Kimball's Odyssey of the 150th Engineer (Combat) Battalion
By George H. Kimball


PREFACE

There were some enlisted soldiers, my comrades, in 150th Engineer (Combat) Battalion who must be recognized. They were assigned with me to Sections S-2 and S-3 (Intelligence and Operations) at different times. They shared the work of the every day operation and were great soldiers. They were and always will be my buddies: Robert H. Corson, John Doherty, Charles Dwelley, Daniel Donabedian, John Fisk, Kermit J. Gordon, Edwin Kolosewicy, Charles McDonald, Thurston E. Nelson, Robert W. Pearl, Robert F. Pitts, Edward G. Schube, Robert E. Spear, Monroe Sweetland, Warren Synder, Sylverster Szychulski, John Volto and Robert M. White. This list does not include the officers I knew; with due respect "Sir", I cannot call them buddies. I personally want to honor all the officers of the 150th, for they went through very difficult combat times trying to perform their duty and protect the enlisted men.

George H. Kimball
October 1, 1999
East Boothbay, Maine




SERVICE
UNITED STATES ARMY
9 MARCH 1943 TO 5 DECEMBER 1945
WORLD WAR I I
GEORGE H. KIMBALL 3130****


This is another odyssey of the 150th Engineer (Combat) Battalion as seen through the eyes of the author with editorial comments, after over fifty years of pondering the many crises that occurred and then rehash each crises at reunions since the "Great War". It has become necessary to write and share some of these experiences as they travel through my mind in time.

On an overcast day in March 1945 in Oppendhien, Germany; I headed my Jeep down the cobble stone road into the village, the open field on the left, where a company of bridge engineers was unloading the Treadway bridge equipment. This was the beginning of the construction of the longest Treadway bridge -or rather bridges- the Third Army would build, under battlefield conditions, during World War II. (I'll explain this later.) The planning for this operation had started over a year ago in England under the Corp. of Engineers, ETO (European Theater of Operations) Command. The Rhine River crossing was inevitable to take place somewhere, or in several places? This was necessary in order to fulfill the Allies' unconditional surrender policy. There was always hope the Germans would surrender before we reached the Rhine River, but wars were not won on hope, so the planning continued.
After the Battle of the Bulge the Third Army Commander (General George S. Patton Jr.) with his staff had selected Oppendhien as the most appropriate place for the assault crossing, as it was the most unlikely location the German General Staff would expect. A surprise crossing was Patton's greatest asset.
(This was George S. Patton's Jr. second time in just over 25 years facing the German Army in Europe in a fight for liberty and justice, in World War I he commanded a tank brigade and in World War II an Army as a four star general.)
Our concerns were these: would the German Forces going to find out the size of this operation and would they have available troops and equipment to do considerable damage to this tremendous operation?
Captain Morgan, the officer I was driving, had been in our outfit about two months and had previously been commander of the Engineer Bridge Company that was doing the work in the assembly area. He had a lot of interest in how the Bridge Company was performing in this crucial situation. He was satisfied. Captain Morgan was a good officer, direct, compassionate and understanding.
Our immediate mission this morning was to make sure the "two-an-half" ton trucks (the standby of Army transportation) with the Treadway bridge equipment could make their way through the narrow streets to the river assembly area and return to the staging area to pick up more Treadway equipment. We checked out the selected routes and the Captain found them to be adequate. The Captain Morgan reported this to Group Headquarters.
More questions: One, could a Treadway Bridge be built here? Two, was the 150th Engineers up to the task? The answer to both questions was a different yes. The larger question was: the Engineers going to be able to keep the bridge in place and operating, for the days necessary to put several divisions over to establish the large bridge head required
The construction of this Treadway Bridge was a very difficult engineering feat. The Rhine River was flowing 2.5 to 3.0 mph and to maintain the bridge sections together. This was a monumental task. The bridge had to transport tanks, artillery pieces, motorized infantry and loaded "two-an-half" ton trucks, never mind the flowing river trying to force it down stream and the enemy trying to knock it out.
You may wonder how I happen to be so familiar with this operation after fifty-three years. Well. if this was your wedding day you probably would remember the details of what transpired for many years, but this was our finest hour, most all our previous bridges were shorter and simpler compared to this one. The whole Battalion and Group took part in this construction. I knew at the time that history was being recorded at this Rhine crossing and I was part of it.
This was no joke. This operation was very serious, for even though most journalists had already written Germany's defeat, there were still battles to be won, lives lost and soldiers injured.
The maps that I was able to study to get a better overall picture showed that the village of Oppendhien was a small tourist town set on the west bank of the Rhine River, where the river head's north and takes a wide curve to the west around some hills then further north to the cities of Mainz and Cobolenz. The hills to the west rise quite steeply to the southwest and then they proceed to the Palatinate. The land to the northwest, the farmland sloped moderately from the river to a higher plane, then farther to the steep valley of the Moselle, our last river crossing. To the east of the Rhine River lay the low flat farm lands and farther to the east was the open access to the heartland of Germany, the Third Army's ultimate objective. The land features were very important to the commanders. I was one very alert soldier at the time. Realizing the history, I took special interest in the topography. Fortunately there were few German soldiers across the River.
General Patton's plan was to cross the Rhine River without making it a large operation that would attract the attention of the remaining German forces protecting the Fatherland, either to the north or south. The other concerns were the ETO high command that he was making this a major assault crossing. He really wanted to capture the heartland of Germany, and we did. According to the ETO high command, the British to the north were supposed to take a large role in capturing Northern Germany and Berlin, but that is another story of World War II for others to expound upon.
The story I want to tell is how I happened to be there.
Let's set the stage with a little history. On Dec. 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. It was sort of like a hunter putting a pitchfork into the foot of a sleeping giant. The giant jumped up and ran in all directions at once. At the time some thought we could defeat Japan in six months to a year at the most and then concentrate on Hitler in Europe. It did not turn out that way. I was at Wilbraham Academy at the time, eighteen years old. I knew this war was going to affect me a great deal, but I never thought in my wildest dreams, I would be a directly involved in the Allied Armies of a couple million soldiers with tanks, artillery pieces, ammunition, bridge equipment and trucks lined up against the Germans who were spread across Europe from the North Sea to Switzerland and even more soldiers and equipment in Northern Italy. The bombing at Pearl Harbor gave the whole country a rallying point for the war effort.

