| While we were at sea, in a good sized storm,
we heard Franklin Roosevelt telling the nation over public radio, and this
is somewhat how he would sound, "My friends, and you are my friends. There
will be no troops on the high seas over the coming holidays." They put
this on the P.A. system, on the ship and every word in the middle of the
atlantic, in a storm, that no other troops were on the high seas.
We, as KP's, served meals twice a day, and with that storm, we had very few people to feed. It was amazing how many people got sick on the boat. Anyway, we ended up in the fifth or fourth in Glascow on New Years Eve. We spent New Years Eve on the Queen Mary, and because we were the first on, and the way the Army Operates, first on last off. We were about the only troops left on board on New Years Eve.
We had watched the crew of that ship taking food that had been meant for us and selling it over the side to small boats. And we revolted. We were the MP'S. We were the KP'S. We were the Cooks. We were the whole cheese aboard that ship. We went down and broke into that refrigerator and the reefers and got steaks & eggs. We had ourselves a feed, and the captain of the ship, it was reported later, contacted our commanding officer, and he said something to the affect that your men are revolting and they are stealing the food. Our C.O. said my men wouldn't do that, and that was it. We never got reprimanded for it.
Even while we were there, they were bringing on American prisoners. Guys who committed bad crimes going back to the States for Court Marshall or had already been Court Marshalled, were going back to the States for imprisonments. We had to lock them up, to find them. We had a bunch of WAC's and Army nurses who had got themselves pregnant and were heading back to the States to have their children.
They unloaded us and took us on a train down to Swindon, where we unloaded and headed for our barracks. Now, England in January is dark. It's far enough north so it does not get light til around nine O'clock in the morning, and it's dark again at three O'clock in the afternoon there.
We were walking down these dark streets. A whole battalion, and all you could hear was the Swish, Swish, Swish of our feet. All of a sudden we heard this Clunk, Clunk, Clunk, Clunk and around the corner came a squad of English soldiers, with their hob nail boots stomping away. What a racket they made. It was interesting there in Swindon. We never did see the town, during daylight.
I managed to get out once, but that was it, and it was so dark that when it came to reveille, three or four guys would go out and answer for the whole squad, because you couldn't see your hand in front of your face, so they didn't know who was talking. You'd disguise your voice, and just, Hear, Hear, Hear. We had a good time. We would go into town on a pass, pitch black, no lights. Because of the blackout in the war time, you'd bump into a line of people, so you'd stand in the line. Nothing else to do, really. You might end up at a bakery where you'd buy a loaf of bread, or you might end up in a fish and chips place. Which, is quite busy in England and you wouldn't know what to do. So you would say, "Give me a pounds worth," which is about five dollars worth. You'd end up with a great big paper bag full of fish and potatoes. Which you'd take back to the barracks and let
anyone who wanted to eat them.
There was also a roller skating rink there, where I did a little roller skating. They also had a bath house, where you could go down, and for a small amount, a man would draw a tub of water, warm or hot, and give you some soap and a towel. You could go in and take a bath because we had no facility at our barracks to take showers or baths. We would go down there, and have a bath. It was quite interesting to see, because if you stop and think how old the buildings are in England, made out of stone. They just did not have those kind of facilities in there homes, so they had to have facilities of that nature for the people to use.
We trained throughout England. We went down to an Air Field. We were
building a run way and this is a story that got me in trouble a long time. I was, as I said, the tool room keeper, and our boys were out working, coming back, going out before dawn, coming back after dark, and I was supposed to have all these tools, cleaned and oiled. I had gotten a barrel and some long handled scrub brushes. I had taken it out on the tar. When the guys came in they would take the long handled brushes wipe the mud and stuff off their tools, and turn them into me. I would just have to dry them up and oil them.
On this day, while I was waiting in the Quanset Hut, where we kept our tools, me and the other tool room keepers, we got to kidding away. I was in the joyful mood, and somebody comes in and said, "Studder Grill," that's the nickname I had because of my stuttering, "Somebody is out there from "C" Company washing their boots off in your fresh water." Well, I went out there, all happy and fully charged up. I saw the chevrons on this sergeant's arm and I started giving him a real rough time about, don't he know any better than to use my equipment to clean his stupid boots on. He looked at me and he said, "Why don't you talk to the lieutenant". Well, I didn't even change my tone of voice, I just turned to the lieutenant and started giving him the same kind of guff. Then I took one step back, threw a salute, did an about face, and walked away.
