the direction of the village shown on our maps.
We proceeded down a dirt trail that became progressively impossible to navigate with the jeep because of the overgrown shrubs on the sides. At this point we abandoned the jeep with the driver and the Frenchman, Captain Prichard and I continued on foot. I kept asking the Frenchman how much farther our destination was and the answer was always the same. “Only a few more meters.” Finally the trail opened up to what appeared to be the dead end of a cobblestone street. We continued cautiously past a few houses that remained shuttered and appeared abandoned. There was not a sound anywhere, not even the barking of a dog or the meow of a cat - total silence. As we moved along we began hearing the creaking of shutters opening and partially visible faces stared at us in shock. After passing only a few houses we reached the center of the village through which a blacktop road passed. The Frenchman pointed out a house across the street and declared that it was ours. The French always considered a great honor to house American soldiers. We checked out the house and found it to be ideal for the night. Suddenly the bell from the church next to the Frenchman’s home began to ring. I asked the Frenchman why the church bell was now ringing and he replied that it was because we had liberated them. I said, “Do you mean that this village has not yet been liberated?’ He said that there was nothing to worry about. The Germans were retreating along the highway through town but they had only foot soldiers and small vehicles. There were no tanks. This was hardly a match for my M-1 and the captain’s Tommy gun. When I relayed the message to Captain Pritchard his eyes doubled in size, he grabbed his Tommy gun and said, “Let’s get the ---- out of here!” We looked up the highway for Germans then ran across the street, up the back alley to the jeep and left the Frenchman standing bewildered in his doorway. The bells were still ringing as we made our way back to our legitimate objective and spent the night in a wet oat field.
I don’t remember why I was with one of our rifle companies one day in the French countryside. There were four of us moving down a country road when I was approached by a Frenchman who informed me that some Germans were sleeping in a clump of trees only 150 feet away in a field to our right. We approached them slowly and caught them by surprise. There were six of them and they were all armed with side arms I disarmed one of them who had a Russian pistol that he had apparently taken from a Russian on the Eastern Front.
We were now heading for Paris and crossed the Seine River from south to north at the city of Mantes located approximately 54 kilometers down stream from Paris. The crossing was not too difficult and it was either here or farther upstream at the city of Meulan that we were held up for two days by German rear guard action and snipers in church steeples. Mantes was an important stronghold for the Germans because of the proximity to Paris and also because they knew it would be an ideal location for our crossing of the river. The higher ground to the north provided good defensive positions if needed by the retreating Germans. An antitank gun knocked out one of our tanks on the main street parallel to the river. The tank was burning and one of the crew had tried to escape and was draped halfway out of the turret. While the tank burned and the snipers were being cleared out someone else and I squatted patiently behind a stone wall that led from where we were to the River Seine. A glance toward the river revealed a tavern on the bank. Loud voices were coming from the tavern indicating that some Frenchmen were already celebrating their freedom. We made our way along the wall to the tavern and joined them in a few toasts to our respective countries and moved on after the resistance had been neutralized.
From the high ground in the vicinity of Meulan we could see the Eiffel Tower in the far distant. At this point we allowed the Free French to take Paris and we swung to the north, stopping in an area northwest of the Foret De Chantilly.
On the morning of September 1, 1944 we received orders to pursue the enemy in a northerly direction toward Belgium. This was to be a concentrated effort consisting of three divisions simultaneously on individual routes. The 30th Division was in the center with the 2nd Armored Division under the XIX Corps on our left flank and the 28th Division on our right. The Belgian border lay more than 100 miles away and the order was not only to pursue the enemy but also to get to Belgium in record time. This meant an unprecedented rapid drive against an opposing force.
A task force commanded by our Assistant Division Commander, Brigadier General Harrison, led the thrust of the 30th Division. This force consisted of various units of the division and support units of the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 823rd Tank Destroyer Battalion.
The 120th Regiment moved out of the area around Cramoisy proceeding to Mello, Clermont, St. Dennis and on to Roye. From Roye we pushed on to Cambrai, Anzin, St. Amant and then to Hollain, Belgium on Sept 2, 1944. On this drive we traversed areas in which the 30th Division saw action in WW I. Our Regimental coat of arms symbolizes the crossing of the San Quentin canal some 26 years earlier.
Although our 3rd Battalion of the 120th Regiment was not officially part of the task force our S-2 decided that we should be represented so S-2, Capt. Pritchard and S-3 Capt. Hill commandeered a jeep and I joined the task force. I accompanied these two so that I could contact the French underground and eventually the Belgian underground (L’Armée Blanche).
We began our drive in late afternoon and sometime during the night we were around St. Quentin. Perhaps it was in Peronne that we had no problems finding comfortable beds in French homes. This was the first occasion I had to completely remove all of my clothes since sometime in July. We all giggled like silly kids as we lay in the dark on our feather mattresses. An amusing incident occurred the next morning. As we passed through villages we dropped off MPs to direct the rest of the column. There was some fog and visibility was somewhat impaired. At one point there was a gap in the column until the first evidence was the sound of a motorcycle. The MP recognized the sound as that of a German vehicle but assumed that some crazy American must be riding it in the column. He assumed his traffic-cop posture and directed the approaching vehicle along our route. To his surprise a German appeared out of the fog and rode hurriedly past the MP directing him toward his Fatherland.
Our battalion objective was to reach the Brussels-Tournai highway at a point east of Tournai and north of Antoing. It was a dark, rainy night in late evening when we three crossed the border at Maulde just south of Antoing. Dark rain clouds hid a full moon. Occasionally a break in the clouds would provide enough light to distinguish land features and buildings. We invited ourselves into the home of an elderly Belgian couple and heated some rations on their kitchen stove. After pleasant conversation we listened to their secretly-hidden radio and we moved on. We were poorly oriented but Capt. Pritchard decided that we would reach our objective and be there to welcome the rest of the advancing battalion. We had proceeded only a few yards in a northerly direction and along a canal when the noise of an approaching vehicle brought us to an abrupt stop. Capt. Pritchard was driving and Capt. Hill was in the front seat behind a 30-caliper machine gun mounted on the jeep. I was in the back with a large dog that had decided to join us. The moon produced enough light for us to make out a panel truck in our path. Capt. Hill pulled back the bolt on the machine gun and was prepared to begin firing. I dismounted the jeep from the right side and challenged the occupants of the truck. The response immediately identified them as Belgian and I barely had enough time to prevent Capt. Hill from opening fire. These members of the underground told me that they had just encountered the Germans a few yards up the road we were traveling.
They showed us a casualty in the back of the vehicle and when I asked for help in locating our objective they said that we were on the wrong road. We had to backtrack to a drawbridge and cross to the other side of the canal. This we did, but as we approached the drawbridge the underground guarding the bridge challenged us. They had raised the bridge about 2 feet so that traffic from either direction would be halted abruptly. I identified us as Americans and there was an immediate clatter of chains as the span was lowered into position. On the far side of the bridge a Belgian eating a salami sandwich identified himself as the leader of the local underground and said that we were right behind some Americans in a halftrack, an armored car and two jeeps. This description fit forward elements of our Division Recon Troop. Our friend with the salami sandwich sat on the right front fender and directed a couple of blocks through town to a circle where five roads merged at the circle. He got us on the proper one and departed. This road would lead us to our objective on the Brussels-Tournai Highway only four kilometers away. After traveling near the end of the four kilometers we approached a sharp bend to the right and at the bend the road passed through a road cut with mounds of dirt on each side. We stopped the jeep and in the moonlight we could see a halftrack taking cover behind the mound on the right side. An American with the halftrack challenged us but before we could answer us a hail of gunfire came down the road. Capt. Pritchard turned the jeep to the right and into a ditch as I slid out with the big dog on top of me. We abandoned the jeep and ran for cover with the halftrack soldier while tracers went flying overhead and on both sides of the mound. Most of the firing down the road was going just past the jeep although we later found one bullet hole in the radiator.
By now, burning vehicles of our Recon Troop lighted the sky. In the light we saw a jeep fleeing with men hanging on and tracers hitting the pavement directly behind them. An elevation of only a few degrees by the gunner would have hit them. In this incident our Recon Troop lost two armored cars and a jeep and three men were killed and six were wounded. A German rear guard was sitting directly on our objective.
When the shooting subsided we made our way back to the jeep and managed to turn it around, crank it up and perform a hasty advance to the rear. The first person we encountered in town was the salami-eating friend who now insisted that we set up our headquarters in his tavern across from the Antoing train station. It was now near midnight and as our troops arrived the entire battalion was housed in the train station for the night. Other members of the Armée Blanche appeared at the tavern mostly to try to con us into giving them machine guns. They were not satisfied with small arms.
By crossing the Belgian border at Maulde at 6:30 P.M. on September 2, 1944 the 30th Division became the first American Infantry Division to enter Belgium. From our original location near Paris we made the drive in record time advancing on a 118-mile stretch in 30 hours. This was believed to be one of the fastest, opposed advances over a similar distance in the history of warfare.
Colonel G. Bauters, a retired Belgian Army colonel learned about my account of the first night in Belgium and contacted me for personal information I could give him to incorporate in a book he was writing about these first hours in Belgium. He was able to relate my story in several pages of his book and in doing so he provided additional information we in the American army were not aware of. The bridge that we crossed in Antoing across the canal (l’Escaut) was a more significant military target than we realized. According to Bauters there was an allied plan to drop a parachute team to secure the bridge before the Germans could detonate the explosives planted on the bridge.
Before the drop could be initiated the Armée Blanche had a firefight with the Germans guarding the bridge and they were successful in securing it for our safe passage. In the skirmish with the enemy a Belgian fighter named Lucien Delrue from Bruyelle Belgium was badly wounded. By a most strange coincident Lucien was the casualty we had encountered in the back of the panel truck. He later joked that he almost got shot by the Americans after being badly wounded at the canal bridge by the Germans. He eventually was treated in an American hospital in Paris then transported to England for more treatment.
By daybreak the Germans had abandoned our objective that they had occupied the night before. With our host from the tavern sitting on the right fender of the jeep we proceeded to lead our troops to the area we had failed to occupy the night before. All of the local citizens lined the streets and showered us with flowers and greetings. Our jeep was completely covered with flowers. When we reached the spot where we had encountered the roadblock the dead Americans were lined up on the sidewalk and covered with flowers. The local chief of police greeted us on the outskirts of town and offered us the town hall for our headquarters. The villages in this part of Belgium were dense and almost contiguous so that I was not sure of the name of our location. I have recently learned that it was Gaurain.
I have corresponded with some Belgians who research WW II and they contacted me because I was one of the first of their liberators. These men are extremely dedicated to their research and they develop amazing information. After reading a story I wrote entitled “First in Belgium” Mr. Jean-Jacques Derycke found the town hall I mentioned and the tavern in Antoing and sent me photographs. These buildings have not changed in over 50 years except that the town hall is boarded up and not in use. Mr. Derycke also researched my account of our first night and the encounter with the underground with the wounded soldier in the van and actually found out who this person was. This story is recounted in Bauters’ book previously mentioned. After the war Lucien Delrue farmed in the region and he was still alive in 2004. I had sent Mr. Derycke a sketch map of the area I remembered around Antoing showing the canal and the route to the German roadblock. I showed the bend in the road and the mounds on both sides of the road cut. He sent me a map of the area of the same vintage as the war and it was almost a perfect overlay of mine. It even showed the two mounds of dirt!
The highway between Tournai and Brussels was the main street of Gaurain. Along the highway there was a rail line or streetcar line used for local commuters. On the opposite from our headquarters there was a large pit from which limestone was mined for the production of cement. The town hall contained a group of small jail cells in the rear. The day after we were there the chief of police was incarcerated in one of the cells and accused of being a collaborator. As soon as we set up headquarters a nurse from the Armée Blanche appeared in search of medical supplies to treat their wounded. I was the only one able to communicate with her so she was turned over to me. Her name was Odette Fountain, was about my age and very pretty. I took her to our medical unit where she was loaded with aspirin, bandages, iodine and other miscellaneous medicines. Shortly after delivering the supplies she returned with a bottle of wine for me. The village had not been damaged during the war and daily life was fairly normal. She took me home to meet her family and other relatives. From then on for the next three or four days in Gaurain Odette was usually accompanied by her boyfriend Leo who probably didn’t appreciate his girlfriend associating with an American. Leo was also in the underground and usually carried a German hand grenade (potato masher) in his belt. My friends would kid me saying that they had seen Leo with a potato masher and he was looking for me. In my correspondence with Mr. Derycke I had mentioned Odette and Leo and he was able to locate them. Leo and Odette had been married for more than fifty years and still lived in Gaurain. We have written and exchanged photographs. Unfortunately Leo died in 2005.
During our short stay in Gaurain the local Catholic Church held a special service in thanks for their liberation. Many of us attended. The only recollection of the service is listening to the organist stumbling through our national anthem.
Our division was often the northernmost infantry division in the American Army. This gave us a neighboring location with the British forces on our north flank. While in Gaurain for about four days the British moved through Gaurain and swung north. We were then to move to the east and northeast. An interesting observation was made as we traversed Belgium from France to the Netherlands. Near the French border good French was spoken but as we traveled eastward the language blended into a patois or a local dialect of the Walloons. I began to have difficulty with the Walloon patois and my contributions as our primary source of contact with the underground began to wane only to be reestablished in the Battle of the Bulge after the war in France. Farther into Belgium we encountered Flemish-speaking people then Dutch-speaking. For having liberated Belgium and subsequently participating in the Battle of the Bulge the Belgian government awarded us the Belgian Fourragere, a red and gray, braded strap worn through the left epaulette.
There was very little resistance across the rest of Belgium as we advanced faster than the Germans realized. On the southern outskirts of Brussels in the town of La Hulpe we spent the night in a castle on the edge of town. Just as we had experienced in Gaurain, the civilian activity was fairly normal. A friend and I decided to explore the town in the early evening. We stopped off at the first bar we saw and had a drink with some of the locals. We then moved on and came across a hospital that we entered and found a large ward. We were invited to inspect the facilities and found a wounded German soldier the Belgians were caring for. We gave him a few cigarettes and went back on the street. The next stop was to talk to a Belgian standing in front of his butcher shop. He invited us in for a drink, showed us his hiding place for his illegal radio and made conversation. He invited us to return the next day for a steak dinner and we accepted. We didn’t know where he planned to get the steak since there wasn’t a piece of meat in the shop. Many of the German artillery were horse-drawn and when these animals were killed the civilians would carve a nice piece of meat out of the horse’s rump. I suspect our steak was to be a horse. We pulled out early the next morning and we never got our horse steak.
The next area of any interest was at Fort Eben Emael on the Belgium-Dutch border. We reached this objective in record time and caught the Germans by surprise. Fort Eben Emael was a kind of miniature Maginot Line built inside a small mountain or hill with the east side overlooking the Albert Canal and Holland. The Albert Canal is south to north flowing and is parallel to the Maas River. The Maas is the same as the Meuse River to the south in Belgium and was a major German objective in the Battle of the Bulge that we would experience three months later. The Maas River continues parallel to the canal toward Maastricht where it flows through the city, hence the name of the city - it straddles the Maas. The canal has steep concrete sides in the vicinity of the fort thereby providing excellent protection from the east. With this configuration, the fort had all of its guns on the east side so as to face the most likely invaders. Inside the fort there were quarters for the soldiers, machine shops, a hospital and all other amenities for a self-sufficient establishment.
We first saw the fort from the west side where we had entrance capabilities. I immediately remembered that, in training, I had seen a captured German film showing how the Germans had captured this heavily fortified facility. They built a replica in Germany then practiced the attack until each man knew his job. In the actual attack they laid down a smoke screen over the Albert Canal then crossed in rubber boats. At the same time airborne troops landed on the fort. Entry into the fort was through air vents with the help of fifth columnists on the inside. Once inside the Germans overpowered the Belgians and captured the fort. Coming from the west, there were none of the fort’s guns trained on us. So the fort was taken with very little resistance. Some of the Germans didn’t even know that we were there and came marching in formation to take up defensive positions. They walked right into our machine gun company and suffered severe losses. Some of our mortars were firing from such a short distance and at such a high angle that we could hear the report of the shot before the shell landed. It was in this fort that I got the large Nazi flag that I still have.
It was early September when we crossed into Holland and liberated the first Dutch city, Maastricht. The city is in the province of Limburg, a province in the eastern part of Holland. Limburg Province is elongated north south and this configuration placed it in our line of advance. Maastricht was liberated before the larger cities of the west coast.
We were now on the doorsteps of Germany. I don’t know when a new campaign began but I will arbitrarily begin the campaign of the Rhineland. This period includes the breeching of the Siegfried Line and ensuing battles until interrupted by the Battle of the Bulge. Resumption of battles in Germany west of the Rhine River followed the Battle of the Bulge.
The Siegfried Line was now only 25 kilometers to the east. This was Germany’s western wall of defense and was heavily fortified with pillboxes and rows of dragon’s teeth snaking along the border. These dragon’s teeth were reinforced concrete, angular pillars in columns two and three deep for the purpose of stopping tanks and other vehicles.
For the remainder of September we liberated other Limburg cities - Valkenburg, Heerlen, Sittard and Kerkrade among the larger ones. After liberating these cities we were within sight of Germany and could see the dragon’s teeth. In the countryside before reaching these cities that we would become familiar with, one of our artillery must have hit a cigar factory and there were cigars littering the area. We helped ourselves to these and while sitting under a tree I got a German prisoner to dig my foxhole while I smoked a cigar. The old fellow could have been my father and I felt sorry for him. I told him to quit digging and gave him some rations and cigars and turned him over to our guards.
We set up our battalion headquarters in a Dutch farmhouse located next to a small convent or monastery. A wealthy person had originally built the structure for his invalid wife. From this vantage point she could look over a valley leading to her favorite town.
The day before we reached the farmhouse we were in a farm community where we had to stop for the night. Ken Bedford and I found a nice German foxhole under an apple tree so we decided that this would be our home for the night. As darkness approached we became less anxious to occupy an open hole beneath a tree so reconnoitered the area and chose a barn. On the barn floor there was a large threshing machine under which we bedded ourselves on a bed of hay. During the night a German plane dropped some antipersonnel bombs and one exploded in the apple tree under which we had planned to stay. In the morning we examined the hole and found it riddled with hundreds of shrapnel bits.
We spent about a week in the Dutch farmhouse and in the surrounding buildings. I slept in the barn with the cows and found it quite comfortable. There were plenty of good apples from the farmer’s orchard and the farmer didn’t seem to mind that we found them so appetizing. A relatively new replacement, Jack Holum from Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin and I would get a cup full of milk from one of the cows, shave bits of a chocolate D Bar into the milk and heat it for a drink of hot chocolate.
This area of Holland contained several under-ground coalmines with few surface features that had been destroyed by the war. Civilian life continued at a fairly normal pace after we liberated the area; however, in the last days of the German occupation the civilians suffered considerably as the Germans herded thousands onto the highways with carts, bicycles horses and their belongings to delay our advance. Near the German border we could see huge piles of slag outside the entrances of the mines. From one of these slag piles we were constantly shelled with heavy artillery. We set up two observation posts a few hundred yards from the farm and in opposite directions in an attempt to get a bearing on the gun. When it fired we would get a bearing on the muzzle flash then by plotting the two bearings on a map we were able to locate the gun using a triangulation method of simple geometry. The problem was that our artillery spotter planes could see no guns at our triangulation point. The next day a Catholic priest visiting the convent asked if we would like to know the location of the gun that was harassing us. He located it at the same location we had but provided additional information as to why it could not be seen from the air. The gun was mounted on a railroad flat car and was kept in the mine on an inclined track tilted toward the interior of the mine. When firing it was wheeled to the shaft opening and the blast of the shot would recoil the flatcar and gun back into the mine. It was always hidden except for the time of actual firing. We called on the Air force to bomb the opening with P-47s and we were not harassed for the rest of our stay at the farm.
Late one afternoon while still on the farm, a group of American bombers conducted a bombing run on the Siegfried Line within our sight. As soon as they crossed into German territory there was heavy antiaircraft fire. The B-25s dropped their bombs, made a quick turn to the left and headed back toward us. One of the planes was hit and losing altitude rapidly. Obviously the crew did not want to bail out over enemy lines and was waiting to reach friendly territory. We stood in open areas waving to them and firing flares to identify us. Two men bailed out before the plane took a sharp dive. About 200 feet from the ground a third man jumped and he hit the ground just as his parachute began to unfurl.
The air force and artillery had bombarded the Siegfried Line repeatedly but the dragon’s teeth and the pillboxes remained mostly intact. We attacked the line the first days in October and were in Germany before my 20th birthday. We could never reveal our location in any correspondence but we were allowed to name the country. I wrote a quick letter home with the heading “Somewhere in Germany” and dated it October 2, 1944, two days before my birthday.
The Siegfried Line was broken after bitter fighting as foot soldiers destroyed the pillboxes one by one. Behind the line the Germans set up a second line of defense in the flat country to the east and in the coal-mining area directly across from the Dutch border. This line of defense would prove to be as effective as the Siegfried Line itself and brought our advance to a stalemate for several weeks as we fought in the small villages in the flat sugar beet fields. The Germans dug in their tanks with only the turrets above ground. From these positions they pounded us day and night with direct fire from their feared 88s.
The nearest German town to the Dutch town of Kerkrade was Herzogenrath. These towns are so close that today the border runs down the middle of a street in Kerkrade. Residents on one side are Dutch and those on the other are German. Other towns in the area we would get quite familiar with in the next two months are Würselen, Bardenberg, Alsdorf, Euchen, Mariadorf plus many small farm communities. We were to remain in this general area until December 16 when we were pulled off of the line and headed south to encounter the north flank of the German offensive in Belgium and Luxemburg known as the Battle of the Bulge. This border area was densely populated before we arrived but the civilians deserted the towns as we captured the towns one by one. Just northwest of Alsdorf there was a community of quaint little stucco homes for coal miners. Some of our battalion forces spent three or four days in these and received little fire from the tanks. While here we saw for the first timeV-2 rockets traveling overhead. These were fired toward England from positions within Germany. As they flew overhead they appeared as slow-moving stars arching across the sky. Years later in the States we would see some of our launched satellites inscribing identical patterns in the heavens. The V-2 rocket was quite different from the V-1 commonly known as the Buzz Bomb. The V-2 was a rocket-propelled projectile loaded with a powerful explosive. The rocket was programmed by some kind of navigation instrumentation or fuel consumption to land on a specific target. It traveled at such high speed and high elevation that they were immune to destruction by aircraft or antiaircraft fire. The V-1 buzz bomb was a slower-moving vehicle powered by an engine. It was fired from an inclined ramp and flew until the fuel was consumed then it fell to the target. The fuel load was generally programmed so that it was expended over London. While we were in the Bulge we would see them flying overhead at a very low altitude because of the proximity to the launch sites. Sometimes they would not clear the hills of the Ardennes and explode on a hilltop.
One of the towns - it might have been Mariadorf - we were pinned down for several days by tank fire. The main street was the only street in town and it was lined with small shops and farmhouses. Most of the buildings in Mariadorf were badly damaged and the street was covered in mud. The farmhouses were nestled among the rest of the town buildings and the barns and manure piles were attached to the rear. Ken Bedford and I found a reasonably safe place in the rear of a tavern. Our company headquarters was housed in the basement of the tavern where good protection was provided by an arched brick ceiling. Along the right side of the tavern property there was a stone wall and parallel to the wall there was a one-lane bowling alley. The other side of the alley was open to the manure pile but the alley itself was covered with a roof. At the far end of the alley where the pins would have been there was another stone wall positioned between us and the tiger tanks in the distance. The 88s fired from the tanks generally would flyover us and strike other buildings or clear the houses on the other side of the street. The worst inconvenience we experienced was the unfortunate location in the barnyard. It seems that Ken and I had chosen our bed of straw directly over the cesspool. We could hear the gurgling of the sewage and hear the gas bubbles pop as fumes of green gas rose up into our safe cover (exaggerated a little). The first night I thought that Ken was the source of the odor and he thought that I was the source but we quickly concluded that neither of us could smell that bad and we tolerated the fumes in exchange for our safety.
Each of these villages was taken one at a time during November and the first part of December while we closed the Aachen gap. Aachen was the first major German city captured by the Americans. This city of approximately 300,000 inhabitants was known hundreds of years before as Aix La Chapelle the name the French still use. This was the home of Charlemagne who was emperor of the west from 800AD to 814AD and ruled as Charles The Great. Most of Aachen was in ruins but the large cathedral where Charlemagne is buried was not destroyed. An officer and I entered the cathedral but didn’t consider it especially interesting. All of the statues and stained glass windows had been removed so the inside was drab. We stood on Charlemagne’s tomb without realizing where we were. It was not until after the war while taking a course in history that I opened the text book the first day of class and saw a picture of the spot where I had stood before not knowing the significance of this treasured place.