Fort Devens, Mass. March 1943.
Now let's go back to March 9, 1943, my induction date into the "Army of the United States". This was two years before the Rhine River crossing. The most significant part of my Army experience was that I started my active duty at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, where I was assigned to the 150th Engineer (Combat) Battalion. This meant that I would be stationed about thirty miles from home for the first three or four months in the Army. I missed being sent away to an isolated Army camp in a strange place to take Army Basic training. But even Fort Devens seemed far from home to a new recruit because of the restrictions (quarantine).
Previous to my induction, my education included: High School at Ashland, Mass., Wilbraham Academy (one year), Wilbraham, Mass., and UNH (one semester), Durham, NH. Most of my courses were heavy in math, science, physics, chemistry and ROTC at UNH. At the time I thought the army was interrupting my education, my life, and my good times. After only six weeks of active duty I was promoted to Technician Grade 5 (corporal). Our unit (150th) had not finished the required three months of basic training. During my induction I had learned to make sure my records included most all the courses that I had taken, in order to be recognized for any openings that might come along. This worked for me because I made corporal in six weeks. I only did KP once while in the service. I had very little trouble with early soldiering in basic training, for the ROTC had taught me well and there was very little new, like making your bed, keeping clean and neat, for good soldiering was already in my nature having been away from home a year and a half at Wilbraham and UNH.
Basic training besides forced marches, calisthenics, policing up the area (picking up butts) watching VD training films, motor pool school, ashes and trash detail and rations (food) detail were all worked into the army basic training and oh yes the rifle range.
I have a little story about the rations detail. Every soldier in the army is allowed his amount of food and it is counted for in the morning report. The ration detail consisted of one army truck with three or four men to go the quartermaster depot and pick up the food that was assigned to the 150th Engineers and then divide the food up between the four companies. Sounds simple. But with recruits it was an experience I remember to this day. The soldier who was normally in charge was missing, three of us recruits went to pick up the food which happened to be a side of beef along with other can goods, sugar and milk. Well, I can tell you Sullivan and me cutting up the side of beef into fourths was really something. We got a knife from one of the kitch.ens and wrestled the side of beef on a wooden table and cut it into four parts in one of the barracks. This was an example of the new army world we were in and we better learn how to improvise. Many years later at a recent reunion I talked to Sullivan about this detail and he also remembered it very well.
There were three fellows in the 150th that I knew before I arrived. One was Wallace Corey. He and I played basketball together in High School. He ended up in the 26th Division and was injured in ETO. I met him years later at a High School reunion. The other fellow was Harold (Jim) Graves; we were both students at Wilbraham Academy. He was a natural leader and a great athlete and later taught school at Williston Academy. The third was, Arthur Boucher, from Northboro, Mass. I played basketball against him in Northboro. He was in Co. B through the war and we became real good friends at the reunions. He now lives in Boylston, Mass.
There were always the overall questions that kept coming up in my mind. Where was this Army taking me? Why did I have to be in the Army? Was this war going to spoil my whole life? Was I going to make it through this war? The only rational answer that seemed to come up was that I would not make it home from this war. This rationale seemed to fit my situation in two ways: one was "not to give a damn," attitude (to get this foolishness out of my mind) so I could at least enjoy tomorrow,

University of Kentucky, Lexington, Ky.
The opportunity to go to this college was perhaps the most important part of my early Army career to study Geodetic Computing for three months. The billets at Lexington were a large ten-story hotel (Phoenix), right on main street in the center of the City. The hotel had about six soldiers to a room and there must have been about two thousand men in the hotel. We all ate in the hotel and marched to classes two miles away.
This was a big chance to get out of basic training and do something worth- while. I was now back in college which I had just left two months earlier, studying practically the same material. At the time I knew I liked the idea but I really did not see all the benefits. (You can see I was away ahead of the times studying computing in 1943. But the computer part was trigonometry, locating your position on earth by triangulation from fixers on stars.) This course required a rating of Technician Grade 5 (Corporal) and I was sent to UK to take college level courses in subjects I could handle and enjoy. I had a great time at UK in the spring of the year with evenings free until 10:00 PM bed check. We went to classes eight hours a day, five days a week and Saturday morning, with Saturday morning inspections. Compared to basic training, this was great.
When graduation came, August 7, 1943, with a grade point average of 87.4%, I headed back to Fort Devens, with Robert W. Pearl and Stanley A. Briggs, my 150th buddies. My tour of duty at UK will always be remembered as what the Army should be like. Without this experience my Army life would have been one training "buzz saw" after another.
As a historical note the Army Engineering School at UK included about 50 men from the Phoenix Hotel all taking engineering courses to supplement basic training because the existing overseas engineering units were lacking trained enlisted men in drafting, land surveyors, basic mathematics and map technicians. The Corp. of Engineers needed combat battalions with men that had this type of training in order to adequately perform all the Army tasks the commanders required.

Fort Devens, Mass. August - September 1943
Returning back to the outfit and army barracks I left earlier, I found that the men were now seasoned Army GI's. They had been training three months and it showed. The men would "fall out", line up for chow and talk Army "lingo". It seemed so strange at first because I was not sure I would fit in. I had been left behind. I had missed the parades, formations, motor pool and training films. But it only took a couple days to feel part of the outfit again with details like CQ (charge of quarters) and guard duty.
The training consisted of forced marches, rifle range, bridge construction, drafting, map reading, motor pool maintenance, VD movies, and many training films. One very noted training experience was a bivouac of about four days to Mt. Monadnoch and the Merrimack River in the area of Nashua, NH. The officers had decided it would be a good idea for S-2 section to make a map of the trails on Mt. Monadnoch. The company squads were going to climb up the mountain's many trails and keep notes and turn them into S-2 section and I would assemble the material into a map. This did not work out to my satisfaction because some squads made very good notes and others made poor notes or none at all so the map had big gaps. The officers were testing me out to see what I had learned at UK. I do not think they were impressed with my work, at least I was not. (It should be noted the battalion commander many years later became a Colonel in charge of the Map Section of the Corp of Engineers at Fort Belvior, Va.)
The bivouac to Mt. Monadnoch and the Merrimack River in New Hampshire had challenges. They consisted of mounting a lot of our equipment on trucks (drafting boxes, transits, drafting tables, duplicating equipment and our duffel bags). Other sections had all their stuff to put into trucks, kitchen supplies, squad boxes, motor pool repair shop and supplies to take care of 800 men. It even included the medical section with a Red Cross truck.
There were usually about four enlisted men and one officer assigned to the S-2 section. But because we worked very close with S-3 section (operations), which included eight enlisted men and two officers, it seemed to many that the two sections were one section. The sections were supposed to be organized and all the equipment moved and taken care of. There were never enough men to do all the work the officers thought-up. So the Army system produced "GOOF OFF'S". You tried hard to be busy as "hell" doing nothing. Sometimes we thought there were too many officers to tell to few enlisted what to do.
The crossing of the Merrimack River was an operation that consisted of transporting our men and equipment across the river in a wooded area where approach roads had to be constructed. The battalion used Army boats, where two boats were connected together and powered by an outboard motor. This arrangement was used to ferry men and their duffel bags across the river. The trucks were ferried across the river by connecting four boats in a barge arrangement that could carry one truck.
This led to our first training disaster. Two men drowned, when one of the outboard motor boats tipped over in a mishap in the middle of the river. This accident affected the whole battalion in many ways. It woke me up to the fact that this Army training was a lot more serious and dangerous than I had ever thought. I will never forget the two men and the effect it had on the outfit. It is still vivid in our minds after over fifty years. When we have our annual reunions it becomes " Do you remember the time" discussions.

