Memories of Roland Unangst

A STORY

by Roland C. Unangst of Hanover, Illinois

Member of the 111th Ordnance (MM) Company

Roland C Unangst

The following extraordinary memoir of one soldier’s time in World War II was kindly provided by the soldier’s three children—Linda Campbell, Vickie Gratton, and Ron Unangst. Mr. Unangst passed away in Illinois at the age of 85 in 2007.

We will simply call the following pages “A STORY.” A story of one man’s adventures during the greatest conflict of history, WORLD WAR II. I dedicate this story to my eight grandchildren with whom I have been blessed, in the hope that they or their children will never have to be a part of such a massive war.

Forty-six years later and with tears in my eyes I offer a SPECIALTHANKS to the 2,663 MEN who paid the supreme sacrifice on June 6, 1944. I single them out only because they now lay under the white crosses where once I walked, in Normandy, France, overlooking Omaha Beach.

I must add that without the officers and men of the 8th Air Force and the British Air Force, the invasion of France on D-Day would have been a disaster. For 18 months prior to D-Day, the above forces fought and died to gain command of the sky. In that time frame alone, 5,000 members of the British Air Force died defending their island and during bombing raids on German targets. Col. LeRoy Robinson, who graduated with my brother George, commanded one of the B-17 bomb groups stationed in England.

BOMPO [Roland Unangst], September 1990

Leaving Illinois

On January 23, 1942, Betty and I were married. On June 30, 1942, I was required by law to register for the draft. I had to go to the Draft Board in Galena, Illinois, to do that. This was six months and a few days following Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war. In the late spring of 1942 we had disposed of much of our furniture from our first home at 111 Wapello in Craig Manor. Knowing full well that I was going to the service, we had moved in with Grandma Beckett. These were not good times for Betty, who was five months pregnant and the fact that Grandma Beckett was not so easy to get along with. Betty was also continuing to work as a weaver in the woolen mill. I was working seven days per week on the Depot.

My good friends and neighbors on the Draft Board decided that I would not have to report for duty until after our baby was born. After Ronnie was born on October 19, 1942, I was given 30 days to get our lives in order. Departure date, or rather induction date, was set for November 20, 1942.

The train to take me away was due to leave Galena station at 11:30 p.m. Good-byes were said and a sad father, George F., and brother, George C., took me to the station. The station was crowded with other fellows like me who were on their way to an unknown future. Some would live to return, others would not. For me, I am sure it was life’s darkest moment, leaving loving folks, a month-old son and the girl I loved and who loved me more than anything in the world. You must remember Betty had lost her oldest brother to a Jap bomb four days after Christmas 1941. More details of this will appear in Days of Our Lives.

The train made its way slowly toward Rockford, Illinois. How far this train had come I do not know. I think it was made up of about 10 cars of young civilians who were about to be introduced to the military. The train reached Davis Junction, where it stopped and then proceeded to back its way into Camp Grant at Rockford, Illinois. I think we arrived at the railroad siding at Camp Grant at about 5:00 a.m. It did not take us long to get off of the train, as all we had to carry were the clothes on our backs.

If I remember correctly, most of the Non Coms at Camp Grant were made up of misfits who were not in the best of shape for overseas combat duty. Since we had all been pronounced in top shape by the doctors in Chicago, we were told to fall in and were led to the building where we took off all of our civilian clothing and were issued Army clothing. The shoes were about the last item issued. You stepped onto the shoe size machine and an 80 pound weight was let down onto your shoulders. My narrow foot quickly became a 10-1/2 C.

Then it became time for our first Army noon meal. At about 7:00 a.m. that day we had been given toast, coffee and milk. But boy, at noon we were marched to this big building where you stood in line until you got to your food tray. Then, if you were quick, you could move the tray so that everything was not piled on top of each other. I had met Fred Rhemstead on the train. He was older that I and had left a wife in Scales Mound, I think. We picked at the food but something was wrong with our throats that would not let the food go down. Little did I know, but I was on my way to a trim 190 pounds.

From the Mess Hall, it was off to our nice barracks where we were assigned our bunks. We were shown just once how to make them. All our nice new clothes were to be kept in our barracks bags. We all managed to make our beds and then that lovely sound I would hear for the next 37 months. The WHISTLE and orders to FALL OUT. Now, this did not mean to fall out the second story window—but rather to run outside and fall in line with all the rest of the guys.

“You guys are going over to the Medics for some shots.” Off we went, stand in line take off your shirts. Small pox vaccination and a shot in the right arm and a real barn burner of a shot in the left arm. It was at that time that I noted the shots were being given by a CROSS-EYED medic. In those days about 20 guys got shot from the same syringe. Sure nuff—when he shot the third guy in front of me, he stuck it in the bone, and when he pulled it out the whole end came off of the outfit. The poor guy who was stuck fainted and fell to the floor. Right then I wanted to return to Hanover so very badly.

“On to the barber shop me lads,” yelled the sergeant. The line leading into the building was long and snow was starting to fall. However, by that time of the day, not having been to bed the night before, who cared. My locks lay upon the floor and I was mad enough to start killing Germans but had no gun as yet.

On the second evening, while looking through my clothing, I discovered that my nice new field jacket was missing. Next morning I reported to supply and was advised that the charge would be $6, however, you will not get one until you reach your Basic Training station. How nice, and now it was time for a seven mile march to break in our new shoes. And I would have to wear my overcoat.

We were walking through slush and snow. So when the shoes became form fitted to your foot, blisters started breaking out all over. Some guys had to fall out due to sore and blistered feet.

That night most of us were given a weekend pass. So it was off to the bus station for a ride to Elizabeth. Betty met me at the bus stop in Elizabeth. At this time I had a shoulder to cry on—and I did. Told her I was not going back. Before the weekend was over she had me convinced that I must return. So return I did on the Sunday PM bus to Rockford.

Right now I have left out a main item of interest. The evening of the first day at Camp Grant, 7:00 p.m. to be exact, we were marched to a large building for our APTITUDE tests. Right at that time, I for one, had been 36 hours without sleep. I remember putting on the ear phones to pick out the dots from the dashes. I am sure that I caught a few winks right there. Never wanted to be in the Signal Corps any way.

Anyway, I had a letter in my pocket, signed by the Commanding Officer of Savanna Army Depot, saying every consideration should be given to place me in the Ordnance Corps. The letter worked and shortly I was off to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland.

Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland

Aberdeen, Maryland, has to be the most miserable place in the entire world during December and January. I do not remember how many went from Camp Grant with me. Fred Rhemstead was one I know. We were to go through basic training together and on to technical training. After that, I have not seen or heard of this man. I should go and find out if he lost his life in the service. I do know he never returned to the Depot after the war.

The Officers and Non-Coms of my basic training company were a fine bunch of fellows. Learning to become a soldier was tough. Discipline 24 hours a day, 10 mile marches, close order drill (which I liked). However, it was not to be fun for me. During the first “Short Arm Inspection,” I was advised by the Medical Officer that I had not taken part in the festival of the Circumcision of Christ and that I would have to report to the hospital to have it done.

I panicked, called home that night and told Betty that I was to have MAJOR surgery, come at once. She was not happy with me as she knew full well that there was none to spare. Betty stayed in the Guest House and the nice lady in charge even let me visit Betty’s room prior to the cutting ceremony.

During the operation, about fifty guys were being brought in with food poisoning, so the good doctor said we can do this without freezing it. So with the first cut, both my knees came up and knocked all the good doctor’s tools onto the floor. If I had ever met that bastard overseas I would have killed him. The next three weeks were pure hell. I had to walk with one hand holding my clothes away from the head of the family.

Betty returned to Hanover and came back right around Christmas. We had a rented room in a home in Aberdeen. Lord God, what a hole that was. But, we were together. We did a lot of crying in each other’s arms that Christmas. When I think of what all Betty had to put up with just to be with me. One hell of a woman. A lot of others did the same to be with their men.

After basic training it was on to technical training. Eight weeks of ammunition training. School proved to be a lark for me as I already had ammunition experience. I got a score of 98% on the Bombs for Aircraft portion. Also, became a sharpshooter on the range with the old bolt action 03A3. Wish I could have kept that rifle. At that time, I would have been smart to have put in for Officers training in ammunition. In 90 short days I could have been a 2nd Lt.