This Rhineland campaign was probably the second hardest of the five campaigns in which the 30th Division participated, the hardest being the Battle of the Bulge. The Normandy campaign was a rough one too but I think that the Rhineland was worse. In this area alone during this period of approximately six weeks, each of division’s regiments lost the equivalent of one battalion or roughly one third of its men. On one of the attacks on a village we suffered unusually high casualties. I was standing in a doorway talking to one of our riflemen who told me that before entering the Army he had worked for a mortuary in Pittsburgh and had seen many bad traffic accidents but none like this.
In this cluster of German towns, tanks and artillery shelled us daily. Except for a direct hit by our artillery it was impossible to knock out the tanks. Bazooka attacks were not possible because of the open terrain. The best weapon was the fighter plane that could bomb and strafe them. On one occasion we had British helping us with rocket-firing Hurricanes. These were quite effective as were also direct hits with 200 pound bombs from our dive-bombing P-47s. These fighter planes usually worked in pairs, one plane firing rockets or dropping bombs and the second plane straffing.
Late one afternoon in this area we were moving to a farm community on the far side of a hill. Only a few yards away there was a tiger tank with its 88 zeroed on the crest of the hill on the only road we could use. Without any passengers I floored the jeep and went sailing over the crest of the hill as the tank’s 88 landed on the right shoulder in front of me. I thanked the gunner for being a below average German gunner. After reaching a farmhouse we were shelled quite heavily and one of our message center men was badly wounded. I found cover for the jeep in a darkened barn and while moving inside the barn I struck an object that went skidding across the floor. It was a large caliber unexploded artillery shell. Again I thanked someone, this time an unknown forced laborer who had probably assembled a dud.
Somewhere near Würselen we took cover in a small schoolhouse on Adolph Hitler Strasse. It seemed like every village had an Adolph Hitler Strasse to honor their Führer. The Germans had a machine gun at the far end of the street and were firing down the street with occasional bursts. The tracers were high and it seemed like we could avoid the overhead bullets. Further investigation revealed that the sneaky Germans were firing two machine guns. One was firing tracers high for us to see and another was firing without tracers at a man’s height. The word soon went out, “Tracers high, ball low.’ Ammunition was commonly referred as ball ammunition.
The next morning was quiet and our rifle companies had taken out the machine gun position at the far end of the village. Pete Perez and I decided that we would look for a radio that we might be able to adapt for use in the jeep. We drove up the street to the edge of town where we saw a nice red brick house whose owner might likely own a radio. While I stood at the jeep Pete entered the house and shortly thereafter someone in the house took a shot at me. It cracked overhead and I took cover behind the jeep. Pete came out and I asked him if he was trying to be funny by taking a shot over my head. He said that he had not fired but had heard the shot just as he was about to investigate the basement. We decided to look for a radio some other time and took off to the safety of our little schoolhouse on Adolph Hitler Strasse. That afternoon one of our rifle companies flushed four Germans from the basement of the red brick house. I don’t see how anyone firing from the house could have missed me from such a short distance He probably had a conscience and just warned me. I know that there were cases where a Christian would not kill the enemy in cold blood.
All of the villages in the flat country were predominately Catholic as were the neighboring Dutch communities in Limburg Province. Each villave had a Catholic Church with a high steeple that made an ideal location for observation posts. In one of the churches we drove the jeep up the steep front steps and down the main isle to the altar. The church was heavily damage and not being used so we felt that we were not desecrating the church. From here we communicated our observations by radio relayed to us from the steeple. I remember this church in particular because there was a large crucifix of Christ over the altar. The creator of this crucifix might have been a good artist but not a good scientist. He had defied gravity in his art. The blood flowing from the nails in Christ’s hands flowed horizontally.
After taking one of these villages we thought we would try another tactic to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. We observed the next objective and had information that the Germans occupying the village might surrender. We made a white flag from a bed sheet and three of our men marched across an open field toward the village almost one mile away. One of the men spoke some German and volunteered to participate. He was only a private, but to add some authority, we pinned captain’s bars on his shoulders and he was a captain for about an hour. Our artillery was trained on the village and was ordered to level the place if our truce team was fired on. If fired on they were to drop the flag to signal the artillery to commence the artillery barrage. We watched with binoculars as they disappeared among the houses and shortly thereafter emerge with 20 prisoners. We had a representative from the Air Force on an exchange program and he was the most excited of our group as he witnessed something he could never have seen from the air.
Except for the Bulge and probably on a par with Normandy, this area between the Dutch-German border and the Roer River was where we had some of our largest numbers of casualties. I picked up many of our dead and hauled them back to Holland for burial. We would hook up a trailer to the jeep and make the rounds of the latest fighting, sometimes picking up Germans as well. Some of the Americans didn’t appreciate having their dead buddies in the same trailer as a German so we tried to avoid this practice. One of our scouts was a little weird. He would go out of his way looking for bodies. In civilian life he had operated a candy store. The saddest case I recall was finding one of our M Company machine gunners in a German shed. I recognized him but never knew him. He was lying on his back with a most agonizing, horrified look on his face. In his crossed hands over his chest he clutched his rosary beads with his fingers frozen halfway through his prayers. Most of our casualties from this area are buried in the American cemetery at Margraten, Holland located between Maastricht and Aachen.
While we were in the Würselen - Alsdorf area we were given a two-day rest in Holland. We were taken to the Rolduc Abbey near Kerkrade across from the German border. The rooms in the abbey were empty and we slept on the wooden floors. We were treated to hot meals and a USO show. During meals a USO band played for our dining entertainment. As part of the USO troop there was a guitar player/singer/composer who came on stage singing his most famous composition, You Are My Sunshine. He was Jimmy Davis who later became governor of Louisiana.
Until now I was classified a scout and observer. While taking one of the villages one of our message center jeep drivers was killed. He was a big likeable Greek from the Boston area who found pleasure in collecting postcards he would find in homes. We called him Tiny, not because he was tiny, but because his family name was Constantine. Our message center had two jeeps used for all kinds of jobs from running food and ammunition to rifle companies to picking up bodies. One of the main duties was driving rifle company runners to and from their companies .I was asked if I would take Tiny’s place and I accepted. I continued to serve as a scout when needed and would soon be using my French language skills during our re-entry into Belgium during the Battle of the bulge.
Each of the rifle companies, I Company, K Company, L Company and the heavy weapons company, M Company, had two runners. The rifle companies had M-1 rifles, Carbines side arms, 61 mm mortars and 30 caliber light, air cooled machine guns. The heavy weapons company had similar small arms but larger, 81 mm mortars and 30 caliber water-cooled machine guns. It was with these eight men that I developed a close relationship. Of these eight runners at the time I joined message center, all were replacements for the original ones who had been killed or wounded. From I Company there was Ken Bedford from New Jersey and Pete Perez a half American Indian half Mexican from Oklahoma; from K Company there was Trakalo from Philadelphia and Thomas from New Jersey (I don’t know whether Thomas was his first name or his last); from L Company there was Bernard K. Applestein from Baltimore and Ralph Storm from New Jersey and from our heavy weapons company, M Company there was Jack Rose from Muskegon, Michigan and Jim Farley from Michigan. I found out 40 years later that Jim’s name was Norris. We called him Jim because he had been a mail carrier before entering the Army and, at the time, the US Postmaster General was Jim Farley. We also called him “Pop” because at the age of 34 he was the oldest of the group. You will notice that the companies in the battalion were I, K, L and M. The letter J is missing. This is because the Army in WW II was designed on a triangular system, that is, units were in groups of three - three rifle companies in a battalion, three battalions in a regiment, three regiments in a division and three divisions in a corps. In WW I the units were in groups of four. When WW I Divisions were reactivated in WW II, one unit in the four had to be dropped. In our battalion J Company was dropped.
Of these eight runners two were killed, one badly wounded and one captured between November and the end of the war. Thomas was killed in the Bulge, Applestein was captured in the Bulge, Rose was wounded in the Bulge and Storm was killed in Germany on March25, 1945 while with me.
Near the end of November I was asked to sign a statement to the effect that I had I had been given the opportunity to vote in the November Presidential election. Because I had just turned 20 in October and was not yet 21 years old I had not been permitted to vote so I refused to sign. The officer in charge of obtaining the signatures understood my position and politely asked that I not cause any trouble. He said, “Sign the damn form”! I signed.
East of the German villages clustered along the Dutch border and in the coal mining area the terrain is flat and the main crop was sugar beets grown for human and animal consumption. In this sugar beet country the farms were not isolated units among the fields. They were in small communities and the fields stretched from one village to another. From one vantage point it was common to see three or four of these communities, each identified by a Catholic Church steeple. Between the villages and among the beet fields the Germans had dug deep zigzag trenches for defense. These fields and villages were not very well defended and we took them one at a time. In one of these villages I decided to take a bath in one of the farmhouses. In the kitchen there was a large shell hole in the ceiling and the floor was wet and muddy. We found a large wooden tub big enough to sit in and set it in the middle of the floor. On the kitchen stove we heated water in a bucket one bucket at a time until the tub contained sufficient water for a bath. I removed all of my clothes and was sitting in the tub completely lathered when our own fighter planes attacked us. We were so close to the German lines that we were often vulnerable to such attacks by mistake. Our P-47s were dive-bombing and strafing us. The first plane would strafe then the next would drop 200-pound bombs. There were only three or four planes but they continued their mission, diving, bombing and pulling out, circling around and coming back to strafe. At the first attack I dove into the cellar and into a coal bin. The adhesion of the coal dust to the soapsuds outfitted me for the lead in a minstrel show. After the first pass there was a short lull in the activity so I returned to the tub in the kitchen. Having washed off the coal dust I lathered again only to be interrupted by the planes on their second approach. I did a second performance in the coal bin. I tried a third attempt at bathing, again to no avail. In disgust I surrendered to our Air Force and dressed myself after scraping off most of the coal dust and soapsuds.
Across from our farmhouse the planes strafed one of our gun emplacements and wounded some of the gunners. We got the identification of the planes and upon relating this information to the Air Force they admitted that they had attacked. Their excuse was that they had seen fires in the village and thought that we were still fighting for its possession. They had decided to help us out by dropping a few bombs and strafing.
There was a bit of humor to the incident. The coalmines in Holland were not destroyed because of their protected locations under ground. The facilities included showers that were utilized by us. Upon entering the mine, clothing was removed and a hot shower was enjoyed. After showering you were given a set of clean clothes that had been disinfected for body lice. On the day of the friendly bombing a truckload of our men had gone to Kerkrade for showers and were on their way back when the planes began their runs. The truck was near our village but in the open country traversed by the German trenches. The men abandoned the truck and ran into the trenches for cover. They were well protected but emerged soaking wet and muddy from the trenches half filled with muddy water. Their de-loused uniforms were now dirtier than their uniforms had been before the showers.
The next day we took the neighboring town and Ken Bedford and I laid claim to a farmhouse bedroom. We found a large satin comforter, apple green on one side and pink on the other. Wrapped in this we bedded down for the night. All night we kept itching from some kind of crawling critters running races up and down our backs. In the morning we removed our shirts and long john undershirts and found hundreds of lice lined up in formation in the undershirt ribbings. We got our trip to the coalmines and a new set of de-loused clothing
By the middle of December we had crossed the Inde River, a short distance to the east and reached the banks of the Roer (Rur) River. Upstream the Germans controlled the dams that could be opened to flood our area and bog down a crossing. If we did successfully cross the Roer and were allowed to establish a bridgehead the dams could be opened and we would be at the mercy of the Sixth SS Panzer Army on the other side. While contemplating the next move, the counter offensive of the Ardennes (Bulge) began and we were pulled off to go south and engage the Germans in the Bulge.
It was December 16,1944 when the Germans began their drive through the Ardennes. This would come to be known as “The Battle of the Bulge” rather than its official name, “The Battle of the Ardennes.” We were near the Roer River waiting for instructions when it was decided that we were entitled to a rest. We had more days of continuous fighting since D-Day than any other division so we were moved back to our familiar territory east of Maastricht and north of Aachen. Plans had been made to house us in friendly Dutch homes. The same night that we reached our rest area we were told that plans were changed. We were told of a major German offensive to the south and we had a mission to travel south and intercept them. Each of us was given a bottle of warm coke and loaded onto trucks for our trek south. In spite of the TV programs that claim coca cola was always available to our servicemen, I believe that this was the only coke I received in all of my ETO experience! This warm coke event probably terminated the shortest rest period on record! I was given one of the two message center jeeps to drive in our south move. As the convoy moved south we could hear German planes flying overhead to presumably drop paratroopers behind our lines. The distance from our assembly area to the eventual contact with the Germans at Malmédy is only about 70 kilometers and today can by traversed in less than an hour. The weather had now turned extremely bad and heavy snow was falling in parts of the Ardennes. Leaving our familiar Dutch area in the dark we traveled slowly into the early hours of the morning and stopped for a short rest and sleep. I found a chicken coop and spent the remaining hours of nighttime with the chickens. As the sun rose and tried to break through the thick overcast sky a German plane flying very low came out of the low-lying hills to the southeast. All of our foot troops were being transported on several 2 ½ ton trucks that had 50-caliper machine guns mounted in the turrets over the cabs. Only one driver was at his gun when the plane appeared. The plane was heading directly for us, then for some unknown reason he swung to his right and made a perfect target for the gunner who applied the proper lead in his sight and got a direct hit bringing the plane down. We moved on and traveled slowly for the entire day to cover the remaining 50 kilometers. By the time we reached Eupen, about halfway to our destination at Malmédy, we encountered snow and ice. This was only a preview of the terrible weather we would face during the Ardennes Campaign. In peacetime I have traveled this route in a surprising short time even with a stop at McDonalds in Eupen.
We knew that the Germans wanted Malmédy because it was a gateway to the Ardennes and it was a good rail center. We also knew that they were close to Malmédy but we didn’t know how close. When we reached the north outskirts of town we sent in our recon troop and they radioed that the city was deserted. A few days earlier it had been a US Army rest area and hospital but when the Germans broke through lines on the 16th of December, the day before our arrival the Americans abandoned their facilities leaving behind all sorts of supplies and equipment. There were reports of abandoned hospitals with amputated arms and legs still on the operating tables. As soon as we received word from the recon troop we moved every available man and equipment into the city. The Germans were on the south side and we had beaten them by only a few minutes. One man-made feature that worked to our advantage was a railroad that skirted the south side of the city. As railroads are often built, surrounding ground had been piled up to form a ridge on which the railroad had been built. This proved for us to be a good wall of protection from advancing troops.
As the Germans were overrunning American troops in front of their advance many units were being broken up and were in complete disorder. Our Regimental Commander was placed in charge of all available troops we could muster. We had massed together parts of a ski battalion, a 90-millimeter antiaircraft battery and combat engineers. The Germans were a little upset that we had beaten them to Malmédy and began attacking immediately. We had to use every available man. The first night (Dec.17) I was told to help a combat engineer unit man a gun emplacement on the front line. There was almost total darkness and none of us knew where we were or what we were doing. As we manned our positions the Germans began attacking with tank fire and machine guns. They obviously couldn’t even see us and were attacking blindly. We held our fire so as not to divulge our position and I heard someone in charge say that we were so weak we would not be able to hold off the impending attack. All we had was one antitank gun and a few small arms. My M-1 was no match for a tiger tank. Then suddenly the shooting stopped and all was quiet. I’m sure that the Germans could have destroyed us if they had continued their push.
The next morning they began another attack. This time we pulled company clerks and cooks and everyone assumed a position on our side of the railroad tracks. Someone else and I went to the upstairs of a brick house where we could see the enemy on the other side of the tracks. I positioned myself at a window where I could get a good shot and as I raised myself in true wild west style with my M-1 resting on the windowsill a burst of machine gun bullets splattered along the window frame. We decided to lay low and wait until we could see the whites of their eyes. The attack was halted with much help from the raised railroad. We pulled back into town where we took refuge in a three-story house near the town square. Our vehicles were parked under trees in a small park across the street. We met the occupants of the house and had a short chat with them. Apparently this part of Belgium had been part of Germany before WW I. The owner of the house told us that he had been in the German Army during WWI and had been sent to the US as a prisoner of war. During our conversation that was taking place well after dark, the Germans attacked again, this time with heavy rocket fire. This was the first concentrated rocket I can recall experiencing. Thanks to our rifle companies on line at the railroad the attack was repelled.
On the morning of December 21 a party of 120 Germans wearing captured American uniforms attempted to break through one of our roadblocks but they were driven back with the loss of 11 vehicles. At 4:30 A.M. two German Infantry companies and 10 tanks led by a captured American tank moved up in the darkness without being seen and at 7:00 an attack was launched as the enemy appeared out of the mist. We had set up a roadblock near one of the railroad overpasses on one of the highways leading into the city. The overpass had been blown up as further protection but the Germans quickly knocked out our out-gunned weapons with their tank fire and a platoon of our K Company retreated to a nearby paper mill. It was here at the paper mill that Pfc. Francis Currey earned the Congressional Medal of Honor, The highest US military award. Fighting constantly for twelve hours he dashed in and out of cover and fired every available weapon; the bazooka, the Browning Automatic Rifle, the heavy 30-caliber machine gun, the 50-caliber machine gun and antitank grenades. He knocked out a tank, forced the abandonment of three others by disabling them and killed 15 Germans. He was credited with stopping the attack single-handed. During the action 5 enemy tanks were destroyed. Even though we had others from our division who were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Pfc. Currey is probably the most recognized. When the makers of the “Barbie Doll” decided to market a WWII soldier version of their dolls Currey was selected as the model complete with a WWII uniform with the Old Hickory shoulder patch.
By destroying the overpass in the vicinity of the paper mill we had isolated some of our rifle companies on the other side of the tracks. That evening I was told to follow a rifle company jeep - I think it was I Company - to their position east of town. We were to carry ammunition and food. With one other person with me we followed our leader in almost total darkness. The only light came from starlight reflected from the snow. We traveled probably 500 yards on a blacktop road out of Malmédy then turned on to a dirt trail that led to the rifle company’s position on the front line. When we reached our destination we were able to find the company commander only by a stroke of luck. We found a telephone line on the ground and followed it until it terminated at a foxhole that was the company commander’s. I could not see the commander and assumed that it was Capt. Shaw. It was many years later when I met Capt. Shaw at a division reunion that he told me that it couldn’t have been him because he had been wounded early and was recuperating in a hospital during the Bulge. Whoever it was told us to leave the ammunition and food outside his hole and leave. Before we could leave the Germans laid down a heavy rocket barrage. The man with me and I took cover under the jeep as the rockets exploded in the pine trees above us. The smell of gunpowder mixed with the sweet-smelling odor of the pines. When the Germans quit firing we cranked up the jeep and took off. The only problem was that the jeep that had directed us from Malmédy had left and we were not sure that we could find our return route. Feeling our way in the darkness I bumped into the other jeep that was moving slowing before us. These rifle company guys exchanged a few nasty words with us and told us to keep our distance because any unusual noise would alert the Germans. We gave them a sizable lead and we continued. The other jeep was beyond our sight and sound when, in the dim light, we observer a fork in the trail. Unable to determine the path of the lead vehicle we chose the right fork. This seemed to be the logical choice based on our orientation and our recollection of the trip from Malmédy.
Our choice of forks was suddenly questioned when a tiger tank fired an 88 directly across our hood. The shell exploded a few feet to our right in the woods. Both of us abandoned the jeep and began running in the woods only to be halted by strands of barbed wire. We had already heard rumors of the Malmédy Massacre and that the Germans were not taking prisoners. The last thing we wanted was to be captured and shot. Considering the firing of the 88 and the barbed wire entanglement we were certain that we had taken the wrong fork and had run into the German lines. There was no additional shooting and all remained quiet for a few minutes. We regained our composure and slowly made our way back to the jeep. But instead of creating unnecessary noise by starting the engine we pushed it along the trail. After only a few yards we felt the familiar blacktop. We now had our bearings and raced to Malmédy. Our first stop was when we were challenge by a familiar voice that turned out to be our friend Farley who was on guard. I reported to our intelligence section leader to inform him that the ammunition and food had been delivered. I believe that for this period while we were back in French-speaking Belgium I was performing a dual role in message center and again as a scout in the intelligence section. The section leader was surprised to see me because it was his understanding that I was to stay with the rifle company all night and drive up and down the trail to draw enemy fire. He wanted to get an idea as to the enemy’s firepower. He also added that the trail I had been on was beyond our lines and I had been traveling in no man’s land between the lines. I didn’t like being a clay pigeon in a shooting gallery and told him so. He threatened to court martial me for disobeying a direct order but he never followed his threat and I didn’t provide the Germans with target practice. I noticed that he didn’t volunteer to drive the trail the rest of the night. I should have agreed to the suicide assignment and found a place to bed down for the rest of the night, He would never have known that I was not offering the Germans target practice.
On the night of the 22nd of December an attack with rockets and machine gun fire failed to breach our lines; however, one of our jeeps got a bullet hole in the radiator. On the morning of the 23rd I was told to take it to our motor pool and get it fixed. We had left our battalion motor pool a couple miles north of Malmédy in a farmhouse. The overcast skies that had prevented our air force from giving us much-needed assistance had now cleared sufficiently to resume bombing runs. While at the motor pool, B-17s or B-24s flew overhead and proceeded to drop their bombs on Malmédy. They targeted the town square and did a good job of landing all of their loads on the square. I headed for Malmédy to our headquarters where our staff was trying to contact the air force. Contact was made but the air force refused to believe that we were in Malmédy. Their intelligence reported that the city was in enemy hands and the American equipment that they observed from the air was obviously captured and being used by the Germans. To further confirm our occupation of the city we climbed into church steeples and any other available high structures and displayed colored fluorescent banners in accordance with a code. These panels were about 2 feet by 4 feet and were displayed mostly on vehicles in a convoy for identification from the air. Usually only the fourth or fifth vehicle in a convoy displayed the banners. These displays were to be of no avail the next few days. Our precarious location became more vulnerable when we were reading in the Stars an Stripes that Malmédy was in German hands.
The morning of December 24 I made another trip to our motor Pool or to our medical station located next to the motor pool and was returning to our quarters near the square when I encountered a friend driving toward me. We met right in the town square where the rubble from the previous day’s bombing had been cleared for vehicular traffic. We were holding a conversation when we heard the familiar sound of large four engine bombers approaching. The planes were only a few seconds away when my friend, John Dotson said that he was getting out of here. He took off in his direction and I in mine. Our group had housed ourselves in the basement of a school less than a block from the square. I was in the schoolyard when I looked up and saw the lead plane drop a smoke flare to indicate that they were over the target. The jeep was still rolling as I jumped out and dove down the school stairs to the basement. The bombs were now falling and all we could do was to huddle up against a wall and pray that no bombs would strike the schoolhouse. Bombs would fall, then there would be a short lull until the next squadron was on target and the bombs would fall again. I didn’t hear any whistling sound like one hears in the movies, instead it sounded more like a load of bricks sliding down the tin roof of a barn and I was inside the barn.
This was a much larger attack than the preceding day and much of the city lay in ruins or the buildings were on fire. We surfaced from our shelter in the school and were surprised to find that the schoolhouse and an adjacent hospital remained untouched. We dug out survivors but could do nothing to extinguish the fires. An old man pleaded with me to help him save his home on which the flames from neighboring homes were rapidly approaching but I couldn’t help him. No trace was found of John Dotson. He either suffered a direct hit or was perhaps buried in some rubble. His body might have been recovered some time later but to this day the Army carries him as “missing in action.” That night when some of the fires were burned out a midnight Mass was held in a small chapel next to the school. This was not a particularly happy Christmas Eve service and there were many grown men with wet eyes. There was no peace on earth and we had no thanks for the presents our air force had showered upon us. The only thanks we had were that we were still alive.
On Christmas Day our gifts would again rained from the sky courtesy of our American friends in the air. One of the blocks between the school and the square was burning and the fire was moving from one building to the next. One of the buildings in the path of the fire was a pharmacy stocked with various drug supplies. The civilians remaining in the city were well aware that the bombing had been done by American bombers and in order to alleviate the situation in whatever way we could, Capt. Pritchard told me to hitch a trailer to a jeep and help the civilians save some of the medical supplies. The civilians had an old panel truck and were busily carting supplies to a hospital on a hill overlooking the city. Pete Perez and I offered our help and followed the van to the hospital. Since Malmédy had been used as a rest for American soldiers before the German breakthrough it was well supplied with little gifts in anticipation of Christmas. We had equipped ourselves with an abundant supply of these gifts that consisted mostly of fancy ladies’ handkerchiefs and carried them with us to the hospital. Upon delivering our supplies and gifts we found that some nuns ran the hospital. They were so grateful for our assistance that they rewarded us with a glass of cognac. We gave them handkerchiefs for themselves and their patients and headed down the hill for another load of supplies. By now we had engaged the assistance of a helper, a nurse from the hospital. The second trip was a repeat of the first with another exchange of handkerchiefs and cognac. Neither Pete nor I was the dumbest soldier in the infantry so we began making smaller loads and more frequent trips for the nuns’ cognac.