Elkins, West Virginia
The maneuvers in West Virginia was an experience leaving the comforts of the barracks to living out doors in pup tents and getting used to the real outdoor army life, living in tents, using mess kits, chow lines and trying to keep clean without the conveniences of army barracks.
This country was very mountainous. Just right for a bunch of young soldiers to run up and down, day in and day out (month in and month out). The mountains were made of West Virginia coal shale that was not good enough to mine but with plenty of coal to get all over our faces, on the back of my neck and on my drawings. There was not a flat place on the whole side of the mountain. We were located on the side of the mountain ran from the valley to the top at least three quarters of a mile (far enough so I never went to the top). Our bivouac area was about eight miles out- side of Elkins..
On one occasion we were called out, to ask if there were any volunteers to fight forest fires. (It was customary not to volunteer for anything in the Army.) But I volunteered to do something different. About eight to ten of us climbed into a truck and off we went to the forest fire. It had been dry. The fire was on the side of mountain. We were told to spread out along the fire and put it out with shovels. The trouble was you could get it out OK. But the fire would start up soon after, because it was so dry. It began to get dark. But I continued on up the mountain. The fire was getting easier to put out. I finally reached the top of the mountain. There was less vegetation there and no fires. It was now about midnight. The stars were out and it was so quiet, peaceful and beautiful. I descended down and finally found a truck to take me back to camp.
There were other Army units bivouacked around Elkins. Our sister outfit, 204th Engineer (C) Battalion was also there. The 204th came from Minnesota and was activated at the same time as the 150th. Both battalions had basic training at Fort Devens, maneuvers in West Virginia and then on to Fort Dix, N.J. and ETO. Most of the time the two battalions made up part of the 1103rd Engineer (Combat) Group. While in the Third Army in the ETO, the 150th was also assigned to other groups, the 1135th or the 1137th Engineer (Combat) Groups.
While in UK army engineering school I was with a couple of men from the 204th. The two battalions shared successes and heartaches together. In spite of being near, I never had a chance to get acquainted with fellows from the 204th. In Luxembourg I did meet a fellow from the 166th Engr. (C) Bn. We stayed in the same house together for about two weeks. Our principal interest between battalions was - who was getting the dirty work.
Now getting back to the maneuvers in West Virginia, and in particular the infiltration course. In order to be fully qualified for overseas duty each soldier in the battalion had to pass certain Army required basic training, rifle range for each soldier, mine detection, infiltration course, gas-mask school and a few others. These requirements were rather important at this time in our training. The infiltration course had been built-up as a major training experience and there was talk about some of us not going to make it. This anxiety was just one more experience that separated us from being from being army recruits to seasoned troops
The course consisted of several 30 cal. machine guns that were set-up over a somewhat level field. The guns fired rounds about two feet above the ground and you were expected to crawl from one side of the field to the other, while the machine guns fired over you. This course was intended to see how soldiers reacted under fire trying to capture an enemy position. The course was set up by one of the line companies with wooden frames constructed to keep the machine guns in place. The machine guns operated like a hammer (bang-bang) and the wooden frames soon moved after a few rounds. I crawled on my belly under the firing with the bullets whistling over my head and did not stop until I reached the save area. Some soldiers got confused and stopped in the middle and then went in the wrong direction, because it was difficult to follow any kind of line when you must keep your head down. The field was not very flat; in fact it was pretty rough going. I learned to follow the low places when you are trying to crawl up on the enemy. After finishing the course I was happy and relieved I wouldn't have to go through that experience again.
Near the end of our three months in West Virginia, we moved from the mountains to a pasture outside of Elkins. We set up camp with pyramidal tents that were about 15 feet square and slept about five or six men. The tents were set up in army style rows and company streets. There were two companies setup in one field with the battalion headquarters tents nearby in the next street over from our tents. This was a typical style camp when we were in the field. Our section was always located near the headquarters tents and the officers. This arrangement resulted in our being called upon to do many of the odd and not so odd jobs for the battalion officers.
We did get a few three-day passes that I did take advantage of and was able to go home to Ashland, Mass. This meant spending hours on trains going and coming. The traveling was a lot better than making drawings, painting signs or doing other things like cleaning drafting equipment, which were always performed as training exercises. (You would think I should be so lucky.) There was always this underlying concern that you were getting the bad rap. It was very difficult to look at the larger picture. I really had a pretty good deal.
On November 10, 1943, our last night we broke camp, was one of the most miserable times when I was cold, wet and hungry. The day before, the camp tents all had to be taken down and loaded onto trucks and stored at the local depot. The Battalion equipment (the drafting equipment, the company's squad boxes, the motor pool equipment and almost everything) had to be loaded on our trucks for Fort Dix, N.J. (Our destination at the time - no one should know - because loose talk gave the enemy our position. Who cared where the 150th was?? Our movements now were supposed to be restricted information.) The area was all cleaned up, we did eat supper (K-rations, a box of dried biscuits) and we gathered our two army blankets and laid down on the ground and tried to sleep. The temperature dropped and by morning it had snowed a couple of inches and I froze. I can still remember that night years later. With that ending, we all said "good by to Elkins, West Virginia". The train ride to Fort Dix, N.J. was at least hot and dry. It took two days, troop trains were awful slow.

Fort Dix, N. J. to Camp Kilmar, N. J.
This was a relaxing time we were camped in pyramidal tents with wooden floors and stoves. This was luxury living compared to pup tents and no wooden floors in the tents. We had a lot of games here, we played touch football, and food was good. There were special overseas boxes to be constructed, to take some of our S-2 and S-3 office equipment pencils, paper, erasers and army training bulletins. There were some three days passes. There was the scuttlebutt that we might even go to the Pacific but all indications were Europe. The S-4 section (supply) was busy drawing the overseas personal equipment to make sure each soldier had good shoes and socks and the required clothes. In order to go over- seas, the battalion had to be up to (table of organization) strength and all personal had to have there TO rating. The battalion spent about a mouth in Fort Dix getting outfitted and getting all our records up to date and then another two weeks at Camp Kilmar.
The trip to Camp Kilmar was by train and only a short distance from Trenton, N.J. to Princeton, N. J. Camp Kilmar was back to wooden barracks and on more details like KP and guard duty. The last minute personal changes were made because soldiers got sick or had emergency. Most all of us were "ready or not" for overseas. We were going! Where? How? Or when? Were the unanswered questions that kept us on a edge. There was always the "scuttle-butt" going around, like we are heading for the Pacific.
On the morning of Dec. 21, 1943 we received orders to pack our bags again. The last ten days had been spent thinking today was the day to move out. So when the move finally came there was an unexplained relief that we were not sitting still any longer.
This was the most memorable day as that night I laid on my bunk with my nose about six inches from the above bunk, I contemplated the ups and downs of day. We had boarded a train from Camp Kilmer to Hoboken, N.J. and took a ferry up the Hudson River to Manhattan. The ferry docked next to one of the largest ships afloat the, Queen Mary. It was enormous, over one thousand feet long; it dwarfed all other boats and even the piers. The inner feelings were devastating, when the Red Cross girls handed me a care package I said thanks but my mind was deep in thought "would I ever return". The care package contained toilet articles and many other useful items. In fact I carried this small cloth bag over a year.
The Queen Mary meant many new experiences "would I it make to England?" As I climbed the gangplank of the largest ship afloat I joined Eisenhower's "Crusade in Europe", but in reality it was my "Crusade in Europe" starting with 12,000 or so soldiers stuffed on board. The bunk I was "in"' was on the Queen Mary first class.

