Memories of Perry Witt

Perry Witt’s daughter, Sue Phaneuf, has generously allowed us to post her father’s story of his time in the 111th Ordnance Company during the war. He wrote it while the company was waiting to be shipped home from Germany after the end of the war in Europe.

ONE YEAR – PLUS

History of the 111th ORD MM Company

by Lt. Perry Witt

 June 1945

Before I begin, may I say that this is not supposed to be an edited story, but merely a brief story outline of my career in the Army from November 25, 1940, to date, June 13, 1945, and to be completed up to the date of my discharge.

It was in the winter of 1940 when the Selective Service Act got into full swing and at which time I, like many thousands of others, joined the service in order to put in my year, then to become a civilian again.

Since I had previous military training in the National Guard, I rejoined a guard unit in San Antonio, Texas, the one which I am so proud to be in now, the 111th Ordnance (MM) Company.

We were officially activated in November 1940 into the A.U.S. and later moved to our home station at Camp Bowie, near Brownwood, Texas.

Here is the place that the 111th was re-born to make a name for itself in history along with the 36th Division, which we were part of. We started our long campaign with only 40 men, originally from San Antonio or vicinity; however, this number grew by the day as those men from all over the States joined us from the draft, until we reached our company strength of 160 men. A lasting friendship was made throughout the organization as we worked shoulder to shoulder, through maneuvers, until the Army started to expand rapidly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. It had been preached to us that some would become officers, others non-coms and others to leave the organization of cadres to form other units. We did not give this a thought until we went off to Ordnance School in Aberdeen, Md., and to OCS [Officer Candidate School]. Some of the men went in the early part of 1942. At the same time, our outfit started cadreing our buddies out, splitting us up as we called it, but the Army knew what was best.

In February 1942, I got my first taste of Aberdeen—I was anxious to go to learn more of the type of work that I was doing, which was instruments, but never did I dream that I would ever be in a place so chicken! Yes, that is what I thought of the place, as did every man that went up there except a bookworm, who would have loved it.

After three months at school, I graduated, supposed to be a success and then to take that knowledge back to the men in the section,  that we may better perform our work. After one month of work in the section and enjoying myself, Capt. Crossman approached me with the suggestion that I go to the OCS prep-school being held in our camp. Naturally I objected to leaving the outfit, but with that influence and a fatherly touch that he had and the picture that he painted of me being an officer, I soon found myself in the clutched hands of a bunch of instructors from morning until night. Will I ever forget that month—no, because it was three months in one, and on the Fourth of July we were graduated and back to our outfits again, thank God.

But not for long, as we had to go before a board to determine if we were fit for OCS, and we soon found out.

It was the last part of July that two of the three of us were notified to report to Aberdeen (that hell-hole) again, for a three-month course at OCS. Never will I forget the horrors of how some human beings can treat others; however, I soon found out that this was the ways and means of weeding out those not suitable for the job of becoming an officer.

I trudged along with the others in my class, getting in each other’s hair and griping about everything and the way that they treated us. As far as infantry drill, mechanics and anything along military lines, this did not worry me, as I had previously spent four years in ROTC, three years in the National Guard and now was at it again. However, the thing that stumped me, and of course everyone else, was the subject of supply discipline, since this was at the turning point of our growing army.It seemed that every other day the T/Os or supply problems and the number of copies would change, so my memory was having a hell of a time.

At the end of the week we were given Saturday evening and Sunday passes, which always meant a mad rush for Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York City. Most of my time was spent in Baltimore, as it was closer and not too far a ride on a crowded train. After a number of trips in on a weekend passes, I met a sweet blue-eyed blonde, who later became my wife.

In the closing days of OCS, everyone was sweating it out, afraid to breathe hard that they may be dismissed from school, even though we did have our officer’s uniforms.

We were called in to receive word of our new units and destinations This was the big answer we were all waiting for. It so happened that we were given the opportunity to trade with someone else the following day if we cared to. That was the luckiest break I ever received in the Army and had I been checked on, I didn’t imagine that I would have been allowed to return to my old battalion at Camp Bowie.