During the Ammunition Tech course, we were told that upon graduation we would be sent near an air base and would operate the Ammunition Supply Point. Load the bombs and small arms onto the bombers that would be laying eggs on the Fatherland. I liked the thought of that because even at that age I had a love of planes. At that time and date, the “Air Force” of today was the Army Air Corps. So, I worked real hard to make good grades.

As I recall, I think I had Betty with me for about six weeks of this period. When I think of the train trips she made back and forth from Hanover to Aberdeen I could cry. The trains were way overcrowded, very dirty from the soot and smoke from the engine, GI’s trying to make every girl on board. If she could type, she could tell you some stories that would make your hair stand on end.

Seems me, Gene Karl, Kurt Vosz and about six others were slated for a train ride to the West coast. We knew full well that we were headed for the South Pacific and we did not care to even think about it. We had a nice Pullman car with clean sheets and were not a part of a troop train. When they switched our car onto another train in Chicago I wondered WHERE WILL WE CROSS THE MISSISSIPPI? It turned out to be Clinton, Iowa. I could almost see Betty, Ronnie and Mom around the table up in Hanover. Another of life’s darkest moments. In Denver, we were hooked up to yet another train and headed South. Got a good look at New Mexico. Lord, not much to look at there.

At last we arrived in Pomona, California. Off the train and into the rear of a 6×6 two and half ton truck. The driver said we were headed for the Pomona race track. The Army had taken it over and had constructed barracks in the area. I cannot tell you the actual name of the camp. The barracks were small, hut-type affairs. Only about 25 men to each one. NO ONE COULD TELL US WHAT THE HELL WE WERE THERE FOR.

During this time, we had inspection every day and the good sergeant always managed to find something wrong in order that none of us could get a pass off of the place. So rather than my getting to go see Betty’s sister Louella, she came to the visitors hall to see me. John (her husband) was in the Navy at the time and Minor and Joe (brothers) were at sea. The thoughts of an island in the South Pacific still stood in our minds.

Then we were told why we were there. It seems all of us had obtained a SHARPSHOOTER rating with the 03A3 rifle. We were to see to it that about 250 guys made it through the necessary training on the rifle range. Come to find out these were poor souls who could not, and did not, qualify during regular basic training. The bad part, prior to the war they had never seen a gun, let alone shot one. We went to the range at about 6 a.m. and did not return until about 5 p.m. Days went by with little progress. Most of these kids were from New York, Boston, or other big cities. Most were afraid, and when they would take aim at the target 300 yards away, they would close their eyes and pull the trigger. NOTHING signaled the target marker.

It was then that the EVIL plan was hatched. We were down to about 25 guys who could not hit the broad side of a barn. During periods the Range Officer was not present, I would take a rifle and go down about two or three firing positions from where the guy was trying to qualify. Gene Karl says “Unie”—as he called me—“when he fires, you fire at the target.” Soon, the poor guys with their eyes closed started getting bull’s eyes. We qualified the remaining guys in this manner and off they went to kill Japs in the South Pacific. For the remainder of our Army days, Karl, Vosz and I would look at one another and say, “I wonder what happened to those poor bastards?” Who knows, maybe some day we will find out.

Soon after, our orders came: You men will report to the 111th Ordnance MM Company in Aberdeen, Maryland. All the way back across the United States in yet another Pullman car. We said “Medium Maintenance Company? That has nothing to do with bombs for aircraft.” Was this our REWARD for the rifle range capers? We would soon find out, as the train once again crossed the river at Clinton.

Let me give you a little background on the 111th Ordnance MM Company. It was an old Texas National Guard outfit that had been called to active duty about four months prior. They were just returning from Canada where they had tested equipment at 30 below zero. Lord God, we were headed for the North Pole. Eighty percent of the 111th was made up of Texans with the name of Gomez, Delagarza, Rangel and so forth. We were the last poor souls to be assigned. ALL the ranks had been given out. The Company Commander, Cpt. Malsberry, was a bus driver from Houston. Our not being from Texas made us like the Outcasts of Poker Flat. ANOTHER dark moment.

Fort Dix, New Jersey

Things started to move. The 111th was ordered to Fort Dix, N.J., to serve as maintenance for the 29th Division , which was getting ready to head overseas. So it was off to Fort Dix by way of a troop train. Before I forget it, the 111th had 164 officers and enlisted men and about 135 pieces of motorized equipment. I was never to want for something to drive.

Life at Fort Dix was heaven. I could type and was assigned to Company Supply to work for Sgt. Dickerson, who was also of the old Texas National Guard. We got along well, and soon I was a PFC (Praying For Civilian). In this job I never wanted for clothing. All I had to do was order it and in a few days there it was. Don’t think I ever washed socks or shorts at Fort Dix. Just ordered new ones. TRUTH.

One day a very tall master sergeant showed up at my tent and introduced himself as Harvey Zane—Betty’s cousin from Kansas. Harvey was with the 15th General Hospital, also at Fort Dix, getting ready to go to England. Harvey took me to town where we found a nice room for Betty. When she arrived he had to meet her at the train as poor me could not get off that day. Harvey was 6 feet 7 inches and Betty was 5 feet 2 inches. What a good looking pair they made walking down the street of Trenton, N.J.

We had some good times together. Harvey had a gal friend and we would go places together. One Sunday afternoon, we rented canoes and Harvey and Betty almost went over the dam. Think this is where Harvey’s girlfriend became jealous of Betty. Think the two of them had good laughs about it in later years.

Here it was, early 1943. We knew that our time in the States was growing short. We did not have Ronnie with us in Fort Dix so Betty soon had to head for home. She was soon to head for Oskaloosa to care for her mother who had become very ill. It was necessary to remove her right leg due to a blood clot. Betty was caring for her in town in the home her mother had purchased. I managed at this time to get a few days leave and went to Hanover and on over to Iowa. It was very sad to see Mother Zane with only one leg. Again I say, she was a great lady and life for her had not been a bed of roses. Shortly after I returned to Fort Dix, she passed away. The Red Cross notified me and I was once again allowed to head for Iowa. This time I arrived just as everyone had returned from the cemetery. When I had to leave, Betty and Ronnie returned to Hanover with me.

Camp A.P. Hill, Virginia

When I arrived back in Fort Dix, the Company was packing. We were to head for Camp A.P. Hill Military Reservation in Virginia to draw all new equipment prior to heading for the Port of Embarkation. All we took was our Barracks Bags. When we arrived at Camp A.P. Hill, we had to set up six men tents.

We had nights and weekends off, so a bunch of us headed for Fredericksburg to find rooms for our wives. Found a nice upstairs apartment with the Smith family. My, such nice people. They were so good to us. It was while we were there that Dad and Mom made the trip by train to visit us. We had purchased a near-new 1940 Plymouth two-door coupe. Took the folks on a weekend trip to Washington, D.C. It was there that we ran into Jack Golibith, who was in the service playing in a band.

Nightly riders to town with me included Gene Karl, Curt Vosz and Lt. Errington, one of our Company Officers. He would put on an Enlisted Man’s hat until we got out the gate. You see, Officers could not stoop so low as to ride with Enlisted Men. One afternoon he caught me filling our car with GI gas in the woods. He smiled and said “more free rides to town, Unangst?” I said “YES, SIR.”

Life was not all roses here. We had a lot of 10-mile forced marches. Then there were all the new trucks and other equipment to get ready.

We got a new man to fill up our ranks. His name was Perkins and he came straight to us from basic training. He was from up in the hills of Tennessee. Said he had not worn shoes until he was drafted. We three—Karl, Vosz and I—had to teach him how to drive a vehicle. Shortly after his SOLO drive we received some new Jeeps. Perkins insisted on driving one of them—so WE THREE told him it was one of the all new AMPHIBIOUS MODELS. Just go and drive it into the LAKE and when you hit the water just pull the lever on the floor next to the gear shift. Following Pvt. Perkins’ dip in the lake we THREE were given the job of taking the vehicle all apart to see how badly it had been damaged. Seems Perkins drove it off of the bank into 14 feet of water. 1st Sgt. Mayo advised us that if he had had time, he would have COURT-MARTIALED all of us. I sometimes think the free rides to town for Lt. Errington may have paid off here.