Queen Mary To D-Day Plus 26, July 3, 1944, Omaha Beach, France
The Queen Mary gave us a very unique time to be sailors for about 11 days. Some of the fellows always wanted to join the Navy but the Army grabbed them first so this trip was there outing. We were the first troops on the ship and were assigned to handle the "Mess and Detail Center". This entitled us to wear badges that allowed to go anywhere on the ship, where as the rest of the troops had to stay in their designated area.
On the afternoon December 23, 1943, we sailed down the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty into the Atlantic headed for England. All bets were off the "scuttle-butt" about going to the Pacific was definitely out. As the large Queen Mary put New York Harbor far in the distance over the stern, I wondered deeply when and if I would ever see the same sight over the bow of any ship. The pondering set aside as the small swells that raised the ship and the propellers thrust us further into the Atlantic and New York seemed to disappear forever. We had work to do on board ship and a war in Europe to win.
The mighty North Atlantic did not disappoint the displaced Army "sailors" in our outfit. On Christmas day a mighty storm with 30 to 40 foot waves tossed us around like my little toy duck in the bathtub. Almost everyone was seasick. I felt sick but did not heave. The storm lasted for several days. I went up on deck to get some fresh air, and the ship keeled over so far I thought the waves were going to come over the upper deck, but they didn't. Getting back to my cabin and into my bunk seemed like a safer place to be. The two meals a day in the galley were a disaster. During the rough weather, the food was all over the tables, the floor, and a few pukes in between. Not much went into the mess kits. I was assigned the job of answering a telephone in a small closet on one of the gangways. I received one call in two days, while on duty (4 hours on 8 hours off).
The storm did one important element. It seasoned all of us. We had lived through one great North Atlantic storm, even the Captain of the ship agreed with his English accent, 'a jolly old trip we had'. The sea had moderated to just being rough and we passed a small fishing ship, (the ships -big MO and little MO) exchanged messages in Morse code. The next day sea gulls appeared out of the clouds and in the mid afternoon great high cliffs of Scotland became visible. The sun came out and the majestic ship glided up the Firth of Clyde as the sun reflected off the green covered cliffs. This picture has been cemented in my memory forever. We came as allies, but it was easy to see why for many centuries the Scottish Kings had persistently fought the British for Scotland's independences.
The real "British" at war came abruptly to me, standing guard with my buddy at one of the debarking gangways. The ship was at anchor and ferryboats came along side to discharge the American soldiers. Because our outfit was detailed for mess duty and special guard duty, my buddy, Robert Pearl, and I were assigned guard duty on a gangway for the British complement. They could only leave the ship with the proper identification. On duty, with our armbands, we checked the papers on each person leaving the ship. We learned a lot fast. Some people had butter, Spam, sugar and other goodies that were difficult to get in the states. A few food paper bags were left near us. We only checked each person; the food would not be a spy. Last week we left the America where these goodies were hard to get and probably very scarce on shore. The dynamics had changed and the priorities were now different and we better shape up. We got a few trying to sneak by. Our first sergeant and the British intelligence officer were grateful for our diligence. We had arrived in the war zone and from now on there was no compromise on security matters.
It finally came our day to leave the Queen Mary. On Jan. 2, 1944, we disembarked on lighters (ferries) to the local Scottish village of Grenock (near Glasgow) and boarded a train and headed south into England and on to Old Swindon Town. The British transportation system ran on time. When the conductors sounded the high pitched whistle, the train started to move. Troop trains were on a high priority, the train ran at high speeds and had few stops. This was much different than the troops trains in the States that moved slowly and stopped a lot. The fast moving trains impressed me and everything was at a sharper pitch. This war was serious and everyone was working hard to win.
The food at the first mess was a learning experience. You only took what you could eat. The prunes and mutton had to go down whether you liked them or not. Next time you took only what you could eat. I was never able to get used to powered eggs or powered milk while in ETO. I did eat some because I didn't want to go hungry. If the cook was really good, he could spice up the powered eggs and make them reasonably tasty.
We lived in tents next to a cemetery that was over hundred years old. This combined with the British food, the night black-outs with the potential of enemy bombs and the British soldiers walking around had a realization that the war zone was real. We were a long ways from Fort Dix, N. J. with the touch football games, night movies and passes to New York City. A transition had settled in, this seemed to be a "downer" for many of us. This transition was short lived as we each became accustomed to the people and the British ways. Each evening we would walk the short distance to town and find a fish and chip store in the blackout. The fried fish and French fries in a newspaper tasted great. To this day I still like fish and chips in a newspaper.
From Old Swindon Town to Kingston Bagpuize, Clifton Heath, Abingdon and Oxford were our English homes away from home. We lived in Nissan Huts and pyramidal tents. The Battalion constructed a 25,000 gallon water tank. The training was vigorous on Bailey, Treadways, 25 ton pontoon and fixed bridges and anti-aircraft school at Land's End.
In Kingston Bagpuize the Battalion constructed an airport with the necessary runway, hangers, roadways and drainage ditches. The work was done for the Air Force. We lived in Nissan Huts while the airfield was being constructed. My job was to make drawings and details that were not covered in the air force drawings. Also our section did the surveying and set grades for the airport.
By the end of February 1944, battalion had finished its work on the airport and was assigned to the First Army as part of the 1103rd Engineer (Combat) Group. The battalion moved to Clifton Heath, South of Oxford near Abingdon, and set out to build an Army summer camp of pyramidal tents and a few prefabricated buildings for headquarters, mess halls, kitchens, wash rooms and showers all in Army tradition, including company streets. From this camp the battalion had extensive training in building several types of bridges mainly: Bailey, Treadway, 25 ton Pontoon and also Infantry support rafts. The 204th Engr. (C) Bn., our sister battalion, was also assigned to the same Engr. Group and made camp nearby.
In order to drive an army truck I needed a GI army driver's license, so I learned to drive a jeep on left-hand side of the road. In England everyone drove on the left-hand side. The Officer, who taught me to drive, Jim Gray, I later became his driver during the Battle of the Bulge. We became very good friends after the war during our annual reunions. His home was in Holden. Mass.
Let's look at the training further besides being able to drive a Jeep on the left-hand side of the road I was assigned a Tommy gun to replace the M1 rife. This required familiarization on the range, so I spent several days firing the Tommy gun on the range. The Tommy gun had a clip the held about twelve rounds of 45 caliber. It was very important to make sure the clip was put solidly into the chamber or clip would fall out when you went to shoot. I was also assigned a fifty-caliber machine gun. This was because the Jeep I drove had a fifty-caliber machine gun mounted in it. Again I had to go to machine gun school. So off some of us went to an anti-aircraft range at Land's End at the tip of southwest England. At this school we used fifty (50) caliber machine guns to shoot at sleeves that were pulled by an airplane. The plane flew just off shore so the shells landed out over the water. We also dismantled the machine guns and put them back together many times. The school lasted for about four days. We slept in pup tents and ate K rations so we were glad to get back to our pyramidal tents and our usual army meals.
Back at Clifton Heath on one occasion Charlie Holman looked me up and came for a visit. He was a High School buddy who lived where Powers (neighbor) does today. He was in the Air Force and had flown many combat missions. Charlie talked my Company CO into giving me a three-day pass. So off we went to Oxford and stayed overnight at a bed and breakfast. I can't remember all the things we did but it was a great time getting away from the training.
Charlie and I had "a jolly good time" visiting Oxford, seeing the Oxford Symphony, having morning tea and sweets at the coffee shops and being with a lot of other GI soldiers on a Sunday afternoon in Oxford. Yes, we even walked around the Oxford University Campus. The few meals we ate in Oxford were not very good. The vegetables were over cooked and beef or mutton was of poor grade. But the goodies at the USO were great.
On another occasion one Sunday afternoon I swam the Thames River. It was not far from our area and there were river- boats taking passengers for rides up and down the river. It was real warm and the river did not seem too dirty. Today I would never chance it. This would have been May 1944 (just before D-Day). Also one year later just after the World War II ended, I swam the Danube River in Regensburgs, Germany. There must have been a secret desire to swim these famous rivers and leave my own personal accomplishment. Because at the time I felt it was something I had to do.
My father wrote me about meeting a young soldier on the commuter train coming out from Boston, who just happened to be going with the same girl I was dating in Lexington, Ky. Bob Pearl had found this date for me. This information came to me month's after I left Lexington. But I often wondered, why my girl friends affairs seem to fellow me around. At the time I thought I was having a nice quiet affair away from family and friends.
While we were at Clifton Heath our Special Service Officer arranged for John Masefield, 16th poet laureate of England, to come to our camp and read us some of his poems. There were about five or six soldiers there in this "chicken coop". It really was a small camp building on the edge of the field that reminded me of our chicken coop back in Ashland, Mass. that I had fixed up for a club house. I cannot remember the poems he recited to us but I do recall he was very humbled and thanked us for coming to England to help the English people in their war effort. This occasion was one of the times I came to realize the hardship the British people had been through over the last few years since the war started in 1939. The British pride had been pushed to its limits.
John Masefield had a way with him that seemed to transcend the British humble attitude and appreciation towards the Yanks coming to help them win the war under adverse conditions. The Yanks had come and taken over the King's fields and woods, built airfields, military bases, occupied some castles and even more infiltrated the English girls. Up until then I thought the British wanted us carte blanche, for better or worst. But the GI's had a different saying, "The British would fight to the LAST Yank soldier". So the conflict of cultures prevailed, the British aristocracy: We are better than you, and the Yanks are rebellious rebels and crude. John Masefield was very down to earth. He seemed to know how to articulate the English point of view.
I had a girl friend during the war years, Ann M. Skaryd, (we were married June 22, 1946). It was a typical soldier's relationship carried on though correspondence with its ups and downs. First the down. I do not recommend sending letters in the wrong envelops to girls in the same town, and telling one you are writing to one girl and the other you may not write to her again (confusing no less- embarrassment aplenty). That was one time I was glad to be in Europe, a long ways away (not quite far enough). After that episode I did not know whom to write to.
In spite of that Ann and I wrote to each other faithfully and when I was down, a letter from her always picked me up. Ann and I enjoyed our relationship. At least it has endured over fifty-two years of happily married bliss. During the service we did meet a few times; once in New York City. They were not memorable occasions. They were too short and I was young and naïve. We were married six months after I was discharged and we enjoyed three years at the University of New Hampshire together living at Wentworth Acres in Portsmouth, NH.
The Allies had been driven from the Continent in June 1940. Here we were back again with the Yank forces. This time the military material was tremendous in size and volume. The personnel were equally large and experienced.
As the spring and the warm weather came our, objective of crossing the Channel again and the mounting of the largest military invasion in history became more evident each day. The question was which day? The roadsides even around Abingtion became ammunition dumps with artillery shells.
I was a small part of this operation hoping, in the end to survive to tell my story. Well I did. The "scuttle butt" around camp then was when? The first week in May looked good and got a lot of points. But that date passed without any action. Then came the first week of June 1944. The air forces came out with some of largest formations I had ever seen. They were a couple hours assembling overhead, heading across the Channel. This was the first time the air force ever came over our area to get into formation. This was so unusual we all knew the invasion was starting. Early in May our outfit had not been alerted to move out so we knew we were not part of the invasion force but we were not sure how soon after.
The motor pool personal and all jeep and truck drivers had been through motor protection school for deep water. We could drive our jeeps in about 20 inches of water with the proper protection. All the vents were sealed with duct compound, the air cleaner was removed, fiber vent pipe was added to the top of the engine and the fan belt was removed just before going in the water. It was necessary to floor the accelerator in the water and put the engine in low gear just to move slowly.
We hit the Omaha Beach D plus 26 days (July 2, 1944). The crossing of the Channel was in a LST (Landing Ship Tank) from Weymouth, England. The weather was foggy. You could only see a couple of LST's ahead. All were in line. The convey flew balloons with cables so that any low flying enemy planes would hit the cables trying to strafe the convey. The LST drove right up on the beach and grounded out. There were no enemy artillery shells being fired at the beach. There was some concern about enemy aircraft, but the planes did not reach our area. The fog lifted as we approached the beach. It was a sight to see the long convey crossing the channel with the balloons flying. Then all the LST's lined up on the beach unloading all the soldiers and material. I tried very hard to count all the LST's as they were sitting there, after I got over twenty I gave up. It was a lot.
We waited for the tide to go down and the bulldozes started to build ramps of sand up to the bow of the LST so that when the front door dropped down the jeeps and trucks drove right on the sand ramp. The vehicles did not need all water protection we had applied which was a good thing.
The beach seemed cleaned up at the time. There were piles of Army junk in certain locations and some underwater obstacle but the piles of stuff I had expected were not there. I was especially alert to all activities that were going on. This was one operation I would never see again and I hoped to live to tell about it. AMEN.
This was the first of two occasions that I saw a full bird colonel directing traffic. The second place was in the Battle of the Bulge at a major intersection. The full bird colonel was making sure your unit got through at the assigned time. As the colonel directed us to a narrow steep dirt road that turned and wound its way up, I knew that life ahead of me was going to be one hell of a challenging and frightening experience. And that it was.
We moved in about three miles and set up Camp in Canchy (French Normandy). The battalion did road maintenance and we became acquainted, with the "tar baby" a hot tar tub mounted on a trailer that could patch roads if everything worked. The line Company could not make the "tar baby" work so S-3 got the job. Charlie Dwelley and John Volto were assigned the job to make it work. The "tar baby" had a tub with a gasoline burner underneath that would heat the tar into a liquid for patching roads. The burner would go out quite easily or you couldn't get the tar hot enough or even sometimes the tar would catch on fire. It took two hours to get the "tar baby" running right and by that time the job was done and you moved on. Charlie became famous trying to run the "tar baby". Charlie and John were always covered with tar. So one day when we left it in the woods there was no love lost.
My claim to fame came in about two weeks when at supper time "bed check Charlie" came flying over (the enemy) and we opened up with our 50 caliber machine guns. The officer from Co. C thought I started it. After it was all over, they all blamed me. The airplane was too high for our machine guns. This brought us one step nearer to combat.
There was a two to three mile wide marsh to the south. When we arrived in Normandy we could hear the artillery but as the weeks passed we could not hear the guns as the front moved south. On one occasion I was driving on the east-west main road where the gasoline, artillery shells and supplies were storied on the sides of the road. One of gasoline supply areas of Jerry cans caught on fire. We tried to put it out by moving the Jerry cans away. But it did not stop. As the fire got hot, the cans we just moved caught on fire. It was a no win situation. Here again I was fire fighting in Normandy not from my experience in West Virginia, but just because I happen be there where the fire was. After about three or four weeks in Normandy with the routine of checking roads for potholes, fighting gasoline fires and manning the 50 caliber machine gun each evening waiting for "Charlie" to show up but never daring to shoot a round unless some officer said so. We would hear some big guns go off in the distance or maybe a bomb form "Charlie's" evening excursion.
One morning making our road maintenance run along the causeway that goes to the front, we came around a curve and there before us was a farm house completely demolished, one large pile of timbers and debris and on top of the pile was a lady face down and then a short distant away lay a little girl about six or seven both dead. We had stopped to look along with a few other soldiers. This scene has etched a vivid picture in my mind for many years. This is what this war was about, innocent victims being wiped out. I was really not ready to face this. Things had been too easy up until now. The GI's in the jeep spook little as we drove away but it was mostly "did you see the lady and the little girl". The GI talk was the lady did favors for the enemy. This to me, days, weeks and months after the obliteration of one small family from a stray bomb and seeing the results six to ten hours later with the bodies still there was terribly shocking. Even if this family was not on our side I did not expect to be brought face to face with family tragedies of war. This was truly the beginning. A few weeks later I saw my first dead GI lying beside a railroad embankment.
On September 1st our forces finally had assembled enough equipment and a combined operation was scheduled with the Air Force bombing St. Lo which flattened the City and the Third Army jumped off to make the break through possible. It is interesting to note a coordinated operation was to be so timed with bombing first, then artillery shelling and then armor to jump off - can be so successful with surprise. Also an operation this large can be disastrous when the Air Force drops the bombs on friendly forces. Unfortunately this did happen.
A few weeks ago at the local veterans memorial day parade. I was talking to a retired artillery Captain. He witnessed the bombing of St. Lo, standing on a hill near by and observed the bombs dropping short and could not do anything about it.
The break-through did succeed and we were transferred from First Army to Third Army as the latter became operational with General George S. Patton Jr. commander, with a very active front. General Patton had been kept under wraps for this operation.
