Archive for May, 2015

Seventy years ago today, the Germans surrendered and WWII was over. The men of the 111th had been anticipating the announcement for at least a week. When word finally came, the men celebrated in a big — and rather dangerous — way.

Sgt. Frank Sossi, the company clerk, wrote in his monthly report for May 1945, “It was extremely annoying to have to move 194 miles south southwest from Salzwedel to Freidrichorst [an area of Neubeckum, northwest of Dortmund] on the 6th of May, because we couldn’t keep our ears glued to the radio for a whole day.” Their quarters were a cement works. “By 7 May it was quite apparent that the war was over. After being on the continent for 9 months, and during that time only 31 men and 1 officer out of the whole company receiving official rest passes, the company was really ready to let go in an all-out celebration. The men couldn’t wait any longer for the official announcement of cessation of hostilities [the next day] so they broke out the 50 gallons of whiskey that had been acquired for the occasion and started celebrating on 7 May, the night before official VE Day. It will be an occasion the men of this organization shall never forget.”

Well, it seems there was a story behind that “whiskey” Sgt. Sossi referred to. Here is Lt. Fred Kent’s account: “Finally, word reached us on May 7th that Germany had surrendered. To commemorate the occasion, Captain Brooks asked me to comb the countryside to obtain alcoholic beverages with which the men could properly celebrate….I finally located a distillery where I procured what appeared to be around a ten-gallon barrel of pure grain alcohol. After returning to the company with this precious cargo, I repaired to where the kitchen was set up in the cement factory and instructed the cooks to mix the alcohol with an equal amount of water and to add to it some caramelized sugar to give the mixture some color and flavor.

“Word of the availability of this libation spread quickly, and in no time the men were lined up with their canteen cups to partake of this deadly brew. In reminiscing on this event, I’m certain that God must have been watching over us, for that must have been the most dangerous day of our company’s wartime experience. The men were absolutely inebriated, but in their exuberance to celebrate—by firing their rifles in the air—they were incapable of raising their weapons to a trajectory higher than the horizontal, with the consequence of bullets flying all over the place.

“Poor Stan Errington was O.D. [officer of the day], and no sooner had he succeeded in quieting one group of men when suddenly there would be an eruption of small arms fire and flares in another area. It wasn’t until the small hours of the night that he was finally able to establish tranquillity, but by that time I think he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Thus ended VE Day.”

Lt. Witt described that night: “[It] proved to be one of our gayest, and I grant you the drunkest, of our whole time in the Army. It was unbelievable…..”

Sgt. Roland Unangst wrote later: “That night we used a confiscated wind-up record player and a bunch of German records (‘Roll Out the Barrel’). It was a good tune. Lord, we were happy it was over.”

Addendum: Right after I published the above, one of the surviving members of the 111th, John Raisler wrote in and gave his account of that day in 1945:

GOOD MORNING, LOT OF MEMORIES THAT DAY, IT WAS A WILD ONE AND THAT’S FOR SURE….KNOWING THAT THE OFFICIAL DAY WAS NEAR, JOE (Sedlacek), DELA (Leo DeLaGarza) AND I CRUISED THE OLD BATTLEFIELDS AND CAME BACK WITH OUR TRUCK FULL OF FLARES AND FLARE GUNS…… NOW THE TIME OF DAY, I’M NOT TOO SURE, BUT A JEEP WITH A COLONEL RIDING UP FRONT, DROVE UP, FOLLOWED BY A GI TRUCK. ON THE TAILGATE SAT A 5 GALLEON KEG OF WHISKEY. THE TROOPS GATHERED QUICKLY, AND LISTENED TO THE OFFICIAL ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE END OF THE WAR. THEN BEING BIG-HEARTED HE GAVE US THE KEG, AND A ‘WELL-DONE BOYS’…WHEN HE LEFT FOR THE NEXT OUTFIT.HE WAS SENT OFF IN A BARRAGE OF COLORED FLARES. THE PARTY HAD BEGUN. NOW WE WOULD HAVE TO WAIT AND SEE WHEN WE WOULD HEAD HOME…IT WASN’T TOO LONG AND MOST OF US WERE BACK HOME IN A FEW MONTHS…..THE WHOLE WAR WAS AN GRAND EXPERIENCE, BUT I ASSURE YOU, ONCE IS ENOUGH…..RECOLLECTIONS VARY, BUT BASICALLY SOSSI’S ACCOUNT WAS CLOSE TO BEING WHAT WE ALL FELT ………AN OLD VET…JOHN R.