Soon, 60 percent of us were given leave and told to take our wives home because we were leaving shortly. Betty was all packed and had a lunch packed—FRIED CHICKEN. So off we went, Roland, Ronnie and Betty in the front seat and Vosz and his wife in the back. They were to ride as far as Chicago with us. As we hit Washington, D.C., Ronnie was chewing on a chicken leg. After all, at 13 months of age he was hot for chicken. At a stop light in Washington, D.C., he choked. Betty opened her door, took him by the heels and started to beat him on the back. The light had changed and a nice older man drove up and advised Betty to stop beating the kid or he would call the cops.

Soon we hit two-lane Route 20 and headed west. At about 2 a.m. three sailors jumped onto the road in front of our car. I locked the brakes, threw everyone about and then woke up! NO SAILORS. I drove all the way to Hanover and did not fall asleep after that. (Brought Forrest Adams home a set of mechanics tools and he provided all the gas we could use on my final stay in Hanover.)

Once again I was taken to a train which would take me away from my loved ones. To go east, one had to change trains in Chicago and depots. Our train from Chicago was late and it was run all the way. When I got to Dearborn station the line for the train was over a city block long. While standing in line, a lieutenant with a good looking gal on his arm came up and said, “Soldier, are you married?” I said, “Yes, sir.” He said, “Good, so am I, and this is my wife, see to it that she gets a seat on this train as she is headed for home, I’m being shipped out.” I said, “Yes, sir, so am I.” When the gate opened we ran, pushed, shoved and made it onto a car. Think it was the third car from the steam engine. She got the last seat so I sat in the opening between cars all the way to the East coast. Soot and cinders about had me covered up. I looked just like a Quartermaster black man. Dry cleaners could not get my clothing clean, so I had to get new ones.

Was advised that we were on hold and the other 40 percent of the Company had yet to take leave. I ran right in to the Smith family to see if the room was still vacant, it was. Called Betty and she came on the first train. These were our last few days together prior to going overseas.

Then the day came. Lt. Errington said, “Unangst, I am taking a jeep and going to town. If you want to go and say good-bye to Betty, be ready at dark.” So off we went, not through the gate but through the woods to a side road. We had to be back at dawn. Betty and I held each other through the night. At 5 a.m. it was back to camp. That day we finished loading on the rail cars and about 4 p.m. we were pulled into the rail yards in Fredericksburg. Do you know that Betty could see the train from the Smith’s place.

Camp Shanks, New York

As I recall, it was a very quiet train ride to Camp Shanks, New York. A few card games, some jokes. There was, however, quiet. Time to think of what lay ahead and of all that had taken place during my first year in the Army. Twelve months stateside—now you thought, how many months overseas, how long will the war last? Then there was the big thought—would we of the 111th all return when it was over?

Camp Shanks was a jumping off place. A place where all the plans had to jell. Think we THREE had one weekend in New York City. Remember going to the Paramount Theater and watching a young upstart, Frank Sinatra, sing. The bobby sock girls all wet their pants and passed out in the aisles. We were shown lot of GI films to get us all in the mood to go and meet the Germans. Our company cook did not get to cook at Camp Shanks and the food was awful. One thing I could not complain about was the mess in the 111th Ordnance Company. Our mess cooks did well. Except when there was not much to work with.

One day, we were advised that it was time for all our equipment to go. So the next day, I got to drive my 6×6 with a one ton trailer behind to New York, across the Brooklyn Bridge and down to the piers. Think the trip took about four hours. I did note as we passed the piers that a lot of ships were present. We drivers were taken by GI bus back to Camp Shanks.

Crossing the Atlantic

Morale was low, so we had a lot of SING ALONGS. Civilian entertainers would come in and get us all in a jubilant mood. It worked for an hour or so. The world started to fall apart on the 1st day of November, 1943. Right after noon mess, the 1st. Sgt. had us fall in. Said, “MEN, THIS IS IT. Fall out with your bags packed in forty minutes. We head for the ship at 1400 hours.” I think we made the trip to the pier on large buses. Our two large barracks bags made the trip by truck. Before you had time to think, it was pick up your bags and go up the GANG PLANK. We were shown below to one of the ship’s holds which had been converted with bunks five or six high. Mine was on the bottom and before we ever left port, the chains holding the canvas were broken by others using it as a ladder. The ship was a merchant vessel of the Liberty class, only a little larger. Its name—S.S. EXAMINER. That night, we stood at the ship’s rails and threw pennies into the harbor for good luck. Come bedtime, I went below and took my bed roll up on deck and laid it out under an exhaust duct from the Officer’s kitchen.

The next morning at daylight, the tug boats started pulling our ship out into the harbor. It was very foggy, which did not allow us to see the Statue of Liberty and the skyline of New York City. We anchored in the bay until afternoon just out in front of the docks of Staten Island. Lt. Errington could see his home from our position.

Just after lunch, we began moving out to the mouth of the harbor and through the submarine nets, then into the wide open sea lanes. After a few hours of sailing what I thought was south along the New Jersey coast, we turned to sea for a rendezvous with the other ships of our convoy. Our convoy consisted of eight ships, all of a fast type, including a small aircraft carrier, two troop transports, three merchant ships and two tankers. We were protected by five destroyers which flanked us and maneuvered in and out of our course to prevent any mishaps.

The second day out and off the coast of Newfoundland, just as it was getting dark, a giant Sea Plane flew over our convoy in the direction we were going. When just about out of sight, it fired a flare. The convoy started a zig-zag course and we wound up going due south. We learned the following day that a WOLF pack of German subs was lying directly ahead of us. From that time to the end of our trip, we changed course every 30 minutes. It was November and the sea was very rough. The aircraft carrier (Jeep Type) would almost disappear between the waves, as did our own ship. We all prayed for dark nights so that we could not be seen silhouetted against the horizon.

The enlisted men were not fed well at all on board. Seems the ship had a British Purser and whatever food was left when we got to England, he sold on the black market. At midnight, we used to take the hinges off of the cooler, steal bread, onions and potatoes. And me with my bunk on deck under the exhaust from the OFFICER’S MESS. Was so happy that I did not get sea sick as so many of the others did.

It was off the Azores Islands that we were within sight of another convoy, much larger than ours, going in the other direction. One of the ships signaled that they had lost a ship during the night. We knew full well we were in dangerous waters.

The rough seas and scares went on for days until on the 17th we entered the Irish Sea. What a good sight; the water was smooth as glass and had a green tint. Our course took us on to Liverpool where we docked. The American Red Cross was there to give us cigarettes, doughnuts, gum and coffee. (Cigs on the ship were ten cents per pack.)

Sully, Wales

Then we boarded a train and were on our way to Barry Docks in Wales. I remember this portion of the trip well. I rode in the baggage car and helped the old British baggage man load and unload at all the stops the train made. When we arrived at Barry, trucks from the 115th Field Artillery outfit took us to our camp. Our tents were set up on a golf course just outside Barry. From here we moved to G-40, a supply depot just across town on the other side of Barry [Sully]. It was here that all of our trucks and equipment caught up with us. They had come on another ship. Oh yes—I do remember this place. About 1,500 men got sick from Thanksgiving dinner, and it was a block to the building that contained the toilets. There was a string of shit all along the way—all the poor guys could do was drop their pants and go.

U.S. Base G-40, on the docks at Sully, Wales

U.S. Base G-40, on the docks at Sully, Wales

Our stay at Depot G-40 lasted only a month and a half. It was here that I ran into David Ballein from Hanover. David graduated a year after me. (David started school with me; this kid was a heller all his life. He put LIMBURGER cheese in the school heating system while in high school. Dave lived fast and died young, 55, I think.)

St. Dogmaels, Wales

We moved on to [St. Dogmaels, next to] Cardigan, South Wales, which was a little village on the west coast of Wales. There were no soldiers in the area or within 30 miles of us. Everyone in the village looked at us in amazement, but were very friendly. Our home for the next three months was very nice, in what we all called the Castle. Albro Castle was located 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 load was very heavy, besides preparing our loads for the biggest task ever undertaken, the invasion of the Continent of Europe.