Following the advance forces from Coutances (east of St. Lo) to Fontainbleau (south of Paris) was a battle victory army (for a short while) looking for an active enemy. I did not realize it at the time, but the Germans had withdrawn what forces they could. Really we were getting our feet wet. The good times were when I was riding shotgun with 50 caliber machine gun and we passed through a small French village and a Madame handed us a bottle of French champagne. For the rest of the day I was one happy soldier and that night I slept like a log on the hard ground. But I woke the next morning with a big hangover. The ride was not all French champagne. In fact, that village was the last place I saw any more champagne until I came home. There were plenty of dead horses, destroyed wagons and carts and a lot of army stuff some guns of small size (50 caliber) and clothing. This was the tactical air force shooting up enemy convoys heading east. They were trying to escape being captured by American forces. The enemy convoys had a tough time in the day- light hours and in the good weather the planes were out having a field day shooting at any thing that moved. I never saw such convoy destruction. Most of the enemy convoys were short in length five or six up to twenty vehicles or wagons. Where our convoys were half a mile in length and more.
We came upon civilian situations but one very vivid scene was where the Free French had captured about twenty German soldiers and had them lined up with hands over their heads and was marching them out of town towards a wood lot. I do not think those Germans lasted very long. My mind at the time ran very fast across the last four or five years and how I would feel after having my country occupied that long and being treated terribly. Justice or injustice, depending on who had the rifle, was served very severely on occasions.
On the morning of August 15, 1944 southwest of Chartres, France. I found myself riding shotgun, behind my 50 mounted in the jeep. We were stopped at the side of the road behind a group from Corp. This small group was made up of the Corp. Colonel Chief Engineer in a half-track along with three men and a 50 caliber machine gun mounted in the half-track, also the Colonel had a Lieutenant and two more men in a Jeep. Our jeep came next with First Lieutenant Victor L. Christiansen, Sergeant Robert W. Pearl, myself with my 50 caliber machine gun and a jeep driver. The other soldiers had carbines or M-1 rifles. This was typical "high power" reconnaissance team with the Colonel. The Colonel wanted to know the condition of the bridges on the east side of the City. There was sniper fire going on in the City. This was another test under fire, Lt. Christiansen told me to keep my 50 trained to the building on the far side of the street and watch the gunner in the half-track and keep my gun trained to the opposite side. The team headed into the City, where we stopped near the center.
The Infantry had not finished taking the City. There was sniper fire going on near the center of the City. John Fisk, a Sergeant in our section, had mentioned earlier he was wondering whether any Germans would take cover in the famous Chartres Cathedral and if they did it would get damaged, getting them out. Fortunately the shooting was going on in another section of the City and Cathedral was not damaged.
The Colonel made the decision to turn around and go back out the road we came in. It appeared to me the situation did not warrant any further risks. The Colonel was very aggressive and reminded me of General Patton's attitude. He liked making reconnaissance and was also very effective under difficult circumstances. We were just beginning to get used to combat, and this little operation was a great learning experience. I was very scared at the time but on future reconnaissance some were more difficult like walking through a mined field at night.
In Nemours, France, near Fontainbleau, we camped on the Chateau front lawn of the Baron and Baroness de Surville, at Truezy, for about five days. This was necessary for supplies to catch up with tanks. It was at about this time I became a steady jeep driver as our regular driver was used to drive trucks for supplies. The Battalion was not very busy. There was little road maintenance and few bridges to build as the Germans were to hurrying to get to Germany before we did. On occasions there was some roads to clear and necessary road reconnaissance.
Bob Pearl and I could get along with most officers real well. Some officers were more difficult. Going across France, my job was to drive the jeep for the ADE (Assistant Division Engineer) section. This meant being liaison to higher headquarters. This also required staying at Group Headquarters at night, to be ready to drive the officer back to our Battalion with any new orders.
On one memorable occasion we were riding along a dirt road with the jeep running at night with only "cat eyes" to see. I could just make out the road ahead when I heard another car coming on the gravel road, I slammed on the brakes and another jeep stopped a few feet from us. I was scared and went much slower after that.
Night driving was risky, and we usually drove over the route between the Battalion to Group before dark so we would be know the road, the turns and the intersections. This particular night was very dark when were returning to the Battalion and I was following the lighter color sand on the left side of the paved road. When we came to a fork in the road, I followed the left fork a few hundred feet down the road, when we passed a German anti-tank gun. I stopped and was scared to death. Then the Captain flashed his light on the anti-tank gun. We saw it was a damaged gun and everything was quiet. I turned the jeep around and got out of there. From then on I never drove using the left side of the road as a guide. During these night drives I often used the separation of the tree line and the sky as a guide. For all this night driving it did not bother me. I liked being away from the Battalion and being somewhat independent.
One night we were returning to the Battalion in our jeep with our cat eyes. It was customary for Captain Gray to hold his carbine in his lap with the barrel pointed out ready to use. This time we came on to a guard post. The soldier hollered HAULT. We halted right next to the soldier and Captain Gray stuck his carbine in the guard's ribs. We were that close. The soldier got real scared. Captain Gray gave him the devil for letting us get so close. The soldier had a back up, a second soldier with a machine gun, so the outcome could have been different if the machine gunner had opened up. It was very important to be extra careful when driving at night. You never knew what was going to happen. Most of the time these night rides were short and sweet.
Early in September we had reached the Moselle River before Metz. Our dash across France had slowed to a walk. The German's had assembled their forces in large enough numbers to make a stand. Their supply lines were now shorter and less vulnerable to air attacks. Our supply lines were long. Most of our trucks had to go way back to Normandy to get our supplies. The drivers complained when they arrived back at camp with supplies. They were immediately sent out again for more rations, gasoline and clothing. It was a continuous battle to keep the Battalion supplied. Often the Battalion had moved when the drivers were away, so they had to locate our new CP.
When we arrived near Verdun and Metz, the German forces had hurriedly reorganized their defensive units to slow down our forward tanks. Cities like Verdun, Metz and St. Miliel were World War 1 famous battlefields. This reminded us of the stories some of our fathers and uncles had told of their war experiences. With these cities so close came the apprehension that we maybe engaged in trench warfare. These old stories became very real, -the rumble of distance artillery fire made it even more real. Trench warfare was something we had never talked about.
Our Battalion supported the 5th Division River crossing of the Moselle, outside Metz. This was the beginning of the most impossible task of constructing bridges under mortar and artillery fire. The three rivers (Moselle, Saar and Soure) flowed full this fall and winter and gave the Third Army big problems.
On September 8th the battalion was transferred to the Xll Corps and assigned to the 1135th Engineer (Combat) Group. The battalion was divided between Combat Command B north column (CCB) and CCB south column. H & S Co. and Co. B went with CCB south and arrived in Fresnes, France under heavy fire. Being with headquarters liaison, we were located in an old apple orchard. The CCB south CP was located a short distance away. The commander of the CCB south was Lt. Col. Creghton Abrams, (he later became a four star general and commander of forces in Vietnam in 1969).
The Germans were firing 88's from their tanks. They would not fire very much but just enough to keep us occupied. This was the first time we were under attack for four days. This was different than building a bridge when you pulled back and hoped the shelling would stop then go and try again building the bridge. This is where I learned about 88 shells. The shells would pass overhead and I could actually see them in the air, then hit and explode in the rear. The shells travel about six hundred miles an hour. This way I could follow the sound of shells, swwwishing noise going through the air, then the explosion. Sometimes I could even see the smoke from 88 guns. The whole sequence was and is very vivid in my mind. Even today I could tell the sound and the sequence of the 88 shells exploding.
The H&S CP was located in another small apple orchard near us. They cut down some trees in a cemetery next to the apple orchard, because there were tree bursts from the 88's that would hit the trees and send shrapnel down on any one under the tree. This was happening in other areas near us. A resident came out from hiding and complained about cutting down the trees around his ancestor's graves. There was not any sympathy given, and the cutting continued. At one time a piper cub came in and landed in a field near by and the Colonel climbed in the cub and took a ride to see what the Germans were doing. There were German tanks lined up along a road and in the woods about a mile away.
At the end of four days the air force came in and bombed and strafed the tanks. CCB south had been cut off and it was not safe to go back at times. We lost several offices and men (captured) trying to locate the outfit with ordnance supplies and the battalion mail. This experience was enlightening for me because I was near the command half-track and could hear the radio with in coming messages and knew a little bit about what was going on. I was lucky and did not get hurt in this operation. Finally CCB south pulled back and the battalion moved to Champemoux.
We bivouacked in a wooded area that was very wet and it was very difficult to keep dry. The battalion did a lot of roadwork as the wet weather made the roads very poor with heavy army traffic.
The mud made everything difficult. It was always on your shoes I could not get rid of it. The Jeep always had mud under the fenders and around the exhaust pipe. After about five or six weeks of mud and the woods we had forgotten about the 88 shells and were glad to move out of the mud to something different even if it was a barn with some straw.
Around this time I came across a trailer in someone's backyard and tied it to my jeep. I had this trailer until the end of the war. It carried my duffel bag and my bedroll also my officer's duffel bag and his bedroll. The trailer was light duty and made like a buggy with springs and rubber tires. I never had a flat on the trailer. It certainly made life easier, I could now carry a few extra things that were always handy. I came across another bedroll. There was a cavalry command car that had been shot up and deserted. A bedroll was in it and I took it. Then I had about four blankets all folded double and I was warm sleeping from then on. In a week it smelled like me.
Capt. James Gray became ADE engineer. He was likable and very good looking with blond hair under the steel helmet, and below the helmet were the blue eyes, rounded nose and mouth to complement. You knew who was boss. We had a good understanding, and we worked well together
Now I must tell you about the battle of the Bulge, our biggest engagement of the war. The XII Corp. was moved north, we drove all night and part of the next day to get to Luxembourg. The Battalion took up defensive positions that meant we were issued land mines and were assigned areas to place mines and map the areas. This was new to us because we had been on the attack most all the time and defensive warfare was different.
We were lucky enough to stay in houses and not have shells landing near by. The battalion did a lot of roadwork, because every time a few tanks went over a road it would dig it up and need repair.
In spite of the war Luxembourg was a great place. The people liked us and they were glad we came to save them. We had just come from areas where you were not sure whose side the civilians were on. I had ice cream once when I went into the city. That really tasted good, I never realized how much I missed it. Even though there were some difficult times in Luxembourg because of the mines. I never wandered around. You always kept on hard ground. We stayed in Mersh, a town 10 miles north of Luxembourg City. We could hear in the distance an explosion and knew that German mines were being collected and exploded. We also heard one of our officers had his foot seriously injured, trying to clear out a German mine field. You could never be too careful.
As the Battle of the Bulge moved into the German Homeland several things happened to me that seemed to explain the situation quite well. On this day I was on short mission to see what the conditions of the roads and bridges were in this small village near the Luxembourg and German border. This was an empty village when we arrived with just our two Jeeps with about five of us. It was customary to leave the Jeeps outside the village and go in on foot. You would not want to attract a lot of attention before you found out what was the lay of the land. It was quiet and no one was around. There were a lot of personnel land mines lying on the sides of the road and there were round holes in the pavement for land minds but no land mines (we hoped). The Village had about five or six houses. One road led to a stone bridge that we were investigating. The bridge had been damaged by charges being placed on it and blown up. About six feet of the stone arch was still in place. Some of men went into the houses and found food left on the table. It appeared the German soldiers had been there and left in a hurry.
On the way back to our Jeeps, Sgt. Szchulski showed us how the anti-personnel mines work. They were about 2-1/2 inches x 2-1/2 inches x 2 inches wooden box with a hinged cover (like a wooden cod fish box) and a place for TNT with about six small holes for caps to arrange different configurations to blow your hand or foot off. There must have been about a thousand of these mines lying on the sides of the road. We left the area.
That night I was called out to take a Lieutenant and go back to the same area to check it out. First Lieutenant Villadsen, who wanted to be taken to the village, seemed to be a quiet fellow who kept his problems to himself. He would go around mumbling to himself, but underneath he was a real good Joe. Anyway we headed out. I was probably asked to go because I knew the road. When we reached the village the moon was out and we parked the Jeep in the some spot that I had before, just outside the village. We took our flashlights and headed into the village. I was scared having seen the anti-personal mines in daytime was bad enough, but this night stuff was real scary. I pointed out to Lt. Villadsen the anti-personal mines on the sides of the road and round holes in the road where land mines could be placed, so we would not accidentally step in the wrong place.
As we headed into the village, I had my Tommy gun at the ready. I stayed just a step away from the Lt. Villadsen. We came to the village and took a turn to the left. He wanted to go into a house near by. I did not like the idea, but he went ahead and pushed the door open and we shined our flashlights inside. Nothing was there. After seeing nothing unusual anywhere we left. We were probably in the village about twenty minutes and found nothing very interesting to report.
It isn't very often you get a chance to walk through a minefield on a moon light night. I turned that jeep around on half a dime and headed back to headquarters. I never found out what we were checking out that night that seemed so important at the time. That night I was glad to crawl into my four-blanket bedroll.
A short time later I was driving along an isolated road and came upon a burned out German tiger tank. We had heard a lot about tiger tanks from other soldiers and what a menacing machine it was, so I thought I would take a look at this isolated beast. And besides it is safer to check out inactive enemy equipment than active ones. This tank had apparently received a direct hit because it was all burned outside and inside. I walked up to the tank and peeked in the hatch, the hatch was at eye level as tiger tanks were built with a very low profile. There was only a black mass about two feet in front of me, I could make out a chair and black mass that was the remains of the driver. In another seat up a little higher and to the right was another black mass, this must have been the gunner. These tank operators never knew what hit them. I had seen a tiger tank and was impressed. Those charred individuals and the stink from the burnt flesh has stuck with me forever.
These incidents of war did not portray me as hating the German soldier, for I never faced the enemy soldier in a life and death situation. But I certainly did carry a deep hatred for the Nazi regime for the suffering and killing of the millions of innocent people.
Another story. I was driving my Jeep (the Jeep and I became real good friends. We saw a lot of the war together some good but mostly bad) along another lonely road with Capt. Gray. We came across a damaged German vehicle. As I drove up the road, I noticed a black object in the middle of the road. Because I was watching out for mines I did not want to drive on the edge of the road so I drove over the black object. We shortly turned around and drove carefully back over the black object. This time I noticed it was a human head with black hair. We assumed he came from the damaged German vehicle. I have thought about the incident many times since. How could anyone drive over a human head? Well, I did. When you are in "no man's land" you do not stop for any extra sight seeing. This incident came and went so fast it took many moments of "flash-back" to understand what really happened.
As the outfit left Luxembourg and headed across the boarder into Germany we had heard a lot of artillery fire and bombs. The artillery always wanted to leave its mark. Well, it did. When we came to Bitburg, Germany, I saw the greatest amount of damage to any small town I had seen anywhere in Europe. The town sat on a small hill and the houses were all built side by side. A lot of the houses in Europe are stucco with walls about eighteen inches to two feet thick built of mortar and bricks. This was the case in Bitburg, Germany. The road through the center of the town did not exist. It was hidden under ten feet of mortar and bricks. It looked just like an earthquake that we see on T V. We were able to go through the town by taking side roads that had been cleared. So when President Reagan went to Germany and visited Bitburg in the 1980's he missed the Bitburg I saw in 1945. What I saw, was the center of Town 80% demolished.
These experiences were not all life threatening but to walk through a personnel mine field in the moonlight, to run over a German soldier's head in the road and seeing small towns demolished, leaves you with too many underlying thoughts that last for years to come.
On January 18, 1945 at Gilsdorf, Germany, the Battalion was in a position just east of the German West Wall (Siegfried Line). With fortified defensive positions our job was to construct a Treadway bridge. We went to the Town next to the bridge site to assist "A" Company in putting up the bridge. There was some artillery fire in the area when we arrived. I parked the jeep up against a building to protect it from the artillery fire and went inside the building to keep-out of the artillery fire while Capt. James Gray went to the bridge site. I was in and out of the building for about an hour. The artillery fire was heavy at times. I happened to see someone from the outfit who told me that Capt. Gray had been injured and had been evacuated. They did not know how bad he had been hurt. I found out later that he had been received shrapnel in the face and would be all right. Capt. Gray and I had been through thick and thin and lot of it was the thick part. Driving at night was the worst. So at this moment I was one sick soldier and it was very disheartening. I came across our Colonel and he told me to go back to headquarters. I spent quite a few days worrying about Capt. Gray. But I did get a new officer and I continued on.
Getting through the West Wall required the building of bridges over the Our and the Souer Rivers in several places. These rivers were at flood stage which made each crossing difficult. Most of the time the battalion put up bridges but some crossings were assault crossing using some boats to ferry across the infantry. The assault crossing was followed up with infantry foot-bridge.
A quote from -150th Engineer Combat Battalion History- explains the tactical situation:

"During the evening of February 6, (1945) the men moved quietly along into their positions, last minute preparations were made and then a little after midnight at 0120, " All hell broke loose". The preparatory barrage lasted forty minutes. The deafening roar of the big guns, the chatter of the machine guns, and the flash of their tracers crossing the sky, stamped an indelible picture in our minds. It didn't seem possible for anything to live through that terrific barrage, and it appeared that we were right when suddenly our barrage lifted at 0200 and there wasn't an answering shot. While it was quiet everyone went to work. A squad at a time of infantry started down the slope carrying the assault boats led by men who knew the routes through the barbed wire. The men strained and slipped in the mud from the cold drenching rain. The "B" Company men were ready to take their first assault wave across. Up the River a short distance "A" Company men were bringing down their equipment for the footbridge.
"Suddenly, the German side of the river came to life. Those pillboxes were not knocked out by any means. They poured machine gun fire down on us, their guns in the rear opened up, and the flares often had the area as bright as day. But the assault had to go on to be made and the "B" Company men shoved off. Each boat crossing was a nightmare, as the boat left shore the current would catch it and send it rushing crazily downstream, sometimes it would catch a snag and capsize throwing the men into the swirling waters. Sometimes the boat would be hit by shrapnel from a near miss or be riddled with machine gun fire, but somehow most of them reached the far shore. The infantry would leap out of the boats and almost immediately begin to push ahead through the barbed wire and the minefields while the engineers started back once more into the racing water and shellfire and again the current would carry the boat further downstream."