We were probably on our fifth trip and were feeling pretty brave from the cognac when we heard the familiar sound of approaching aircraft as we loaded the jeep. This time it was smaller planes, A20s and B26s, twin-engine bombers flying lower than the four-engine planes that bombed the two preceding days. We stood next to the jeep, and with fists pointed toward the planes we dared them to drop their bombs. They obliged us and the effects of the cognac were short lived. I told the civilians to go to the cellar that was ankle deep in water and Pete and I followed. As soon as the first wave of planes completed their mission Pete and I surfaced and found the nurse under the jeep. We pulled her out and the three of us headed up the hill while bombs fell behind us. This was our last trip up the hill. Fire consumed the remaining supplies in the pharmacy.
The air force was kind to us on the 26th and they made no bombing runs on Malmédy. However, on the 27th they struck their final blow with P47s that harassed us with a few small bombs and some strafing. Compared to the three previous bombings these fighter attacks were more humiliating than destructive.
By now the weather was horrible even though the sky was clear. Snow was ankle to knee deep and temperatures were well below freezing. We were now getting many casualties from frozen feet. We were poorly equipped with only our combat boots of leather and thin socks. One of our generals rounded up all of the GI blankets he could find and sent them back to Holland or Belgium where he had local women make booties from the blankets. We wore them inside a pair of overshoes and managed to keep our feet from freezing.
Our major push into the north flank of the German wedge had now begun with the purpose of cutting off their forces by linking with the US Third Army driving from the south. This area is heavily wooded with pine trees that were covered with snow. The woods are in terrain of rolling hills with elevations reaching 700 feet above the surrounding ground. Typically, the Ardennes is an eroded plateau resulting in hills, ravines and small streams. The eastern portion near Germany is generally heavily forested. On the outskirts of Malmédy we reached a small community called Geromont. There were only a few houses along the main road and it was in these houses that we established our company headquarters for a couple of days. While here, one of the K Company runners, Thomas was killed from artillery shrapnel in the head. There were six in our division with the name of Thomas who were killed. While in Geromont our small group of company runners and message center stayed in a small shed that was a workshop for making coffins. We were able to build a fire in an old stove and found the accommodations quite comfortable. While enjoying these accommodations Applestein received a package from home. The main content was a can of chicken noodle soup. I suspect that his Jewish mother thought that it might help prevent a cold in the cold Belgian winter. Applestein diluted the soup quite generously from his canteen and heated it on the stove. We made a big production over this gourmet preparation and gathered around “Apple” with our canteen cups. He dished out two spoonfuls to each of us. Pete complained, “Apple, you damn Jew you can share more than two spoonfuls”. For this racial slur Pete got no more but the rest of us were rewarded with another spoonful!
One more mile south of Geromont or a distance of approximately 3½ kilometers from Malmédy we came to the intersection of five roads that we called five points. The official name of the community at this intersection is Baugnez. This was to be remembered as the location of the infamous Malmédy Massacre. Units of our 120th Infantry Regiment were the first troops to find the frozen bodies and confirm the reality of the massacre. Some of the survivors had reported the massacre but it took the discovery of the bodies for confirmation. I don’t know if there were any signs to indicate that the community had a name and maps didn’t identify a place called Baugnez but today it is called Baugnez and this small piece of geography now is well known to military historians as the site of the Malmédy Massacre. In a field near the intersection of the five roads we found the snow-covered bodies of American soldiers massacred by the advancing SS troops. This was the worst such incident of the war and is still reported in news articles about WW II. At the time we discovered the bodies we reported as many as 135 bodies but the final count was 86. The Germans had captured the Americans and herded them into an open field and systematically machine-gunned them. Most of the 86 were members of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. After all were presumed dead one of the officers walked among the bodies and any movement or groan was terminated with a shot to the head. The German officer, speaking perfect English, would ask if anyone was wounded and if he got a positive response he had a target. There are several Americans who claim to be survivors and I can’t vouch for all of them. Two whose survivals are authenticated are members of our local chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. Both played dead among the corpses of their buddies and after the SS left all of them for dead they managed to flee. One of them spent three days in the woods between Baugnez and Malmédy and was finally rescued by our regiment. Our Regimental Commander, Col. Purdue took him back to his quarters and gave him his bed for the night. Today, these two survivors join a group of five or six of us from our local chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge when we speak to local high school history classes. When they tell their stories the students appear as statues with open mouths.
After the war many of the SS responsible for the massacre were discovered and as many as 75 were put on trial in Nuremberg. The most notorious of these was Col. Jochaim Peiper who was found guilty of ordering the massacre and sentenced to death. This sentence was later commuted to a life sentence and years later he was pardoned. He found work with one of the German automobile companies but when his identity was discovered he was let go. He tried writing without any success and retired in Alsace, France. After living in seclusion for a few years his house mysteriously burned to the ground. Coincidently, this fire occurred on July 14, the French Bastille Day. Naturally, some French patriots were suspected but no charges were ever brought against anyone.
Although the Malmédy Massacre is well documented in military history very is written of other SS massacres committed mostly on Belgian civilians. Approximately eight kilometers southwest of Malmedy in the environs of the city of Stavelot 164 civilians were killed. Of these, 135 were massacred by the SS and another 29 were killed as a result of the fighting in the area. The 135 were massacred at five different locations as follows: Thirty were killed at Ster and Renardmont’s Hamlet, 24 were killed at Parfondruy’s Hamlet, 24 were killed on the left bank of the Ambleve River, 38 were killed along the Trois-Ponts road at Stavelot and 19 were killed near the Trois-Pont bridge and Coo’s road. Some of these victims were herded into churches or barns that were then set on fire and those trying to escape the flames were shot as they escaped the buildings.
When Elaine and I were visiting this area in 1964 a shopkeeper in Malmédy asked me if I was the sole survivor of the massacre. NBC was in the area filming a documentary on the Bulge 20 years later. They had located the survivor the shopkeeper spoke of and flown him to Belgium for the filming. In addition to an interview with the survivor NBC also interviewed Francis Currey, the Recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The shopkeeper gave me a copy of the local newspaper that gave an account of the filming. The survivor was now living in Kentucky where he was a farmer with 5 children. Since 1964 others have come forward with claims that they are some of the survivors. There are probably some false claims among these because only a small number survived.
On a small parcel of ground near 5 Points there is a monument dedicated to the victims. There is a small shed not much larger than two telephone booths in which there is a small altar where there is usually a vase of flowers placed there by the local people. From the shed there is a stone wall extending several feet toward the street beyond which lays the field where the executions took place. Individual brass plates imbedded in the wall contain the names of the 86 Americans who died.
Only a few hundred yards from 5 Points there is the village of Ligneuville, the next village on our objective. On the end of a straight line of road leading from 5 Points the Germans had an 88 zeroed in on the intersection of the five roads in Baugnez. We knew enough to stay clear of this target but the uninitiated were in for a surprise if they strayed near the target. We had our company headquarters set up in a house near the intersection and one morning while I was standing outside of the house a jeepload of reporters and photographers from Brazil stopped near the intersection. They dismounted the jeep and began surveying the area so that they could gather data about the massacre. I don’t think that they ever got their story because an 88 barely missed the jeep and landed in the field beyond. They piled in their jeep and we never saw them again.
Ligneuville was badly damaged from shelling from the enemy and us. We set up headquarters in an inn called Georges. It was located next to a church that had a working clock in the steeple and the clock faithfully struck the hours in the bell tower. We weren’t too happy with the clock because its hourly tolling could have given a sound target for the Germans. The first night in the Georges Inn some captured Germans were brought in for questioning. I remember a young soldier who was very arrogant and spoke some English. He told us that the Germans were working on a new bomb that was so powerful that one bomb would easily destroy New York. Maybe he had heard rumors about an atomic bomb.
In 1964 Elaine and I stopped at the Georges Inn for a cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie. I mentioned to the waitress that I had been here 20 years ago and described the condition of the inn at that time. All of the windows were broken and a destroyed tiger tank blocked the entrance to the inn. She seemed confused at first then mentioned that she had not yet been born but Mr. Georges had told her about the war and described the inn as I had with the broken windows and the tiger tank at the entrance.
From Ligneuville until we linked up with the American Third Army driving from the south we experienced the most difficult times since Normandy and the Rhineland. We kept losing men from frozen feet as well as from enemy action. Some of our replacements for the rifle companies were getting killed before they could dismount the vehicles bringing them to the front. Progress was slow in the snow and pine tree-covered hills. It was during this period that an advancing German tank unit captured Applestein, one of the L company runners. We kidded “Apple” that if he were ever captured he would surely be killed because he was Jewish. Our dog tags identified our religious beliefs with a single letter. C stood for Catholic, P for Protestant and H for Hebrew. No other religion was identified as far as I know and anyone professing no religion was automatically a Protestant.
Apple was quite a character. We wore combat jackets that had several pockets in which we carried various items. Apple could not stand to see anything go to waste or thrown away and had his pockets stuffed with all kinds of unneeded junk. Almost daily we would be given a large box of supplies the bulk being cigarettes. The rest of the package consisted of toothpaste, toilet paper, razor blades, matches etc. Apple didn’t smoke except for an occasional cigar but he kept all of the matches that came in the rations. The matches were in the penny boxes made from thin wood. He kept a stubby pencil to record the inventory of the various items he carried. You could ask him anytime what his totals were and he could give you a count for the number of matches, pieces of toilet paper, can openers etc. Whenever someone wanted a light for a cigarette he was in for a lecture. Invariably someone nearby would blow out the match before the cigarette was lighted and the smoker would have to ask for another match and listen to another lecture. On one occasion he had two matchboxes half full. He transferred the matches from one box to the other and discarded the empty box only after much deliberation and a sigh.
Later in the spring when the Americans were advancing rapidly across Germany and freeing many of the American prisoners of war we were notified that a certain Bernard K. Applestein had been freed from a camp. We never saw him again and assumed that he returned to his home in Baltimore.
During these difficult times in the Ardennes some of our rifle companies of 150 men were down to 15 before replacements. Frozen feet and frostbites accounted for many of the losses. On January 25, 1945 we made contact with the 7th Armored Division at St. Vith and our role in the Bulge was essentially completed. We had suffered heavy losses and pulled back about 15 miles west of St. Vith to get reorganized. Our losses from only the infantry companies of the division amounted to 1390 casualties and 463 more from trench foot and frostbite. After settling in whatever farmhouses we could find around Liernieux we were fed a warm meal prepared from turkey or chicken we were to have had for Christmas. These fowls must have thawed sometime in January and everyone got diarrhea. We all lined up at the aid station with our spoons and were given a dose of some chalky substance that was probably a forerunner to kaopectate.
While our Regiment was confined mostly to the area in and around Malmédy some of the regiment and the other two regiments were spread from Malmédy to Stavelot located 8 kilometers to the southwest. These troops experienced some terrific combat at villages like Coo, Stoumont, La Gleize, Trois-Ponts and Stavelot. At Stoumont a fierce battle took place in a sanatorium were several dozens of women and children had taken cover in the basement. The Germans attacked yelling “Heil Hitler” and recaptured part of the sanatorium. Hand to hand combat took place from room to room on the ground floor where possession changed hands several times before being secured by our troops. Pfc. Currey was involved in the fighting and was awarded the Silver Star for his actions there. He told me that he thought that what he did at Stoumont was more heroic than his actions at Malmédy where he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. The forward elements of the German thrust were finally stopped at Stavelot by the 30th Division.
We were on the road to recovery when word was received that we would be returning back to the area we had left north of Aachen. The move was to be conducted in secrecy. All of our vehicle identification was covered and we removed our shoulder patches from our uniforms. Before we left, Axis Sally (Berlin Betty) broadcast that the 30th Division was moving back to their old stomping grounds north of Aachen. Axis Sally made regular propaganda broadcasts from Berlin and had acquired a special interest in the 30th Division because we had encountered Hitler’s personal SS Division four times and had defeated them each time. She had now begun calling us F.D.R.’s (Franklin D. Roosevelt) SS Division. She once concluded her broadcast with the comment that she didn’t want any of the Old Hickory to get shot during the night so she gave us the password, and she had it right. Most of the broadcasts consisted of sentimental big band music and reminders of how much better it would be to surrender and eventually go home to our girlfriends and that blue serge suit hanging in the closet. She liked to remind us what suckers we were while all of the 4-Fs were making out with our girls back home.
At the height of the European war, brother Jim, the only remaining male in our family attempted several times to enlist but when the recruiter heard that he was the only remaining male in our family he was reprimanded and told to go back home. Jim had two brothers in combat at the time and his enlistment would have depleted the Schneider reserve. While the Battle of the Bulge was being fought he made another attempt at enlisting and he joined the Navy. Although not much time remained before the war in both theaters came to an end, he served some time in the South Pacific on patrol. His ship - probably more correctly classified as a boat - had the name PC (C) 1244. I guess the PC stood for Patrol Craft. Total length was 173 feet and the widest section in the middle was only 18 feet. The crew never feared a Japanese attack because they reasoned that the Japanese would never waste a torpedo on their “Boat.”
THE RHINELAND AGAIN
We returned to our old area and, with our division back up to strength with replacements, we continued our drive toward the Roer River. After experiencing the Bulge, these days seemed easier.
The Germans were not putting up as much resistance and were probably falling back for a more vigorous stand at the Roer River or, beyond the Roer at the Rhine. On February 22 we saw our first German jet fighter. It was a stubby plane flying around no faster than a prop plane. One of our P-47s got on his tail and as he closed in for what he must have thought was a sure kill, the jet pilot opened the throttle and left the P-47 as if standing still in mid air. This area of Germany was still in flat terrain where sugar beet farming and coal mining took place. In our drive we captured the deserted villages of Pier and Inden, Pier being only one mile from the Roer.
The initial attack on the Roer began at 2:45 in the morning of February 23 when all of the guns along a 25-mile stretch began firing a barrage that lasted 45 minutes and described as the biggest barrage on the western front of WW II up to this time. The Roer was crossed and in the second phase of the assault the territory between the Roer and the Rhine was captured. On March the assault was completed and we were moved back to the Belgian-Dutch-German borderland along the Maas River to prepare for the Rhine crossing. We were now back in the 9th Army and the Old Hickory was already chosen to spearhead the 9th Army’s assault crossing of the Rhine. One of the towns we captured west of the Rhine was Jülich. Years later Elaine’s nephew, Louis vandenBosch married a girl from this German town. I don’t remember it as being impressive but today there is a nuclear power plant there.
In preparation for the Rhine crossing all kinds of equipment was being amassed up to the banks of the river. All of the roads in Holland were lined with room-high piles of artillery shells on the shoulders and spaced about 100 feet apart. The Roer crossing had been the smoothest operation the division had yet undertaken and it was hoped that the Rhine would be a repeat performance on a larger scale.
Just before the Rhine crossing I was asked if I would be the driver for our Assistant Battalion Commander, Captain Christy. Captain Christy had already had three drivers shot out from under him, the last having been blown up into a tree by a land mine. The driver lived but he would never drive again, especially in the Army. Surely, after four drivers, the captain’s bad luck must have been over. I accepted the new assignment and for my first assignment I was to drive Capt. Christy to a party being given for our officers. By now we were pretty certain that the Rhine crossing could be the last major battle and we were confident that the war could not last much longer. I was not invited to the party but I managed to steal a bottle of champagne from the Battalion Commander. This was not really a theft in the true sense because we always had plenty of good drinks to fill our canteens. After the cider and calvados in Normandy we had wine, liqueurs and cognac in France and Belgium, wine and gin in Holland and in Germany, anything stolen from these countries.
At the site of our crossing, the Rhine is 1,100 feet wide. We were the northern-most American unit with the British on our immediate left flank. Some British commandos secretly crossed the river before our assault began and were in position only 1,500 yards from the city of Wesel when more than 300 RAF bombers pounded the city for 15 minutes. When the American assault began I was on the levee overlooking the river. At midnight, March 23, almost one month after the crossing of the Roer, every gun opened fire. On the levee there were machine guns and small mortars and behind these small weapons the size of the weapons increased with distance from the river. From the river toward Holland the guns progressed in size from 37 mm antitank guns and heavy mortars, to 76 mm antitank guns and medium tanks, to 105 mm canons, to 105 mm howitzers, to 155 mm howitzers, to 155 mm long toms and in the extreme rear, 8-inch guns. This bombardment that began at midnight surpassed the Roer barrage and continued for three hours. We had been warned ahead of time that the 8-inch guns would fire a new type of artillery shell. This was a projectile with a second or booster charge that would detonate over our heads and propel the projectile a greater distance. This three-hour bombardment was considered the greatest artillery barrage in the history of warfare.
The Rhine crossing was the first assault in which every man was well briefed ahead of time and knew what his special assignment was. We had been shown a three dimensional scale model of the river complete with the levees and terrain on the opposite side. In spite of the preparations the crossing was far from perfect. After the artillery barrage the rifle companies crossed in rubber boats but some of the boats got turned around by currents in midstream and came charging on the banks they had left. The combat engineers were lined up with their rubber, inflated pontoons resting on 2½-ton trucks. The pontoons were longer than the truck bodies and could be carried only by extending one end over the cab and resting the other end on the tailgate. The engineers began assembling the pontoons on our side of the river and, as soon as the far side was secure, pontoons were floated to the far side so that construction could take place from both sides of this 1,100-foot water span and meet in the middle. The engineers did a superb job in constructing the bridge in record time.
By daybreak I was ready to cross with the jeep. Construction on the bridge had barely begun and I crossed in an alligator. This was a vehicle consisting of a self-propelled box in which men or a small vehicle could fit. It resembled a tank without any armament and was propelled in the water with its tracks that also served as propulsion on land. It was now March 24.
Our company set up headquarters in a small village, Gotterswickerhamm, in a house next to the village church a considerable distance from the Rhine. My friend Jack Holum posted guard at the side door of the house and I was talking to him when a group of about 12 German prisoners were herded into the church to be searched. I told Jack that I would see him later and went to the church to help in the search. Before I left him in the doorway he gave me a letter he had written to his mother and asked me to get it to the mail clerk. I asked him why he couldn’t mail it himself and his only answer was that he wanted me to have it in case something happened to him. I tried to explain that chances for me getting hit were as good as his but he insisted and I took the letter. As soon as I reached the church the Germans laid a heavy mortar barrage on us. We took cover in the church and when the barrage ended we continued with the search of the prisoners who were lined up in the church pews. Most of them had only personal items and no weapons. As I was leaving the church a wounded German with a large hole in his head was being carried to our aid station that had set up in a garage across from the church. Our medical officer examined him and said that he could do nothing for him. Our Battalion Medical Officer was Capt. Neiswander from Ohio. After the war, while attending the College of Wooster, I met a student, Judy Neiswander who was the captain’s niece
I returned to the house and found someone at Jack’s post in the doorway. He told me that Jack had been hit in the mortar attack. I looked for him and found him lying in the cellar. His face was covered with a blanket but I recognized his boots protruding from under the cover. None of us had slept for quite a while and I guess I was not thinking too clearly. I kicked his boot and made some remark about sleeping on the job when I realized that if he had been hit he would be with the medics and not asleep with his head covered. A small piece of shrapnel had pierced his heart and he had died instantly. I left him and as I walked up the stairs I was reminded of the letter he had given me to mail only a few minutes ago. I felt for the letter in my pocket to make sure I still had it. I knew I would have to mail the last letter he had written to his mother.
As night came I prepared to spend the night in a nearby barn. As soon as darkness came a German plane flew over with the obvious mission of bombing the pontoon bridge still being constructed. We had concentrated antiaircraft guns in the area and one of the hot tracers that had been fired overhead fell into the haystack in the barn and set fire to the hay. I removed a small fire extinguisher from the jeep and tried to douse the flames. No one else seemed interested in saving the barn but I had two reasons for trying to extinguish the flames. The fire was destroying the place I had selected for my night’s sleep and I didn’t want the light from the fire to light up a target area for German artillery. I was doing quite well in my role as fireman and almost had the fire under control when my meager supply of extinguisher fluid ran out and the barn burned to the ground. I don’t remember where I spent the night.
The next morning, March 25 was Palm Sunday. I was standing in a meadow next to the burned-out barn when an 88 shell went whistling by. I instinctively hit the dirt even though it would have been too late. There was no explosion and I looked up to see little clouds of dust spaced in the path of the projectile as it bounced down the meadow and came to a halt among some kitchen supplies. It was a dud. There was a typical farm gate in the meadow, a gate of perhaps eight feet long and a lieutenant was standing in the middle of the gate opening. At this standing position he was four feet from the gatepost. Between him and the gatepost there was a cloud of dust that identified the initial bounce of the projectile and the spot where the detonation should have taken place. It was two feet from the Lieutenant. We thanked another unknown Polish slave worker for sabotaging another 88.
Just before noon a captured SS touring car and the occupants were brought to our headquarters. The prisoners were brought into the farmhouse for questioning and immediately a swarm of soldiers began searching the staff car. L Company runner Ralph Storm and I stood off a short distance and decided that we would allow these amateurs their turn to search then the experts would take over. They found nothing and walked off. Storm and I then removed the back seat and under the seat we saw in an attaché case in a hidden compartment. We opened the attaché case and lying on top of some personal items there was a brand new Belgian 38 pistol in a shiny brown leather holster. We both reached for it at the same time and I agreed to let Storm have it. I already had a pistol I had removed from a German I had captured. Storm stuck the pistol in his shirt and said that he would hide it until nightfall when he would expose it to the rest of the rifle company runners. He would never have the chance.
Our troops had now moved ahead and we followed. A break had been made in the German line and Capt. Christy told me to take one of the runners with me and return to the rest of our company still at the farmhouse and guide them through the opening. Storm volunteered as well as Ken Bedford who was standing nearby. After a short discussion it was decided that Storm would accompany me. Before we could leave Capt. Christy decided to come along. He sat in the front seat and Storm sat in back over the right wheel. The pontoon bridge was now completed and tanks were rolling across in large numbers. We had already radioed for tanks to assist us in advancing through the break in the German line. As we traveled down a gently slopping gravel road we could see the dust from approaching tanks. As we approached the first tank Storm said his last words, “Beaucoup dust.” The second tank was approaching us and, when it was about 10 feet from us it struck a mine with the outside edge of its left track. Most of the German mines were teller mines and were shaped like a large two-layer cake. These were their most destructive mine, and being made of metal and packed with powerful explosives, they were lethal. These could be detected with mine detectors and the road had been swept by our antitank group and declared clear of mines. The one detonated by the approaching tank was made of plastic and could not be detected with a mine detector. It was an elongated box packed with 10 pounds of explosives and often contained a timer so that several vehicles could pass over it without detonating it then later on it would explode and create disruption perhaps in a rear column. We had traveled this road on our way to the front and had avoided tripping any mine so these obviously had timers on them or else all vehicles had miraculously avoided them.
The tank struck the mine on its far left end and most of the explosion was expended on the roadway. The tank suffered no damage and never slowed down. Antitank mines were not necessarily designed to destroy tanks. To disable a tank by blowing off or damaging one of its tracks was the purpose of a mine. By thus disabling movement of the tank it became a sitting duck for an antitank gun to finish it off. My first reaction from the explosion 10 feet away was to stop but before I could react I had progressed to a line in the road where a string of mines had been laid. I hit one with the right rear wheel and was blown over the steering wheel and to the left front. Capt. Christy was blown straight forward and landed about 75 feet away. He was killed outright. Storm landed half way between Capt. Christy and the wreckage and had one leg completely blown off. He had been sitting directly over the blast. I saw him sitting in the road holding his stubby thigh while still conscious. Our medics had set up our aid station in a farmhouse only a few yards away. They looked up at the sound of the first explosion just in time to see us detonate the second mine. They later told me that they saw me take off over the steering wheel and into the air like a toy balloon. They reached Storm in a fraction of a minute but were unable to save him. An ambulance at the aid station rushed him to a field hospital but he died before reaching the hospital. The medics carried me to the aid station and gave me a bottle of wine while they patched me up and waited for another ambulance. Other than having my back badly bruised I survived in pretty good shape. I had cuts and scratches on my arms and head and my face was peppered with sand grains and gravel from the road. The concussion had blown off my helmet and my hair had taken a sand shampoo and was standing on end. My watch was stopped at 1:41 PM and the day was Palm Sunday. I’m sure that my mother was praying for me about the same time back in Ohio. For the next few days I felt like I had been run over by a garbage truck. Almost at the impact of the mine I realized that I was wounded and a strange thought came to mind. I remembered having studied Shakespeare in high school and recalling one of the lines - I think it’s from As You Like It - when the king receives a message from one of his runners informing him that his son had been killed in battle. The first question the king asked was, “Was the fatal wound in the front or in the back?” He wanted to know if his son had died facing the enemy or was he in retreat. I was hoping that at least some of my wounds would be in the front!