Courtyard, Albro Castle, May 1944: Back row, Roland Unangst, Lt. Errington, Sgt. Dickerson. Front row, Gene Karl, Constantino Navarra, Ed Ostertag

Courtyard, Albro Castle, Wales, May 1944: Back row, Roland Unangst, Lt. Errington, Sgt. Dickerson. Front row, Gene Karl, Constantino Navarra, Ed Ostertag

One of my jobs while at Albro was to carry laundry to Carmarthen [about 28 miles away]. Me and my two-and-half ton truck made the trip alone. Always took special notice of a British Air Field along the way. So one day I drove in and stated I sure would like a plane ride. Seems this was a target towing outfit. Twin engine planes that towed a target behind. Spitfires would come up and fire at the towed target. A nice little gal fitted me with a parachute and guided me to the waiting plane. “HOLY SHIT.” The spitfires (Fighter Planes) would make passes at the target and fire REAL AMMUNITION. We were at about 10,000 feet when the game was over. The pilot cut loose the target and aimed the plane at the ground—straight down—pulled out at about 3,000 feet and landed. My ears hurt so bad that I could cry. They failed to tell me to hold my nose and blow. Ears still bother me to this day when flying.

Albro Castle had a very distinct sewer system. As I recall, there were about four pots per floor. All were connected together by the flush system. Up on the roof was a tank and every so often it would flush. A large stream of water would flow through all of the toilets and wash all in its way to an outside HONEY PIT. Every so often the pit would be dipped out with buckets, hauled out and put on the farmers’ fields.

A metal clad building was put up out in one portion of the large courtyard. This was the shower building. The water was hot but there was no heat in the building. Was kind of cool during February and March. Under the shower was fine. In drying off you turned a little blue.

edited Close up of Albro Castle near St

Wish I could cover in detail all that I did while in Wales at Albro Castle. If I did so, this would soon reach 100 pages, and as it is, it won’t make good toilet paper. A favorite outing was to go to a place that rented hot baths, complete with a nice hot tub to get into. A lot of nights we walked into town and had WARM BEER at one of the local Pubs. Karl and I did enjoy talking with the older WELSHMEN. Most of them worked in the local coal mines. All the younger men were in the service. Same goes for most of the young women.

Had to make a lot of trips all around the country picking up needed items for the Company. Karl and I drove across London Bridge and it did not go falling down. Had to go all the way to Birmingham to pick up some welders. Was an overnight trip. We picked up the welders and went to the Red Cross for a room for which we paid 25 cents. We were advised that we would have to take our truck to a GI motor pool. Distance about two miles each way. We were in what we thought was a nice parking spot, right across the street. Karl says, “Unie, if we take the rotor out of the distributor, no one will steal the truck.” GI trucks had no keys you know, just a push-pull switch. Good deal I thought, so we did it. Next morning the truck was gone. We reported to the local Military Police office, where we received a very severe ass chewing. Written report was also made to our Commanding Officer. We received more chewing back at the Company. We said “SIR, we won’t do that again.” We didn’t, either.

My truck had a canvas top as a roof over the driver’s seat. So one day our Small Arms section mounted a ring mount on my truck and put a 50 caliber machine gun on it. I then had to take my truck and go to a range and fire at a towed target. Did real well, just like leading a duck with a shotgun.

I must point out that I was never at want for mail from the Home Front. Bless Betty, she wrote me a letter each and every day while I was overseas. There were times when I did not get any mail for a week—then I would get seven letters at once. In the meantime, I had written a RED ASS letter giving her hell for not writing more often. There were not many wives like her when it came to writing. Mom and Dad also wrote weekly. I did my best to get at least a V-Mail letter going to Hanover each day.

One more thing about Wales. We were on DOUBLE BRITISH SUMMER TIME. It did not get dark until 11 p.m. On the other hand, you were up for about three hours before it became daylight.

It was the first week in June and we knew full well something big was about to happen. We were not getting any more work from the 28th Division. We were asked to work long hours to get work in the shops out.

On the afternoon of June 5th, our C.O. received a long distance phone call. We had been alerted for movement at midnight direct to the marshaling area at Plymouth, England, a distance of about 250 miles. At about 10:30 p.m. the skies over Albro Castle were filled with twin engine DC-3s, all of which had a glider behind them at the end of a very long tow. Lord God, members of the 101st Airborne were already in the air going around in circles waiting for time to head for the coast of France.

My, how we worked that night! We were divided into two main serials with the faster vehicles, like mine, led by Cpt. Goode. My truck was loaded to the brim with complete axles for 6×6 trucks, and the trailer behind was filled with 105mm ammunition. I had no relief driver. My partner in the cab, Joseph Marro, from Stamford, CT, had never ridden a bike, let alone driven a truck.

Crossing the English Channel

I left at midnight sharp. We drove with full headlights, and our friends in the little village were all out waving good-bye to all of us. The serial (convoy) I was in made good time and we arrived in Plymouth about 9 a.m. on June 6th. I could hardly keep my eyes open. We were fed, given a shower and about six hours of sleep.

On June 7th, I was given a kit to put on the engine and exhaust of my truck. A long pipe made to fit on the carburetor and a long pipe to run the exhaust up over the top of the truck. Also a nutty putty type material to cover the plug holes and the distributor cap and the oil fill hole.

I was soon ready to load. I had to back that 6×6 with the trailer attached onto the loading ramp of a landing craft. At that minute I thought of driving Dad’s Model T at the age of six while he was busy on the telegraph key over at the depot at Whitton. I made it without a scratch on either truck or trailer or landing craft. It was a small landing craft with room for only three 6×6 trucks with trailers attached. Lucky me, I was on with the field kitchen truck and the cooks.

Soon we were off. Our craft had a large balloon floating 300 feet above our heads. This was to keep low-flying German planes from getting at the right angle to shoot at us.

Do you know that our cooks left Albro Castle with a whole pork loin and no way to keep it cool. I would bet my shoes that I was one of a few GI’s who ate fresh cooked pork chops while crossing the English Channel to land in France. That was to be the last fresh meat I would eat for more than a month.

We tried to sleep when darkness fell, but when you are afraid of what lies ahead you are not very sleepy. At about 3 a.m. we could see shell bursts in the not too distant east. The noise of the landing craft’s engine prevented us from hearing much of anything.

Landing at Omaha Beach

As we approached the beach at about 10 a.m. on June 11, 1944, we could see hundreds of ships and other landing craft anchored. We could also see smaller craft such as ours returning from the beach with the wounded on their way back to England. Burned craft, vehicles, tanks and other material lay in the shallow water near the beach.

Our skipper got a good shot at the beach on the very first try. The ramp went down in about three feet of water and I was ordered off. My truck started without a hitch. I put her in low range and in second gear and let the clutch out and put the foot feed half-way to the floor. We went off the ramp into the water and continued onto the dry portion of the beach. I was very excited and would guess the old ticker was doing at least 150 pumps per minute.

Our trucks unload on Omaha Beach

Our trucks unload on Omaha Beach

Then I saw some of those who did not make it on the 6th of June. Dead bodies were all over the area. Some with a leg or arm missing, then the one without a head, the one with his guts hanging out of his belly. It was then that I looked at poor Joe and he was crying like a baby. I did not have time to cry at that minute. I had to get that truck up to the top of the hill on a road constructed only of sand. I had been ready to go home for 15 minutes already.

My truck was starting to overheat. Before we landed, I had to loosen the fan belt so water would not be thrown all over by the cooling fan. This was also the belt that ran the water pump. We made it to the top of the hill and pulled off to the side to hook up the belt. This was done and at that minute I was glad to see Cpl. Turner and the C.O. in their jeep. Both of them were soaking wet. Seems they had to drive off into about five feet of water. The 111th had all arrived safely—except for Lt. Brooks and his group, who caught up with us the next day.

Days and Nights in Normandy

Our first night on the beach will be one that will be with me to my dying day. The German air force came around in large numbers and the number of guns that were firing at them was beyond belief. The sky was alive with tracer bullets, and flares. We were killing our own forces with anti-aircraft fire. The A.A. boys were firing so low that the exploding shells were hitting our own men.