I knew I was in trouble, so I went back to my Command Post and I saw my Company Commander, who happen to be Mc-Can. I told the Captain what I had done, and he said, "Why don't you apologize to Lieutenant McGlinchey?" I said, "Well, will you come with me?" He said, "Sure, I'll come with you." We went down to find him and he had gone to supper. The C.O. said, "You come back in an hour and we'll go talk to him." In an hour, by my watch, I came back.
I was sitting in the Command Post and in came now Captain Monzione, who had been my Platoon Officer, who was now a Captain in "C" Company. He said, "Southergill, who was the tool room keeper that told off Lieutenant McGlinchey?" I said,"It was me." He laughed and said, "I asked him if he stuttered and he said he didn't", and I said, "I don't when I'm mad." He was laughing, "I better leave here, in case McGlinchey comes along. It's not nice for me to be laughing if somebody told him off." Pretty soon my C.O. came back, and we went down to find McGlinchey. He still was not in, and the C.O. said, "uh, when you see him, apologize to him". We played golf together and I have not apologized to him yet.
Anyway, we proceeded then to get ready to go overseas. We were in a big tent city, outside of Oxford, England. This was May 1944. When I was passing to Oxford, they had a U.S.O. placed in there. I was heading in the door to the U.S.O., when a ping pong ball bounced on the floor and hit me. I picked it up and handed it back to the guys who was playing ping pong. Low and behold, it's a guy from Manchester named Dick Ford who use to double date. He used to date Edith Wells when we were young. We had been out on double dates, so we arranged to meet in a couple days.
We end up on June 6th, 1944. We were in a canoe on the Tems River. Paddling around chasing the swans and watching all the aircraft going overhead. We didn't know until later that night, that our troops had landed on Normandy.
We were getting ready to go and we had a party. We rigged up a party. Us young men, I was 19 by then, we used to go out to a place that looked something like a Polarwhip. They didn't have much, because they had been in war since `38 and his was `44. Supplies weren't that plentiful, but we, being young, would go into this place. The man would say, "What can I get for you?" You'd look around and you'd say, "How about a cup of Cocoa?" and he'd come out with his cotton language and say, "Cocoa, why the bloody king ain't got no Cocoa!" We'd laugh and think of something else and go on from there.
Well, we had this party. We invited a bunch of the English Military Personnel, Girls, and there was something like seventeen American WAC's in the area, we invited them to come. We had a band. That was the first time I ever danced the hokey pokey. Now, I danced the Hokey Pokey with five of the Welch girls who were what they called A.T.S., Army Transport Service, girls in the British Army. I swear that if I lifted up my arms, straight out, they could all walk under. They were that short. We had a great time. A bunch of the guys were trying to make out with these WAC's. I was standing at the exit door, and as the girls went by, I kissed them all, just to make these guys unhappy because they'd been trying and couldn't. I just grabbed them, kissed them, and let them go. We had a good time.
Anyway we got on a boat and we proceeded to go over to Normandy, where we landed. We had our trucks all gunked up with (cosmoline) the waterproofing stuff, so we could drive through water. We sat on that boat, L.S.T., landing ship tank, for six hours. At one point I walked completely around it on dry ground. Then we took our trucks and stuff off, and up the road we went. We didn't realize, but we were waiting for our troops to clear the area, before it was our turn. That's why it took so long. We did that.
We proceeded to go into an apple orchard in France and we learned there, that a Corporal Burnstein, who had been in the supply room when I first went into it, who they had transferred out on a codray, ended up in the Amphibious Engineers, and had died on the beach at Normandy when they were coming in. We learned this from one of the other fellows who had been transferred out, who all of a sudden who was driving a truck. He spotted some of the guys he knew, and found out where we were. He would go down to the docks and get a whole truck load of stuff, like he would get a whole truck load of hospital rations, which were good. He would pull up into our area, lift the back of the truck, let the whole load fall on the ground, and drive away. He did the same thing with a bunch of blankets that he had picked up. Not U.S. blankets but other kinds of blankets they got for the prisoners. We all ended up with more than just our one blanket, so we could keep warm.