I was only too anxious to get back home to see the old outfit, which was midnight Saturday night by plane to Dallas. I had a date [in Baltimore] with my girlfriend, Mary Byrne, whom I admired and loved dearly. Before leaving her, I told her that I would come back for her soon, just how soon I did not know.

My flight home was by night most of the way, and at 9 am I stepped out on Texas soil once again and need I say how quickly I got on my way back to Camp Bowie.

When I walked into the shops where all the men were working, it was with the feeling that I had been away from for so long while at school that gripped me, and all my old buddies greeted me. Needless to say, when Capt. Bill Crossman greeted me, he could not wait to find out where my assignment was, but upon doing so he didn’t wait around. I soon found myself back in the 111th, after a transfer from Battalion HQ.

After a day of talking to all my friends and hashing out the past I drove on to San Antonio. This seemed to me to be the longest ride I had ever taken, just to get home as quickly as possible. It was a grand feeling to see my mother, dad and brother, and other friends after nearly eight months of hard schooling. Now just to relax for 15 days, the time that I was given for leave and travel time. This was the reason that I flew back, in order to save time.

While enjoying myself at home in relaxation, I was suddenly notified to return to camp immediately with no explanation other than that we were leaving. Where to or why was the big question, and naturally I left my mother in tears in her eyes, and that was the last time that I saw them, 1942 to this day.

I returned to camp to find everyone packed and of course the buzzing question, “Where are we going” and the rumors were getting larger as time went by.

The following morning after everything was loaded and we were preparing to embark for the train, Capt. Crossman was suddenly relieved from the command of the company to report to Command and General Staff School in Kansas

Since all of the other officers had left by car the previous day for their homes, which were near our destination, and Lt. Malsbury, now a captain, was at school in Aberdeen, Md., the task of being C.O. for that trip and in charge of the train fell upon me, a green officer, just out of school. I knew I had nothing to worry about since I knew every man in the outfit and they could be depended upon, but I admit that I was nervous. First Sgt. Mayo’s assistance to me was a great help and with the aid of all of the other NCOs we reached our destination without any mishaps. Upon arrival, Lt. Malsbury met the train to take over, since he was now the commanding officer of the company.

Our stay at Aberdeen was brief, to be exact about a month, I think, as we made all the preparations for our next task and got the training the men needed for their respective jobs. It was officially announced that we were to be part of a winter detachment to Canada for cold-testing Army equipment.

We were given passes most every night, so that meant that I spent a great part of the time in Baltimore keeping company with the girl that I had made up my mind to marry. We had our problems to iron out and different points to be agreed on, so there wasn’t any time to waste. Time went by and I found myself without an answer from Mary, and then the time came to leave for Canada.

It was on November 2, 1942, that we left Aberdeen bound for Chicago, St. Paul and on to Winnipeg, Canada. We turned west for 150 miles to our destination, which was a Canadian camp [Shiloh] and our quarters were the best. Since the part of the camp we were living in was new and not quite complete, we did have steam heat and comfortable beds.

After a few days of orientation and we got used to what we thought was cold weather and snow; little did we know what was to come later.

We were soon engaged in our task of preparing for the coldest temperatures and this meant to work night and day or whenever that particular temperature arrived. As time went by we had seen the temperature drop to 52 degrees below zero, and when it rose to 10 degrees below, we thought it very warm. The end of February found us completing our tests of all desired temperatures and packing the equipment for shipment back to Aberdeen Proving Grounds.

It was the middle of March, 1943, when the second train left Camp Shiloh for the States, and here again I found myself tied down with another duty instead of relaxing. I was appointed mess officer for the train, and it would not have been too bad had our train not broken down with flat wheels just at the Canadian border. This meant we had to pull into the nearest roundhouse for repairs, which was just above Fargo, North Dakota. While here, a blizzard hit that section, adding to our discomforts. After a two-day delay, we were once again on our way, for which I was very thankful for because my food situation was becoming a problem. However, it was taken care of by wiring ahead to Minneapolis for more.

Upon arrival in Aberdeen, I found most of my unit had gone home on furloughs, so it was a period of waiting for my turn. A week passed, then the Commanding Officer of the Winter Detachment cancelled all furloughs and those at home had to return for the sole purpose of awarding the American Theater ribbon to us for our work in Canada. After the presentation, rumors again started to fly, as we were going to move, this time to Fort Dix, New Jersey. Dix had been a staging area, so we knew what it meant.

