| Then, we had got a mission
to go and protect the diplomat who had been interned by the Germans. They
took one platoon of engineers and one squad of armored calvary. The armored
calvary has a truck like armored truck with big wheels on it. That was
our biggest equipment. We had a twenty millimeter cannon on that, plus
fifties. They went ahead with their jeeps with fifty cal's on it. This
armored car. We came along with our trucks and we went through towns that
were nothing but hospital towns in Czechoslovakia. In every place you looked
you saw German soldiers missing arms, legs, head bandages, bandages around
their waist whatever, where ever they'd been hit. They'd had made this
whole area into a hospital. We stopped at one of their hospitals. We'd
been horsing around and I had a cutover my eye. So we stopped at this hospital
and were looking in the glass doors. I saw a nurse, so I knocked on the
door and pointed to my eye. It had a bandage on it. I asked her in pigeon
language, if she would bandage it. And she said, come in. So, I walked
into the hospital in full battle gear, M1's, cartridge belt, bayonet the
whole works. I'm following the nurse down the alley way, when all of a
sudden this voice says, hey soldier where are you going? And I turned around
and it was a German Officer, Doctor, spoke english as well, if not better,
than I do. I told him I was getting my eye bandaged. By that time, the
nurse just disappeared. He said, come with me. He took me upstairs and
sat me down in like a dentist chair, had a nurse. They took off the old
bandage and washed the eye wound and put a new bandage on it. He led me
back down to where he found me and said, now get the hell out of here.
About that time, I came out through these glass doors, and there was my
Lieutenant. He said what, where have you been, get in the truck. Because,
that's against all the rules of warfare to go into a hospital like that,
because there are wounded and sick and you are not supposed to disturb
Shortly after that, we were in Klatovy, Czechoslovakia. We had gotten in our trucks and were all ready to go to Prague, because the SS were running down the civilians with their tanks. We were not tank fighters. We had bazooka's but that's about all we had. We didn't have any tank weapons. We were very, very happy when they announced on the radio, that we were to hold where we were, because the war was over.
We went back to the houses we had taken over. We went back and stayed there. They had told us not to interfere with the civilian population. We had a prison there. We sent all the Germans into that prison. We had machine guns setup to keep them in there. Then, we had to have machine guns setup to keep the civilians out, because they were not very happy with those Germans. We had our cooks working out in the street. We were getting breakfast one morning. We were in line with our mess kits, and the cooks were serving our coffee and our food. Up the street came a young woman with a baby in her arms. She was running, to get to where we were and out of another house came an older women with a big stick. She interfered between us and that girl. She killed that baby right there in front of us. There was nothing we could do, because it was a civilian problem. Eventually, we got the woman and took her up and put her in the German prison, because she had been calibrating with the Germans.
Then we find out later on that they think they had one car in town and we gave them some gasoline. They took the mayor of that town, who of course, was working with the Germans. They tied him up and put a rope around his neck, and tied the rope to the back bumper of the car and forced him to walk, fall, run, be pulled, or however, outside of the town, where they tied him up in a tree and hung him. Again, nothing we could do. It was a civilian job.
Then the powers that be had made arrangements that we would leave the town on Friday night and the Russians would come in on Sunday evening. Well, Friday morning were getting ready to go, and we got word from our scouts that there is an armored column approaching from the Russian area. We went down. We had a tank destroyer with us by then. The tank destroyer pulled right across the road. It was kind of a winding road out in a bunch of farmland. You never saw such a rag-tag column of horses and wagons and tanks that looked like our World War One things. The lead man was leading a horse with a wagon, and he was told to stop. He very foolishly did not stop. He ran around the horse to get the horse between him and us. Whoever it was on that tank destroyer, took a .50 caliber and killed both him and the horse right then, bang, one shot. The Russians then decided they weren't going to come until Sunday, and we left as were suppose to on Friday.
We pulled back into Regensburg in Germany where we went into a big German Calvary units quarters, all stone, three stories. Very nice place, really. There we had a horse rink, a big like roller skating rink, only all dirt floors that you could walk around and behind the barrier and watch.