This history is retold here to give an accurate account of the combat engineer's difficult tasks of the river crossing into the fortified Siegfried line.
From the Siegfried line to the Rhine River it was one bridge after another, as the German Army destroyed the bridges to slow down our advance into the Fatherland. The longer bridges on the Lower Moselle in the towns of Moselkern, Hatzenport and Munden with lengths of 378Ft., 456 Ft. and 384 Ft. respectively were only a "warm up" for the Rhine River bridges of 972 Ft. and 1116 Ft.
By this time the Germans forces were disorganized. They could not put up an effective defense but they did try repeatedly to knockout the bridges over the Rhine River with their airplanes and were unsuccessful.
But Germans were able to injure four men, Capt. Victor Christensen, Tech Sgt. Sylvester Szychulski, Staff Sgt. Robert Pearl and First Sgt. Victor Kishalonis. I want to quote excerpts from Robert W. Pearl's:

"A DAY OF FOUR PURPLE HEARTS IN THE H&S CO
"...a flutter bomb landed right near to the rear of the jeep.
"I heard the bomb go off. A large piece made a noise as it went by my head. There were a few stings my on legs and under my arms but no pain. Then Chris said, "I've been hurt" and stepped off the jeep, limped out a few yards and sat down. I went to him in a moment and he said, "look at Syl. He's out on the ground." Then I went to Syl. He was on the ground with a hole in his helmet a bump and slight cut on his forehead. He came to and got up.
"I went immediately to Chris but his leg looked bad. Then Kish who was on the ground by then said I'm hit too. I told them I'd get help, went about fifty yds to a white tent and told the medics that we needed help. Others were hurting but when I got back Chris and Kish were being loaded and taken to a hospital. Chris had a wicked looking cut on one leg. Later I heard that Kish had 57 pieces. I never saw or heard from Chris or Kish again."