I've mentioned Corporal Burnstein, so I must go back and talk about him. When we were in Fort Devens, we were out on the range trying to qualify for a sharp shooter, expert, or whatever, with our rifle. Burnstein couldn't hit the whole target. He was terrible. And the C.O. said, "You don't go back to camp until everybody qualifies." So Sargent Hitler, who was an expert shot, and I, went on opposite sides of Burnstein. Every time he fired we fired, and all of a sudden he was an expert. But he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn.
Now, when we were in Normandy, we had pup tents in the woods in the apple orchard. There was a little Polish boy (I don't even remember the man's name) and we'd been instructed to dig fox holes, well we dug fox holes. He, being very energetic, dug a deep fox hole. He found some timbers, he put a roof over it and covered it with dirt. He had a great big cave there, all set for him. Well, Bed Check Charlie would come over every night, the Anti Aircraft would open up on him. Well, as you know, what goes up, must come down. All that shrapnel from the exploding Anti Aircraft shells, was on its way down someplace. We could hear the big guns going off and I got awake, put my steel helmet on, and sat up in the tent. This other fellow, he grabbed his equipment and he dashed out into his nice safe foxhole. He was there about ten minutes, and he came back and was sitting beside me. He would rather have company then be safe.
Our job then was to work on the roads throughout our area, getting them in shape, and keeping them opened so the trucks and tanks could go through them. We were stalled. We had about a ten mile bridge head in there, but the Germans in St. Lo had stopped us. The Army got set up for a big push to break through St. Lo. The British were trying to break out of Carentan.
Anyway, because of the Persian Gulf situation now, we had heard a lot about friendly fire. The Army had a whole division all set to jump off, when the airplanes stopped bombing St. Lo, so we could break through it. Their protection from the bombers, was to have a red smoke bomb set up in front of them so the bombers would know where our lines were. The only problem was the wind change, the red smoke blew back over our lines. The bombers coming in, dropped their bombs sooner, and sooner, and sooner. They just about destroyed that whole division, so that when the bombing was over, the reserve division had to go forward and get through this town.
Now at this point, we were with General Bradley, in the First Army. As we went through St. Lo with a bulldozer in front of us, to make a road through the ruble in that town. We became part of General Pattons Third Army. We joined up with a combat team. He had Combat Team "A" and Combat Team "B", which included Infantry and tanks, everything that was needed. We were just a mobile group. We could go anywhere. We had all our supplies, and all our equipment. We would just proceed, sometimes fifty, sixty miles a day, running down through Brittany.
I must tell you another incident. When we were in England, the war was on. We were involved with D-Day and everything was, as the Army had said, snafued. We had a warrant officer who was our supply officer for the battalion. He was an old time army man, so he went down to one quarter master group and said, "Hey, our outfit had just been transferred to the Armored Engineers. "Well, the guy said, "I can fix you up with jackets, but I've only got pants. I can only give you about fifteen or twenty per company." He took those. We all ended up with tanker jackets. We had these coveralls that went up like bib overalls, to keep us warm when we stood guard.
The next week he went down to a different quarter master and he said, "Hey we have just been transferred to the Airborne Engineers," and he had proceeded to get us two pair of paratroop boots per man. When we went into France we were probably the best dressed troops in the entire European theater. People would look at us and say, "Ha, what army do you belong to? You got tanker jackets and you got your paratroop boots." Here they were in leggins and beat up field jackets.
We got down into Angers and took apart a bridge where we first came under fire. We think some of it might have been our own boys shooting at us, because you get disorientated when you get involved in a fire fight. That was our first taste of Combat. Then we proceeded to go into Nancy, which is around Paris, opening up Paris for the French Troops to parade in, making a big noise with General Degaul, that they had entered Paris and done all this good stuff.