At age 21 years, 11 months, I was being exposed to death and destruction of War. As I look back now to early June 1944, I feel that a lot of the boys who fell must have bled to death before the help of a medic could arrive. The color of their skin, a ghostly, bluish, grayish white. By the dozens they lay within my sight. There was no way that the Graves Registration troops could keep up. Most lay where they fell and died. Others had been partially covered by the sides of the road, toes of boots stuck out of the ground here and there. German dead received no attention during the first few days of fighting. They were also mother’s sons. Wrecked gliders of the 101st Airborne sat where they landed or crashed, whichever the case was. The crashed ones still contained the bodies of the American boys killed in the crash. For them the War was over early.

The roads in Normandy, France, and the fields were all bordered by hedge rows, limestone rock covered with dirt. Our tanks could not get through them. Soon our welding section was busy welding forks on the front of our Sherman tanks so they could run at the hedge rows and break through them. Our first operations area was a farmer’s field. We did not worry about land mines in that area as it was full of milk cows. Somehow most of them had been missed by all the bombing and shelling.

Night guard duty was no fun. We had three outposts around the Company area. Before dark, two men would be taken to them. You had a 30 caliber machine gun. Duty two hours, off two hours, shoot anything that moves towards you. On a coal dark night, the hair would stand up on the back of your neck for the two hours you were on duty. Scared as hell the two hours you were off. Lord, it was nice to see daybreak. I must add that during the first 72 hours of the beach head there were more human beings per square mile than in New York City.

Soon the tanks and infantry moved a little and were headed for St. Lo. We were moved up to a wooded area called Cerisy-la-Foret [aka the Cerisy Forest]. Pine trees all around. Had to clear a lot of them to make room. My dad had had shown me how to use Prima Cord prior to leaving the Depot. 1st Sgt. said I could try and come up with some. An Engineer Company gave me a roll along with some blasting caps and safety fuse. Just make about three wraps around the tree trunk, light the fuse and get back. Cuts them off just like a good saw.

Unangst, probably Normandy, 1944

Unangst, probably Normandy, 1944

We were always ahead of our artillery outfits. In other words, they would shoot over us while firing at the Germans. When the Germans fired back, some of the shells fell very close to us.

We all had nice foxholes dug and covered with tree limbs and dirt. We left an opening in the middle and would sleep feet to feet. One slept with clothes, shoes and all on. At about 1 a.m. one morning, they started shelling and some were falling real close by. I woke up and pulled my hands from under my blanket. That’s when I found the snake coiled up on my chest. I threw blanket and all over on Joe Marro, cracked my head on the logs that covered the hole, got out and went and sacked out between the bows on the tarp covering the load on my truck. Don’t like snakes to this day.

Gus Welty, satisfied with his foxhole, France 1944

Peter Patrick, satisfied with his foxhole, France 1944

The Germans were now leaving mines and booby traps all over the place. One that raised hell was in the form of a dried-up horse turd. Just enough explosive to blow part of your foot off.

Seems our tanks could not get through the German forces in St. Lo. So the Air Force decided to level the town. Eleven hundred B-17’s and B-24’s came over from England to do the job. We were about seven miles away and the ground shook. Some of the planes dropped their smoke markers short of the village and the next wave dropped their bombs on our own troops. General McNair was killed that day along with about 176 others. However, the city fell and we were on the move once again.

We had one or two older men in our Company. One we called Pop Hyde. He must have been at least 40 or 45 years old. Pop had a very hard time keeping up with us young folks and to what was going on around him. One evening he went into his pup tent, removed his left shoe and sock, picked up his carbine and proceeded to shoot his left big toe off. He was taken to the nearest medics and that was the last we saw or heard of him.

When we made our next move, we had to go through what remained of St. Lo. Bull dozers had cleared a path through where the road had been. All was gone, the town was level with the ground. Just piles and piles of limestone that the houses and buildings had been constructed from. Our tanks and fighting troops were at this point hindered by one of the biggest problems of the War: keeping our supply lines up with the advancing troops.

Falaise Gap, Normandy

This move was a long one and took us several days to make, along the very crowded roads. Plus, gas was in short supply up towards the front. Our stop was to be Falaise Gap. It reminded me of the valley in which Hanover, Illinois, lies. Hills on all sides except for like the road to Savanna between the hills. In this valley was a complete German Division. American artillery (105’s and 155mm guns) were destroying the only road out with every shot. Gunners were fighting with each other as to who would get the next shot. Soon a lot of ambulances were sighted coming into the gap from the German side. American gunners then figured the ambulances were being used to evacuate troops from the area. Ambulances full of German soldiers were blown sky high. Mind you, Field Artillery gunners were shooting at two Germans riding a horse trying to escape. It failed to work and up they went in a ball of fire. When it came our turn to move through this area, I could not believe my eyes. German tanks, cars, trucks, ambulances, and dead horses and men lined both sides of the road. The German Army was on the run. Over 5,000 German troops were captured in a three-day period.

Falaise Gap, Normandy, in August 1944, a few days after the battle there

Falaise Gap, Normandy, in August 1944, a few days after the battle there

At this time, we heard that Paris was about to fall into Allied hands. I think it was the afternoon of August 26th that word came out that Paris once more belonged to the French people. Karl was working in the automotive section at that time and had to road test vehicles after they had been repaired. The following day at about 10 a.m. off to Paris we went (Karl and I). It was only about 25 miles and the road was in good shape. You talk about two country boys going to the city. WOW! There was still sniper fire going on only a few blocks from where we were.

Paris

I will not attempt to try to explain the feeling that the people of Paris had for us or any American soldier the day following their liberation. The people cheered, cried and swarmed around our vehicle. We thanked them for some wine and part of a loaf of fresh baked bread and thought it time to return to our Company area. Often wondered what would have happened to us if the Company had made a quick move while we were away. Did see Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triumph. From here we made about an 80 mile move to the north of Paris. Do remember we were real close to an ammunition storage depot. Remember magazines filled with Mustard Gas shells. I could smell it. It was also here that I got very sick. My last bad sore throat of my life. It was a dandy, all I could do was take aspirin and let them dissolve in my mouth and run down my throat. At that time, if you went on sick call and had to stay you were sent to another unit. Rain most of the time and the pup tents leaked badly.

Heerlen, Holland

From here it was on to Maastricht, Holland, where we stayed for about a week or 10 days. It was here that we were introduced to the Germans new secret weapon, the V-l bomb. It had wings, powered by a jet engine that you could hear coming for miles. When it ran out of fuel, the wings would be blown off and the bomb came straight down. They came over about every hour on the hour. They were trying to blow the bridge over the Maas River in Maastricht. At night, we were harassed by night bombers also trying to blow the bridge.

A blown bridge at Maastricht

A blown bridge at Maastricht

From here we moved the 12 miles up the road to Heerlen, Holland, and into our first quarters other than pup tents or foxholes since D-Day. We moved into a school building and all the Enlisted men were given the gym to put our bed rolls down on. Cold weather had arrived and this was to be our home for about 90 days. Our shops were all set up in what had been a very large brick yard and a place where bricks had been made. I remember the very high brick chimney.

Across the street and just a few doors from the school building was BAGGENS MEAT MARKET. At that time, there was not much for sale in the market. However, Karl and I made the acquaintance of a very nice Dutchman—PAPA BAGGEN. Soon we were to be invited over for the evening to share a good cigar and meet the family. The family consisted of Papa, Mama, and TWO nice LITTLE girls. Ages 18 and 19 I think. Both girls had taken English in school so all conversation had to be relayed back and forth with the folks. Soon we were taking all the candy we could get our hands on and making visits to the Children’s Hospital located about two miles away, to see kids who had been hurt by bombs, shells and so on. Soon Betty sent nice things from the USA, coffee, popcorn. The first time corn was popped on the old kitchen stove, they took the lid off and just let it pop all over the kitchen. They had never seen popcorn. Soon after, Poppa fixed Karl and me up with living quarters in the shed located out in the backyard. A stove and a bed, complete with a feather tick. We were living high on the hog. Whatever Papa could come by in the form of food and meat was shared with us. Mama was a good cook and we were able to talk the mess cooks out of a lot of things. About this time Cpl. Turner started dating the oldest girl, Johnny. Karl and I continued to share the large oak table with Vicky and the folks. Papa was a first-class checker player.