We had captured some Austrian Calvary men, and we picked up some calvary horses, the riding horses that the farmers had grabbed when the Army was going through. It was still hard because they needed the horses to pull plows and wagons and stuff. But we took them away because we wanted some recreation. We had these Austrian Calvary men break these horses back into saddle horses again, so we could go horseback riding around the area. I forgot who I was with, but 2 or 3 of us, had these horses, and we went up and we rode right through Messerschmitt aircraft plant that had been bombed, till the point there was nothing left. The walls were all down, the whole building had been destroyed. We worked around there. Each company had different jobs to do. Phil and I were sent across the river to an artillery unit, and they wanted a garage built. Well, we scrounged around and found some steel from an old building that had bombed out, that we could use. We got some German prisoners and we worked them putting in, doing all the labor work, and building up this building. We got the steel up to the roof. We had to go up there with electric drills, we had a generator, and drill wholes so we could bolt planks to the steel. So we could put a roof on this building.
A couple of days before, we were out there with the men and they were digging in the dirt, and this one young rugged looking German boy, stripped down to the waist, because this was late May, and as he raised his arm, I noticed this tattoo underneath his arm. I said to him in a pigeon German what's this stuff and he probably says S-S-S. I laughed at it. The next day, when he'd come back to work, he had gotten a hold of a jack knife and he'd cut the tattoo out from underneath his own arm. He'd been made a hero by the rest of there prisoners because he was so tuff, that he could do this. They were kinda looking up to this German boy.
This day we went up with electric drills. Well, having been a house painter, heights didn't bother me. I climbed up on ladders, and I walked across done steel. I'd been walking on railroad tracks most of my life, so it was no big deal to me to stand up and walk on steel. I went up with an electric drill, and I was standing up, and was walking over to where we were going to use it. This little German fellow was following me. He got up and stood up and he sat right back down, and he kinda hunched along on his back sides. All the Germans laughed and laughed and laughed. That was the end of him being a macho hero to these guys.
These artillery boys had somehow or other, gotten a hold of this ice cream making machine. We were living with them. Every night after supper, we'd go have a great big dish of their home made ice cream, and have a great time.
Now the house that we were in, was what you would consider a modern house. They had indoor plumbing, that is, they had toilets and wash basins upstairs and in the kitchen. But if you wanted to take a bath, you'd have to go down in the cellar, what we would consider a garage. There they had a big metal tub, that they could run water into. They had a fire box under it. Where you could built a wood fire to heat this water. Then, they had a galvanized metal tub, it was in the rafters above the garage, you'd have to put it down on the floor. Put the low end down next to the hot water tank. When the water got hot in the tank you could let it into this tub, take your bath. Then, you had to bail it out of the tub into a hole in the floor, the drain in the floor, to let it out. With their modern conveniences they didn't even have a shower or bathtub that you could use like we've always known how to use, and enjoy.
Shortly after that, now the war had ended. They broke up our unit, that is, they sent a lot of us fellows out of our unit. They sent me to an artillery group that were heading back into France, and they put us on a train. I went into what they called a replacement depot in Reims in France. Then, they assigned me to general service engineer regiment. These guys claim to fame was they built a pipeline from Normandy to the Rhine for gasoline. They had a bird Colonel, who was bucking for a Brigader General. His idea to keep the men busy, was to have them pass in review. Everyday he would get us out there spit shine and want to pass in review. I wasn't interested in that, so I'd go up the street to where there was a combat engineer outfit. Bill Whitamore was up there. We'd get involved in a volleyball game, and I'd play volleyball most of the day, eat with them, and have a good time until it was time to go back to the unit to sleep. Well, we were scheduled, of coarse the war was sill on in Japan, we were scheduled to go to China and that meant more shots. Well, I wasn't gonna go to China. I didn't want to go to China and I wasn't about to go to China. So when they took all the troops down to give them Cholera shots, I disappeared and went down and played volleyball, and they didn't catch up with me for two weeks. Then I had to go get a shot.
In the meantime, Betty Grable was coming to put on a U.S.O. show. I went up and checked the duty roster, my name wasn't on it. I went back down and got my good clothes out and went down to the latrine. I was in the latrine washing up and shaving, getting ready to go to the U.S.O. show. When, in came the first Sergeant. He says, your on guard. I said, I wasn't this morning when I looked on the roster. Well, he said, you are now. I said, well, how come? He said, so and so, one of the older fellows in the company, wanted to go to the U.S.O. show. They had taken him off the duty roster, and me, as a new replacement, I was stuck with it, okay.