While waiting for the ambulance I began to realize the reality of the event that had occurred during the last few minutes. If I had been three or four seconds earlier at the scene I would have been blown into the path of the oncoming tank and been crushed. The providential timing had placed me directly behind the moving tank. I also lucked out on a one out of four chance. The right rear wheel was the wheel diagonally farthest away from me. A detonation by any of the other three wheels would surely have resulted in my demise. While contemplating these possibilities another tank set off a third mine in much the same manner as the first tank and likewise suffered no damage. By now we had a group of German prisoners probing for the rest of the mines. They found eight more and it was believed that a total of twelve had been laid. So, with three already detonated and eight more found one more laid buried in the roadway. Our Battalion Commander was not too happy for having lost his assistant. He gave orders that the prisoners should be shot by the guards if the last mine was detonated by one of our vehicles before found by the prisoners. I doubt if the order was serious and apparently the last mine was discovered because the prisoners lived but they would plant no more mines. The letter from Jack that I had in my shirt pocket was discovered by the medics and mailed to his mother. After the war I found out that she had received it. The medics kept the pistol that Storm had concealed under his shirt.
I was taken to a forward hospital located near the pontoon bridge across the Rhine. It must have been a MASH hospital. I was placed on a cot inside a large tent and was quite comfortable. Nurses and doctors checked me and x-rays were taken of many parts of my body. The first night in the tent a German plane flew over the hospital on his way to bomb the bridge. Antiaircraft guns were well positioned to protect the bridge and dense fire brought down the German. Most of the hospital staff had gone outside to watch the fireworks and returned to announce that the plane had been hit over the hospital and that the pilot had bailed out. Within a few minutes he was brought into the hospital with a sprained ankle and placed in a cot next to me. This must have been a first for some of the medics because they gathered around the downed pilot and removed insignia from his uniform for souvenirs. The pilot didn’t seem to mind since the war was now over for him.
Our break in the German line was effective and our troops were moving fast enough to justify a forward move for the hospital. Many who hear of the subsequent event find it hard to believe but every word is true. The hospital would be moving only bed-confined patients. Anyone considered ambulatory would have to go. Like I said earlier I felt like I had been run over by a garbage truck but I was considered ambulatory. It was the hospital’s recommendation that I go to a replacement pool and wait for an assignment to another unit. I didn’t want to leave the Old Hickory. The other option was that I could walk out of the hospital and try to find my own way back to my company. It didn’t look like anyone really cared what I did. I chose the second option and wandered outside the hospital where I found one of the regiment’s ambulances about to depart for our area at the front. The driver agreed to haul me to his destination and delivered me directly to my company. When I arrived my buddies were surprised to see me. They had heard that I had received a million dollar wound. A million dollar wound was one bad enough to get you home but not a crippling wound with the loss of a limb, sight or other serious organ destruction. The best kind of wound was a deep flesh wound like getting a big hunk of flesh removed from the rear end where no vital organs were involved and would take a long time to heal. This might sound kind of weird, but the longer that one was in combat the less your chances were for survival. A common wish was for a million dollar wound.
There was quite a bit of activity going on when I arrived at our company headquarters. The Germans were laying a lot of artillery on us and my buddies took special care of me. They bedded me under the kitchen sink of the house in which they were staying and would not let me venture from my relatively safe shelter under the sink. They even brought rations to me.
Because of our rapid advancement we were now motorized for the most part and had the rifle companies riding in 2½-ton trucks. During the last month of the war resistance was light. When I rejoined my company we were five miles east of where I had been hit. From this area around Hunxe to our final objective Magdeburg, a distance of approximately 425 miles was covered in 13 days. During this time we liberated many prisoners of war and civilians were everywhere either fleeing or trying to get home. The major cities captured in this drive were Detmold, Hameln, Hannover, Braunschweig and Magdeburg. After the war when Germany was divided into East and West all of these were in West Germany except Magdeburg, the nearest of these to Berlin. Hameln is the city where the fabled piper piped the rats out of the city. For the benefit of the press, this fable was reenacted with an American soldier holding his rifle to his mouth to represent a flute. Behind him a large group of German prisoners with their hands above their heads followed him out of town. The piper was leading the rats. Hannover is now a large, modern industrial city. World trade fairs are held here regularly.
The most memorable of these is Detmold. In Detmold we found a four-story warehouse full of wines and liqueurs mostly from France, Belgium and Holland. We could not pass by this cache without availing ourselves of some of this treasure. After all, all had been taken from the French, the Belgians and the Dutch. We decided to rearrange our trucks by crowding the troops a bit. This freed three empty trucks to carry our newly liberated drinks. Shortly after taking Detmold we captured a small village in which there was a sawmill engaged in the manufacture of boxes for German artillery shells. No one had told them that their boxes would no longer be needed so they were busily assembling these nice boxes with dovetail joints and rope handles. We helped ourselves to these containers in order to repack the drinks so that they would not be noticeable in the trucks. These artillery shell boxes were loaded on to our jeeps as high as we could pile them and someone rode along to steady the top-heavy loads. The boxes were taken to a farming community where we had stopped for a few days. When we moved on we left the drinks, the boxes, three trucks and a detail of six men to repack the bottles and reload them into the trucks. This was done by layering each box with a bed of hay from the haymow then cushioning three or four bottles with more hay then nailing the box shut. The boxes were loaded on to the trucks and reached to a height above the truck cabs. This treasured little convoy caught up with us and followed at a safe distance for the remainder of the war. While working on the packing in the barn’s haystack the procedure was to reach into the haystack and retrieve a handful of hay as needed for the next operation. This shortly became an assembly line routine and as one of the men on the detail reached for a handful of hay he latched on to a German soldier’s hand. He uncovered a soldier hiding in the hay. Other than being scared to death the German was almost starved. He was taken prisoner and given food but none of our precious cache.
It was not uncommon near the end of the war for German soldiers to discard their uniforms and blend in with the locals in civilian clothes. While searching a barn I uncovered a complete SS uniform hidden in a haystack. As I uncovered the uniform I had a strange feeling that the one who had previously worn this uniform was hiding and in the barn and observing my every move. A thorough search of the barn failed to reveal any such potential danger.
The race for Berlin was now on and Germans were willing to surrender. Although a final desperate defense had been expected on the fatherland most Germans felt that they were defeated and surrenders prevailed over defense. It was said that in our drive when many of the German troops were bypassed, all one had to do was fire a shot into the air and soldiers behind you as well as in front of you would appear with their hands in the air. Ammunition was not desperately needed and many of the trucks were being used to transport displaced persons and our freed prisoners of war. There is no count of the number of these people but on May 8 at the end of the war our division had on hand 47,690 displaced persons and 15,926 Allied prisoners.
The agreement among the Allies on the western front called for the Russians to capture Berlin and the linkup between American and Russian forces would be at the Elbe River. The first Americans accredited with the contact with the Russians at the Elbe River were my old platoon I had trained with in the States, the I and R Platoon of the 273 Infantry Regiment of the 69th Division. The much-publicized picture of the troops of the two sides shaking hands at the Elbe River shows a former comrade of the platoon that I had left behind at Camp Shelby. The Russians were in no hurry to capture Magdeburg, as their prize was Berlin. We finally made contact on May 4 on the Elbe River.
We were quite sure that the war for us was now over and on the evening of May 7 it was rumored that it would all be officially over at midnight. This called for a celebration. There was no special shouting or firing of weapons into the air. It was more of a somber time to give thanks and remember those who had not made it.
Our company was in a northwest suburb of Magdeburg called Barleben. This area was in good condition and we found decent living quarters in abandoned homes. Because of my wounds, I had been doing very little since the Rhine crossing. Resistance had not been strong and most of our activity was just moving forward. Now that the end of the war was in sight discipline became stricter and more of the regular Army regulations were being applied. I was acting as dispatcher for our remaining vehicles and busied myself by writing various unnecessary reports for Division Headquarters. I had learned during the Bulge that our Motor Sergeant could not write so now I began preparing official-looking reports for him to sign and forward to division. During the Bulge he had been asked to apply for a 2nd Lieutenant rating. Acceptance would have meant a short training period then off to a rifle company. Even though he couldn’t write, Sgt. Brantley was no dummy. He had fairly good duty as Motor Sergeant and wanted to stay where he was rather than lead a rifle platoon. Someone kept putting pressure on him to fill out an application and it was then that I realized that he couldn’t write. I read the questions to him and filled in the questionnaire blanks for him. I believe that his illiteracy was discovered and the attempt to promote him to a line officer’s job was scrapped. An old German typewriter on the dining room table in the house of my quarters was used to submit insignificant reports every week. I would submit tabulations of mileage records for each of our vehicles together with gasoline consumption, oil changes, maintenance etc. Brantley thought that these were great and each week he labored to sign the reports and send them on. This farce was like an incident I later saw in a movie or TV program. In an attempt to create work and keep his job a company clerk in the Army began preparing a report similar to the ones I had created and began sending weekly bogus reports of the sheets of toilet paper that had been consumed. After a couple of weeks he discontinued the reports and he received a note from headquarters inquiring as to where the toilet paper reports were.
Just before the war ended I was asked to go with a truck driver to the banks of the Elbe River and pick up some prisoners. The Germans were crossing the river in droves to surrender to us rather than to the Russians. We were instructed to take these to the prisoner of war camp. We had more prisoners than we wanted but we could not very well refuse to accept them and return them across the river to the advancing Russians. We had a 2½-ton truck with a canvass top, I carried a Thompson submachine gun (Tommy Gun) and the driver had a 45 pistol. We drove through the cleared streets of Magdeburg. Magdeburg was a city of approximately 300,000 inhabitants and was reduced to rubble. The city is located about 100 kilometers west-southwest of Berlin and was in our bombers’ path on their way to Berlin. Consequently the city had been heavily fortified with antiaircraft guns to intercept the bombers before they reached Berlin. Our 8th Air force flyers who bombed Berlin all remember Magdeburg because of the heavy antiaircraft fire they encountered in the skies over the city.
When we arrived on the banks of the Elbe the waiting Germans piled on to the truck until it was full. The driver then asked me where the prisoner of war camp was. I told him that I didn’t know; I had thought that he knew the location. One of the Germans, a young officer, heard our conversation and spoke to us in English. He said that he knew where the camp was and offered to direct us there. Considering the willingness of our prisoners to surrender we trusted them and followed our guide’s instructions. It was now dark but he efficiently navigated us through streets cleared of rubble and brought us to a large warehouse that was indeed our POW camp. We thanked him, turned over our prisoners to the camp guards and returned to Barleben.
In 1975 while working North Sea oil for Texaco in London, Elaine and I made a business trip to Hamburg and Weitze, Germany. Weitze is a small village north of Hannover and west of Celle. Texaco had recently bought the largest German oil-producing company and to appease the Germans we built a research laboratory in Weitze. This was chosen as the site for the laboratory because of the proximity to a location where the Germans claim that the first oil well in the world had been drilled. Of course, we know that Captain Drake drilled the first oil well in the world in Titusville, Pennsylvania! The laboratory in Weitze was staffed with “Herr Doktor Professor” type of personnel who walked around in white lab coats with their hands clasped behind their backs while contemplating their research. One of the researchers was a young paleontologist named Dr. Plumhoff. While he examined foraminifera in well samples he remarked that doing paleontology was more interesting than fighting the war. He looked too young to have been in the Army so when I questioned him he explained that near the end of the war he was 15 years old and was conscripted to serve in the Army. He had been in Magdeburg and when the Russians approached he and his comrades planted their rifles in the bank on the Elbe River and crossed to the other side where he was picked up at night by the Americans and delivered to a POW camp. His story brought back memories of 30 years ago and after I recalled my experience to him he said, “I think you are the one who picked me up!”
My quarters in Barleben were on the ground floor of a house in a courtyard that contained enough additional buildings for our vehicles and a shop for use in conducting the maintenance. Next to the courtyard there was a four-story apartment building. Pete Perez had found a nice little apartment completely furnished with china and crystal in a quaint dining room. Being confident that our war was over I joined him at the dining table to celebrate. He had a bottle of cognac and I had a bottle of champagne. With the beautiful lead crystal glasses we began toasting our buddies who had not made it. A toast of champagne was followed by one of cognac and the little ceremony continued with alternate toasts of the drinks until both bottles were almost empty. Pete decided that he wanted something to eat so I invited him to my quarters where I could fix some food. I had found a portion of smoked ham and had conned one of our cooks out of a pound of butter. We planned to fry some potatoes to supplement the ham. When we opened the door to the house we were greeted by the sound of music and singing coming from another room. We located the source of the sound where we found someone by the name of Sparks (from Cincinnati) playing a guitar and a harmonica strapped to his mouth. He was quite good but it became apparent that I could not stay here very long. Don’t drink cognac and champagne together, at least in large amounts in one half hour! I made my way to my room where I had a sofa for my bed and said bye-bye for the night. One of our mechanics from our motor pool was sitting at the German typewriter typing a letter to his mother. This mechanic’s name was “Tarpan”. He was a muscular character who had to be supervised whenever he worked on an engine to prevent him from shearing off head bolts with his brute strength. He helped put me to bed and I said, “Never Again.” The next day it was announced that the war was officially over and the bottles that we had been hauling in the three trucks were distributed. This time Pete and I didn’t perform a repeat performance of the night before. Our toasts were taken in moderation.
Within one day we were on the move again. This time it was to an area near the Hartz Mountains about 60 kilometers southwest of Magdeburg. Our company settled in a village called Osterwieck. After the division of Germany into East and West, Osterwieck was five kilometers east of the boundary line and unfortunately in East Germany. This was a quiet little village fairly isolated from others in the countryside and we spent a leisure month here enjoying the warm weather and peace.
After a month in Osterwieck we moved farther south to the southernmost part of what became East Germany. This is the area where West Germany, East Germany and Czechoslovakia met Our battalion settled in Auerbach, a pretty area not damaged by bombing but the citizens were in bad need of food. We took over a large social club or hall for our kitchen and for the cost of a meal we had an orchestra with musicians dressed in tuxedos playing for our meals. We had to post guards on the garbage cans to keep the locals from raiding them. If they could get access to one of the cans they would reach into the garbage and grab a handful of whatever they could. In spite of the near-starvation condition of the Auerbach citizens they were arrogant and argumentative, saying that we had to admit that their panzers were better than ours. Auerbach was in the area where the panzers were amassed for the German drive into Czechoslovakia. We stayed in an apartment building that had a dentist’s office on the second floor. We used the dentist chair for a barber chair and for the price of a couple of cigarettes we could get a shave and a haircut from a starving barber. I had second thoughts about getting a shave and haircut when I was pretty much confined to the dentist’s chair and the German barber approached my lathered face with his sharply honed, straight razor!
Our Battalion Commander, Major Chris McCullough, thought that it was time to visit his Russian counterpart. There was a corridor several miles wide between us and the Russians and this zone was not occupied by any of our respective troops. There were mostly homeless persons and displaced persons in addition to some small groups of lost soldiers. We called this zone “No man’s land”. Major McCullough sent his best scrounger through the surrounding countryside in search of the best vehicle he could find. The scrounger returned with a black Mercedes Limousine in excellent condition. The major planted an American flag on the right front fender and asked the motor pool to find the four remaining jeeps that were in the best condition, clean and with the fewest number of bullet holes. The best we could find were prepared for his inspection. There was to be one person to accompany each driver. One of the drivers didn’t want to go so I volunteered to take his place. Our jeeps were not at the same standard as the Mercedes but the major was pleased. Our little caravan took off through the corridor we called no mans land and reached the outposts of the Russians. The guards greeted all of us with snappy salutes regardless of our ranks. The major had with him one of our men who could speak Polish and a little Russian. The rest of us had to rely on sign language and whatever other help we might get from another Polish-speaking soldier with us. We entered the village in which the Russians were quartered; driving beneath a canopy of red flags draped from the second story windows of the houses on both sides of the street. The Russian general in charge had taken over the largest house in the village and, on the grounds of the house; Russian soldiers were lounging in the sun. The major went into the house and the rest of us tried to make conversation with the soldiers. They were interested in trading for our watches. The bigger the watches were and the more noise they made the more they wanted them. While we were negotiating with them a dirty American jeep drove up with a general and a small boy dressed in a uniform identical with the general’s. A tough-looking female soldier drove the jeep. The soldiers who were sunning themselves paid no attention to the arriving general. The general did not appreciate the casual reception he was getting and began chewing them out for not snapping to when he drove up. This reprimand prompted a wave of saluting from his loyal subjects and to cover all bases we joined in the saluting. The general was satisfied and entered the house.
We soon made friends with a young lieutenant who was conversing with our Polish-speaking American. The Russians had no vehicles except for the American jeep and a German car that some of the soldiers had found and were joy riding in town. They handled the vehicle as if it was the first time they had ever driven. Whenever they turned a corner they blew the horn. Horses pulled all the artillery we saw. We asked our new friends if they wanted to take a ride. They were quite modest and reluctant to accept our offer but when the lieutenant agreed we immediately had our jeeps overflowing with soldiers. With Russian boots dangling from the jeeps we drove through the countryside and came to a quaint village that appeared deserted on this warm Sunday morning. A lone old man walking with a cane was asked where we could get some beer. He understood our simple question in broken German, “Ver ist bier?” He pointed to a tavern in our path. We all had beer and after a few drinks the two who could converse through a combination of broken English, Russian and Polish words decided that they should have some vodka. The bar maid assured them that there was no vodka but they didn’t believe her and went on a search throughout the tavern. They returned empty handed and had more beer. A second search for vodka failed and they accepted the bar maid’s denial of any vodka on the premise. Before leaving we thought that the Russians would just get up and leave. Instead, they insisted in paying for the beers. The bill was paid from thick wads of Russian occupation money that was probably of no value to the German tavern keeper.
We returned to the Russian compound and were asked if we were hungry. We said that we were and a messenger was sent to the mess hall to have the cooks prepare some food for us. The mess hall was in a private home adjoining the general’s quarters and the food was served in the dining room of the building. Leaves were permanently installed in the table so that a group as large as ours together with our hosts could be seated comfortably. The table was covered with a tablecloth that exhibited more soup stains than clean spots. First, we were served black bread and a thick rice soup. We thought that the soup would constitute the entire meal but it was followed with a plate of ground meat and rice. Whenever we ran out of food the waiter would fill our plates with another helping. The waiter was a Mongolian who insisted on wearing his garrison cap that was a few shades cleaner than the apron he wore. His uniform was in style and matched the tablecloth. After filling our plates he would salute us with a broad grin and we would return the salute with a couple of cigarettes. The main course was followed with rice pudding. The entire meal was tasty and hearty and we certainly got our monthly ration of rice. The major completed his visit, we took a few pictures and the small caravan crossed no man’s land back to Auerbach.
There were several textile mills in Auerbach and one of the mills had been engaged in making parachutes. There were hundreds of bolts of silk, nylon and rayon in the mill and the battalion commander saw the silk as war material and found it fitting to confiscate. Each man in the battalion received a bolt as spoils of the war. Each bolt was one meter wide and 100 meters or more long. I received what I called “enlisted man’s silk” because I’m sure that it was rayon and not very valuable. I didn’t feel like carrying such a large bundle all of the way home so I sold mine for $50.00 and an Army-issue watch. Some of the men unrolled the bolt and refolded it so that it was made into a bundle that could be sent home. Others discarded most of their possessions and carried the folded loot in their duffle bags. The silk story does not end here and resurfaces when we begin our journey back across Europe with a stop for a short time in France.
While we were in Auerbach we were given the opportunity to visit a concentration camp. We boarded a truck and we were driven to a camp that I believe was Buchenwald but I’m not positive of its identity. Regardless of the name of the camp, it typified these death camps that proliferated throughout Nazi-dominated Europe. The entrance had the arched wrought iron entrance with the words “ ARBEIT MACHT FREI,” translated, “Work makes you free.” We witnessed a sanitized version of the real horror and the former inmates were now truly free because there were none in the camp. Freedom had come to others in the gas chamber. The furnaces in which the bodies were burned were located below the large room where the inmates were gassed. The men, women and children were herded into the large room under the pretense of getting a shower. Once inside, the doors were secured and gas was emitted through the false showerheads. When all were dead a duty detail wearing gas masks would enter the room and proceed to send the bodies downstairs to the furnaces. This was by means of a trap door and a chute down which the bodies could roll and slide to the workers below. Before being placed in the furnaces, the bodies were laid on a table and given a last examination in search of any jewelry and gold teeth. These treasures were removed and the body went into the roaring furnace. At times the bodies piled up faster than the burn detail could examine them so this was efficiently handled by hanging the bodies on meat hooks attached to the ceiling. There the bodies hanged until examined for jewelry and gold.
During our stay in Auerbach we received word that the division was to be redeployed to the Pacific. Before going to the Pacific Theater we were to be given a home leave. I still ached from the wound I had received in March and could not have been able to perform under any more battle conditions. We were not currently participating in any strenuous activity and I had a release from our Battalion Medical Officer permitting only light duty. My plan was to endure the difficult conditions we might experience on the way home then, once in the States, I would request hospitalization if my recovery was not satisfactory.
It was now the first part of July and we began our trek toward the French ports on the English Channel for embarkation to England and/or the USA. Our first move took us to an area midway between Frankfort and Heidelberg. I had corresponded with my brother René and knew that he was in a town called Sinsheim located only about 15 kilometers southeast of Heidelberg. We had turned in almost all of our jeeps and were traveling by truck. One of our officers heard that my brother was nearby and provided me with a jeep and driver and sent us in search of him in Sinsheim. The driver, John Conlee and a friend Wally Corpella and I found Sinsheim and René nestled in a picturesque town with a resort atmosphere. I hadn’t seen my brother since he had left for the service in June 1942. We had a nice short visit and we returned to our camp area. The officer was surprised to see me because he had intended for me to spend the night in Sinsheim. He said that we were not ready to move on and I could return the next day and spend the night there. The next day John Conlee returned me to Sinsheim and promised to return for me the next day. When evening came we decided to attend a movie in the local theater that had been taken over by René’s unit. While standing in line I met several of René’s friends who insisted that we forego the movie and celebrate our reunion with a drink. We adjourned to the local tavern where drinks of white wine began to line up in formation in front of me. We were all working on the drinks when I decided to go to the bathroom. Somewhere along the way I met one of my new buddies and instead of returning to our group we walked up the hill to René’s quarters. This was a small hospital or sanatorium with very comfortable accommodations. I sacked out on a cot that had been prepared for me and I fell fast asleep. René was relieved to find me but pretty disturbed that I had left without notifying him. There were still some die hard Nazis in civilian clothes who were occasionally taking shots at wandering Americans and he feared that his little brother had run into one of them. All was forgiven and John showed up on schedule and we returned to our camp. René would be following only a few days behind me, passing through many of the same facilities as I. He appeared on the farm while I was on an extended leave.
The next move was made by my only wartime train ride in Europe. For redeployment and embarkation purposes the Army had established camps in the Reims area of France and another group nearer the ports of embarkation. The camps in the Reims area were named after American cities and those near the ports were named after cigarettes. Our camp was Camp Oklahoma City. This was a tent camp and because of the summer weather it was quite comfortable. After settling down in our designated tents, leaves were given to Paris. Some of the first to get leaves were also some of the most enterprising characters. They carried with them the 100-meter bundles of silk they had carried from Auerbach. The fashion designers of Paris had been without decent cloth for several years and were anxious to buy something as rare and prized as silk or even an imitation like rayon. A bolt would bring anywhere from $1,000.00 to $1,200.00 with no questions asked. There were no real restrictions on the black market yet and French currency could be taken to the Bank of France and exchanged for money orders in US dollars. Considering that the silk was not military property and thus the property of the government I guess that these transactions would not have been considered black market.
Word of these initial silk sales quickly reached the battalion commander who then feared that there might be some repercussions concerning his confiscation from the German mill. He ordered that all silk should be turned in and anyone caught with silk would be sent directly to the Pacific Theater. This order and the threat for shipment to another war zone were sufficient for a house-high pile of silk to grow at the designated collection point. Some who had planned to give the silk to their mothers or girl friends who could fashion it into wedding dresses were not too pleased with the order. I saw some destroy the entire bolt with several jabs from their bayonets before throwing the prize on the pile.
It didn’t take long for the cloth-starved designers of Paris to turn white silk into flowing gowns in striking bright colors. Overnight the clubs were featuring their chorus girls dancing in creations from “Old Hickory” silk. The rumor in camp was that the Parisians recognized our shoulder patch and referred to us as the silk merchants.
