Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

The 111th’s summer-long stay in Brake, near Bremen, from late May until the fall, must have seemed like an eternity for the men, as they waited their turn to go home according to the point system, based on time in service and other factors. Their work was pretty much over with, and at least two of the men took the time to write their memoirs of the war, which are elsewhere on this blog.

Brake was, and still is, a port on the Weser River, south of Bremerhaven. The unit took over six apartment buildings. Today we drove into Brake, a much larger town than we expected. We decided to have lunch before driving up and down streets looking for those apartment buildings.

It was a good thing we did. We showed the waitress our photos. She wasn’t sure and sent over one of the other guests. That woman also wasn’t sure and said she’d send over her husband. He recognized them–but spoke no English. His daughter was there, so he called her over and she told us the street name (Brommystrasse) and where it was, near the port several blocks north of us. We drove over, and there they were, still being used:

Lt. Kent wrote that down the street from the apartments, “We took over a bar room, using the bar on the ground floor for recreation and the second floor for company headquarters. Across the street from the bar was an Olympic-size swimming pool, which I promptly appropriated and had filled with the aid of conscripted German help.”

Kent continued, “I also hired some German carpenters to convert the swimming pool bath house to a mess hall, confiscated enough china and silverware from a nearby kasserna (armory) to accommodate the company, and hired some women to assist the cooks.”

 

This is the building in the man’s photo marked “Our Room.” Not evident in either photo, but which we could see, were cranes at the port in the distance.

This is a picture of our apartment taken while the Germans were in full swing. I found it in the room here Campbell.

campbell9
DeLaGarza, Sedlacek, Raisler

Leo De La Garza, Joe Sedlacek, and John Raisler, in front of their “home” in Brake, Germany, summer 1945  

Roland Unangst on right

Roland Unangst on right in Brake

Red Cross Club, Brake, Germany Campbell

The American Red Cross club in Brake, Germany—the building is no longer there

Swimming at pool in Brake, GE. Occupation time after V-E Day

Swimming at the pool in Brake

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Well, this one was a bit of a challenge. My father wrote on the back of this photo, “Luchow, Germany.” That’s John Andrews on the left and Dad on the right. As John’s son David once said about this photo, “It looks like the two of them won the war single-handedly.”

So we thought it would be fairly easy just to go to Luchow, a few miles north of Salzwedel, where we are staying, and locate the town square, where we would find the building in the background. We figured the remains of the statue would be gone. This is where the men spent the week before the end of the war. They were assisting the 29th Division with the processing of German POWs.

We drove to Luchow this afternoon, found the town square—but the big building didn’t match up at all. Hmmm. Luchow is a lovely ancient town, quite large, but we couldn’t find an information office or a museum. We had parked the car in front of some shops, and something told me to try an optometrist’s shop.

With photo in hand we went in, and Ed showed it to the man at the desk. He took a quick look and said, in perfect English, “No, that’s not here. That is in Dannenberg, up the road.” Now, what are the odds of finding someone who knew that? All these lucky encounters are getting a little weird.

So of course we got back in the car and drove to Dannenberg. It was a pretty drive of about 10 miles on country roads.

The town was bigger than we expected, so we drove around for a while looking for the main square. We spotted the information office, so I went in, photo in hand. The young woman at the desk took one look at the photo and said, “Follow me, I’ll show you.” We stepped outside and she pointed to the building at the end of the short street. She laughed when I told her the story behind the photo.

Note that the building has gone through some renovations over the past 74 years. Note also that I had a slightly different photo.

The town square, Dannenberg, Germany

This posting, by sheer coincidence, is being made on the 74th anniversary of VE-Day, May 8, from the very town where the 111th celebrated it. The men were so happy that the war was finally over, at least in Europe. They could begin to dream of going home. But first a celebration was in order.