The Germans had the first jet fighter plane. Its range was short compared to piston engine planes. On New Year’s Eve, 1945, one came over Heerlen at about 11:57 p.m. The pilot managed to circle until the clock was striking midnight and then let loose his bombs. It was everyone under the oak table at the Baggen’s house. Think the bomb hit about three blocks away.

I must back up two weeks in my story. The Germans broke through our lines at Bastogne and thus began the Battle of the Bulge. All through the night, the 2nd Armored Division moved through Heerlen on their way to the breakthrough. Nothing was left between the German border and us but a few service companies. Pulling guard duty on those nights was scary as all hell. Germans were moving in our direction dressed in American uniforms. They were dropping paratroopers (old men) into the Heerlen area. After we had heard what all was taking place at Bastogne, we did not allow them to touch the ground with their parachutes. They died on the way down. During the day, JU-88’s would fly over and strafe the town. Got to use my 50 caliber on my truck but they were going so fast it was hard to lead them. (No Kills)

Winter in Heerlen

Winter in Heerlen

Soon our troops began to drift back into their original positions to be ready for the jump off over the Rhine River. While in Heerlen we all got to witness a P47 of our Air Force shoot down a JU-88. He crashed in the city and started a big fire.

Now it was time to say good-bye to our good friends the Baggen family as we were to move into our first German city. My score in Heerlen: no hits, no runs and no errors.

Munchen-Gladbach, Germany

Our next move took us to Munchen-Gladbach [today spelled Monchengladbach], Germany. A fair-sized city that had been hit hard by our Air Force. We set up shop in a compound that had been used by the S.S. Troops as a training center. I came by new pair of S.S. Officer’s black boots at this stop and wore them for several weeks until told to take them off. Soon we got to move into some German apartment houses. We three were on the third floor and remember the German civilians asking for some of their things. We let them have most of them—right out the window onto the ground.

"Our home in Munchen-Gladback, Germany"

“Our home in Munchen-Gladbach, Germany”

A few days passed, then, one afternoon late, all of the amphibian equipment rolled out towards the lines. It was the next morning, about 3 a.m., that the biggest artillery barrage of the war broke out of the quietness of the night. The crossing of the Roer River was underway. Fifty-caliber machine gun barrels were brought back to our Company that had been completely burned out. They’d been fired so long without cooling that they had almost melted. 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. Then in a massive thrust, our forces fought to the banks of the Rhine River. It was so sudden that the German forces failed in their attempt to blow the bridge at Remagen. Thousands of our troops made it across before the bridge fell into the river. We and the 29th Division crossed the river on a pontoon bridge constructed by the Army engineers.

Crossing the Rhine

Our first stop on the east side of the river was Dinslagen [Dinslaken]. This is the place where we were located next to a large salt mine. I remember a few of us going over and for a pack of cigarettes getting a German civilian to start the generator that operated the loft to go down in the mine. So down we went (along with caretaker) to about 500 feet below the surface. Down under we noticed all of the very well-made crates. One of the crates was opened and Lord, Lord. There were all of the French paintings that had been stolen in Paris. Not being interested in paintings at that time and date we left the mine. Also in this area was a launch site for the V-1 buzz bomb. The Germans had left in such a hurry that some were still positioned on the launch pads. I did not screw around with them. If I am ever reborn, and have to be part of another War, I will try and have a 35mm camera. Lord, the pictures I could have had.

Haff and Johnson crossing the Rhine

Haff and Johnson crossing the Rhine

Soon after, on April 18, 1944, 325,000 German troops of German Army Group B and H surrendered. IT WOULD SOON BE OVER!

Following a few shorter moves towards the front and to Ahlen, we were moved back to Dorsten with the Division for the purpose of screening all Germans. Things had moved so fast that some of the German troops just made the change to civilian clothing and returned to civilian life. They had to be screened out and taken as POW’s. Over a thousand were rounded up in our locale.

From here it was on to the German Autobahn and as fast as our trucks would go. We passed through Hanover, Germany, and on to the other side. Here we made our quarters in an Ammunition Chemical Loading Plant. Nice place to be quartered, more Mustard Gas shells and White Phosphorous shells.

From here we made our last war time moves. The name of the place was Salzwedel, only a few miles from the Elbe River. Seems there were a lot of Germans on the other side of the Elbe who wanted to get across in order to surrender to the American forces. So now came my prized possession of WW II: my German Luger. Picked it up by helping row a German Major across the river in an Engineer rubber raft. When he handed it to me it was loaded with a bullet in the chamber ready to fire. Think in the chest in the basement is an Officer’s hat. Came from the same officer. Rumors were growing by the hour as to the war’s end. We knew full well the Russians were closing up to the Elbe from the east, and our Division was holding the west bank.

Now that the War was almost over, the shuffling of troops began and we moved back to a small place called New Beckum near Ahlen. This was a staging area for the 29th Division until their area of occupation was ready for us to move into.

While at this location, the excitement was getting greater every day as to when complete surrender would take place. On the night of May 7th, 1945, it was unofficially announced. However, the official announcement came on the 8th of May by the respective leaders of America, Britain and Russia. (Seems to me the 8th of May was President Truman’s birthday?) The night of May 7th, 1945, proved to be one hell of a mess….The big three—Karl, Vosz and myself—were content to shoot German civilians in the ass with signal flares as they passed by on the streets. With their asses on fire, boy could they run. That night we also 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.

Celebrating VE Day, May 8, 1945, somewhere in Germany

Celebrating V-E Day, May 8, 1945, somewhere in Germany

Post-War Occupation Duty, Bremen Enclave

In a few days, we moved with the 29th Division to Bremen, Germany. This location was even better than Heerlen in regards to shop and quarters set-up. We were in a woolen mill factory that had not been damaged in any way. This is the spot where we all helped ourselves to German civilian cars, and motorcycles. Lots of fun driving around in style. This did not last long and orders came to turn them all in at a rail yard located nearby. I was unhappy and decided if I could not have my Opel two-door sedan, no one else would enjoy it either. So I drove it onto a track and lined the radiator up with the coupler on a rail car and hit it at about 15 mph. That took care of the radiator and engine mounts.

Unangst wrote, "Our swimming pool." Brake, Germany, 1945

Unangst wrote, “Our swimming pool.” Brake, Germany, 1945

All activity had ceased on our fronts, and we were now being swamped with work. Since we were continually running out of parts, my truck and I had to go in search of parts. I made a lot of trips to the docks in Bremen, and it was here that I got a first-hand look at the German submarine pens. U-Boats were made there under 14 feet of cement. Little wonder the British 10,000 lb. blockbusters had no effect on them. Subs were being built right up to the end of the War. From Bremen the completed subs would go up the Weser River to the North Sea.

I remember going in a small boat up the river and seeing subs that had been caught in the open by our aircraft. They could not submerge in the river so became beached along the banks. I remember going down the coning tower into one of them. Loaded fused torpedoes rolled around in the partially water-filled hulls. No place for me, a born chicken. It was in this river, just a few days later, that two of our Enlisted men met death by drowning when their sailboat capsized. We had not experienced the loss of a single life during the War, and now to have this happen hurt us deeply. All boats were turned in at this time.

We made our final move to the city of Brake, Germany, only 13 miles down-river from Blumenthal. Since there were no bridges remaining across the river from Blumenthal, we had to go back down the river to Bremen and then up to Brake, a total of 54 miles. Our new area was very nice in that we made families vacate from six two-story apartment houses. Karl, Vosz and I had a room to set our cots up in. In addition, we had our own tavern and soon found a source of German beer. We even had electric lights.

Never, ever, will forget the night that our barkeeper laid hands on a barrel of 14% draft beer. We three never quite made it back to our room that night. When the sun came up the next morning, we were laying in the grass alongside the sidewalk. My one and only very large DRUNK.

I made trips to Hanover, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Nuremberg, Hamburg and many others. One of my final big trips was to turn in a truck and trailer load of Hobart Welders that were needed in the South Pacific. Destination West Berlin. The country boy from Hanover was going to make it into Berlin. Joseph Marro, who still could not drive, went with me, and this time he smiled all the way. The portion of the city that I was to see was nothing but burned-out buildings with only one-way traffic in many places. German people were already working cleaning up the mess brick by brick. This time I felt sorry for them. Their leaders had taken them from victory after victory into total defeat. Do you know that when we reached our turn-in point—all had changed. A very large crane took the welders by the lifting hook and threw them onto a huge pile. They, like me—were no longer needed.