A few of the risk-takers who had access to one of the remaining few vehicles hung on to their silk. An enterprising New Yorker in our company had realized the value of the silk. He made an agreement with our motor pool sergeant who was in charge of our only two surviving jeeps and the two managed to hide several bolts. It was no problem for the sergeant to issue a trip ticket to Paris. Guards at the camp gate checked the trip ticket and waved them on without inspecting the cargo covered with a canvas tarp. In Paris they made contact with a tailor near the Gar Du Nord. In case they were being watched, they put on a little performance in front of the tailor's shop that was located at a street corner. The sergeant would drop off his partner in front of the shop and shake hands as if he were going on leave for a couple of days. The duffel bags of silk were carried inside and the sergeant would drive around the corner where the partner would exit the tailor shop minus his bags and a pocket full of French Francs. A quick trip to the Bank of France converted the francs into US money orders.
For those still holding on to their silk it was getting more risky and means of disposing it had to be found before we moved on. One of the officers who had managed to keep three bolts hidden conveniently remembered that I spoke French and asked if I would help him. We got a jeep and driver, got a phony trip ticket and left camp with me sitting on six bolts of silk. Three bolts belonged to the officer and the other three were those of an officer friend. It was after lunch and Paris was too distant to attempt in daylight so we made out the trip ticket to Reims. In Reims we looked for the most prosperous department store in the city and made our choice. Leaving the driver with the jeep, the Lieutenant and I entered the store and I asked to see the manager. We were escorted to one of the top floors where we were introduced to an immaculately dressed gentleman with fresh red rose in his boutonniere. He asked what he could do for us and I replied that he could do nothing for us; we were here to do something for him. I announced the purpose of our visit and he was immediately interested in our proposition but he became suspicious. He wanted a bill of sale to indicate that the silk was not stolen. We assured him that we could produce such a document if he so desired. We then negotiated on the price and he stood firm on a figure per bolt that would amount to approximately $1,000.00 per bolt. We told him that it was not enough and we left on good terms with a handshake.
The lieutenant asked me if I had ever been to Paris and I said that I had seen the Eiffel Tower from 20 miles away and that was my familiarity with the city. He had never been there either but we decided to chance it. It was late afternoon and time was running out to make the run into Paris and find a buyer. We altered the trip ticket to now read Paris instead of Reims and took off for Paris 140 kilometers away.
It was late afternoon when we arrived at the outskirts of Paris. Neither of us had any concept of the lay of the city. We found our way to Pigalle on the north side and soon discovered that we were in an area off limits to American servicemen. We parked the jeep in an alley and left the driver on guard as the two of us began walking the streets in search of a contact. Around the corner from the alley there was a butcher shop with an open door but no meat on display in the shop window. We decided that it might be a front for some illegitimate business and made our way into the shop. Once inside we were confronted by the proprietor with whom I struck up a conversation. We got right to the point of discussing our business proposition. He told us that our merchandise was not in line with his business but said that he might help us find a buyer. He escorted us to a back room where he picked up a black book with listings of his contacts that were obviously involved in the black market. His wife appeared and began helping him narrow down the possible contacts. It appeared that each of his friends dealt in a specific black market item. He began making telephone calls without having any luck. I remember his wife saying as he dialed one of his contacts, “No, not Pierre. He deals in furniture only.” After several unsuccessful telephone calls he apologized for not having any success and we left from a rear door that exited into the alley.
We made our way back to the main street where I began searching for another likely contact. A middle-aged man with bright red hair was leaning against a lamppost and gave the appearance of someone up to no good. I approached him and began making small talk. He said that he was Belgian but had been living in Paris for some time. When I told him that we had some silk for sale and were looking for a buyer he invited us to a nearby tavern to discuss our proposal over a drink. We shared a bottle of wine and, after hearing more details, he said that he knew someone who might be interested. We left the tavern and followed him to a small family-run hotel. We met the proprietor and his wife who said that they would be interested in examining the silk. The lieutenant traced his steps to the jeep hidden in the alley while I continued our conversation about the silk. The officer returned with one bolt for the potential buyers to examine. They were pleased with the quality of the product and agreed to pay the equivalent of $1,000.00 in French francs for each bolt. This was the same offer as we had received from the department store in Reims. It was getting late and it looked like we would probably not improve on the price if we chose to wander more streets of this off-limits area. The officer said that he would sell his three bolts but he wanted his partner’s approval before selling the other three. He was told that he could return the next day and the price agreed upon would still apply. The couple’s teen-age son ran across the street and returned with the equivalent of $3,000.00 in French francs. We shook hands to consummate the deal and prepared to depart when our red headed contact man began making trouble. He demanded his commission for his part in the transaction. He had not mentioned a commission before and I told him that he was obviously part of the group and that he should get his commission from the buyers. He got pretty nasty and began objecting in a raised voice that carried into the street. I calmed him down and said that I had a solution. We had told the buyers that each bolt contained 100 meters of silk but I was aware that most bolts actually contained a few meters more than the advertised 100 meters. I asked the buyers if they would agree to pay the contact man for every meter in excess of the 100 meters. This could be prorated at a price per meter or $1,000.00 divided by 100. “Red” could get $10.00 for each meter beyond 100. The couple agreed to my proposition and retrieved a meter stick from the back room. They proceeded to unravel the bolt one meter at a time. After unraveling 100 meters there still remained silk on the bolt. The next two bolts went through the same unraveling procedure. Red was satisfied that he would get some compensation. We all shook hands and departed from Paris. It was late at night when we reached Camp Oklahoma City. We passed through the gate with the three remaining bolts still concealed beneath a tarp and I assume that a return trip in the morning resulted in the consummation of another sale with the approval of the owner of the remaining silk. This concluded my adventure in the silk market. My share was a “Thank You” from the officer.
Two or three days later I was given a pass to Paris so I was able to see Paris legitimately. In gratitude for their liberation, the Parisians granted anyone in an American uniform free access to the Metro (Subway) and busses. I quickly learned to ride the Metro to a station of my choice. I would emerge from the station, survey the attractions, then return below ground and move on to another station where new sights were seen. I quickly got my bearings in Paris by recognizing familiar features such as the Eiffel Tower, The Arch of Triumph, Sacré Coeur and Notre Dame.
Back in Camp Oklahoma City I saw a USO show with the only well-known performer I saw perform at any USO show during my entire career in the Army. Watching TV programs today one gets the idea that we were regularly entertained by the popular stars of the day. This is not the story you get from the average infantryman who was on line. This one well-known performer I saw was Jane Froman a popular singer who miraculously survived a plane crash in the States. She performed while on crutches and obviously in pain. I always had a certain admiration for her and her determination to entertain us. She married the pilot who had also survived the crash of the ill-fated plane and I never saw her again.
After a week in Oklahoma City we moved closer to the coast and were stationed in one of another set of camps named after cigarettes. Our camp was called Camp Lucky Strike.
This was again a short stay and in a few days we were on our way to Le Havre, the French port city on the mouth of the Seine River. American bombers had destroyed the city and the port; most of the destruction having been done needlessly after the Germans had abandoned the city. We walked through blocks of rubble to reach our transport ship tied up at the partially repaired docks.
When we left the shores of continental Europe we left 3,736 from our division in the American Military Cemeteries. The total number of battle casualties for the 30th Division was 17,691. This represents the numbers of killed and wounded in battle. In addition we had 8,347 non-battle casualties. The combined total for these categories is 26,038. This figure translates to a turnover of personnel at 184.8%. The number of days in combat was 282. We left knowing that we had done more than our share in the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Germany. Forty years later when we had our 40th anniversary of the liberation of Europe we were told on our last day of the remembrance in Maastricht that, after the war, General Eisenhower commissioned a group of 35 historical officers who studied records of the war in Europe to evaluate the infantry divisions and the armored divisions in two separate groups. They were instructed to select the top five divisions in each group. The 30th Division was among the top five infantry divisions. After having been provided with this evaluation, General Eisenhower then asked them to further rate these top five. The 30th Division was rated number one. Considering the number of excellent divisions operating in the European Theater this ranking is a most coveted honor. Each person who served in the division can be proud of the Old Hickory. The report from Colonel S.L.A. Marshall, GSC, the Historian of the European Theater of Operation is printed in its entirety as follows:
16 March 1946
Dear General Hobbs:
Now that I am leaving the service, I thought it might be well to give you the following information for whatever satisfaction you might derive therefrom.
I was historian of the ETO. Toward the end of last fall, for the purpose of breaking the log-jam of paper concerning division presidential unit citations, General Eisenhower instructed me to draw up a rating sheet on the divisions. This entailed in the actual processing that we had to go over the total work of all the most experienced divisions, infantry and armor, and report back to him which divisions we considered had performed the most efficient and consistent battle service.
We so did, and we named certain infantry divisions in the first category and the same with armor, and we placed others in a second category and yet others in a third. The 30th was among five divisions in the first category.
However, we picked the 30th Division No. 1 on the list of first category divisions. It was the combined judgment of the approximately 35 historical officers who had worked on records in the field that the 30th had merited this distinction. It was our finding that the 30th had been outstanding in three operations and that we could consistently recommend it for citation in any one of these three occasions. It was further found that it had in no single instance performed discreditably or weakly when considered against the averages of the Theater and that in no single operation had it carried less than its share of the burden or looked bad when compared with the forces on its flanks. We were especially impressed with the fact that it had consistently achieved results without undue wastage of men.
I do not know whether further honors will come to the 30th. I hope they do. For we had to keep looking at the balance of things always and we felt that the 30th was the outstanding infantry division of the ETO.
/s/ S.L.A. Marshall
Colonel S.L.A. Marshall, GCS
Historian of ETO
As a result of Colonel Marshall’s study it was recommended that the 30th Infantry Division be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Although several units within the division had received the citation the division as a whole had not received it No other division had received the citation either. It would have been a unique honor for any division to be thusly honored. Having been recommended for the citation, all responsible persons approved the award to the 30th. These recommendations and approvals reached all of the way to Washington and General George Marshall who denied the award. General Marshall had anticipated that the recommendation for a Presidential Unit Citation would be for a regular army like the 1st or 4th Divisions. The 30th was a National Guard division originally from North Carolina and Tennessee and the unit award to the “Old Hickory” would have been an embarrassment to the regular army. Veterans of the “Old Hickory” continue to petition the President to award us this honor.
Our ship to the coast of England was an American ship called the Sea Wolf. Before boarding we didn’t know whether we would be going to the Pacific, the USA or to England. The size of the ship and our lack of proper equipment suggested that the destination would be England. After a choppy voyage we docked in Southampton and were driven to a camp a few miles west or northwest of London. This was a permanent camp much like the one we had left from more than a year earlier. The buildings were red brick and comfortable but I can’t recall anything about the mess facilities. Our building was alongside a camp railroad on which a cute little switch engine traveled. The engineer would blow his shrill whistle at us as a gesture of a salute. While waiting for the next move the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and a few days later the war against Japan was over. After we received the news of the bombing I was given a one-day pass to London. A friend and I took in a movie in Piccadilly Square and when we exited the theater there was shouting and excitement on the streets. We were told that the Japanese had surrendered. I thought it would be a good idea to go to Buckingham Palace where the Royal Family would surely make an announcement from the Palace balcony. We milled around with thousands of others who obviously had the same idea as we had but no Royal Family appeared and we returned to camp.
On August 15, the Japanese surrendered officially and the next day we began boarding the Queen Mary in Southampton for our journey home. The paper work had been done for our passage on the Queen Mary and for a short home leave before departing for the Pacific. Had the preparations not already been made I’m sure we would have remained in England longer. During the war the Queen Mary had avoided using the port of Southampton because of the vulnerability to German air attacks. West coast ports such as Liverpool had been used and our departure from Southampton was to be the first for the Queen since the beginning of the war in Europe. As we approached the docks by train we could see the massive ship towering over the dock buildings. It took almost two days of continuous boarding to get the 30th Division on board. We set sail on August 17. Thirty of us were assigned to a stateroom that had been occupied by two during peacetime voyages. Even with bunks three and four high there was room for only 15 during any given period. Issuing badges with either a large “A” or “B”, 15 getting an “A” and 15 getting a “B”, solved this overcrowded condition. Every 24 hours we would change the occupancy of the stateroom. The ships public address system would announce the change each day at noon. During the 24 hours that you had no stateroom you were on your own and had to find somewhere to bed down for the night. All of the hallways and deck spaces were claimed by sundown. One night I managed to find an empty bathtub for my evening sleep. No one complained of the inconveniences because we were going home. Feeding of the 15,000 Old Hickory men took place constantly. At your designated feeding time you would get in a line and snake through what seemed like miles of corridors before reaching the food.
The Queen made record time in crossing the Atlantic and within four and a half days we were within sight of the USA. Early on the final day of the crossing one of my friends and I decided that we would have the choicest spot on the ship when we entered New York. We positioned ourselves in the center of the bridge directly below the Captain’s bridge one level above us. We claimed this spot and jealously held on to it. When one of us needed a bathroom break the other would hold both places. Having left on the 17th of August just two days after the Japanese surrender, and having crossed the Atlantic in record time, we were probably the first large troop ship to enter the New York harbor since the end of the war. We were given an unusually elaborate reception. When the skyline of New York was barely visible two ferryboats escorted us, one on each side of the Queen. Each ferryboat had a big band on board that played music for our trip to the dock. Overhead a blimp hovered all of the way. Many private boats and tugboats joined the procession and shouted greetings and blow their whistles and fog horns. By now, almost all of the 15,000 men on board lined the decks or peered from portholes. Each side of our ship carried a large banner of our division insignia and the ferryboats escorting us likewise displayed our popular shoulder patch. As we neared the Statue of Liberty it was getting dark and when we were within a good viewing distance of the statue the floodlights were turned on. Along the docks there was a tremendous sign on the side of the dock buildings which read “WELCOME HOME, WELL DONE.” This sign was also lighted as we approached it. The Queen Mary was now moving slowly in the river. Traffic along the river was now stopping to witness this mammoth ship creep by with 15,000 soldiers returning home. The motorists began honking their horns and blinking their lights with three dots and a dash, the Morse code for “V” or “Victory. Occupants of the high-rise apartments overlooking the river picked up the signals and began blinking their apartment lights with the three dots and a dash. A few rockets were fired from some of the penthouses. While slowly moving up the river the ship’s horn would periodically sound and echo from the city’s buildings. We were standing directly below the horns and were getting the full blast each time the Captain gave the signal.
We watched as the tugboats maneuvered the big Queen into its berth. We finally tied up around 11:00 PM and immediately began disembarking from several gangplanks at different levels of the ship. By the time I walked down the gangplank the sun was rising over the river. Upon reaching the dry land of the dock I was given a carton of cold milk. This was the first cold milk I had tasted in more than one year. From the dock we boarded onto waiting ferryboats that carried us to New Jersey on the opposite side of the river. A troop train met us there and took us to Camp Kilmer, the same camp I had left from several months earlier. The entire movement of troops from the gangplank to Camp Kilmer was a very well programmed operation. In camp we were assigned to a barracks and were given the choice as to what we wanted to do. Most of us just wanted to rest. Each person was given a ticket that could be taken to the mess hall anytime of the day and get a steak dinner. Whenever we desired we could pick up a new set of khakis. Within 24 hours we were to be on our way to a camp near our home and given an extended furlough. As promised, in less than 24 hours I was on a train heading west. We crept through Pittsburgh during the wee hours of the morning and I stayed awake during the night so as not to miss going through Sterling. After passing through Akron I knew that we had only 20 more miles to go past home. We were on either the Erie or the Baltimore and Ohio tracks so I knew that we had to go through Sterling. I stared into the darkness on the trip from Akron but I could make out no recognizable features. When I heard the familiar clacking of the train wheels as we made the unique crossover of the two major lines I strained my eyes looking from the right side of the train for I knew I was only one mile from home. I could see nothing and we rode on.
The train carried us to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, located a few miles south of Indianapolis. Here we were further processed for furloughs home and were issued vouchers for train tickets. Since Sterling was on the main lines for the Erie and the Baltimore and Ohio my voucher was issued for Sterling. As had been the case in Camp Kilmer, all operations in Camp Atterbury were handled very efficiently and in less than 24 hours we were being bussed to Indianapolis to board our respective trains. For the bus trip we had an ancient Greyhound bus that must have dated from 1930 or earlier. It had the old square hood extending out of the front end. The driver entered into the joyful mood of his passengers and kept blowing a loud air horn to clear the way. The ticket agent in Indianapolis laughed when he saw the voucher to Sterling because trains had ceased serving our town many years earlier. He reissued the ticket to Akron. From Indianapolis to Akron the scenario of the last train ride was repeated in reverse. This time we passed through Sterling from west to east. This trip was taken in late daylight and I saw the old homestead from the left side of the car. It was dark when we arrived in Akron. From the Akron train station I bummed a ride to the bus station where I must have spent the night because it was morning when I caught a bus to Wadsworth, the nearest bus destination to Sterling. On Sunday morning I hitchhiked to Sterling where I found my friend Dick Rich working in his family butcher shop. He never worked on Sunday, but this day he was there. He shut down the shop and drove me home. We had no telephone so I had not been able to inform my family that I was coming home. However, in the Akron Beacon Journal, they had seen my name among the passengers that had arrived in New York so they knew that I was on the way. After an emotional reception my mother showed the contents of the refrigerator. With no help on the farm Dad had sold the cows and concentrated on raising more chickens. Two of the cows had been kept to provide milk for Mom and Dad. The milk they produced was far more than my parents could use so Mom would skin off the cream and make butter. What she displayed in the refrigerator was a collection of every bowl that she owned overflowing of butter or whipped cream. This was before our knowledge of cholesterol so we thoroughly enjoyed these dairy products.
René was behind me about two weeks following the same route from Camp Kilmer to Camp Atterbury and home. He made his homecoming midway in my 30-day furlough. The family was now almost complete with only Jim still in the Navy. When my 30-day furlough was nearing the end I received a telegram from the Army informing me that I should take another 15 days. At the end of this period I returned to Camp Atterbury for further instructions or some other assignment. Upon entering camp, there was a large sign that said if you thought that you had enough points to be discharged you were to report to a designated building. Discharges were based on the number of points one had accumulated; so many for each month of service, additional points for months overseas, five points for each campaign participating in, points for being wounded etc. I checked in at the designated desk and I was informed that I had enough points for immediate discharge. Within a day or so a group of us were assembled in a room where we were addressed by an officer who explained the details of the discharge and gave us the opportunity to re-enlist. An old wind-up phonograph played the National Anthem while we stood at attention and at the conclusion we were no longer in the Army.
This time I had a train ticket to Cleveland. I arrived at the Terminal Tower station late at night and had to plan the next 45-mile journey home. I was not very familiar with the city but I reasoned that I could walk a few blocks and get to Route 42 that would take me south. It was now pouring rain and I reached Route 42 soaked under a flimsy plastic raincoat. I began hitchhiking and after a short time a motorist picked me up. It was a young girl who said that she was going only to one of the suburbs but I was welcome to go that far. I accepted her offer and once in the car she said that because of the rain I was welcome to go home with her. She lived with her parents and said that I could sleep on the porch. I’m sure that it was a proper and sincere offer but I thanked her and exited her vehicle when she turned off of Route 42. A second ride carried me another ten miles. I must have been spending time in shelters on the way and not too much time on the road because it was daylight when I was offered the third ride. This happened to be the father of a girl who had been in one of my grade school classes and had moved away before high school. He implied that he recognized me and went out of his way to deliver me all of the way to the end of our lane. His name was Mr. Freeman. I never saw him again.
My family was surprised to see me after such a short absence. René was still on his extended furlough so we enjoyed more time together. By now it was the middle of October and I had just celebrated my 21st birthday. There was no psychological adjustment to make and no therapy or debriefing of our experiences. We went with Dad to the local tavern, had a couple of beers, were welcomed by the old timers and we planned our civilian life. Our homecoming was simple and complete.
The following summer Jim was discharged from the Navy and the entire family was now home. We spent many hours at the kitchen table playing Jass, the national card game of Switzerland. The day Jim returned we had mowed hay and he remarked how pleasant it had been to smell the newly mowed hay as he walked down the lane. Dad who was pretty sharp but not known for any profound statements, summarized the homecoming by saying, “You weren’t smelling hay. You were smelling home.” And so it was. We were all home again.
In my application for admission to the College of Wooster I had indicated an interest in the sciences and had been tentatively given a freshman schedule heavy in science and math. When I showed this to my high school superintendent he cautioned me about beginning with such difficult courses. I had always done well in math and the sciences but the high school courses had been basic courses and my math was basically algebra and geometry. I valued my superintendent’s advice and contemplated the changes I would make when I registered in January. At registration I modified my program to include chemistry, a math course and the other required courses. My schedule still had an opening for one more course so I signed up for a physical and historical geology course. I had no concept of what the study of geology entailed but the course description sounded interesting. I knew that it dealt with the study of the earth, the rocks, volcanoes, minerals etc. Surface and subsurface mapping was an important function in geology and I had done well in map reading as a scout in the Army. I had once impressed our platoon leader when I applied a map reading technique in pinpointing a machine gun nest.
I did well in all of my freshman courses and got an “A” in geology. During the summer I stayed on the farm and before returning to Wooster for the fall term the head of the Geology Department contacted me and said that he would like to have me as a geology major. I had enjoyed the freshman geology courses and concluded that a career that involved some fieldwork and direct contact with the earth would satisfy me more than chemistry. I agreed to change my major and that is how my working career was determined.
In September 1946 my second semester began and during the orientation sessions for freshman I met Elaine vandenBosch, a freshman student from Philadelphia. Mel Shafter, my brother Jim and I had gone to downtown Wooster for supper and while driving back to the campus we saw four girls hitchhiking back to the campus and we picked them up. It was a custom for college students to hitchhike up the one-mile hill from downtown to the campus. Locals knew of the practice and cheerfully accommodated the hikers. I don’t recall how we got seven people in the coupe but we must have enjoyed a cozy ride because after the short mile we deposited four girls in front of Taylor Hall just in time for their orientation lecture. Two of the girls were sophomores who had taken their two freshman little sisters to supper. We were introduced in the car but all we remembered was “little sister and big sister.”
After the orientation we were in the student union when Elaine walked in all by herself. I grabbed her by the arm as she passed by and I called her “little sister.” This encounter resulted in a formal introduction and dating began immediately thereafter. We were soon going steady and in three years we were engaged. This proved to be the best chance encounter of my life.
I had enrolled in the GI Bill of Rights and was also collecting a disability pension of 10%, which added the sum of $15.00 additional to the GI Bill allowance. This disability pension was awarded for the wounds received during the war and was to compensate for the pain I still experienced. A veteran’s affair officer on campus informed me of a modified GI Bill program called Public Law 16 designed for disabled veterans. The program was for the purpose of rehabilitating disabled veterans so that they could function as responsible citizens in society and not be welfare recipients. Because of the objective of the program the government was not about to train someone in a discipline not suited for the recipient. It was therefore necessary to take aptitude tests to determine the student’s interests and talents. The results of the tests were as I had expected. I would do well in any of the sciences but I was to avoid any of the social disciplines or other non-sciences. The results indicated that I should never attempt a sales profession!
In addition to paying for tuition and books the GI Bill also paid $75.00 a month for living expenses. The $75.00 plus the $15.00 pension provided the grand total of $90.00 a month. However, Public Law 16 carried another provision that the combined living allowance and pension could not be less than $105.00 per month. This provided me with a lucrative income that allowed me to buy a car and clothing as needed. There was a rule at Wooster that students could not have cars on campus except during the final semester of the senior year. With the enrollment of veterans returning from the war the college authorities waived the rule for the veterans and granted us permission to have a vehicle. Civilian cars were now being manufactured after the auto industry had been engaged in the almost exclusive manufacture of military vehicles and weapons. Dad bought a new Ford and sold me his old 1941 Ford for $300.00. I had it painted and it provided reliable transportation for the remainder of my stay at Wooster. With the extra money I was able to take Elaine to a movie about once a week and out for ice cream at the nearby Farm Dairies. We even made some trips to Cleveland to attend operas. On one occasion we invited Professor Stanley Shuman, the geography professor as our guest. For two of the spring breaks we drove to Elaine’s home in Philadelphia. We usually drove during the night taking the turnpike where it existed. We had to drive through Pittsburgh and pick up the turnpike several miles to the east. The east extension terminated about 30 miles west of Harrisburg. These were always fun trips.
Wooster had another rule that had to be modified somewhat. Drink was strictly forbidden and if caught in a local bar, a male student would be given a warning. A second offense meant dismissal from school. The rule for females was even stricter and provided for immediate dismissal with the first infraction. The drinking rule was not enforced for veterans and we would frequent local drinking places even though it was not openly approved.