I went up and got my fatigues back on, my cartridge belt, canteen like your supposed to wear when your on guard, and my helmet. I went up to the command post and asked for a rifle. They'd gave me a rifle, because they'd taken our rifles away from us by then. I put out my hand, and he said, what do you want now? I said, I want some ammunition. He said, we don't have any ammunition. I went over and put the rifle back in the rack, and said get yourself another boy. I'm not gonna guard prisoners without ammunition. Well, they scrounged around, the Captain and the First Sergeant and whoever else was in there, and they finally found five rounds of ammunition. Which I had to hand load into an M-1. Then, I went on guard.
I had five prisoners. They were doing there jobs. They were cleaning up the area and washing out the G.I. cans and doing whatever was suppose to be done. One of them come over to me, in pigeon language, said he wanted to go to the bathroom. I told him to go ahead. He couldn't believe it, I was going to let him go all by himself. I said, if I can't hit you from here with this rifle, if you try and run anywhere, of coarse they weren't going anywhere, they were all older men. They knew they were all older. They were still alive and they were happy. They weren't being worked that hard. Those men loved me. They would do anything for me they possibly could. Because, probably, this was the first time that they had been alone in the toilet by themselves since they had been captured. I had one coming, and one going most of the rest of the day, but they were working like crazy.
It came time for lunch. I waited until all the troops had gone through and I took my prisoners and put them in line. The cook said, I don't have any more food. I said, well, get some. The Captain, who knew I wasn't very happy, came rushing over and said, what's the matter? I said, I haven't eaten and neither have my men. Oh! Sergeant, give these men some food. The sergeant whipped up something and, some how he gave us food enough to eat, coffee. We went outside, we didn't eat in the barracks. We went outside. We sat, our backs against the wall, in the sunshine. The six of us were eating our lunch, and out came the Captain, and said, you can't sit with them and eat. By that time I was finished, so I didn't care. I got up and walked out.
In the middle between the two buildings was some gas cans and some water cans. I sat on the water cans and lit up a cigarette because then in those days, I smoked. The Captain come out, and said, you can't smoke here, its gas. I said, this is water. Well, don't smoke the Colonel's watching. Okay, so I put out my cigarette. They never asked me to go on guard again.
I had gotten so nasty. The first Sergeant and I were sleeping in the same tent. We both refused, one morning, to get up. I was a private, so they couldn't do anything to me any way, so I wasn't too worried. The Captain came in and said to the Sergeant, "Sergeant, I'll break you". The Sergeant looked at the Captain and said Captain you can't break me. It would take an act of congress to break me. The Captain said, what do you mean? The Sergeant said, I'm a first Sergeant in the old regular army, permanent grade. Now most people, do not understand "Army of the United States", and the "United States Army". I understand now it isn't anymore, but at that point in time, it was.
Most of your high ranking military officers, had what they called a permanent rank, that you couldn't be busted down below. Eisenhower, who was a supreme commander, a five star General, had a permanent rank of a Staff Sergeant. Here, this First Sergeant, out ranked Eisenhower in the old regular Army, but, of coarse, in the new Army, United States Army, he was just a First Sergeant. Eisenhower was a Five Star General. It was comical to have this poor Captain. He didn't understand "U.S. Army" and "Army of the United States", either.
Then, the war in Japan got over. They put us on the train and they took us right back to Regansburg. I could have thrown a baseball from where I was put into a building in Regansburg, to where I had left, like, two months before. I was only there about four days when they transferred me out again to a different outfit, put me on a train and took me back to what they call the cigarette camps, which was the way to go home.
There, I was transferred to the 76th Infantry Division, that they had filled up with men from the 101st Airborne. Everybody was in there. They took us down to Marsei. We were in a tent city in Marsei, waiting for our boat. Then, they took us down and put us on the Polytog Victory ship. A whole bunch of us, and they headed us for home.
We were piled something like six high, downstairs in these boats. I didn't like that. Although they tell you never volunteer, they came around and said they wanted a store keepers assistant. I said, I'd been working in supply, I'll do that.