Now, while we were outside of Nancy, we were in Champenoux. We were in the woods, it was muddy, we were in pup tents. This was when the Army gave its fuel to Montgomery, the British Sector so he can have a big offensive. We were stalled. We built up our pup tents, and we took in some new recruits. This is where James Fail, from South Carolina, joined us, along with a bunch of other new replacements, because we lost a number of men. "B" Company got seriously hurt at Metz when they were trying to take that fortified city. They transferred some of our Sergeants and stuff over there, and brought in recruits to us.
We were out working on the roads one day, we found some ammunitions for the German eighty eight. We were pointing this out to Fail. He said, "That don't look like much." Then one day, we got involved in a bridge operation and an Eighty Eight was shooting at us. You learned how big an Eighty Eight can sound.
We were coming back from a job some place over there, and we came by a farm. Here were chickens, turkeys, and geese. You never saw such a sight in your life. Here was a whole truck of engineers, jumped out trying to kill and catch these geese, chickens, and turkeys. We got a whole bunch of them and brought them back to the camp and gave them to the cooks. They gave us a nice poultry dinner out of this. Of course we had to save the turkey for ourselves, which we cooked over our campfire.
The sad thing that happened there, one of these recruits came in, and we were not too far from the enemy lines. We knew there were other troops between us and them. But as men will do, we started to kid these men about how close we were to the enemy, and admittedly when you went on guard, you were allowed to put a shell in the chamber. Just in case you were being overrun. This man went up on guard, he was relieved and came back down. He had his pup tent built up with boards and as he crawled into his pup tent, the trigger guard on his rifle got caught on one of the nails. Not thinking, he pushed it back to get the guard off the nail and that knocked off the safety. When he pulled it forward again, the nail was still in the trigger guard. He shot himself in the wrist. Everybody was out of the camp. I had just got back from a detail, so I was in camp, but there was no Medics. They heard the shot and checked up on him. They rushed him to the doctor in headquarters company, which was quite a ways away. The last we heard, he lost his hand up to the elbow, because he had done such a bad job on it. This was all done because we were getting this kid all excited about how close he was to the Germans. Shortly after that, we got our gas, and we proceeded up into Shatow Soleens and there we sat up on a hill, overlooking basically the whole Fourth Armor Division. Why, you never felt safer in your life. Here were all these tanks and mobil guns. Everything out in front of us.
I was sitting there in a fox hole, writing a letter to Lucy, and my perfectible
vision picked up a burst to the right, then one to the left, then one to the right. I crawled down into my foxhole and the next shell hit fifty yards from where my foxhole was, and landed right in a foxhole with another soldier. It killed him of course. Then we got smart and moved our equipment and everything down on the other side of the hill, so that their shells would go over our heads and wouldn't hit us.
It was at that point where the cook, the head cook of "A" Company, was sent to the hospital with bleeding piles. While he was there he got a Purple Heart for bleeding Piles. We kind of laughed at that.
One day, about this same time, we had gone to a bivouac area, which was a
wooded area with a field in front of us. We could hear small arms fire in front of us. Most of the time we were setting up camp. They doubled the guard and put us on walking outposts. We were quite alert because we knew we were not too far from the enemy lines. While we had a new Corporal of the Guard and he was determined to make sure his men were on duty. We had 3 Germans break through our lines. They just came right on through. We shot at them, but missed. I didn't shoot, somebody else did, but we missed. They came into our lines, and about that time, here every guard is alert, he's wide awake. The Corporal of the Guard decides it's time he checked up on his outpost. He started to sneak up on one of our machine gun outposts, and somebody spotted him. Knowing that there were Germans in our area, they weren't taking too much of a chance. They swung the machine gun around, but one of the guys said, "Wait a minute. It's only one guy. You're going to be shooting into our own area. "So he drew a bead with an M-1, and luckily his bullet went into the side of the helmet on this man. It went between
the helmet and the liner and went around his head and back out the other side, and burnt the hair on his head and knocked him right down. Well needless to say, he wasn't checking the guard anymore that night. He found out that the boys were well awake.
We joined the Twentieth Core. General Eddy was a real ambitious type person. He was going to take a reconnaissance group out. Some of our guys asked if they could go and our C.O. said no way. Luckily for them, they didn't because that reconnaissance group was ambushed. Almost everybody got killed. General Eddy got back with his half track. The guys in the jeeps all got killed.