I then decided that I had waited long enough for an answer from my wife-to-be on our wedding date, so I rushed into Baltimore to get the final word, which was “Yes.” We were married and had only a brief honeymoon in Baltimore, and then my outfit moved to Fort Dix.

After our arrival, I found that it wasn’t as serious as I had painted it to be. This was our first opportunity that we had to give our own equipment and vehicles a real going over, as we did not have too much work in the shop.

After a stay of about a month and a half at Fort Dix, I was sent back to Aberdeen for an automotive course, and only a few weeks later the company moved to Camp A.P. Hill, a military reservation near Fredericksburg, Virginia.

My stay in Aberdeen terminated at the end of July after two months of studying.

At the end of my course, I was given a five-day leave, the first leave that I had had in a year. My wife, her mother and father and I went to Atlantic City for a few days on the beach, which I enjoyed more than anything I had done is a long time. Speaking of sunburns, we had them, and that is the way I joined my outfit again, with that pain on top of the pain of leaving my wife.

Upon arrival at A.P. Hill, I found the place not to be too bad. It was out in a wooded area of Virginia, but at least we had tents and plenty of work. After a month of back and forth to Baltimore on the weekends, I decided to bring Mary to the city of Fredericksburg. I had gotten a very nice room with a nice couple. It was all the more convenient for me to run into Fredericksburg every evening for the night, which was more like home.

At the end of October, things were buzzing fast and we were thinking about our movement overseas. Then word came to us of the death of Mary’s father, Mr. Bryne. We returned to Baltimore to find her saddened mother, since all of her children were away at the time of his death. The burden fell on Mary’s shoulders to arrange everything and that she did well. I tried to help but was too upset to assist much. The arrival of another son and daughter helped a lot, but another son was on the high seas My leave was up before the funeral, so I returned to camp. Only a few days went by before I called to Mary to return to be with me for my last few days before going overseas. We made those the happiest days of my life, and I learned later from her that I was to be a proud daddy.

We left A. P. Hill in the last days of October at 3 am one morning, bound for the staging area of Camp Shanks, N.Y. Upon our arrival there we found ourselves in the midst of a madhouse trying to get ready to go to the POE [port of embarkation], as was everyone else there. Accomplishing everything as soon as possible, we completed all of our necessaries in three days and were allowed passes into New York City. Fortunately enough, we had three nights free, which enabled me to call my wife and hear her sweet voice once again.

Then the time came that I was appointed finance officer of the boat, so I had to leave for the POE one day ahead of my unit to make all of the necessary arrangements. Arrangements completed, I boarded our ship, which was a merchant ship of the Liberty Class but larger [the S.S. Examiner]. My first night on the ship was very lonely as I was the only Army personnel aboard until my unit arrived the following day.

The morning of November 5, 1943, at daylight found the tugs pulling our ship out into the harbor into position. It was very foggy which did not allow us to see the sights we had been waiting for: the Statue of Liberty and the New York skyline. We anchored in the bay until after noon, out in front of the docks of Staten Island, which made one of our officers [Lt. Errington] more homesick than ever as he could see his home from our position.

Just after lunch we began moving out to the mouth of the harbor and through the sub nets, then into the wide open sea lanes. After a few hours of what seemed like we were moving down the Jersey coast, we turned to sea and a made a rendezvous until all our ships were in formation for the convoy. In the convoy were eight ships all of a fast type, including one aircraft carrier, two troop transports (small class), three merchant ships and two tankers. We were also protected by five destroyers who flanked us and maneuvered in and out of our course to prevent any mishaps.

The second day out and off the coast of Newfoundland, and just as it was getting dark, a giant Catalina patrol plane flew over our convoy in the direction we were going. The plane had not been out of sight for long when the destroyers suddenly began a zig-zag course and then suddenly we turned 90 degrees to our right, heading due south. We were a little uneasy, naturally, to learn that a wolfpack of subs lay in our path ahead. From that time to the end of the trip, it was a zig-zag course, and every half-hour the ships would blow a number of blasts indicating the change of direction and the other lead ship would answer back.