One of the additional science courses I took in my freshman year was biology. I really enjoyed biology and considered it for a major but geology was preferred. I received some recognition during my freshman biology course when I made my first invention. In biology lab we were required to make drawings of various specimens that we viewed under the microscope. The drawings had to be shaded with pinpoint pencil marks made by striking the pencil point on to the drawing one dot at a time. I told the professor, Dr. Spencer, that I was not going to spend all of my time making these little dots and I would be back for the next lab with an automatic stippler. He was amused and welcomed me to do it. I went home for the weekend and proceeded to fabricate my stippler. It consisted of an electromagnet from an old doorbell mounted on an erector set frame. Attached to the frame I fastened metal loops through which a pencil could be guided. On the top end of the pencil I fastened a metal plate. The magnet was connected to a toy train transformer. When the power was turned on, the magnet pulled up the pencil and the electrical contact was broken. A rubber band pulled the pencil back down and a mark was made on the drawing. The cycle was repeated at 60 strokes per second and enabled me to stipple a drawing in a fraction of a minute. At the next lab period I casually plugged in the transformer and began stippling. Dr. Spencer heard the noise and was amazed by what he saw. The entire class was invited to observe and an advanced pre-med class meeting in another room was brought in. Dr. Spencer informed that I had automatically earned an A for the course. I got an A, but I earned it with regular course work and exams.
I didn’t find college courses too difficult and made good grades in all of the courses. I graduated with honors and won the McDowell Geology Prize for having the highest grades in all courses for the junior and senior years. A Wooster lady named McDowell endowed the prize of $75.00. Mrs. McDowell had been a missionary in Tehran, Iran. She established the prize in honor of her son who had been killed in the war. The prize must have been sufficiently endowed because I believe that it is still awarded each year. I was the second student to receive the prize. The first recipient was Joe Roeder who coincidently went to work for Texaco in Midland, Texas.
During my junior year my roommate, Doug Preble and I worked a couple of nights for a local oilman by the name of Walter Bird. We made lithologic logs of his wells by gluing well cuttings on to strips of paper. He told us about his brother in Bradford, Pennsylvania who had designed some logging equipment and he was running logs in the Pennsylvania area in competition with Schlumberger. We were interested in this logging technique and wrote to Jim Bird and asked about getting a summer job with him. He never answered so after the semester in June 1948 we drove to Bradford and paid him an unexpected visit. He was embarrassed to inform us that he could not use us but he was very kind. He showed us his equipment, took us with him on a logging job and fed us. In the meantime he located two jobs for us. Doug took one in Bradford working for a core analysis firm and I worked for a small producer in Wellsville, New York, only a few miles away.
At this time Jim Bird had two surplus army ambulances converted into his logging trucks. His family was well off and he used the large family garage for his shop. His two trucks were kept in the garage and his workshop was in the loft over the garage. He had been a radar technician in the navy and had a good background in electronics. He ran only three logs, a spontaneous potential (SP), a resistivity log and a caliper. All were very crude and similar to the original Schlumberger logs that were first run in the 1920s. He made the sondes out of plastic tubes with coils of wire wrapped around for the electrodes. At the well site he attached the tool to the conductor cable and lowered the tool to total depth. These wells were very shallow reaching only a few hundred feet total depth. He would physically pull on the cable and, when he thought that he was on bottom and the slack was taken up, he set his depth gauge at the driller’s reported total depth and came up logging as the wench from the old ambulance retrieved the sonde. An SP was recorded with an ink pen on a rotating drum. The pen responded to a galvanometer that measured the self (spontaneous) potential. He would then drop to bottom and repeat the up hole logging process, this time recording a resistivity curve. These two curves were displayed in the same manner as they are today - the SP on the left and the resistivity on the right with the depth column displayed in the center. Where both curves deviated from the depth column and indicated a negative SP and an increase in resistivity he would recommend to the operator that he shoot the zone with nitroglycerine. A crude caliper log was run on a separate sonde using the same depth-determining technique. The cost of running the electric log was a flat $50.00. The caliper cost was also $50.00 but if all were run on the same job the total cost was $75.00. Today’s logging with sophisticated tools using gamma rays, neutrons, high frequency sonic devices etc. can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for a deep well. Bird’s low logging prices eventually ran Schlumberger out of Bradford. Today Schlumberger is back in Bradford.
Bird continued to expand and became known as Birdwell and operated quite extensively in Oklahoma. He eventually sold out to one of Schlumberger’s competitors.
The company I worked for was the Thornton Oil Company, a small operator owned by two brothers. One had a degree in accounting or business and handled the technical portion of the business and the other had a degree in geology and handled the finances. The geologist was a character who didn’t care too much about working. He would sneak off during the day to attend the local baseball games held in Wellsville. Even though Wellsville was only a small town a semi-pro team was supported in a league called the Pony League. The secretaries told me that the geologist was married to the heiress to the Corning Glass Works and that there was plenty of money in the family. I think that the brothers felt sorry for me and gave me the summer job. I had to create my work so I busied myself sorting out old geological maps and drawing pipeline maps for the field operations. The brother who did all of the work - I’ll call him Mr. Thornton - liked me and took me with him on local trips to supply houses and business acquaintances. He had and old oil field on water flood in Lodi Ohio located less than 10 miles from our farm. Whenever he made a trip there, which was every two or three weeks, he would bring me along mostly to drive his Lincoln Zephyr, a V-12 car that Ford quit making around 1948. I would drop him off in Lodi at his tool pusher’s house and he would give me the Lincoln to take home. The following morning I would pick him up and we would journey back to Wellsville. He was extremely fussy about his Lincoln and would use only Pennsylvania oil for lubrication. He was unhappy when Ford discontinued the Licoln Zephyr. My pay was $1.00 an hour.
In the fall of the year I returned to Wooster for my final year. Around this time, the State of Ohio decided to reward WW II veterans with a bonus. I don’t recall what formula was used to determine the amount of individual payments but my bonus was about $350.00. This came at an opportune time and was used in its entirety for the purchase of an engagement ring. A time for the wedding would have to be decided after graduate school and hopefully after I had a job.
The subject of geology has many related disciplines such as mineralogy, volcanology, petrology, sedimentary geology etc. I had developed an interest in hard rocks and concentrated on mineralogy and crystallography. In preparation for graduate school I applied to Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins. The head of the Geology Department, Dr. Charles Moke, wanted me to attend Harvard because it was his alma mater. I was not pleased with the responses I received from Harvard and Yale and didn’t pursue the applications any further. Neither school seemed interested in my academic achievements. Instead, they were more interested in the blue blood that might be flowing in my veins. Harvard simply returned my application with a hand written note scribbled in pencil on the front pace informing that they needed more personal information. Yale was more forward in their requests. They wanted to know my parents’ backgrounds, whether any relatives had attended Yale and other inquiries about my social status. One specific question was “How much money can you count on while attending Yale and what will be the source?” With an income based solely on the GI Bill or Public Law 16, I didn’t think that Yale would look too favorably on my financial status.
Johns Hopkins had an entirely different approach to my application. They were not concerned about my social status or my finances. They accepted me on the basis of my grade transcript and letters of recommendation from my professors.
Having been accepted to one of the finest graduate schools in the country I was confident that, upon getting an advanced degree I would have no problem finding work in my field. It was anticipated that I would graduate with a Master’s Degree, get married and embark on a lifetime career in geology. The projection date for these objectives was June 1950. Only a portion of the plan would materialize as scheduled.
After graduating from Wooster I spent the summer preparing for graduate school. I sold my 1941 Ford to my brother Jim and took a train to Baltimore in September 1949, wandered the Hopkins neighborhood in driving rain and found a room near the school for $7.00 a week and began my studies. I spoke to the Veterans Affairs Officer at Wooster and told him of my plans to continue my studies under Public Law 16. I was informed that the government considered that a Bachelor of Arts Degree qualified me as a geologist and no further education was required. Had I been approved for training of say, an x-ray crystallographer I could have continued in graduate school under PL 16. However, there was another possibility to get compensation for graduate school. The time I had received compensation under PL 16 was less than the eligible time I had under the GI Bill. The remaining eligible time could be used but not under PL 16. The amount of time remaining was sufficient to carry me through one and a half semesters. Another bit of luck prevailed. There was a provision in the GI Bill that provided for full benefits for the entire semester if the eligible time expired after the semester started. I had my tuition and books paid for and received $75.00 per month plus the $15.00 disability pension for my stay at Johns Hopkins.
I didn’t give too much thought to what kind of geological position I would seek and took it for granted that I would either get a teaching job or work with the US Geological Survey. Because Johns Hopkins is so near to Washington many of the graduate students were already employed by the Survey. They worked in Alaska or some other stateside location in the summer and during the school year they worked part time in Washington doing reports of their summer work. During the end of my graduate work I took the Survey’s test for possible employment and failed it miserably. The Survey’s tests were based on the particular specialties that met their current or anticipated needs. My studies had been mostly in crystallography and advanced mineralogy and the test was almost all on sedimentation and stratigraphy. I even got extra points for being a wounded veteran and still didn’t make the grade. It was now 1950 and the Korean War was having an adverse effect on industries employing geologists. The school had no recruiters visiting us and the future looked rather dim.
Hamilton College in Clinton, New York was looking for a geology teacher in hard rocks to replace the retiring head of the two-man department. The other member was to become the head of the department. His name was Phil Oxley and he had an undergraduate degree from an Ohio college - I think that it was from Ohio Wesleyan. He discovered that I had a degree from Wooster and asked me if I would be interested in the position. I made a trip to Clinton where I met various college personnel and had a very satisfactory interview. The opening was to become available in September and I would be paid $3,100.00 a year. Campus housing would be provided at a nominal cost for my new bride and me. All conditions seemed to be in my favor and there appeared to be no obstacles to prevent my hiring. The morning I was to leave Clinton Dr. Oxley suggested that we stop off at the president’s house for a short visit. The president had returned from a trip the night before. Dr. Oxley spoke to him about my qualifications and his favorable impression of me. As far as he was concerned, I had the job. The president informed him that another application had been received and that this other candidate should be evaluated before making a decision. The atmosphere of our short meeting now changed and the comments relative to the job became more negative. The parting comment at the train station was that I would be hearing from them. A couple of weeks later I received an engraved announcement from the college that the Geology Department was pleased to announce the appointment of a Ph.D. to fulfill the opening created by the retiring department head.
Three years later Dr. Oxley was working in New Orleans with the California Company (Chevron). He left Chevron a few years later to work for Tenneco where he eventually became president.
With no openings in the Geological Survey and the collapse of the teaching possibility at Hamilton College I tried for an opening with the Pennsylvania Geological Survey. The State Geologist was looking for someone to do surface mapping of Lancaster County. I was not experienced sufficiently for this challenge but I told the State Geologist that I could do it. Three Ph Ds had attempted the mapping and quit in frustration because of the extreme complexity of the limestone topography. I’m sure that the State Geologist knew that I couldn’t do what three Ph Ds had tried and failed but he said that he would give me his answer the day before our wedding that was scheduled for June 17,1950.
Elaine’s father who was a Presbyterian minister was to perform the marriage ceremony but he died in November 1949. He had moved to Michigan during the summer to take a job as assistant to the president of Alma College. He and Elaine’s mother bought their first home in Royal Oak, Michigan and had barely settled into a beautiful English Tudor home when he died unexpectedly. The Presbyterian Church had always provided a manse for their use. While ministering in Philadelphia they had purchased a cottage in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. This was used as a summer retreat for the family and friends.
Now, I had no job and no one to marry us as planned. Just before he died he had suggested to me that we could be married in the garden of their new home. It would have made a beautiful setting. We decided to go through with the wedding with a friend of the family performing the ceremony. Elaine’s mother had returned from Michigan and had purchased a row house on Friendship Street not far from her husband’s old church. Fortunately the altered plans were made before the invitations were mailed and we were married in the Wissonoming Presbyterian Church on June 17, 1950. As Elaine walked down the isle she was to wink with the right eye if I had the Survey job and with the left if I didn’t have it. When she was within winking distance I spotted a left wink and we were married as an unemployed couple. The minister returned the $10.00 I had given him, friends provided food for the reception held in mother’s home and the florist who regularly provided flowers for the Sunday services donated the flowers. The only expense was $10.00 that the choir director accepted. My parents drove all of the way from Ohio for the wedding. I really appreciated their attendance.
We had made plans to fly to Cleveland and after one night there we were to take a lake steamer to Detroit on an overnight trip. In Detroit we were to pick up a new car and drive it to Windsor, Colorado where Elaine’s uncle by marriage had a Plymouth-Chrysler agency. About the time of the wedding Chrysler went on strike and no cars were available. We went ahead with our trip to Detroit then rented a car and went to Point Pelee in Canada, the southernmost point in Canada. After one week we returned to Philadelphia and set up housekeeping at Elaine’s mother’s house while I began more job hunting. I contacted more than thirty oil and mining companies and received no response from most of them. Those polite enough to respond did so in the negative. While I was making these contacts I got word from Dr. Joseph Singwald, head of the Geology Department at Johns Hopkins, that the chief geologist with The Texas Company (Texaco) had contacted him and said that they had a few openings for geologists with master’s degrees and rankings in the top of the class. Dr. Singwald said that if I were interested he would get a letter off to the chief geologist, George Clement and recommend me. In the meantime I sent an application to Mr. Clement in Houston.
The Chrysler strike was now settled and Elaine’s aunt in Windsor said that a car was now available in Detroit for us to drive to Colorado. “Uncle Benny” would pay our travel expenses to Windsor and return and provide us with a car while in Windsor so that we could do some sight seeing in the Rockies. We flew to Detroit and picked up a Plymouth coupe that we drove to Windsor in three days. While we were in Colorado we drove to Denver and made contacts with several oil companies. With the Korean War now waging most companies were reluctant to do any hiring. I received very cold receptions from most companies. Some didn’t want to talk to me. Texaco received me with exceptional courtesy and the Division Geologist encouraged me with the comment that George Clement’s request for personal data sounded positive and I should be hearing from him soon. After a week in Colorado we were ready to return to Philadelphia and await a reply from Texaco. Our cash finances were low and we had to take a bus all the way to Philadelphia. We made a stop in Ohio for a short visit with my parents. While there we made a telephone call to Elaine’s mother and learned that there was a telegram from Texaco in Houston awaiting my reply. Texaco was informing me that if I passed their physical examination I would have a job in New Orleans. We took the first bus east and arranged for a physical as the first order of business. I passed the physical and informed George Clement that I accepted the offer for employment. Getting to New Orleans was at our expense. No travel or moving expenses would be paid. I was to report to Dr. Harry X. Bay, the New Orleans Division Geologist who would me assign me a geological position for a monthly salary of $350.00.
While in the Army I had managed to save most of my pay and still had almost $1,500.00 in the bank. I had saved this on my Pfc. pay of $54.00 a month plus a nominal amount for overseas duty and $10.00 a month for combat infantry pay. During the Gulf War in 1991 we heard of complaints from some soldiers repairing tanks 500 miles from the front and living in comfortable quarters with hot food. They thought that they should be eligible for the Combat Infantry Badge. This prestigious award was awarded to only infantrymen during WWII and only after thirty days in combat. Many infantrymen never made the thirty days. General George Patton once said that the one medal he wished he had was the Combat Infantry Badge. Being in the tank corps he did not qualify. The Ohio bonus I had received had been spent on Elaine’s engagement ring so now the remaining nest egg had to be spent for travel to New Orleans. After WW II we were faced with a car shortage and now with the Korean War in progress the situation repeated itself. We managed to find a fairly decent 1948 Chevy. The cash deal almost cleaned out the bank account but there still remained enough for a couple of nights in a motel and gas for the car. I thought that Texaco would probably have a discount program for employees so we tried to patronize Texaco stations on our journey. The only purpose the receipts served were to generate belly laughs from my co-workers. We paid the pump price like everyone else.
We had so few possessions that we were able to carry an ironing board on the back seat and still had room for a large barrel full of dishes and cooking utensils. We planned our trip by passing through Ohio for a short visit with my family. Here we collected a few of my prized war souvenirs that we stuffed in empty spaces in the Chevy. We headed south and in the evening of the third day we arrived in New Orleans. Dr. Bay had made arrangements for us to spend a few days at the Jung Hotel while we searched for living accommodations. I had spent one day in New Orleans while I was in Camp Shelby and I remembered the location of the Jung. The Greyhound station was right next door. We came riding into town with a hurricane on the horizon and hoped that this was not a preview of the conditions we would be facing during our many years in the Crescent City. All that we experienced was a very dark area to the east and only a gentle wind and temperature drop.
On Monday morning, August 28, 1950 I checked in with The Texas Company (Texaco) located in the Canal Bank Building on Baronne Street one block off of Canal Street. The entire staff of the Drilling and Production Department occupied only three floors of the building. The Geological Department consisted of seventeen geologists working in exploration and development.
We were given one week in the hotel while we went house hunting. We found only two apartment projects in all of New Orleans, one being the Parkchester and the other the Mirabeau Manor located about one block apart and in the Gentilly area. The monthly rent for the Mirabeau was $67.50 and for the Parkchester $70.00. We settled for the Mirabeau but had to pay $92.00 for a furnished two-bedroom unit. After one month we bought some basic furniture on time and cut our expense to $67.50.
I was immediately assigned to the Exploration Department in their “Sink or Swim” training program. This was the company’s method of training. You learned by doing. There were only five of us in the entire Exploration Department but there were more in outlying District offices in Tyler, Texas, Jackson, Mississippi and Shreveport, Louisiana. After only a few weeks on the job I learned of some geological scholarships being offered in France. I researched these scholarships and was immediately offered three separate scholarships because of my knowledge of French. These were a Fulbright Scholarship, another from UNESCO and one from the French government in recognition for our country’s participation in freeing them from the Nazis. My travel expenses were to be covered as well as living expenses while studying. The area of study was to be the Massif Central, a rather barren area in Southern France. The only problem was that only my expenses would be paid for and we had no money for Elaine’s expenses. We decided to stay with The Texas Company and I began to “swim” in the training program.
Our first child, Barbara Ann was born while we were in our first apartment, at 5229-D, Wilton Drive. The year was 1952, a leap year, and the beginning of Elaine’s labor on February 29 almost guaranteed us a leap year child. However, a prolonged labor extended past midnight and shortly after 1:00 AM Barbara was born. Early in the pregnancy we got our first vacation and, like most of the Yankee geologists, we headed for families up north. Whirlwind events took place in Philadelphia as friends held baby showers for Elaine and we drove through the night to Ohio in time for the Homecoming football game at Wooster. We pushed too hard and Elaine threatened to miscarriage. An old family doctor chewed us out and basically knocked out Elaine with drugs and required that she return to New Orleans by air. This we did and Barbara Ann was born a perfectly normal and beautiful baby. I remember returning from the hospital to our apartment and realizing that my life had suddenly taken on new responsibilities as a family man.
After about a year and a half in exploration I was suddenly transferred to development. Development had the responsibility of mapping the producing fields and maintaining an active drilling program. Only about four geologists staffed this department and had a tremendous responsibility maintaining the production in The Texas Company’s fields. We were the largest producer in Louisiana and maintained about seventy drilling rigs at any given time. As soon as I reported to Development I was briefed on my sudden transfer. Houston was setting up a development section and was transferring R. Hackbarth to be in charge. Hackbarth was asked to pick another geologist to accompany him and he had selected me even though I was not in his group and I hardly knew him. I was to learn all I could about development geology before the transfer that never materialized. The company had one of their frequent cost-reduction measures and cancelled my transfer. A Houston geologist was brought to New Orleans to observe our operations for a month then he assumed the Houston assignment.
I rapidly became proficient in development geology and in a short time I qualified to testify as an expert witness for some of our unitization hearings with the state. The Texas Company was growing rapidly in the post war period and the Division Manager decided that we should have a geologist in each of the Production Districts, Harvey, Houma and New Iberia. On an experimental basis I was selected to go to our most active district, Houma. If the assignment proved successful the other districts would be staffed with geologists. On January 1953 we made the move to Houma, Louisiana. Houma is located about sixty miles southwest of New Orleans in bayou country. This was a Texas Company town and by our standards was still rather primitive. Housing was almost non-existent. We managed to find a two-bedroom cement block house on Crescent Boulevard owned by an accountant with the company. He had recently married and had the house built but his wife could not stand being so far from her family that lived on the other side of town. We found the native residents of Houma very friendly and helpful but like most of the Cajuns, very provincial. Barbara was less than one year old when we moved. Her first birthday was celebrated with the traditional cake and a visit from our fellow-geologist from New Orleans, Uno and Tess Nummela.
Since my job description was non-existent I had the freedom to create my responsibilities. I quickly made friends with the District Superintendent, Jimmy Gibbens who put his trust in my work. One of the characteristics he liked about me was that, as he put it, I never tried to “fertilize” him. We were operating about 35 rigs in the district and each morning we would review the entire drilling report and decide what should be done on each well. Almost all of our producing fields and wildcats were water operations in the marshes and open waters of the Louisiana Gulf Coast. Contact with the operations was maintained by radio. At the morning meeting we would decide on log runs, mud programs, casing programs etc. I made numerous trips to the field operations, especially on nice days, with mud engineers and field engineers. One of my primary jobs was making log runs on wildcat and other critical wells. At the well site I had the authority to order additional logs and pick sidewall cores. While making a log run on a well in Valentine Field, Lafourche Parish, I shared the job with the representative from a joint operator, Mossbacher Oil Company. The representative was Robert Mossbacher, the son of Mossbacher, and a recent geology graduate. He later became Secretary of Commerce for President George Herbert Bush.
During our first year in Houma the head of the Houma Development Group in New Orleans left The Texas Company and I was offered the supervisory position. My boss, L.W. Calahan gave me the choice of the job or remaining in Houma. Since the Houma assignment was still relatively new I chose to stay with the understanding that when the two-year assignment was completed I would get a supervisor’s job. Calahan was pleased with my decision and promised me a supervisor’s job. When I was six months short of completing the two-year assignment a Schlumberger engineer bought our rent house and we had to move. Elaine was now pregnant with Tom and housing was even harder to find than when we had arrived in Houma. Elaine eventually found a nice, little stucco house on High Street.
We had a local doctor for Elaine’s pre-natal care and accredit him for Tom’s life. During the pregnancy Elaine kept threatening to miscarriage and the old country doctor kept trying to save the baby. Dr. Landry had slim hopes of saving the baby but he didn’t give up. The only hospital in town was a small shotgun house with only primitive facilities. Elaine was hospitalized there twice in attempts to avoid the abortions and spent most of the pregnancy in bed. I believe that New Orleans doctors would have allowed the miscarriage to occur as a natural process. Arrangements were made for a New Orleans delivery and in preparation we made a dry run to check the travel time and I learned some basic delivery practices. The time of delivery was predictable enough and Tom was born in New Orleans on June 15, 1954. He too was normal but not beautiful like Barbara Ann. He was handsome!
Barbara and Tom were both fortunate in that a couple of old-time family doctors were involved during both of the pregnancies
At the end of the two-year duty in Houma we returned to New Orleans where I was given the position of supervisor of the Houma Development group. This group handled all of the development geology for the district, the largest district in Texaco. The Texas Company had now changed the exploration and production divisions of the company to coincide with the familiar name “Texaco”. Hereafter the name Texaco will be used in any references to the company. Our group had to keep thirty-five rigs busy on Texaco’s most prolific fields. We were producing as much oil as some of the small major oil companies in the US.
We bought our first house at 641 Homestead Avenue in Metairie and spent several months repairing termite-eaten walls and leaking roofs. While here Barbara and Tom both attended nursery school and kindergarten at Metairie Ridge Presbyterian Church then elementary school at J.C. Ellis.
After settling in we bought our first new car, a 1955 Chevy Belaire with a white top and a turquoise body. It was the first V-8 Chevy made and proved to be an excellent car. The first major trip with the new car was a trip to Ohio to see my mother who had been diagnosed with cancer. This was the summer of 1956 and she died in April 1957.
Just before my mother died I made a quick trip to see her for the last time and while there Elaine had a strange, unannounced visit from one of the company executives and his wife. The purpose of the visit was to inform us that I had been selected to advance in the company if I would be willing to conform to certain conditions. The main conditions were to basically allow the company to control functions of our personal lives. We were to limit the size of our family because large families required too much time that could otherwise be directed to Texaco work. We were encouraged to be concerned citizens and church members but were not to get too involved as these activities could also detract from placing the company first. We were to entertain company personnel and we would be told who to entertain and associate with. If Elaine did not have proper silver and china for entertaining these would be loaned to us from the couple’s personal household effects. Elaine spoke rightly for me and said that I would not subject us to these kinds of social restrictions and requirements. In spite of these conditions that I didn’t accept I was still given advancement opportunities during my career. It is obvious that the proposal made by the management couple was an expression of their personal agenda and not necessarily supported by the company.
From the position of supervisor of the Houma Development Group I was made staff geologist. This involved processing of all geological reports, proposed locations for wells etc. and presenting this geological data to management. While holding this position I was also made the head log analyst. I soon developed a good reputation in log interpretation and was given the position full time under the title of special projects geologist. This was a good title because it provided for a lot of variety in work assignments and I avoided routine mapping that many were destined to do until retirement. Trouble shooting for various rush projects was one of the jobs under the title. One of the better assignments was that of recruiting for our geological, geophysical and engineering departments. This recruiting program was handled out of Houston. Twice a year, usually in October and February, we would be assigned trips to colleges and universities. This assignment to recruit was one of the very few jobs with Texaco in which we were allowed to rent cars and entertain on expenses. I did recruiting until I left for London in 1974. I routinely recruited at the University of Missouri, Southern Illinois and Washington University in St. Louis. Less frequently recruited schools were the University of Iowa, Penn State, Missouri School of Mines, Emory and various schools in Mississippi and Louisiana.