I went up and met this civilian sailor, who was the store keeper. My job was to take a detail of troops down into the hole where they kept all the food supplies. We would have a list of things to bring up and we would go down number one hole and pick up the supplies, bring them back up to the cooks. Then, we'd dismiss the detail, and I was staying right there. One of my jobs then was to go into the deep freeze and bring out pint containers of milk, whole milk, frozen hard as a rock. I would have to set these up on the deck, inside a fenced in area, so they could thaw for supper. Then, I'd go into the other refer and get fresh apples and oranges and bring them out and put the in big bowls for the men when they came for meals. I didn't have to stand in the chow line. I could go in back of the chow line with the cooks, and get anything I wanted out of the serving line.
One day, they were gonna have a inspection down in the hole. The store keeper said to me you don't have to stay for the inspection, why don't you come up to my barracks. He took me up top side to his room, that he shared with another sailor. I got into his bed and went to sleep. Then, they invited me to stay for supper with the crew. We had roast Long Island duckling. It isn't always a bad thing to always volunteer for something like that.
After eight or nine days, we arrived in Norfolk, Virginia. We came to the dock, and they took us over to camp Patrick Henry, which I understand is gone now. The last time we were down in Norfolk, Virginia, we asked about it, and they said they closed it up and it was gone.
We'd got there, this was in October, and they gave us our first real turkey dinner when we came ashore. They had a bunch of German prisoners, who were working as cooks and some of those people were fantastic. They had taken these great big metal containers of mashed potatoes, and taken various herbs, sprinkled them on the mashed potatoes in the form of paintings. They'd have a street with houses on it and cars and flags, beautiful works. You almost hated to dig in with our big tools to get the food out. We had a good time. I think from there, I called Lucy, and told her that I was in the states. Then, they put us on a train, an brought us up from there to Fort Devens. Where we were going to be discharged.
Now, troops in Europe were authorized to wear what they called Eisenhower jacket. "I had a beat up, by then, field jacket", I had worn my tanker jacket. I had a beat up field jacket, it had rips in it and dirty. Every time I got into an area where I could make a request, I requested an Eisenhower jacket, but they never had my size.
We were in Devens, and the fellow in front of me was about my size, had an Ike jacket on. He said to the supply Sergeant, or who ever was working in supply, I would like a blouse. He took off his Ike jacket and I picked it up and put it on and it fit. The guy behind the counter, said, you can't do that. I said, the hell I can't. I still have that Eisenhower jacket upstairs right now. With my chevrons and my third Army patches on it, and my ribbons and all my hash marks and my oversea marks and all those good things.
Then, they wouldn't let us out. I called Lucy again from there, but we couldn't get out until after Thanksgiving. Then, Lucy and Ann came up and picked me up at the gate and took me home. That's what happened to my Military career.
Now, I got to go back and tell some of the stories I missed on my way through. Phil and Billy and I got to the point where we would sleep together. It was cold in Luxembourg, so we would share our blankets. We would make up a nice big bed, because one of us was usually on guard. Two of us usually ended up sleeping in this bed with all the blankets. Three of us did occasionally. It was made for three of us. Billy had a very bad habit of laying down across the bed and falling asleep. When he fell asleep, you'd almost think he was dead. We had to wake him up, and had to fight with him to get him awake some nights. There was this one night we were up on the second floor of the German house. It was warm in there. We were sitting around talking and Billy lied down across the bed and fell asleep. Well, myself and two other fellows picked him up, took him outside on the landing, and laid him down. It was cold out there. Then, we went back and we were sitting there talking. Pretty soon Billy came in and oh was he mad. We said, what are you complaining about, you told us you were going out to the latrine. He didn't believe what we told him. He wasn't sure exactly what had happened, but he never laid across our bed again and went to sleep.
Then, just after we hit Normandy, I got mad and told off a Sergeant and he took my job away. I was no longer a tool keeper. I was just a Private on the line. He assigned George Hantis, a little Greek boy from Boston. Who wasn't to swift to this job. Well, one day George Hantis was very busily cleaning up the tools and he came across this wooden box, in the demolition kit. Here are some nonelectric blasting caps. They're copper. They are green with oxidation. He takes some steel wool and proceeds to start to clean up these blasting caps. One of them goes off in his hand, because all it takes is a little heat, and those things will pop. It filled a hand with copper. It filled his face. Luckily it missed his eyes, but he new better after that, then to try and clean up those blasting caps, because they are not made to be cleaned up.