As the days go by and with the beginning of another month, all the experiences of the past year are brought to our memory. It is now June 6th, 1945, and exactly one year ago we were burdened with the great task of the invasion of the continent of Europe.

General “Ike” had proclaimed Wednesday, June 6th, 1945, a holiday in memory of all those who gave their lives that others might cherish victory and freedom in the end. On June 7th, 1945, the first three of our Enlisted men left the Company for home and discharge. They were the high-point men of the outfit, and having dependents were on their way. Time now dragged on and we wondered how long it would be before our turns came. Good thing we were given trips to see Bop Hope, Bing Crosby and the Glenn Miller Air Force Band. Glenn Miller, you know, was lost when his plane went down on a trip from England to the continent to join his band. Our Company swimming pool got lots of use that summer. We listened to the news all of the time and had one hell of a celebration when the Japs gave up on August of 1945. No longer did we have the fear of having to go over in that direction.

I never was very lucky (in a way) because when go-home-time came around, Karl and I had the very same number of points. So the 1st Sgt. put our names in a hat and guess whose name was pulled out. Gene Karl got to go home first. He gave me a big hug the day he left and said, “Buddy, I will call Betty when I get home.” We kept in touch through the years and in July of 1988 Gene made the final trip home.

Late fall was upon us and it turned very cool at night. I felt sorry for the young German kids who, for the most part, would be going into winter with little or no heat in their homes. I often wonder what became of Siegfried. He was a German boy of about 10 whose father had been killed on the Russian front. He had a snout full of snot all of the time and a pair of hobnail shoes about four sizes too big for him. You could hear him coming for a mile on the sidewalk. All the guys saw to it that he had plenty to eat. I taught him to say “GOD DAMN SHOES.”

Heading Home

In early October of 1945, my turn came to head for home. I had to get rid of all my toys that I had picked up along the way. Had to turn in my 45 automatic pistol complete with plexiglass grips with Betty’s picture on one side and little Ronnie’s on the other. All these years I wish I had tried to bring it home like so many others did. I went down to the Motor Pool and bid good-bye to my truck. After all, we had come a long way and made a lot of trips together. I think she had something like 2,760 miles on the odometer.

I was taken to Bremen and joined others from a lot of outfits. We were loaded upon boxcars for the trip south. German box cars have only four wheels in place of eight. The corner I was in was over a flat wheel. In other words, a spot on the wheel was worn down by the brakes having been locked at some point in its life. There was a constant up and down pounding. We would stop along the way and be served hot meals along the siding. You relieved yourself in the brush along the track.

Unangst on left

Unangst on left

boxcars at railway station waiting boxcar with place names Roland boxcar keeping warm at the rail station

Soon we arrived in Ulm, Germany, in the southern Alps and were given a week off of the train. My, what a pretty place, especially in the late fall of the year. Food was good and already the local taverns served good German cheese with your beer. Soon it was back on another train, only this time there were passenger cars. Like being in the new world.

The trip on to Marseille, France, did not take more than a day. We off-loaded from the train onto trucks for the ride to CAMP LUCKY STRIKE. The kick-off camps were all named after brands of cigarettes. All we had to do here was eat and sleep and enjoy the mild sunny weather.

Waiting in Marseille, France, for the ship to take us home to the States

Waiting in Marseille, France, for the ship to take us home to the States

On November 12, 1945, I was told to be ready in one hour that 4,000 of us would be boarding ship that afternoon. I was ready in 30 minutes. Off the truck and stand in line on the dock to the final check in. I was called and ordered up the plank. This time I was all smiles, I was at long last heading for the United States of America.

Early on the morning of November 13, 1945, the tugs pulled us away from the pier. The ship was much larger than the one I had come over on and its name was the S.S. Sea Robin. We got to spend the entire day on deck watching the blue waters of the Mediterranean slip by. Dozens of dolphins swam alongside the ship all day long. On this crossing, I was to have 3,999 roommates rather than 162. And this was a troop ship, so it was laid out better.

At about 10 a.m. the next day, we entered the Atlantic in one hell of a storm. On the fantail (rear end) of the ship, when you went down, the screws came clear off the water in the rear. Once again, I was not seasick, however, one had to duck a lot of up-chuck from the other guys. Especially when they would let her go into the wind.

Day three, for about two hours, was a bummer. Seems one of the boys had to have his appendix out, and in order to do the operation in such rough weather, the Captain placed the ship in the trough of the waves. So we were rolled from side to side for the entire time. You thought at any minute the ship would just roll over. However, it did not.

The ship’s heads (toilets) were large. Floors and walls were of tile. All along one side were the stools, and across the end wall was the urinal. The floor was covered with vomit and stunk to high heaven. It was, however, a comedy. When you were on one of the pots and a poor guy would enter the door who had to throw up, as he headed for a pot the nose of the ship would go up and he would slide back towards the door. Then the nose of the ship would go down, and he would slide towards the other end. About this time, he would vomit on the way forward and on the way back. I just had to sit, crap and laugh.

On November 24, 1945, the coast line of Virginia came into view. Such a wonderful sight, and the sea was about calm. We docked at about 4 p.m. at Newport News. We had to wait to dock until a ship headed over was pulled out of the way. These were occupation troops going over. We yelled SUCKERS at them.

It was off the ship and onto a train for a short ride to Camp Patrick Henry. At about 7 p.m. we were served a T-bone steak. German POW’s did the serving. We told them all in Germany was “KAPUT”—gone, destroyed. At about 9 p.m. I managed to get a call in to Black 105 Hanover. Seems Mom had cut a piece out of the Chicago Tribune which stated the Sea Robin was docking today with units of a Field Artillery outfit. I had written that I would be with this outfit. Can’t tell you how nice it was to hear Betty’s voice. Even got to say hi to my son, who had turned three years old in October of 1945.

It was now November 25, 1945, and I can’t remember if the original Thanksgiving Day had passed or not. I do remember the food at Camp Patrick Henry was OUTSTANDING. We had fresh eggs each morning for breakfast and real beef for every noon meal. We lived high on the hog and had no chores or duty of any kind to do.

I must say that the Armed Forces did one heck of a job in getting about five million of us home and discharged. Think of the paperwork involved.

On November 28th a large group of us loaded onto a train for our last ride as a member of the Armed Forces. Destination, none other than CAMP GRANT, ROCKFORD, ILLINOIS. I do not even remember the route the train took. Think we left Virginia on the Norfolk and Western which took us to Pittsburgh, PA. We did not have to even leave the car. They were just switched to another train and it was off to Chicago. I know the train made good time, but my—it seemed so slow. In Chicago we were hitched to the Illinois Central for the slow trip to Camp Grant.

It was the last day of November when we arrived. This time it was a different group than the ones who had got off of the train 37 months prior as it pulled in from Galena. The Non-Commissioned Officers did not yell, they spoke in soft tones. We were asked to fall in and walk, not march to the first stop. This makes me laugh to this day.

We were walked to the CLAIMS building and halted. The good sergeant said, “If you wish to file a claim with the U.S. Army for any condition you now have that you did not have when you came in—fall out now.” “HOWEVER”, he said, “Your discharge will be delayed for several days or as long as two weeks.” NO ONE MOVED. “All right,” said the good sergeant, “On to the paper palace. You guys are to be discharged tomorrow.” Years later I realized what a mistake I had made by not filing a claim for my teeth. I had seen a dentist once in 37 months and they were not in good shape. And now you know THE REST OF THE STORY, I lost them all at an early age.

On the morning of December 1st, 1945, it was bacon and eggs again—but who could eat, we were soon to be free! It was on to a two-hour debriefing on our return to civilian life. One last trip to the Medics to see if we still had the family jewels, arms and legs. Then to the final big building. It was here that I was forced to stand in line for the last time. Having a last name that started with a U put you on the tail end each and every time. Soon a Major Arthur F. La Rouche signed my discharge papers and it was all over.