The feelings aboard were mutual since everyone’s thoughts were the same.  We were doing of our share of watch duty to help the Navy gunners. Night after night it was like riding a bronco from the Wild West, but at least I could get off a horse. The aircraft carrier behind us seemed to go completely out of sight between the waves, as did our own ship. At night, the moon would shine through when the clouds permitted, which allowed the convoy to silhouette like ghost ships. We hoped and prayed for the darkest nights but above everything we had our nervous moments, especially when the radar picked up a sub giving our location to others.

It was off the Azores that we soon met or were in sight of another convoy much larger than ours coming from the Mediterranean. They had lost one ship the night before so we knew we were in dangerous waters. During the day a large patrol plane kept circling far at a distance, which did not allow us to recognize him. The skipper of the boat went to his position ready for any emergency when the ship came in closer at the immediate front end and signaled with bright lights. This eased our nervousness.

I haven’t said much about the mess aboard because I don’t think that I enjoyed it too much for my weak stomach, although for the officers it was very good, but for the enlisted men, it wasn’t as good as expected.

To sit down at a comfortable meal while at sea was out of the question, although we did attempt it in a manner that I’ll try to explain. We would sit in our chair with both feet to the sides bracing ourselves in order to keep our positions at the table. To ask for something was not necessary, as all we had to do was wait for the boat to rock the right way and it would come sliding to you.

This went on day after day until we entered the Irish Sea early one morning, which is a sight that I will never forget. The water was as still as glass except for the waves made by the ships, and it had a green tint beyond explanation after coming in off the treacherous blue Atlantic. Our course took us in to Liverpool, England, where we disembarked and went by train that night, headed for the town of Barry [near Cardiff] in Wales. Before leaving the train station, the British girls working for the American Red Cross gave us cigarettes, doughnuts, gum and coffee. This we all liked very much since it had been 12 days since we had seen a girl and the snacks were good.

Arriving in Cardiff, Wales, we were transferred from one train to another to continue on to Barry where trucks from the 115th F.A. Battalion were waiting for us. Our camp was located at a golf course just outside Barry. Although the living conditions were not the best, as we were living in tents, we found the friendship of the 115th to be the best.

Our stay at the golf course lasted only two weeks and we moved to Camp G-40, a depot at Sully, just across town on the other side of Barry. The camp was very inconvenient for us in many ways in that our company was split up into working gangs and a small percentage of our own shop. Our shop was very poor, however we had to make the best of it and work fast, as we were beginning to receive some of our shop equipment to get in readiness for our big task.

Our stay at G-40 lasted about one month and a half and then we moved to St. Dogmaels, next to Cardigan, South Wales, a little village on the west side of the island. There were no soldiers in the area or within thirty miles of us, so everyone looked at us in amazement, but they were very friendly. Our home for the next five and a half months was very nice, in what we called the castle.

Albro Castle, St. Dogmaels, Wales

Albro Castle, St. Dogmaels, Wales

Albro Castle [a large 1800s workhouse, not a real castle] was located in the village of St. Dogmaels, on the outskirts of Cardigan and only one mile from the sea with a nice beach. While in this location, our primary mission was maintaining the 28th Division, along the south coast of Wales. Our work was heavy, besides requisitioning and preparing our loads for the biggest task ever undertaken, the invasion of the continent of Europe.

We struggled through the days and weeks at our jobs and at the same time enjoyed the village dances as well as two or three that we gave. The hospitality that the people gave our boys was the best for a village of that size. Months passed and at the end of May found us in almost complete readiness for whatever is to come. So, to see if we were ready, our CO [Cpt. Goode], myself and the master sergeant [Frank Gomez] arranged for an alert movement, which was very successful. It was a sad little town as we rolled past to see all the girlfriends crying and waving goodbye to their boyfriends. On our return to the castle again, they were dumbfounded but all smiles.

A few days passed and during our period of readiness all of our machine gunners were taken to the range [a few miles away up the coast at Mwnt beach] for practice at the towed sack, then all personnel were taken to the range for the test of familiarizing themselves with their weapons.