Another story I have to tell about a man named Densky. He came from Bridgeport. He was a hell raiser. We were on one bridge job. It was hot. They were shelling us quite regularly on that one. He goofed off and found some alcohol or something in somebodies house, which he proceeded to drink. He came walking down the middle of the street, drunker than a fool. We had put in a new bridge area. Instead of using the old bridge sight. He went down and sat on what had been the old bridge. He was yelling at the Germans trying to direct the artillery fire to hit the bridge. Course they can't hear him, they were to far away, because they were using the 88. We went and grabbed him, got him under cover, before he got himself hurt.
Then, after we crossed the Sauer River, I was in camp on light duty because of my knees, had an ace bandages around both knees to keep them from falling apart. Mike and Densky and the rest of the boys were clearing the mine field and found a German antitank mine. Well, the Germans had nasty habit of booby trapping these mines, so they dug around it very carefully and they tied a piece of string on it. Densky was walking backwards unrolling the string, when he stepped on what is called a bouncing Betty. Now this is a mine that's about as big as a pound coffee can. It's got a double charge in it. One charge blows it up into the air about my height. The second charge is suppose to explode it. It is full of ball bearing or pieces of steel or nails or something or what ever they can put in this thing. He stepped on it and it bounced up in front of him and then drop to the ground. The secondary charge was faulty and didn't go off. Now he'd been through these kind of experiences. He come back after the war to Bridgeport and he got married. He had a little boat down in Bridgeport Harbor. On a Sunday morning his wife, Helen, took their car, he had a gas station in Bridgeport, took their car, took and dropped him off at his boat, so he could do some work on it. She went on down and got the newspaper. When she came back, there was a crowd around where his boat had been. Somehow or another, he'd fallen over board and drowned. So he'd been through all this war time experiences, and then he drowned.
Well, needless to say, I survived, I got the purple heart, and in the European Theater Operations they issued six campaign stars. Our battalion got five out of the six. We couldn't be in southern France and northern France at the same time.
Well, I came home, and Lucy met me, her and Ann, met me at Fort Devens. We went back to Manchester. My brother Bob, who lived at North School Street, met me and said he was moving to Great Bearington and the house was mine, free until I got married. Then, it would cost me twenty five dollars a month rent. Things were cheap back in those days. We planned to get married, but Mrs. Wells would not think of a wedding until after Christmas, so we set the date for Jan. 5, 1946. In the meantime, Lucy's mouth wasn't feeling well, so she'd went to see the dentist. He informed her she had trench mouth. Here, I had just arrived home, and here she came out of the dentist office with her mouth full of that purple gentian. It was terrible. We couldn't even kiss for along time. We got married and we moved into North School Street. While we were living there, we had two children, Noreen and Gerry or Gerald, which is his real name. Noreen Clara after my mother, Southergill, and Gerald Robert after my father, Southergill.
Well, Noreen married, Charlie Watson, from South Winsor. They had two boys and a girl, Wendy, John, and Richard. Gerry married Lynn Harmon and he had four sons, Brian, Adam, John, and Travis. Now Lynn's father, John Harmon lives in Florida, or did live in Florida. We have met him. He was an expert machinist. At this point in time, he still lives in Florida.
Gerry has been involved in the retread industry ever since he got out of college. First, he worked for Russ and I. Then, he used to work for City Tire, up in Springfield. Then, he went to work for Petes Tire Barn, where he is the Manager of the retreading department, in that good size business. He also has his own little business called Emerald Equipment, where he has made a number of inventions, to help in the tire business. Noreen, after many years, decided she wanted to fulfill her life long ambition and became a Registered Nurse.
Now, I think back, and I must tell you that when I went through that cemetery on the Sauer River, and saw that vision between me and the Germans, I was a non Christian. I did not know too much about Jesus Christ. I knew about Christmas and the baby in the manger. Things in that nature. That's about it.
It wasn't until many years later that I realized that that it wasn't my mother, who died while I was in England. Out there, protecting her little boy, this was Jesus, protecting me. I did not know why he saved my life, but I have tried, since then, to witness to the fact that Jesus Christ is alive and well. He will take care of you. That's about enough of me.
Thanks for Listening.
The previous stories where transcribed from tape as a joint venture from my wife Eleanor, who spent many hours at the keyboard, as well as myself, Bob Pitts. It was edited by my son Rick, with the occasional supervision from his son Robert on his lap, as well as from my daughter Nancy, and her husband Bob.
Norm Southergill supplied us with 2 tapes, each filled with these stories. We sincerely hope you have enjoyed reading them.