I mentioned that the recruiting job was one of the few assignments in which we were allowed to rent cars. This was a necessary deviation from Texaco’s frugal money-saving policies. Some of Texaco’s policies bordered on the ridiculous and were the butt of jokes in the industry. One of the favorites among the industry was the infamous pencil extender. This was a hollow aluminum tube about six inches long with an inside diameter large enough to slid tightly over the famous Texaco 2 and 2/4 pencil when it became worn to a stub. During one of the generous periods each of us was given an Esterbrook desk pen. This consisted of a round glob of black ceramic with a hole in the middle that accepted a cheap Esterbrook fountain pen. This looked like a shiny version of the bud vase I had made in kindergarten for my mother’s Christmas present. On one occasion I dropped mine on the floor and it landed on the point and did a perfect split. The floor was asphalt tile because only management personnel were entitled to have carpet flooring. If a reshuffling of offices took place and a non-management employee was assigned an office formerly occupied by management the carpet had to be removed before being occupied by the employee. I took my broken pen to the clerk in charge of supplies and asked if the pen could be replaced. I got this sad story about how expensive they were and he offered me an alligator pliers and a piece of sandpaper to repair the broken pen.
The frugal policies in the company were so firmly entrenched throughout the organization that these practices were hard to break. When I had been with The Texas Company about one year, the first convention of the Gulf Coast Association of Petroleum Geologists was held at the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans less than a half block from our office. It was decided that all of the geologists who were members of the organization could register for the convention and the company would pay the registration fee of $5.00. We all took advantage of this generous offer; however, someone in the accounting department found out that, of the $5.00 registration fee, $1.50 was for a coupon entitling the bearer to a sazarac drink at any of the hotel bars and also admission to the ice-breaker party. The sazarac was an alcoholic drink unique with the Roosevelt hotel. A new memo was then sent to all geologists that we could submit an expense account for only $3.00. One of the geologists was so infuriated that he quit rather than submit the reduced, authorized amount. In spite of the frugal policy most of us attended the convention and listened to papers of interest and managed to find many hospitality rooms that were always generously supplied by the service companies. The only company restriction on attending during working hours was that we always had at least one person remaining in each office to handle current activity.
While in the recruiting program I was sent to a recruiting school operated by our personnel department in Houston. Prior to attending, the personnel department sent us forms from the host hotel so that we could pre-register. The form had three boxes to check for our preference, these being suite, deluxe or standard. Our personnel department had added another pre-checked box to the form with the notation “Texaco Special.” These were indeed special rooms with a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling and a TV set awaiting donation to the Smithsonian Museum. I think that the room was priced at $4.00 plus tax.
In spite of the cost-saving measures Texaco practiced I was always treated fairly and was paid a salary in line with most of the major companies in the oil industry. To illustrate the salary changes that have occurred since my retirement, my annual salary when I transferred to London in 1974 was increased to $27,000.00
In 1963 we made another move. This was to a new home at 6300 Rosalie Court still in Metairie. It was while living here that Jeannine was born eleven years behind Tom. Her birthday was April 24, 1965.
In 1971 when I was recognized as one of the company’s very few practical log interpreters and the only one in the New Orleans Division, someone else was selected to participate in a two-man team to travel to Europe and Africa to compile a manual on wellsite procedures and log analysis. In addition to being the Division Log Analyst I had probably more wellsite experience than any other geologist and had written in-house manuals. The geologist selected from our division admitted that he was not a log analyst but our New York office selected him regardless of his lack of qualifications. I was not very happy about this management decision and I let it be known. I had support from our local management but New York was not questioned. Shortly after this incident, and as an appeasement offer, I was asked if I would be interested in a temporary assignment in Papua New Guinea. Texaco was to drill a wildcat well in the center of the island of New Guinea, the second largest island in the world. This was described to me as the most primitive area remaining in the entire world and was still inhabited by cannibals who had never seen a white man. Because of the remote location of the well Texaco wanted an expert log analyst and a wellsite sample analyzer for the job. I realized that an opportunity to participate in an adventure in jungles of the most remote area of the world would be interesting and I volunteered for the job. Schlumberger was to have a unit on location and I was to have considerable authority to order the log suites as I saw fit.
I left New Orleans sometime in May 1971 and flew to Sydney, Australia by way of Hawaii then on to Brisbane where instructions were received from our Brisbane office. I obtained my work permit, entry visa etc. in Brisbane and flew on to Port Moresby, New Guinea where more preparations were made prior to going into the interior of the island. Here I met the other geologist, Jim Matum from our Los Angeles office. Jim was to be the primary sample analyzer. We gathered office supplies we would need in the jungle and were ready to go. We flew in a small twin-engine Irish cargo plane from Port Moresby to Daru, a small island located off of the mouth of the Fly River. New Guinea is divided along a straight north-south line with the country of Papua on the east and the Indonesian province of Irian Jaya on the west. The Fly River is predominately in Papua and flows from the north. The river interrupts this straight boundary in the southern third of the island by making a migration into Iran Jaya. The village of Kiunga located north of this migration and in Papua was our flight destination. On the island of Daru we made a refueling stop at an Australian Air force base. In 1971 Papua was still a protectorate of Australia.
Our next stop was the base camp at Kiunga on the Fly River. We fueled the plane and prepared to leave but the engines wouldn’t start. The pilot decided that finding the problem and making the necessary repairs would take most of the remaining daylight so we would remain on Daru for the night. A replacement part could be flown in the next morning. Except for the Australians’ accommodations at the airstrip, the rest of the village was quite primitive. The pilot located an old frame house that was being converted into a hotel and, although there was no plumbing or any other amenities, we found enough cots for a night’s rest. The owner of the building was a middle-aged man with a strong German accent. I got the impression that he was in hiding in this remote area and was a wanted Nazi. He managed to find some native food and prepared an evening meal for all of us. After eating we toured the village and saw only one business establishment, a structure made of native tree branches and open on all sides. Beneath the roof of palm fronds were the only items for sale - cases of beer.
The next morning a replacement part arrived and in a short time the engines came to life and we departed for Kiunga. Kiunga had previously served as a base camp for a copper mining company - I believe that it was Anaconda Copper. A dock on the Fly River provided us with the facilities that enabled us to barge supplies from Port Moresby all of the way up the river. Kiunga was also the deepest penetration the American broadcaster Lowell Thomas had made on a previous expedition. Subsequent to the abandonment of our operation in the area an Australian mining company found a large deposit of copper and iron to the northeast of Kiunga. The deposit was associated with a substantial amount of gold, which was believed to be valuable enough to cover the cost of mining the iron ore and cooper. Because of the remote nature of the deposit and the logistics of mining and transporting the ores the estimated cost of the operation was greater than two billion dollars. In 1975 Papua became independent from its protectorate Australia and pressured the Australians to pursue the mining operation that had been delayed when the price of gold had not increased as expected. Because of the vast, unexplored areas of New Guinea I believe that that island holds large deposits of many different minerals. The area where we drilled our well was in a limestone environment. Throughout the island there must exist large underground caverns comparable to the tourist attractions in the states.
Our well site was approximately 80 miles east of Kiunga. This placed our well, the No. 1 Cecilia near the center of the island. The jungle is so dense that seismic exploration was virtually impossible to conduct so the location was based on aerial photography that showed an east-west trending anticline. The location was prepared by lowering workers by helicopter into the jungle. On the ground the workers first cleared an area for a helipad. With the helipad in place bulldozers and other heavy equipment could be flown in to clear an area sufficiently large to accommodate the rig site and personnel accommodations. In spite of the remote location of the site, fairly comfortable accommodations were constructed from portable units and native trees. The kitchen and a bathroom with flush toilets and showers had concrete floors. The main building was a combination kitchen, dining area and office. All communication with the outside world was by radio to Port Moresby. Diesel generators provided the electrical power for the camp.
The drilling of No. 1 Cecilia would prove to be the costliest hole ever drilled by Texaco up to that time. One of the expenses was for the helicopters we had in constant service. Two were Boeing twin-blade Vertols and one was a smaller Jetranger. The rig was a helirig which means that all components of the rig could be broken down to sections small enough for the Vertols to lift. The rig was found in the jungles of Venezuela and air lifted to the coast where it was loaded on to a freighter and transported to New Orleans for additional supplies then to Houston for more equipment and a long journey to Port Moresby. In Port Moresby all equipment and supplies were loaded onto barges and transported up the Fly River to Kiunga. From Kiunga individual pieces of the rig and supplies were air lifted by the Vertols to the well site. The heaviest piece of equipment was the Schlumberger cable and the drum on which the cable was reeled. This proved to be even heavier than the draw works of the rig.
Since Papua was still a protectorate of Australia, Texaco had made all contract negotiations with the Australians. The contract called for the drilling of a well to a depth of 12,500 feet. The Australians would have access to all of the geological information developed during the course of drilling and have access to the well site but Texaco was the operator and made all decisions. I don’t know who wrote the contract, but whoever it was neglected to insert a clause to provide for any problems encountered while drilling that could preclude reaching the contract depth. Usually a contract calling for a specific total depth can be honored if the depth cannot be reached because of stuck pipe, a blowout or any other problem is encountered and all reasonable efforts have been made to overcome the problem so that drilling can continue. Providing we reached the contract depth of 12,500 feet, the Australians would pay one-half the cost of the well. On the 4th of July we stuck pipe at 12,465 feet only 35 feet short of the contract depth. For several days we made every effort to free the pipe without success and finally received approval to abandon the well without reaching 12,500 feet. I have no knowledge as to whether Australia ever paid their share of the well cost which was an all time high for a Texaco land well. The final cost was around five million dollars, which is not very high by today’s prices.
Although I was at well site as the log analyst and had the authority to run logs whenever I wanted I also worked the samples with the other geologist. We had a good arrangement whereby I would remain awake until after midnight and check all samples before going to bed. While waiting for samples to accumulate at intervals of 30 feet I would play cards in the kitchen while the cook prepared us snacks. Matum would awaken early in the morning and check the samples that had accumulated since my shift. While checking samples I observed a cream colored limestone we had penetrated early before entering a predominately sandstone and shale section 2,500 feet thick. The best explanation was that we had crossed a 2,500-foot thrust fault although we didn’t want to believe it. The final interpretation was that we had indeed crossed a thrust fault and that the surface anticline on which we were drilling was not the expression of a deeper, prospective anticline but drag on the upper side of the fault. Although a portion of the hole was never logged we were confident from the sample analyses that we had not encountered any hydrocarbon accumulation.
Cannibals living in remote villages nearby could see the lights and hear the noises from the rig and would journey for three days to investigate this curiosity. New Guinea is so large and the dominant jungle is hilly and mountainous so that hundreds of villages are unique settlements quite isolated from other clans living a few valleys away. This sociological structure accounted for constant tribal wars and cannibalism. Some anthropologists remain skeptical of the cannibalistic claims, but we saw evidence that it was prevalent. The natives visiting our well site carried bows and arrows and stone axes and their clothing consisted of a loincloth. The bows were made of strong palm wood and the “string” was a narrow strip of bamboo fastened to the ends of the bow with string made from weeds. As remote as the villages were there was occasionally some missionary contact, which accounted for the cloth they wore. One of four visitors had managed to acquire a pair of western jockey shorts that he proudly displayed - even though they were worn backwards. We would give them some food and an Australian dollar they might be able to use for the purchase of cloth from a missionary store if they ever found one. In exchange they would surrender their bows and arrows. We allowed them to keep some of their weapons since their livelihood depended on the game they might kill. During a visit by one of the cannibals I managed to have him remove some sticks from his pierced nose and using sign language I persuaded him to replace the sticks with a Texaco pencil. He understood my message and obliged me. When he had positioned the pencil I twisted it until I could read the inscription, “TEXACO 2 & 2/4” and I took his picture. This was not done in any way to humiliate or degrade him for we had genuine compassion for these poor humans. Their lifespan was probably less than thirty-five years and, at almost fifty, I appeared as an old man to them. The picture expressed the union of the ancient with the modern and has been in demand by co-workers throughout the company. Years later I found a copy in a photo shop in Pekanbaru, Sumatra Indonesia.
Many of the natives of New Guinea have never seen white men and they have no concept of western civilization. During WW II those who had access to naval ports would witness ships docking at the ports like Port Moresby and off loading cargos of man-made materials. They noticed that the cargos would be off loaded then someone on the docks would sign a paper and the ship would sail away. They thought that these goods came from gods somewhere beyond the horizon and if the gods could be contacted they would send them a shipload of goods. In the inland areas the natives also noticed that the transfer of goods took place from airplanes to ground personnel on the airstrip. This looked like a good way to obtain goods from the gods so the “Cargo Cults” evolved. The seacoast natives would write notes on a piece of paper and toss the request for material objects into the sea so that the message would be carried to the gods. The gods were to receive the requests and honor them and respond with a shipload of gifts. Natives in the inland areas would clear the jungle and construct a crude replica of a landing strip on which they would construct model airplanes made from the jungle trees. These planes were to serve as decoys to lure the cargo planes from above.
While we were fishing for our drill pipe we had stuck on July 4th, Matum and I hitched a ride on one of the Vertol helicopters flying to the village of Nomad a few miles to the east. Nomad had been opened to the outside world only two or three years earlier by the Australians who established a governing body and began trying to eliminate the practice of cannibalism. The appointed white, Australian governor had a staff of natives working in the government building which consisted of a thatch building in which the governor collected charged bones of victims that were used as evidence against the accused. Each morning the staff would gather in front of the office and raise the colors of Australia while all stood at attention. The accused would then be removed from the prison compound and marched to the banks of the Nomad River where they would cut weeds with their machetes. To distinguish the accused cannibals from other prisoners they wore red wraparounds. At the end of the day they were returned to the barbwire-enclosed compound for the night. Many of the villagers were not too happy with the preferential treatment the prisoners received. In addition to having a building in which to sleep, each prisoner received a tin of canned meat about the size of a tuna can and a handful of rice. These were better provisions than many of the villagers could afford. The staple food was the sweet potato, which was heated on an open fire and eaten with bare hands.
A dirt runway constructed at the edge of the village was capable of receiving single engine planes that could carry four sacks of cement transported sometimes 500 miles from Port Moresby. From this small dirt airstrip supplies were airlifted by the Vertols and carried to the well site. To oversee this small operation a Finn carpenter on Texaco’s payroll was assigned to meet any incoming planes or helicopters. He had a tent at the end of the runway and a native to cook his meals. We spent the night with him and in the morning we found an arrow stuck in the ground near the tent entrance. I believe that it was only a stray arrow from a bird hunter and not targeted for us. Our evening meal consisted of ground meat of some kind that the cook fried in a frying pan over an open fire. Before he flipped the patties he wiped his spatula on his shirt. A few years after returning home I was reading a National Geographic Magazine article about New Guinea and the author said that if you really want to see a remote, primitive village, go to Nomad.
After a short visit in Nomad we returned to the well site on one of the Vertols. After several days of attempting to free the drill pipe no success had been achieved so we radioed Port Moresby and asked if one of us should return and begin writing a final report for the well. The answer we received was that we should both return. The Brisbane office was attempting to obtain approval from New York to plug and abandon the well. We caught one of the Vertols back to Kiunga and a bush pilot with a little Cessna was chartered to fly us to Port Moresby. There was only the pilot and myself in the front and Matum was on the back seat. We flew for about 500 miles over dense jungle toward Port Moresby arriving after dark. We were greeted at the airport by someone from the local office who informed us that New York had given approval to plug and abandon the well and we were to leave for Brisbane to write the detailed report on Cecilia No.1.
While still at the well site, a group of five natives visited us late one afternoon. They had walked for several days to reach us and were carrying an old man cradled in a net on the back of one of the five. He was obviously very sick and his friends had approached us for help. Our medic checked him over and diagnosed him as having TB and malaria. If he did not receive medical attention quickly he would surely die. We fed the group and provided them a place to spend the night and told them that we could fly him to a missionary hospital in the morning. Before approval could be given for a ride in a helicopter the leader of the group had to make the decision. They had seen these strange birds flying overhead but the thought of riding in one was more than they could imagine. The poor old dying man had no say in the decision. It was decided that he could take the trip to a hospital only if the chief could accompany him. We had no problem with the decision and told them to get some sleep and we would radio for a helicopter in the morning. As the large Vertol approached in the morning the native crew stood by alongside the patient lying on a stretcher. As the props began kicking up the dust all of the sick man’s companions scurried and hide behind stacks of casing and drill pipe. The reactions of the natives were interesting. It appeared as if they resorted to some primitive instinct and behaved much like monkeys, finding hiding places, peering from behind their covers and scurrying on all four appendages. After the Vertol landed all became quiet and the patient and his companion were boarded and flown to a missionary hospital located 35 miles north of Kiunga.
The first night back in Port Moresby we stayed at the Airport Hotel located very near the airport. The hotel was probably the best in the area and had a decent restaurant where we enjoyed a meal of steak Dianne and red wine. After dinner we met some of the rig hands and had a few drinks with them. I took advantage of the Drambuie that cost 25 cents Australian for a drink.
The following morning we flew to Brisbane where we spent more than one week writing the well report. In the meantime I was trying to contact Elaine to make arrangements to rendezvous with her somewhere in Europe for a short vacation. The telephone companies in the states were on strike and communication was impossible. Corresponding by mail was no option because of the delivery time for mail. It was imperative that we make contact. Elaine would have to be back in New Orleans in time for Barbara to begin school at Newcomb College on opening day in September. If the schedule for a meeting in Europe could not be arranged to fulfill these requirements the rendezvous would not take place. Barbara had been keeping Jeannine and we had to return before Barbara began school. Another last minute event was complicating our plans. We had planned to meet in Paris but now it seemed that a better option was to meet in Den Hague where Elaine’s college roommate and her husband had been transferred. John Burgess had been appointed Deputy Director of SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe). I finally got word to Elaine to go to Den Hague and I would meet her there. She was to make her whereabouts known to the American Embassy in Den Hague. We failed to account for a possible arrival on a Saturday or Sunday when the Embassy would be closed.
When our well report was completed I flew to Hong Kong for a short visit and on to Bangkok for another stopover before continuing on to Amsterdam arriving on a Saturday. The ticket Texaco had purchased for me in Brisbane allowed for these two stopovers. From the airport in Amsterdam I took a bus to the bus terminal in Den Hague and from the bus terminal I began my search for Elaine. First, I called the American Embassy. The marine on weekend duty had no information that could help me make contact with either Elaine or John Burgess. The clerks at the bus terminal gave me full use of their telephone and in desperation I began calling hotels as listed alphabetically in the yellow pages. The first hotel had a Mrs. Schneider registered. Considering the dozens of hotels listed I couldn’t believe such a stroke of luck. However, the Mrs. Schneider was not my Mrs. Schneider. I realized that this search would not result in any success so I again contacted the Embassy. The marine on duty answered the telephone and said that he had been hoping that I would call back because he had found a telephone number on John’s desk. I called this number and contact was finally made. I had reached the home that John and Dell had rented only a few days earlier. The welcoming party of three drove to the bus station and the connection was completed. While waiting for me Elaine had enjoyed herself attending Embassy parties and getting acquainted with the city. She had moved into a pension where we stayed for a few days sightseeing the city and making plans for the remainder of our vacation.
We had spent three weeks touring Europe in the fall of 1964 and decided that, instead of driving through more of Europe, we would visit only two cities. We decided on Vienna and Paris, spending one week in each place. This is what we did and found the time very relaxing and enjoyable. All plans for hotels and flights were made with American Express before leaving Den Hague and everything worked out as planned. Except for daily trips out of Vienna and three days in Budapest, Hungary, we concentrated on Vienna and Paris.
We arrived in New Orleans and back to my former geological assignments but the seed had been planted for a more adventurous career. The New Guinea assignment was one of the most interesting jobs I had with Texaco. In addition to the uniqueness of the location I had the authority to program the logging trips and the types of logging services I wanted for evaluation of the penetrated geological column. A trip around the world a vacation in Europe with Elaine was an added bonus. The monotony of an extended period at the well site with no place to venture was broken by occasional helicopter trips to satellite camps and an extended trip to Sidney, Australia via Port Moresby and Brisbane to hand carry a critical dipmeter. After the dipmeter data were analyzed I made the interpretation for the Brisbane office and returned to the well site.
Back in New Orleans I enjoyed a reputation in log analysis that was recognized by other divisions within the company. I had given several scientific papers on various logging procedures at company conferences but was not permitted to publish any of these papers. I sometimes received requests to give my interpretation on logs from overseas divisions. These requests were not well received by my supervisor and he forbad me to do the analyses. He claimed that I worked solely for him and not other divisions. He didn’t appreciate the recognition I was receiving and I attribute his attitude to professional jealously. I managed to do the interpretations anyhow and was duly thanked by the overseas recipients.
In the spring of 1974 I received a call from our New York office asking if my passport was current. Texaco North Sea London was drilling a well in the Brent Field and wanted me to make a rush trip to London to interpret the dipmeter data that would soon be available. I told my boss about the request and he promptly told me that under no circumstances would I be permitted to go. The professional jealousy was now at its climax and a shouting match soon developed. He insisted that I was to stay in New Orleans and work on an upcoming federal, offshore lease sale. I got upset and told him what he could do with his lease sale. I quickly realized that I had - as they say in the south - “ripped my britches”. As I left his office I told him that he would probably be getting an order from management to release me to London. Two days later he came to me and said that I was to call New York. It looked like this was the request to report to our London office. It was now lunchtime in New York and there was a delay in contacting them. My contact in New York asked if I could be in London by morning. I said that I could if flight contacts could be made. Our Exploration Manager had already been contacted for approval to release me and he in turn had told my boss that I was to go.
Electronic ticketing and other means of making reservations were not as rapid as today and the request to be in London by morning was getting questionable. Two of our secretaries went looking for airline tickets and a third secured some travelers checks for me while I called Elaine to ask her to come pick me up and transport me to the airport. It was now the middle of the afternoon when the secretaries managed to ticket me on a 4:30 flight to New York. This was to get me into New York in time to catch the Pan Am Around-the World Flight No. 1 to London. Elaine was not at home but Barbara was available and picked me up. On the way home I bought two shirts at Sears. After a quick packing job I was at the airport in time for the 4:30 flight. Before leaving the office, my boss said that I was to interpret the one and only dipmeter and return to New Orleans. In a separate conversation with our Exploration Manager I was told to take as much time as I needed and enjoy myself in London. All flights were on schedule and I arrived in London in the morning. Arrangements had been made for me to stay in a hotel near the office and as soon as I checked in I went to the office. I proceeded to interpret the Brent dipmeter and when I had finished, additional logs began appearing. I returned to New Orleans about a week later and knew that my britches were ripped a little more than when I had left.
Sometime prior to the London trip I had another unpleasant encounter with the same boss. The Texaco Board of Directors was to have their annual meeting in Louisiana and the Geology Department was requested to prepare a display of the Gulf Coast geology. I had previously built a three dimensional model of the Caillou Island salt dome for a training seminar in Houston and it had been well received. I was asked if I could construct the requested model of the Gulf Coast. With another geologist, Jack Christiansen we got the job and we worked for more than one month building a six-foot by eight-foot model with one foot of vertical relief. The entire area in the gulf was covered with seismic data displayed in colored tape applied to vertical, plexiglas panels. The panels were then connected together at areas of contact with tiny brass hinges. We worked mostly in our garage and finished it in time for the meeting. The chairman of the board was so impressed with the display that he insisted it be the central display at the up-coming stockholders meeting in Miami, Florida. To conform with other displays the model was transported to St. Louis where it was customized by a professional company contracted by Texaco to provide all of the other displays for the meeting. When the time for the stockholders meeting approached I was told to prepare a set of instructions so that the geological and geophysical data on the panels could be assembled properly in Miami. I said that, because of the complex nature of the seismic cross sections it was not possible for me to provide explicit, written instructions. The only way the model could be assembled properly was for me to do it personally. Approval was eventually given for this personal approach but again the boss insisted that I was to assemble the model on Saturday prior to the Monday meeting and return immediately. Our Exploration Manager interceded again and told me that I could stay and take in the meeting and supervise the dismantling of the model. This didn’t set too well with the boss and I returned to New Orleans on Tuesday with a few more inches in the ripped britches.