It was the second day on the range, a Tuesday to be exact, and all was going well when one of the nearby farmers came running over with the news that we had all been waiting to hear: “The Invasion.” How well I can remember that morning. It was beautiful and the sun beamed down and yet we were very tense and nervous.

Mwnt Beach, Wales, where the 111th was taking rifle practice on June 6, 1944, when they learned of the invasion of France.

Mwnt Beach, Wales, where the 111th was taking rifle practice on June 6, 1944, when they learned of the invasion of France.

That same afternoon, at 3 pm, we received a long distance call, which later rang out through the ears of every man in camp. We had been alerted for movement at midnight directly to the marshaling area at Plymouth, a distance of over 300 miles. Everyone was confined to the area in order to be ready, as well as for the purpose of safeguarding our movement.

We were divided into two main serials, with the faster vehicles led by Capt. Goode, our CO at the time, and myself to lead the second serial with all of the slower vehicles such as tanks, half-tracks, etc. Our complete convoy totaled some ninety vehicles, so it was a slow, long drive. The appointed time arrived, and at midnight we began to roll. As our vehicles with lights on rolled past the blacked-out homes, the people came running out to see what it was all about.

This time there was no question that we were really leaving, although it was supposed to be a secret until we left, the boys yelled at their different friends “This is it!” goodbyes, and into the night we rolled.

About daylight, I lost contact with the first serial; however I was not to keep contact with it. I was to judge my own speed according to the slowest tank. After traveling about 150 miles we had one tank conk out on us, then the second medium began to miss. Checking the situation over I saw that the tanks would never make it, so I called from a small town to one of the depots to pick them up.

We continued on our route to a British camp where we were to stay for the night, then proceed to our destination the following day. Upon arriving at the marshaling area, we found the rest of the outfit to be as busy as bees putting the finishing touches to the waterproofing of every vehicle. Since we could not stop at a concentration area to do this, every man had to work like dogs that night to be ready to go to the hard (a British term for landing) to board LCT’s. We also had to get replacements for those tanks that were lost and find other last-minute replacements, such as my jeep, which went haywire at the last minute.

Everything was ours at the marshaling area it seemed, best of eats and plenty of it, a shower and then to bed for a well-needed rest. Early morning found us broken up into serials of nine vehicles, which pulled out at a set time.

As the serials moved out at different time intervals during the day, my serial was the next to last and we moved for the hard at 3 pm, tenth of June 1944. Arriving at the hard, we saw LCT’s lined up at the shore loading our vehicles. With a quick check of my personnel to be aboard, we were loaded on (all vehicles backed in) in order to move out when the gate lowered at the beach [Omaha]. All operations completed, I then issued the men extra rations, and also blankets. I didn’t have to tell them to go to sleep because they were as I was, tired out and dragging the ground. I stayed awake to watch the rendezvous of all ships—how many I don’t know; then we headed out into the channel.

I woke up about 9 am and, to my surprise, I could see land ahead, which was our destination and, of course, I was very nervous as to what was in store for us. Since the skipper had his log book handy with the photographs of the beach, I scanned through it. Then I observed with my binoculars to see where we were. Our orders read Omaha Beach, and I soon found one or two houses and hills that coincided with the book.

As we approached the beachhead, we could see hundreds of ships and other landing craft anchored, also debris scattered all along the water’s edge. The individual boats now began to maneuver into position to make a run at the beach in order to give a good landing for us. After one or two tries, we were unsuccessful as we were wedged on a sand bar and the water was six feet deep. So I waited for the tide to go down to three feet. At this point my driver and I, with the throttle back, hit the water and out on to dry land. All the other vehicles followed.

Boats coming in to Omaha Beach, June 11, 1944

Boats coming in to Omaha Beach, June 11, 1944

We were directed up the road that the Engineers had built over the cliff and onto the de-water-proofing area. All had made it safely except Lt. Brooks’ serial which would come in another convoy the following day. I also had a light tank fall out of the convoy on the way to the hard, so it was to be seen later when it would arrive.

Our first night on the beachhead will always be remembered, as the Luftwaffe really came out in force. We had never seen anything like it, when our anti-aircraft guns started to bellowing up everything they had. I then saw the danger of falling flack from the burst, so into my foxhole I went.