They sent the third platoon down to guard Core Headquarters, while we were in Champagne Country. Dumais who could speak French, quite fluently, got involved with some French people, and they showed him where there was a cave, where the Germans had stored a lot of Champagne they had stolen. So Dumais came back to our area with his jeep packed high with cases of Champagne, and we started to drink it. I don't think there was a sober man, including the Lieutenant on guard that night. One guard was across a little brook. They had built a bridge across with just a couple of boards. They went across with a couple of bottles, pulled the boards after them so they couldn't be bothered by the Lieutenant when he came around checking the guards. That Core Headquarters was not too well guarded that night.
We were billeted in a factory in Saareguemines. We built a bridge. We'd been working on it when the infantry was running out of men. They had been pretty badly hit, so they sent down orders that each battalion would send 10% of their men to join the infantry. We didn't want to go, but if we had been ordered, we would have had to go. Al Fredricks, myself, and about six of us were up in the barracks that night, sitting there all worried about being drafted to go to the infantry. We were singing hymns and later we found out that the C.O. rather than make distinctions between who would and who would not go, told the guard at the gate to take the names of anyone who came in after nine o'clock. They, by not having been in camp, elected themselves to go to the infantry. One of these men was John Fisk, who had been in "A" Company, and this man was an intellectual. He ended up in Headquarters Company. But he was out that night, and the last we heard of him, he was defending a retreat of the squad that he was attached to and
he'd been given a B.A.R. He was standing up at a fence post. Resting the B.A.R. on that fence post. A B.A.R. is a Browning Automatic Rifle, something like a machine gun, only you can carry it. He was killed. When we went back to France in 1984, I found his grave in the cemetery near Luxembourg.
So at this time the Battle of the Bulge had taken place. We were assigned to go up into Luxembourg, away from Saareguemines and on the road which was a quick and hard trip. We stopped at one house. We were assigned a bedroom on the second floor. There was a beautiful feather bed, all made up, pretty like, and we had a verbal disagreement because we wouldn't allow anybody to sleep in that bed, cause it wasn't fair for one, and not for the whole Squad. So we all slept on the floor, around that beautiful bed.
When we got to Luxembourg we were sent to a little town called Mersh, which was about forty miles away from Luxembourg City. There we were assigned putting up TNT blocks on trees to make a criss cross. In the event the Germans would break through, we could block the roads because we were in the wooded area. We put up miles of those things and I mean, if we had to blast them, we would have had trees all over that place.
We were assigned to a little house, and one squad had two rooms. I think we had twelve men in one room upstairs and the rest of them were downstairs. We slept on the floor. We had nightly card games. We had a great time, really, although we worked quite often. One night, we came back from building a bridge, wet, cold, and hungry. The civilians in the house we were staying, had made up a Barley soup, which there was not much in it, but it was hot and it was tasty. We had a good bowl of barley soup.
While we were in Mersch, we put up something like fourteen or fifteen bridges. "A" Company, in a week, had a platoon out on each bridge practically every night. Because it was mountainous and rivers wound though it. Every so often, there would be a place where they needed a bridge where the Germans had blown them out. So we were out working almost every night putting in bridges.
Then we came down to the Bulge. The Bulge had been broken, and we got down to the zigfree line area. We were going down to this little town and I was assigned mine sweeper. I was walking along at night with the earphones on, watching my gages that had lights on, but very dim lights. The ear phones told me what I wanted to find out. I am sweeping for mines and without my knowledge, the rest of the outfit had taken a side path. There I was in front of them, all by myself, leading along. Let me tell you I got rid of those ear phones. I followed the boys down real fast.
While we were in Mersch it was Christmas. We had our Christmas dinner
prepared for us by our cooks. Turkeys and the whole bit. We brought back to our civilians, enough food so they could have a good Christmas dinner as well, because they have been very nice to us. We later were told that the intelligence people had arrested the man. They charged him with being a spy.