The Allies had crossed the Rhine River on March 25, 1945, and soon the 111th began to follow the troops deeper into Germany. They left Munchen-Gladbach on March 31 and spent April and early May all over the place—Dinslaken, Nulert, Ahlen, Dorsten, Hannover, Wathlingen, Bodenteich, and Salzwedel, and, on May 6, Neubeckum, in the neighborhood known as Friedrichshorst. There they moved into a cement factory.

This was the modern cement plant; it closed in 2006.

We found the cement plant easily today, but we knew it was too modern to have been around in 1945. Except for one car, the place was deserted. But by chance, the owner of that car—a guard, perhaps?—was leaving to go home while we were there snooping around, and he stopped to see what we wanted. He spoke good English, was intrigued by our search, and told us to follow him to an area behind the large towers. There we saw the old portion of the plant, certainly where the men had been.

Our men knew that the war in Europe was over by May 7, but the official announcement  would not be made until the next day. Seeing no good reason to wait, the men were ready to celebrate. The company commander, Capt. Art Brooks, put the always-creative Lt. Fred Kent in charge of finding refreshments for the celebration. Here is how he described the task:

“After scouring the surrounding area, I finally located a distillery where I procured what appeared to be a ten-gallon barrel of pure grain alcohol…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…in no time the men were lined up with their canteen cups to partake of this deadly brew.”

“In reminiscing over this event, I’m convinced God must have been watching over us, for I’m certain that that must have been the most dangerous day of our company’s wartime experiences. The men were absolutely inebriated, but in their exuberance to celebrate by firing their rifles in the air, they were incapable of raising them to a trajectory higher than the horizontal, with the consequence of bullets flying all over the place.”

VE Day, Friedricshorst Nuebeckum, M. Frank Turner with unit

Some of the men, VE Day eve, 1945, in the cement factory.

Lt. Kent continued, “It was truly a miracle no one was shot. Poor Lt. Stan Errington was OD [officer of the day], and no sooner had he succeeded in quieting one group of men when suddenly there would be another eruption of small arms fire and flares. It wasn’t until the small hours of the night that he was able to reestablish tranquility, but by that time I think he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Thus ended VE Day.”

After I first posted this, I realized I needed to add observations of the night from two of our favorite soldiers—Roland Unangst and John Raisler. “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,” said Unangst.

Raisler talked to us about the craziness of the celebration, but concluded, “The whole war was a grand experience, but I assure you, once is enough.”

Ed and I will arrive in Normandy later this week to begin the “tracings” part of this blog at long last. We thought that driving the route of the 111th—from Omaha Beach to Brake, Germany—would be a good way to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day. We also hope to see some of what the men saw as they made their way through Europe during the final year of their WWII service.

Below are the first two pages of the 111th’s itinerary, as carefully noted by 111th soldier Joe Sedlacek. (Many thanks to his son Tom for sending this to us.) Ed checked it against the unit’s morning reports and found it to be quite accurate, with the exception of several completely understandable misspellings of town names.

Joe Sedlacek

We will begin by spending three nights at the Normandy manoir house B&B of blog friend Michael Doherty. He has located the exact spot where the men camped for several weeks in the summer of 1944 and has promised to take us there. (See the previous blog post on this site.) Michael is a D-Day guide, and we appreciate his interest in our quest during a very busy time for him.

So stay tuned. I hope to make several posts to this blog as we follow the 111th’s convoy through dozens of hamlets and villages and towns over the next two weeks.

 

When the 111th left Alsdorf, Germany, on March 4, 1945, and moved 36 miles northwest to what was then called Munchen-Gladbach, Germany, the men took up quarters in several apartment buildings near their new shop area (a former local police complex that had recently been used by S.S. troops).

We learned a couple of years ago that the particular apartment building my father lived in is still there and is still an apartment building. The other day we heard from a new blog friend, Antonio, who lives in that city. He told us that he lived in that building until recently and offered to take a photo of it, from the same angle as my dad’s photo 72 years ago. Here is what he sent:

monchengladbach apt bdlg today

Here is my dad’s photo:

img210 Our home at Munchen Gladbach, Germany, Spring 1945

Thanks, Antonio! My dad and his buddies would be amazed.