As the beachhead expanded, we moved on inland in several different moves until we came to Cerisy Forest [Cerisy-la-Foret, between Bayeux and St. Lo]. Here we thought would be an ideal place to bivouac for several reasons; however, this site proved unsatisfactory as well as miserable. The rainy period was on and in the forest nothing could dry out, and it began to smell from the mushy ground. After a few nights in the area we were then given our baptism of fire from the enemy. It started about 11 pm when a German tank with a self-propelled 88 began shelling the forest. Then and there, I think that I remembered every wrong thing that I had ever done and started to pray.

This kept up until 3 or 4 am, and the same thing was repeated the next night. It wasn’t but a few days later that we moved out of the forest and into three nice big grassy fields. Here we could see all of the activity of the planes and anti-aircraft at night, which reminded me of a beaded necklace the way the red balls of fire went up at the planes from our guns.

At this same time, with all of the horrors of war and excitement that goes with it, I had another thought on my mind. This was the anxiety of waiting for the birth of my first child, which was to be about the Fourth of July. Days went by, then a week, sweat and worry—I knew that I wasn’t any good to the outfit in this mood as I was always cross and could hardly get along with myself. Two more weeks went by, then three and finally the cable arrived—I was the father of a sweet little daughter, Suzanne (Sue for short, as Mary and I had agreed on). I was so happy to know that it was all over and that both were doing fine. It took a load off my mind and now things came much easier for me, but there was still the war that we were concentrating on at this time, waiting for the breakthrough.

Lt. Perry Witt, Cerisy-la-Foret, Normandy, summer 1944

Lt. Perry Witt, Cerisy-la-Foret, Normandy, summer 1944

We spent a few weeks in this area due to the sudden fortifications we ran into on Hill 192. However, this was knocked out soon and the breakthrough came, which was more or less a race across France for our troops. We were hindered by one of the biggest problems of the war, keeping our supply lines up with our advancing troops. At the time of the breakthrough one of our longest moves came, which took us just outside the Falaise Gap for a few days and then on to Versailles. Our stay here was for a period of about a week, at which time we were more or less a lost unit due to the change around the different battalions and corps.

While in the area, we enjoyed visits to Versailles and Paris. I will not attempt to explain the feeling that the Parisians had for us or any American soldier who had arrived after the liberation [August 26, 1944].

We arrived only two or three days after liberation and were fortunate in seeing the American 28th Division parade down the Champs Elysees. The people cheered, cried and swarmed around me as I stood watching our boys go by. When Old Glory came by with her stars and stripes waving in the breeze, I snapped to attention and saluted, and at the same time the French people threw kisses and yelled something in French to the colors.

We could not pay for a thing—it was champagne and as much as you could drink, and just to sit there and admire the beauty and color, and the way the women wore their clothes. We tried to visit those points of interest such as the Eiffel Tower, Napoleon’s Tomb, the Arc de Triomphe and many others too numerous to mention.

Lt. Perry Witt, in Paris

Lt. Perry Witt, in Paris, August 29, 1945

We moved from this vicinity to about eighty miles north Paris, only to be there for a few days before going on to the Belgium border for a brief stay. We then took another good jump into Holland at Maastricht. Our stay here was for a week or so, at which time we were on the receiving end of the new German weapon, the V-1. It was a most violent bomb and had a horrifying effect on any person in its range. After the premature burst came in mid-air to knock off the wings, there was a most tense feeling just waiting for it to hit. The bombs seem to come in on the hour or sometimes every three hours. We were also harassed by night bombers trying to blow bridges over the Maas River in Maastricht to cut our supply line.

We then moved on to Heerlen in Holland, and here we had the best quarters of our task on the continent. We were located in town and only a block from one of the largest mines. This proved almost fatal to us, since it was of importance as to whose hands the mine was in, and the Germans bombed it, fired artillery barrages and even V-bombed it or tried to.

This was our longest stay in any location as it was during the winter and the lines were very static. We were kept very busy, and with the troops moving to the front for preparation to crossing the Roer River, it was an overload to supply everyone with parts.