Thus ended the most successful reconnaissance team ever. Across the River from the CP. They were waiting for the ferryboat (barge) to return. I was very close to these men. I heard their story. And then Sly reached into the jeep and pulled out a shotgun and said that this mine, you can take what you want. I took a three barrel shotgun. My farther used the shotgun for many years, hunting in Maine.
The last two years had been Army training, with untold war experiences that has brought us from Fort Devens, Mass. to Oppenhein, Germany. The Rhine River Bridges construction was a very vivid experience that I knew at the time would be remembered forever and it has been true to form. I remember it well fifty years later. I remember being sent to place a wire cable across the river to catch any floating explosives that the Germans might place upstream in the river to damage our bridges. This cable attempt was unsuccessful. The outboard motor boat was too small. The cable carried us down stream when we were not even half way across the river. A larger boat was brought in to do the job. After the bridges were built, I remember I found a small railroad repair car and went riding down the railroad tracks with its little engine. It was so small one person could pick up one end and turn it around to go back home. This was strictly enjoyment and great fun, nothing to do with building the bridges.
After the crossing of the Rhine River at Oppenhein, Germany there were less river crossings and more time seeking the riches for the victor. We came across an Argus film distribution center. I filled up on 120 film and brought some home. To my disappointment by the time I got the film home it had spoiled. We had lots of cameras and pistols and shotguns that were picked up from the German civilians. We came across some deep underground mines that contained Russian fur coats and rabbit fur vests. We all looked great in these new outfits (not very GI). The two Russian coats were sent home and in later years they became a great hit for my children, Chip, Bruce and Martha to wear on winter occasions. The coats were made from Russian goats.
The battalion ended up in Regensburg, Germany, building the, "Major Edwmund C. Knight Bridge" across the Danube River after the war. Major Knight was wounded at a bridge site from artillery fire and died, in Sarreguemines area, on December 9, 1944.
I returned back home via troop ship to New York and then by train to Fort Devens. Massachusetts, where my Army career all started. I was discharged a Staff Sergeant on 5 December 1945.

REFLECTIONS
There has to be a better way to settle international disputes. In this century the United States has been in four major wars and the casualties were: World War 1 - killed - nine million people; World War II - killed - sixteen million military service people (50 million people killed over all); Korean War - killed - over three million people; and Vietnam War - killed -over one million people. Now, sending five thousand U. S. troops to Kosovo for a peacekeeping force (in March 1999) seems like a small token for the lives it may save.
I belong to the American Legion, but I do not believe this country or any organization owes me anything. In fact I owe this country all the cherished values every day's freedom and its citizenship. I saw French people stripped of their own constitutional rights after four years. I vote at every election not for the candidate but for the privilege of voting realizing many people have no constitutional right to vote. It was a very rewarding experience to be in France to help them regain this freedom.
Each memorial day I march in the local Memorial Day parade and listen to the final taps, gun salute, bow my head and pay my respects to the 150th comrades, who died in action and my buddies who have died since. May they rest in peace.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

150th Engineer (Combat) Battalion History. February 1943 - May 1945, (Regensburg, Germany).

Charles Mone, "150th Combat Engineer Battalion A.P.O. 403, Unit History In The ETO Date and Events," (Reprinted, "Daily History from 12/29/43 to 5/12/45", by Robert F. Pitts, Jamaica Plain, Mass).

Col. Robert S. Allen, "Lucky Forward," (New York, The Vanguard Press, Inc., 1947.)

Stephen E. Ambrose, "Citizen Soldiers," (New York, N. Y., Simon & Schuster, 1997.)

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

This odyssey could not have been written without the support from my wife, Ann, she encouraged me to write, so our children would read and understand my army experiences. Also I received timely support from my family to finish the project. I owe my friend, Richard Zollo, many thanks. He so kindly spent his time proof reading the script.

G. H. K.


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