Prior to going to Miami I called our advanced planning group from New York and asked for a reservation at the Four Ambassadors Hotel where the meeting was to be held. When they were convinced that it was necessary for me to be in the hotel, reservations were made for Elaine and me. They also requested our flight plans so that we could be met at the airport. We were greeted at the airport by a driver and transported to the hotel where we were pre-registered in a seven-room suite. After the first day there we learned of a private dining room reserved for select stockholders and company employees working at the meeting. I identified myself as a Texaco exhibitor and we were permitted to partake of all of our meals with the select stockholders.
Shortly after returning from the London trip in 1974, I requested to attend a meeting of the Society of Professional Well Log Analysts to be held in McAllen, Texas. The request was denied by the same boss but one of his assistants argued in my behalf on the grounds that I was the only member of the society from our division and as past president of the local chapter I should attend. The boss said that if he felt so strongly about my attending he should handle the request. When he processed the request through the Exploration Manager, Louis Goss, it was immediately approved and Elaine and I attended the meeting in McAllen.
The first morning of the meeting we were sitting on our patio. I suggested that we investigate the possibility of working in London. Elaine immediately agreed with the proposal and we spent the rest of the convention crossing the border to Mexico and relaxing instead of attending all of the technical papers being presented. A friend and employee of Welex, a subsidiary of the Halliburton Company and a competitor with Schlumberger, solicited our help in transporting shotgun ammunition into Mexico. This friend, Don McLendon and others were using the home of a Mexican farmer to store their ammunition to be used during the dove-hunting season. We had been prepared for this adventure into Mexaco and had accumulated much clothing and gifts for the poor Mexican’s family. With two cases of shotgun shells in the car trunk we proceeded to the border and when questioned by border guards we simply said that we were going to visit Renosa for the day. We were saluted and sent on our way to the farmers home where we deposited the gifts and shotgun shells at the foot of the farmer’s bed.
As soon as we returned to New Orleans I wrote to my contacts in New York. I knew that it was not wise to make a request through local channels because the paper work would have terminated at the boss’s desk. An immediate response from New York indicated their pleasure in my request because they were preparing to offer me the head development job in London. Apparently the earlier trip to London was partially designed to expose me to the office. We began the necessary paper work and waited patiently for final approval. Because of my salary bracket and job classification it took the approval of five vice presidents and the chairman of the board. In September 1974 final approval was received and our house at 6100 Rosalie Court in Metairie, Louisiana was listed for sale.
We gave our 1969 Cutlass Supreme to Tom and gave power of attorney to a neighbor to sell our house and a 1971 Toyota. We left on October 15 and stopped off in Cleveland to see brother Jim. The first night in Cleveland we received a call from our power of attorney informing us that he had offers on the house and the car. We accepted both offers and were on our way to London.
Daughter Barbara had left before we did so that she might enroll in a music school and to find a house where she could practice her piano playing without disturbing neighbors. Texaco provided her housing in a company flat located on the north side of Hyde Park while she investigated rental properties. Texaco was located on the south side of the park and almost directly across the street from the famous Harrods store. We enjoyed three weeks in the flat while we searched for accommodations. While waiting for us to arrive, Barbara had found a large country home located 30 miles south of London in a village called Leigh. The house had been the vicarage for the Church of England and when the church fell on hard times it had been sold. The Church retained a small plot of the total acreage for the resident vicar’s home. The grounds for The Old Vicarage covered ¾ acres of ground and the building contained 14 rooms. This arrangement provided an ideal setting for Barbara’s practicing.
Across the village street and on a small hill stood the village church dating back to the 11th century. There was a plaque on one of the church walls listing all of the priests and vicars from some time before the Norman invasion in 1066. The grounds around the church contained tombstones, ancient, leaning and presenting a perfect picture setting for a Dickens novel. There were no street lights in the village and whenever attending any evening activity at the church we had to carry a “torch” - English for flashlight.
The first month in London I was sent to Germany to visit our offices in Hamburg and Weitze. Elaine came along and we took the train from London to Harwich where we boarded an overnight ferry to the Hook of Holland. The steward who served us a cup of tea before docking awakened us in the morning. At the dock we boarded a train for Hamburg where we were met by Texaco people and taken to the offices for a tour of the facilities. We spent two days in Hamburg visiting with exploration and development geologists and geophysicists and our German log analyst, Dr. Füllop. We were then chauffeured to Weitze. Weitze is a small village near the village of Celle, south of Hamburg and north of Hanover. We stayed in Celle, a quaint city that had not been bombed during the war. The city had been spared of bombing because there were no significant industries there and it was predominately a center for law. The fact that British royalty had some connection with the city and particularly with the castle near our hotel provided further reason for not having Celle on the bombing hit list. Each night at sundown a trumpeter would walk to the top of the church steeple located across the street from our hotel and would play German Retreat from each of the four corners of the steeple. This is an ancient, city tradition that has continued to this day.
Shortly before our visit Texaco had bought the largest German oil company, Deutsch Erdoil. The Germans maintain that they actually drilled the first oil well before Captain Drake had drilled the first well in Pennsylvania. This alleged discovery had been in the vicinity of Weitze so, to placate the Germans, Texaco built a research laboratory in Weitze and staffed it with German scientists. I don’t think that they did much constructive research as they walked the hallways in their white lab coats with their hands locked behind their backs and in deep thought. One, a Doktor Zimmerly, had been a U-Boat captain and was now a stratigrapher. After work, during social gatherings at the local ratskeller the subject of conversation would eventually center on the war. We had our version to relate and Zimmerly seemed thrilled in relating the sinkings he had to his credit. The research paleontologist was a nice young man, Dr. Plumhoff I mentioned earlier in a story concerning the collecting of German prisoners on the banks of the Elbe River.
We had met most of the research staff by lunchtime. The manager was ready to retire from his position in the laboratory and seemed more interested in taking a lunch break than pursuing the visit. He checked his watch and made a proclamation, “Ve go to lunch.” Other than for the Texaco Lab, an aluminum supply yard, a small schoolhouse and one tavern, Weitze seemed to be lacking of any other commercial establishments. We retired to the tavern and our host said that we must first have a drink of Ratzaputz. He said that it was a local drink and too powerful for Elaine so only the males were permitted to partake. One sip confirmed his wise decision. This drink was Weitze’s answer to American white lightning or French Calvados. Lunch was a traditional meat, cabbage and potatoes meal with good beer. The afternoon was spent with more of the staff then we were driven back to Celle where we spent an enjoyable evening with Dr. Plumhoff and his wife.
At the completion of our official visit we took a train from Hanover to Den Hague and spent a short visit with our friends, John and Delma Burgess before returning to London and our country home in Leigh.
The local school in Leigh was not recommended for Jeannine so she was enrolled in a private English school, Fosse Bank, in Tunbridge Wells but the school didn’t meet our requirements. The head mistress was more interested in whipping Jeannine into a submissive English girl than in giving her an education. After one year she transferred to Granville School in Seven Oaks. This proved to be a much better school. Jeannine quickly established good relationships with teachers and students and enjoyed her stay there.
Barbara Ann enrolled in the Trinity Conservatory of Music in London and she and I commuted to London from Hildenborough Station located about one and three quarters of a mile from the Old Vicarage. Elaine kept busy chauffeuring us to and from the train station and transporting Jeannine to and from school. From the Hildenborough Station I traveled by train to Sharing Cross Station a distance of thirty miles. From Sharing Cross I walked past Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square Station and rode the Piccadilly Line to Knightsbridge Station, which was near Harrods and across the street from Texaco’s offices.
Before having left Louisiana we had acquired our dog, “Tickie” so named because of her saturation with ticks when we rescued her from a campground. England is paranoid about rabies and has extremely strict transportation and quarantine laws regarding animals. Because of these restrictions Tickie had an immigration dossier thicker than any of the rest of the family. Documentation had to be provide to show proper inoculations and she had to be shipped by air to London where Texaco had to make arrangements for a certified carrier who claimed her at Heathrow and transported her to a certified kennel for a quarantine period of six months. Having the proper rabies shots was no consideration for waiving the quarantine. I believe that the entire quarantine program is designed to promote employment for carriers and kennels. The drivers license program is another program designed to relieve expatriates of extra pounds (money, not weight). The first kennel treated Tickie poorly and we arranged to transfer her to a kennel nearer to Leigh. She enjoyed her new home and was well cared for until the six-month period was completed and we brought her home.
It was necessary for us to have a vehicle while living in the village of Leigh. We bought a new Peugeot with stick shift but after finding it difficult for Elaine to handle because of surgery she had undergone, we sold it and bought a British Leland with automatic drive. Both vehicles proved to be good, dependable cars. Obtaining British drivers licenses was more difficult than buying the cars. Every little village seemed to support a driving school. These schools didn’t teach us how to drive; instead their purpose was to teach us how to pass the driving test. After several lessons an application had to be made to schedule an examination. The application was accompanied with a ten pound, non-refundable deposit and upon receipt by the Motor Vehicle Department you were scheduled an examination date. This sizable deposit was a good source of income so the first test invariably resulted in failure so that more lessons and another application needed to be made. Elaine and I both failed on our first test. The examiner checked 72 separate maneuvers during the driving test and of the 72 he failed me on only one - he didn’t like the way I approached intersections. We both passed on the second attempt. Barbara had a medical exam the morning of her test and she was not up to peak performance. She messed up on almost every command given by the examiner; however, her youth and good looks helped and the youthful examiner passed her on the first try.
Before we had spent two years in the Old Vicarage Barbara decided to return to the States and in the fall of 1976 we moved into a flat located near Regents Park. The flats on both sides of one block of Glentworth Street were called Clarence Gate Gardens and our flat backed up to the fictitious address of Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street. Various intelligence and spy groups in WW II centered in the vicinity of Baker Street and in many of the local buildings. Intelligence gathering activities are often referred simply as “Baker Street.” The house from which the French resistance departed London when on covert missions was located around the corner from our flat. Here, the agents received their final briefings before being parachuted into France or brought to shore in a rubber dingy at night. Had I volunteered for one of these covert missions I most likely would have left from this building.
The day we moved into the flat on the third floor we were invited to a party on the fifth floor. This flat on the top floor of the flat complex was the home of our host, Mr. Desmond Flowers who was a writer and publisher. His father had founded the Cassel Publishing Company, a well-known publisher that published Winston Churchill’s Memoirs among many of his other works. Desmond Flowers wrote several books including a two-volume treatise of World War II in Europe which I have seen quoted by Cornelius Ryan in his book, A Bridge Too Far. Flowers was also a jazz fan and had collaborated in writing a memoir of the New Orleans jazz player, Sidney Bichet who was spending his last years in Paris.
As a teenager Flowers visited the States with his father whenever a business trip was made. On these trips he met many publishers and writers and married a graduate of Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She was one of two ex-wives who attended the party together. The two were friendly with each other and also with their ex-husband. One of the ex-wives was from Ashland, Ohio. I believe that she was of the Meyers Pump Company, a world-renown manufacturer of pumps. Flowers had a library of priceless first edition publications. He would ask a guest to name his favorite writer then proceed to retrieve one of the writer’s first editions from one of his many bookshelves. He asked me which French writer I liked and the first name that came to mind was Voltaire (1694-1778). He retrieved a first edition for my examination.
On our way to London, Elaine had purchased a book on the Japanese art of paper folding called origami. One of the first persons we met at the party was the author of the book, Robert Harbin who was also one of Britain’s best-known magicians. He regularly performed on BBC Television. Harbin had become fascinated with the art of origami but could find no English language books on the subject. He wrote to Emperor Hirohito who was also involved in the subject and Hirohito gave him all of the material he needed to write an English, step-by-step guide on origami.
When we moved to London Jeannine transferred to the American School, a modern complex with all of the American facilities. This was located a short distance from our flat near Regent’s Park and Jeannine commuted by bus or underground. Public transportation was safe and she soon learned the system and traveled London with confidence. One of her classmates was the daughter of Martin Landau and Barbara Baines, the couple from the television series, Mission Impossible. Jeannine visited them several times in their Sloan Square flat. They were in London filming a science fiction TV production about space travel. The viewing public did not receive the episodes very well. We saw only a few episodes in the States.
Our stay in London was interesting and enjoyable with plenty of sights to see and places to go. Having a car proved to be a handicap so I sold ours to a co-worker and we relied on public transportation and taxis. Our flat had no parking facilities and street parking was not a reliable option. I had to purchase a parking permit that entitled us to park in designated areas in the borough of Westminster. The problem was finding a parking spot in the designated areas. Our flat was around the corner from Baker Street Station, one of the underground’s key stations. From here we could access several train stations by way of the Metropolitan Line or the Bakerloo Line. I traveled to work from a bus stop near the underground to our office at No. 1 Knightsbridge Green.
British Rail had so many trains that were used for commuters during the workweek that they offered special trips on the otherwise-idle trains on weekends. Each year British Rail published a catalog of the trips scheduled for the entire year. These often included an overnight stay in a hotel with meals and the hotel cost and total cost of the package was less than the regular train fare. We took some of these trips with friends and explored some interesting British areas we had not seen by car travel.
Many of my lunch hours were spent visiting Harrods. This world-renown store offered every imaginable type of merchandise as well as services such as a zoo offering rare animals, a real estate service and funeral services. Unique departments were their food halls and a minerals section. A pool of special clerks filled orders for the rich Arabs from the oil-producing countries. Royal weddings commanded unbelievable inventories of goods - hundreds of sheets, pillow cases, linen, towels etc. A common sight at Harrods was the arrival of a limousine with blackened windows. Curbside parking deposited an Arab at the front door and he would enter the store accompanied by an assistant in western clothing and a pocket full of cash. Price was never an issue and when the purchaser saw what he wanted the keeper of the purse paid in cash.
Not far from the Texaco office was the Victoria and Albert Museum, a close second in popularity to the British Museum. Admission was free so we were able to spend many lunch hours in the various sections. Not far from the Victoria and Albert there is the Museum of Natural History and the Science Museum, which has a fabulous collection of steam engines dating back to Watts’ original pieces. Some large engines with vertical pistons penetrate the ceiling to another level. Near these museums there is the Albert Hall, a large, circular concert hall used for many different activities. Across from the hall stands the Albert Memorial, a gaudy structure honoring Prince Albert. The first sign of spring in London manifests itself in the appearance of crocuses blooming at the base of the unattractive monument.
Most of my job assignments were in supervising development geology of the North Sea fields, which we either operated or participated in with other operators. Several trips were made to Aberdeen, Scotland where we had a district office to handle our operations. Like any other base that is used by the industry for offshore operations, personnel and supplies move from here to the drill site or to production facilities. The North Sea presents some of the world’s most difficult waters in which to drill. Because of the intense wave activity transportation of personnel by boat is not always possible and helicopters were used for most of my well site trips. On one occasion the waves were approximately 40 feet high and drilling was almost impossible because of the movement of the rig. The helicopter that transported me could not shut down for fear of being blown off of the helipad. The heliport in Aberdeen and one in Lafayette, Louisiana were the largest non-military heliports in the world and were well staffed and organized. Before boarding we were instructed in survival procedures and all carryon equipment was weighed so that the lift off could be determined. At times, the weight was so critical that the humidity of the atmosphere and the time of day had to enter the formula. The cooler the air and the greater the density because of high humidity, the greater was the lifting power of the helicopter.
Aberdeen is a nice city that was primarily a fishing port before North Sea oil made it an oil center. The entire city was originally built of gray granite that outcrops in the area. On winter days all structures take on a dismal, gloomy appearance void of color in the short winter days. After the long winter days the residents take advantage of the warmer, summer weather and the short nights to bring the city to vibrant color with flowers blooming everywhere. Trips to Aberdeen and to North Sea rigs presented welcome breaks from the office work in London.
In the late summer of 1977 I volunteered to spend a month on a rig operating in offshore Angola, Africa. Angola had recently become independent from Portugal and was a communist country controlled by the communist party, the MPLA. Cubans, Russians and Bulgarians occupied the country and conflict still existed between the MPLA and the UNITA, (National Union for Total Independence of Angola), the CIA backed rebels that controlled much of the interior of the country. The MPLA controlled the coastal areas and the major cities. We were dealing with the MPLA communists. The following case illustrates how economics plays such major roles even in times of war or other international conflicts. Just before I left London for Angola we were informed that the Russians had sent a general to assure that we would be treated properly and that no action would be taken to impair our drilling operations. There was an ulterior motive in this Russian move. The Russians had sold military arms and munitions to the Angolans and one of the few sources of revenue for Angola was their oil production. The more oil we could find, the better the chances were for the Russians to be compensated for their supply of arms. The presence of the Russians and the Cubans had a restraining effect on the natives and, had they not been present, opposing factions would have slaughtered each other as warring tribes throughout Africa have been doing. In spite of the presence of the Russians and Cubans, fighting has continued to this day. Angola is a large country and the interior that is not well explored probably offers great potential for mining and even oil exploration. The political situation must improve before any of these possibilities can be realized.
For the trip to Angola I first flew to Brussels where we had an office. Texaco operated our drilling concession in Angola but we had partners from the newly formed national oil company of Angola and from a Belgium affiliate. The Belgians had better relations with the government of Angola than either the Americans or the British so we operated through the Brussels office. I spent a few days here getting briefed on the situation in Angola and studied the geology of our prospect. A German engineer who accompanied me on the mission joined me. The two of us flew to Madrid then on to Las Palmas on the island of Gran Canaria, one of the Canary Islands. We had a five-hour layover before leaving for Las Palmas so we decided to take a bus into town for a short sightseeing trip. We were walking through the terminal building in search of a baggage check where we could deposit our brief cases when a lady grabbed my arm as we passed her and she said “George Schneider”. She was wearing sunglasses and standing next to a man with a bushy mustache who was also wearing sunglasses. I apologized that I didn’t recognize and she replied “Don’t you recognize your old next door neighbor from New Orleans”? The couple was Ed and Ro Dunn who had lived next to us on Rosalie Court four years earlier. They were now living in Singapore where Ed was in charge of a diving crew working the oil fields in offshore Southeast Asia. They had just enrolled one of their children in a Swiss school and were on their way to their home in Singapore. They also had a few hours of layover and were waiting to be met by friends for a short visit.
In Las Palmas we obtained the necessary visas to enter Angola. A dinner of local shrimp left me with a bad case of food poison but after spending all of the next day in bed I was well enough to continue our journey. An overnight flight with a refueling stop in Douala, Cameroon brought us to Luanda, the capital of Angola.
Before leaving Brussels we learned that the offshore drill site might not be on the proper location that had been determined by seismic data. To confirm the location a French engineer who was to locate the rig using our satellite positioning system available at that time now accompanied us. He needed two 12-volt car batteries to power his equipment and he was not certain that the batteries were on the plane. We contacted a Texaco representative in Douala and asked him to find two batteries and have them at the airport. This contact was a Lebanese citizen and a real horse trader - the kind of person one needs to deal with the natives. At two o’clock in the morning we landed in Douala and were met by our Lebanese contact with two batteries as requested. We had been fed sandwiches on the plane and a bagful still remained. He took possession of the leftover food and passed by the customs officials as he handed out sandwiches. He was also carrying a bag full of watches that he moved through customs as the officials sampled their sandwiches.
In Luanda we were met at the airport by an Angola native who was an employee of Texaco. Without his assistance we would never have cleared the bureaucratic hurdles even though we were not even leaving the airport. None of the airport employees knew what to do. After obtaining their independence the locals citizens were assigned jobs for which they had no training. A young immigration official could not make out my passport number, which at that time was perforated on one of the front pages. His supervisor showed him how to hold the perforated page up to the light so that the number could be observed and he still had a hard time understanding the simple maneuver. Eventually he was able to copy the number on to a form and took pride in informing me that I was an American. Considering that these servants were the result of a revolution we understood the handicaps they faced and were sympathetic and tolerant with the processing of our entry data.
After clearing numerous check points including security, currency, customs and health we were back on the tarmac searching for the plane that would take us to a village 200 miles to the north near the mouth of the Congo River. The village had been called Santo Antonio de Zaire and was now renamed Soyo. Being located at the mouth of the Congo, the Portuguese had established a naval base for small ships before the revolution and was now a base for the MPLA Navy. We carried our luggage all over the tarmac in search of the plane that would provide our transportation. It was finally learned that the plane we were supposed to use was loaded with flour to be flown to another city. The sacks of flour were unloaded and the plane was swept clean. We boarded the plane, a Russian troop carrier, and sat on benches along the fuselage. The benches were intended for paratroopers with a full field pack and the seat belts were fixed to fasten tightly on a fully equipped soldier. With loose belts in place we were ready for takeoff.
The Russian pilot and copilot began adjusting knobs on the instrument panel and pushing buttons as they observed the starboard engine. A third member wearing a pair of sandles shuffled to the cockpit to assist the pilots. His headgear consisted of a cloth cap resembling a painter’s cap. He reached between the two seated at the controls and preceded to pull and push a few more knobs until the starboard engine sputtered and, in a cloud of smoke, came to life. The same procedure was conducted to awaken the portside engine and we were soon taxiing down the runway in preparation for takeoff. Texaco personnel making a crew change occupied most of the plane. They were Portuguese and Spanish cooks who had made the trip before and didn’t appear too concerned about the flight. Their composure provided a certain degree of comfort to me; however, the complexion changed abruptly when the engines revved up for takeoff and all of the brave cooks made signs of the cross as they prayed for safety.
Fortunately the Russian crew had apparently made the flight many times and were quick to identify themselves to the tower at Soyo. This alerted the Cuban antiaircraft crews on the ground that we were friendly. While waiting to pass through customs and immigration we visited the gun crews who proudly exhibited their guns until a senior soldier appeared and we were asked to leave while he reprimanded the crew for displaying their guns to Americans. We were met here by Texaco people who transported us in the rear of a Toyota pickup to a crude office building.
In the morning I accompanied the French engineer in search of a location for his monitoring equipment that would lock in on the satellite navigation system and establish the actual location of the rig. We traveled on a beautiful sand beach and found an abandoned tower that had served as a beacon. The added height of the structure was the ideal location for the monitoring equipment. We climbed to the top of the tower and set up the equipment. After a few passes of the satellites the Frenchman was able to get a fix and it was determined that the rig was on the desired location determined by seismic data. With this information in hand we boarded a crew boat anchored on the Congo River. Fortunately the tide was in so the boat was able to reach the boarding dock. On a subsequent trip I had to use a two-man speedboat to the mouth of the river then scale the side of the crew boat. From Soyo we traveled south along the coast until we reached the rig. From the deck of the boat we were lifted approximately 200 feet and deposited on the heliport. A good crane operator on the rig could time the basket so that it would land on the boat deck when the waves were low. A quick maneuver called for depositing our brief cases inside the net then placing our feet on the outside of the ring that formed the base of the net assembly. You then hang on while the crane operator raises you in perfect time with the rising wave, always keeping you over water in case you fell. Water would provide a softer landing than a steel rig floor. Safely deposited on the rig I was shown to quarters and prepared to work.
The rig was a floating rig but the water was sufficiently shallow - less than 200 feet - so it was sunk on location by flooding the huge hollow legs. The operation was a typical operation with all of the support services like Schlumberger, Halliburton and a mud-logging unit. Living facilities were adequate and the kitchen always provided good meals 24 hours a day.
The drilling operations were rather routine as I examined drill cuttings, mud logs and ran Schlumberger logs as I saw fit. Unfortunately we logged no shows and the well was abandoned when we reached the base of prospective section identified by pink sandstone in the cuttings and pieces of gneiss basement attached to the drill bit.
Approximately one year later I volunteered for another assignment in the same area of Angola. The routing for this second trip was altered slightly from the first and I traveled through Lisbon, Portugal where the necessary documents were obtained and I continued on to Luanda. By now conditions had not improved significantly but the best hotel in Luanda was now open for business. The only functioning elevator was the freight elevator and it was usually occupied so we had to take the stairs to our rooms on upper floors. The main and only restaurant occupied the top floor and could be reached only by the freight elevator, which was used by the kitchen to carry garbage cans from the restaurant to the basement. There was no menu in the restaurant and dinner consisted of whatever happened to be available. Like all revolutions, those who do the fighting and dying never share in the changes brought on by the revolution. The MPLA leaders, Cubans, Russians, Americans and other Western Europeans, occupied the restaurant. I spoke to some Americans sitting at a table nearby and found out that they were with an American company - Boeing I believe. They were in Angola installing an aircraft warning system for the MPLA so that they might be forewarned of any possible air attacks by the CIA-backed UNITA. This is another example of politics and economics at work.
On this second wildcat try we had better luck than the previous attempt. The drilling rig was the same as we had used on the first well. I was in charge of the logging program and I examined the well cuttings and the mud logs. Free time was spent in the dining room or in the recreation room. Most evenings we sat in the radio room to monitor any radio calls while we ate snacks and played cards. One evening while playing cards we heard an emergency call on the radio. Someone was screaming “Mayday, Mayday.” The call letters identified those of one of our crew boats that was one its way to the rig with a crew change on board. It was dark and the ship’s captain, an old German, was not paying attention to his radarscope as he traveled full speed on a bearing toward the rig. He was suddenly confronted with a bright spotlight in his path