It had rained quite often and the ground was very soft, but during the weeks that passed it began to get colder and started to snow and sleet. The ground was soon covered with about a foot of snow and it seemed that this was what we were waiting for, just to have a hard surface for our heavy equipment. Troops of the 2nd Armored Division were in our shop and from the rumor they seemed to be set for the push within the next day or so. Naturally, everyone was tense from waiting and we were being strafed and bombed by the Luftwaffe.

Then came the news of the breakthrough, the last day of December and New Year’s Day, 1945, how well I remember it. It took place on our right flank in the 1st Army sector in the vicinity of Bastogne. This meant that our front was to be drained of its strength immediately, which left us only part of our division on the line. Our boys were laying mines fast in order to stall any counter-attack that may come, although we did have one natural barrier, the Roer River.

Shop area, Heerlen, winter 1944-45

The 111th’s shop area, Heerlen, winter 1944-45

New Year’s Eve I was O.D. and, of course, I had all of the excitement as the Heinies were playing hell all around. They had dropped incendiaries in town, starting a good fire, and also dropped paratroopers around the vicinity. The following day we were alerted in our respective paratroop patrols, so out we go looking, and with planes everywhere there was a lot of excitement to be had.

As the weeks passed, the Bulge was gradually getting under control and the squeeze was put on the Germans. They were very soon put out of commission but not without a lot of loss of life and atrocities committed by Hitler’s gang.

Soon our troops began to drift back into their original positions to be ready for the jump-off over the river. After our three months’ stay in Heerlen, we moved to Alsdorf, a mining town which was only five miles from the river. Equipment was packed into this area in readiness such as Ducks and alligators. Here we had more excitement; besides all of the air activity this was the first time that I had actually seen a V-bomb in flight. There were plenty of them going over but they were not falling near us. We also witnessed the shooting down of a German jet by one of our P47’s. It was one of the most thrilling sights I had seen, since it took place right over our heads.

A few days passed, and then one afternoon all of the amphibian equipment rolled out toward the lines under cover of darkness. It was the next morning at 3 am that the biggest artillery barrage of the war broke out of the quietness of the night, and the crossing of the Roer River was in progress.

Our forces advanced so fast that it was only a matter of time until we had occupied all of the land west of the Rhine River.

Our next move took us to Munchen-Gladbach, a small city that had been hit very hard by our air force. Our stay here was about two weeks, and then came the sudden and swift thrust of our forces cross the Rhine. It was only a day later that the 29th and we as well moved through the crossing to the other side to Dinslager [Dinslaken]. We, or I should say the Division, was not in line now, as they had been squeezed out at Gladbach.

After a few smaller moves toward the front and to Ahlen, we were then moved back to Dorsten with the division for the purpose of screening all Germans, since the fast advancing of the lines took care of only the German armed forces. On completion of the screening, we then made one of our longest moves of the war: up the autobahn to the other side of Hanover to a small town just below Celle in a salt mine. We remained here only a few days, and then we moved on a little closer to the Elbe River into an ammo chemical loading plant. Our time seemed to be growing to an end every day, and we thought it would be our last move forward; however, we made one more jump to Salzwedel, which was about 10 miles from the Elbe River.

We moved into very nice quarters. In fact, we made the occupants move out with tears in their eyes. They couldn’t imagine such a thing could happen—not thinking of all the hardships that there country had caused others. No, we thought nothing of moving anyone out of the best homes, if it was for the betterment of a home for our boys.

Possibly the apartment building in

Possibly their apartment buildings in Salzwedel, Germany

While in Salzwedel, the rumors were growing by the hour as to the war’s end and we knew that the Russians were closing up to the Elbe fast and our boys were on this side holding the west wall.

It so happened that the word came back to us of the surrender of a German division that would take place on our front. One of our officers with two enlisted men proceeded to that area only to find that only those with passes were able to get near the place; but like every soldier, there is always a way. They went to the bank of the river and were lucky enough to find a rowboat to get across in. This was a dangerous mission since the Krauts were everywhere on the other side, some still carrying weapons and other following out orders to throw down their arms on the side of the road. Since the lieutenant could speak German, as well as one of the enlisted men, they managed to make the Germans surrender any pistols they may have had and any other items.