Across the street where we lived, was a woman who had grown up in Chicago and she was very happy to be able to talk English_American for a change. Because she was living over there with her husband for a number of years. I was assigned to this motor pool made snow plow, which was a steel boiler that they'd cut with an acetylene torch to make it fit, and welded it to a frame that fit on the front of this big truck. Chuck Connors, from Bridgeport, drove it, and I used a wobble pump to pick it up whenever we had to stop, backup or turn. There was no fence posts. We did not know where the roads were. All we could see was telephone poles and we hoped that the telephone poles were some place close to the road. Cause that was the only guide we had, was to follow these telephone poles and try and make some kind of a road out of them.
Now years later, in fact about 3 years ago, Chuck Conners came to a reunion and he brought his boys with him. Well, Chuck hadn't had a very successful life after the military. He had an alcohol problem, and he was a very unhappy type of man. These boys were there with him. They didn't really think to much of their father, so I told this story to them. Blowing it up quite extensively, so that they knew that their Dad in fact, was a pretty good soldier.
After that we were assigned to build a big bridge across this river. And out in the middle of the river, which was flood stage, was part of an abutment, or not part of an abutment, but the thing you rest your bridge on. We had to build this up in order to put our bridge rest on it. We had men and equipment on both sides of the river. We got a rope strung across this river, and we got two trucks, one on each side, and we made a raft that we could suspend from this rope with a snatch block. We attached the winch ropes from the two trucks. (We had winches on the front of each one of them), One to each side of this raft. We would take big logs on this raft out to the middle, where we would unload them and build a crib on what was left out there in the river.
So this one day, I think it was Rawlins, I'm not positive who was with me, but we were assigned to ride out on this raft, through the air to unload the logs and help them build up this cribbing. We got on, and the truck on the far shore, we were using hand signals to direct them. We told them to start to pull and they started to pull. As we got about half way between the cribbing and the shore, the cable on the truck that we had on our side of the river, got locked up somehow, and they franticly yelled and screamed to these guys across the river to stop pulling, but they were watching some German girl walking along the shore. With a two and a half ton truck pulling against each other, that crib didn't have a chance. It wasn't long before it was pulled apart. Once those cables parted, we bounced
down to the water, and back up in the air, and down to the water and back up into the air. By the third time down, the other guy fell off the raft and went down in the river. I grabbed the cable over head and went hand over hand out to the middle and dropped off onto the cribbing out there.
Meantime, the other fellow, Rawlins, was wearing a mackinaw, with his cartridge belt over it, that acted like a life jacket. He's bobbing along down the river. Well, they had figured this might happen, so they had an assault boat with some fellows in it down there, waiting in case this did happen. They'd been sitting there a couple of days without having anything to do, so they were kind of lackadaisical. Here comes old Rawlins floating down the river. They got in the boat, paddling like crazy, but they were on the bottom. They hadn't got into deep enough water yet. Rawlins comes walking up and falls into the boat, and says, I'm drowning, I'm drowning, I'm drowning. They told me to come back in. I couldn't get up to the rope, because it was to high above the cribbing where I was standing. I said if you want me, you come and get me. So, they had to rebuild the raft and get it operational before they could get me back out of the middle of the river.
Shortly after that, we moved down near the Sauer River and this is where we ran into one of our big battles. This little town, in Luxembourg, was on the Sauer River. Right across the river was the German fortified wall that was called the Zigfree Line. Our mission was to put the 80th Division across that river. First, the squad I was in with Mike Hebda, was assigned to put across an infantry support bridge. Which is a bunch of exploded polystyrene floats with a hand rail, that a man can walk or run across to get to the other side. Well, that is suspended on a steel cable that you have to get across the river first. So Mike and I and somebody else took an assault boat over there with a small line. We got across. Now on the German side of the river at night and we pulled the wire we had to get the rope across to get the steel wire across. We found an apple tree. We laced this across at the base of the apple tree and tied it securely. While we were there, we could hear the Germans talking in the pill boxes.
Then we had to get back in our assault boat and paddle back across that river, which was in flood stage. We got back over there and we started to assemble this bridge. Well you got a steel like hook that you put over the steel wire, that you cross the river suspended in two points. Then you tie it to the bridge. As you put more pieces on, you keep pushing it out, and pushing it out, and pushing it out until you finally get to the far shore.
Well, it wasn't designed for such a strong current. We got about half way across, and the three rafts would pull the polystyrene floats furthest out, and would just still suffer from.
Part III of Norm's Story