Completely loaded down with pistols and other souvenirs, the three started back for the river, even hitching a ride with a German officer. Luckily enough, the boat was still where they had hidden it, so back to the company they came with their prizes. I was fortunate in winning one of the lugers in a raffle.

Now the war on our front was almost over, the shuffling of troops began and we moved back to a small place of Neubeckum, near Ahlen. This was a staging area for the division units until their area of occupation was ready for them to move into.

While at this location the excitement was getting greater every day as to the complete surrender and the end. On the night of the 7th of May 1945, it was unofficially announced; however, the official announcement came on the 8th by the respective leaders of America, Britain and Russia. The night of the 7th proved to be one of our gayest, and I grant you the drunkest, of our whole time in the Army. It was unbelievable, and since we had been at this task for so long it was hard to get away from some of those precautionary measures as blackouts. Nevertheless, we did not relax in our guard.

It was only a few days later that we moved with the division to Blumenthal [on the west side of the Weser River north of Bremen], and this location was even better than Heerlen in regards to our shop and quarters, but being in Germany we could not speak to anyone as we did in Holland. We were in a wool factory [Bremer Woll-Kammerai, which operated there from 1884 until 2009], supposed to be the world’s largest and very clean to say the least.

Since all activities had ceased on our fronts, we were now being swamped with work. As we were the only ordnance unit other than division ordnance in the Bremen area, it was very hard for us to keep up with our jobs, and we were continually running out of parts. Although the load was heavy for us, we now had our first Sunday off since the arrival on the continent. I might say it was the saddest, too. We had picked up some boats here and there, canoes, sail and motor boats and had the sad experience of losing two boys by drowning in a sail boat. We had not experienced the loss of a single life during the war, and now to have this happen hurt us deeply. One of the bodies washed ashore exactly one week later on a Sunday.

We moved from this area the following day to the town of Brake, only fifteen miles down the river from Blumenthal. Since there were no bridges across the river from Blumenthal, we had to go back down the river to Bremen and then up to our present destination making a total trip of 54 miles.

Our new area was very nice in that we made families vacate six houses which are just like home to us. Our shop area is very nice and we have a very good swimming pool.

Curtis Vosz at the swimming pool area in Brake, Germany, summer 1945

Curtis Vosz at the swimming pool area in Brake, Germany, summer 1945

Their home in Brake, Germany

Their home in Brake, Germany

Our mission in our new location has changed somewhat in that we are supporting all of the Division Artillery, this includes getting all of their guns ready for overseas shipment.

We are located right on the river, so it should not be too long before we have some good times with our boats again, hoping that we do not have the sad misfortune as we did in the beginning.

As the days go by and with the beginning of another month, all the experiences in the past year are brought to our memory. It is now June 6th, and exactly one year ago we were burdened with the great task of the invasion of the continent of Europe.

Gen “Ike” had proclaimed Wednesday, June 6, 1945, a holiday in the ETO in memory of all those who gave their lives that others might cherish victory and freedom in the end.

Today is June 7th and we are sending our first three boys home for discharge. Being the high-point men of the outfit and having dependents, they were well qualified, as are many others who worked faithfully throughout the campaign.

This point system has kept all of us on our toes waiting for our turn, wondering what the holdup is. Naturally we all think we should be next, but every man has his points, so naturally we will go when the time comes.

It has been very hard to keep every man occupied to his liking, and at present the only past-time is a movie or a ball game. All of us would like to write letters home every night if there was only something of interest to write about. All of this adds up to one thing: time will soon tell our destination and how to prepare ourselves. The redeployment is now underway and many troops have left, some for the CBI, others via the U.S.–maybe we will be next.

Comments
  1. Mike McCulley says:

    Thanks for sharing the story. . . I’m trying to re-construct my Dad’s WWII story, as he did not speak much at all about his experiences. I came across ‘your’ story as result of a search on Heerlen, Holland [Netherlands] where my Father was hospitalized in a Monastery there, while he was engaged with the Germans North of there near the Siegfried Line on the German Border.while he was part of the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, 2nd Armored Division. If you happen to know or remember about any hospital in that area please contact me

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