The bus that was to head west picked us up at the front gate of Camp Grant. A phone call to Hanover had informed Betty that I would be in Elizabeth at about 8 p.m. Took the bus a good three hours to make the trip to in front of Bishops Store on the main drag of Elizabeth. Lord, my heart was going 90 miles per hour. Across the street came the girl of my dreams. God, but she did look good. Brother George and wife Hazel had come along. Betty and I were loaded into the back seat of the 1941 Ford. You know, we had not seen each other for over 13 MONTHS. The first moments seemed a little strange.

The trip to Hanover seemed like four hours, but soon we arrived at the house on Lowell Street. Words can’t express how happy everyone in the household was at that time. There stood my son whom I knew only by pictures. He looked at me for what seemed like an hour before he departed into the front room. When he returned he was holding a large picture of me. He looked at the picture and then at me and said, “YOU ARE MY DADDY.” The very long trip from Hanover to Berlin and Back was over.

*****

Below are additional thoughts from my dad that were written years following his writing of the above story. He kept them with the original story. —Linda 12/12/2013

SPECIAL ITEMS OF INTEREST

Twice during our stay in Holland, I went to see Harvey Zane, Master Sgt. with a field hospital unit stationed in Liege, Belgium. The first was a weekend pass. During this visit, I met his wife to be. She was an officer in the same unit. The second visit was following a direct hit on his hospital by a German V-2 Buzz Bomb. I think seven members of the hospital unit were killed and many more wounded. Harvey was one of the wounded. He received burns on the upper part of his body and a lot of cuts from flying glass.

I also paid a visit to Lt. Col. Walter Hotchkiss, Commanding Officer of the 454th Railway Operating Battalion. Had some good meals served in Uncle Walter’s private railcar and slept in a nice bunk with white sheets and all. Walter spent the night, I’m sure, with his lady friend in the city. Liege was an American rail center and I think Walter spent the duration at this place.

During the Battle of the Bulge, it was necessary to Red Ball convoy ammunition to the front. Karl and I and my truck and trailer were a part of one trip. We were one of 15 trucks led by an officer in a jeep. We used a main road from which all traffic had been banned. Cross traffic was all stopped five minutes prior to our arrival. We drove the trucks flat out as fast as the roads and curves would allow. We drove clear back to the south of Paris. Truck and trailer were loaded with ammunition. We were given four hours’ sleep and headed back. Mind you, we drove after dark with full headlights. Our orders were that when a red flare was fired into the air ahead of us we were to immediately turn off our headlights and go to black-out driving. Fun and games at 50 miles per hour. We managed to make the trip with NO accidents. During a right hand curve, Karl would get out of the cab, stand on the running board, and hang his rear out as far as he could. He was sure this would keep the truck from turning over on the corner.

THE FOOT IN THE JEEP

While we were in Heerlen, Holland, in October of 1944, we were still in support of the 29th Division. On or about 8 October a wrecker brought a Jeep to our Company for turn in and replacement. I remember this one well as it was well blown apart. After the paperwork was completed, I had the Jeep pulled to the salvage area of our Company. During a final look over, I pulled the front passenger seat forward as would be done to obtain access to the rear seat. There wedged under the seat was a left combat boot, complete with a foot still inside it. Neatly blown off just above the ankle. I always wondered to whom it belonged.

Now 47 years later, I know the answer. I am at this time reading the history of the 29th Inf. Division. On page 153 of the book there is this entry. (The battalion journal records that “on Oct. 6th, 1944, we moved to the vicinity of Kerkrade, in the Netherlands, closer still to the enemy’s homeland. Near here, the next day, one of our communications jeeps exploded a land mine, and the four men in it were mangled to death.” So now in March of 1991, I know the rest of the story. I buried the foot still inside the shoe in the rear of the brickyard in Heerlen, Holland.

DECEMBER 7TH, 1991—A VERY SPECIAL DAY FOR ME

The world has undergone profound changes since Hawaii was attacked by Japan 50 years ago. December 7, 1941, ushered in an era in world history that altered the way people and nations deal with each other.

Betty and I spent a lot of time in front of the tube this 50th anniversary year. We both shed tears while watching and reliving that faithful day and the days, weeks and years that followed. We were both happy that the nation arranged the commemorations to Pearl Harbor. There is, no doubt, a danger in recalling the past too vividly. Perhaps in some cases, the hoopla will revive memories left better stowed away. In short, it was very painful for Betty. It is fair to say that not a one of you who read this will remember that on December 27, 1941, Betty’s brother Squire Boone Zane paid the price of war with his life. He died when the Jap’s bombed his ship. He was buried at sea off of the tip of the Batan peninsula.

Nevertheless, the pain for the majority would be even greater if the 50th anniversary of America’s entry into WWII was not commemorated. Failure to pay proper respect to the 2,403 Americans killed at Pearl Harbor and all the 407,316 Americans who died in WWII would be an even more unforgivable sin.

I am glad that the Japanese were not invited to the 50th anniversary. It would have clouded the real meaning of this solemn ritual. After all, “Our country was attacked. It should be strictly American.” And it was.

When December 7th. rolls around each year – Remember Pearl Harbor? You bet! We never dare contemplate otherwise.

WHAT THE HECK DO YOU TITLE THE LAST PAGE?

70 AND 1/2 – FEELING OLD – TIRED AS HELL – CAN’T DESCRIBE?

Who in the world is it who’s not getting any younger? It’s Mom and me, America’s World War II generation.

Guess I may seem like any other old person, 98% retired now, just old men and women setting on the patio, you see us in the nursing homes, parents and grandparents – but we’re not the same.

When we were young, we saved the world.

No other generation in world history can make that claim. Other generations had hard times and great challenges but, as best, were saviors of a town or a country.

Mom and I can remember as school children how we stood for a moment of silence at 11 a.m. on November 11th each year. This was in respect to those who served in WW I. I also remember going to Polo, Illinois, with Uncle Willie to visit his folks, my grandparents. I remember sharing a feather bed with him in one of the upstairs rooms. Prior to falling asleep he used to tell me tales of the then Great War. It was then that I found out that his best friend was shot in the head and Uncle Willie held him in his arms while he died. Rough duty, first class. Now that I walk slower, get so tired so easy and don’t think about making any long-range plans, I feel sorry for myself that no one except another member of my generation cares to talk of the big one.

But then I guess it’s fitting that victory in the most intense, deadly and important struggle in human history should seem sort of ordinary to those who won it, and those who benefited.

Mom’s and my generation saved the world because it had to be done, and NO one else was available to do it.

It isn’t that America’s Vietnam or Korea generation, for example, both the pro and the con, couldn’t or wouldn’t have saved the world. They just didn’t get the chance.

Don’t know if you young folks know it or not, but it was the Russians who actually broke the back of the German Army and the Chinese who held Japan’s best troops in a death grip, and British or French or any of the rest of the world’s peoples. None of them won the war. But they did save the world from a global evil.

I’m glad that I was born an American and was one of the ones Winston Churchill described as the “new world who came to the rescue of the old world.”

We were ordinary people, your Mom and Dad, who lived in an extraordinary time. We and a bunch of our friends did what had to be done.

In a couple or three years or so, there will be lots of half-century anniversaries of V-E and V-J Day. I hope some prayerful ceremonies for those who did not return as well for those who did return. Maybe one for liberation of the death camps. The ex-Soviet republics might even pause to remember that there was once a place called Stalingrad , and it was very important. When the 50th rolls around, there will be fewer alive who actually did those things.

God, how one’s mind does ramble. This mess of words isn’t about anniversaries. It’s about the old guy with gray hair you see on the street with a little poppy in his lapel who cries and shakes when he hears tap’s played at a Comrades grave. Or the blue-haired woman who forgets things and scrapes the fender of the car while putting it in the garage. We who wish more of the younger folks would take a long, last look at these people now, while they still have the chance.

No one has ever done anything like their achievement before and GOD willing, no one will ever have to do anything like it again.

CAMP SHANKS: LAST STOP USA

Last stop USA, or so it was called by some 1.3 million soldiers who passed through it, but the largest U.S. Army port of embarkation on the East coast during World War II was officially known as Camp Shanks. From the day it opened on January 5, 1943, in Orangeburg, New York, near the mouth of the Hudson River, until it ceased operations on July 22, 1946, soldiers at Shanks were processed and prepared for war, and given bunks from which thousands of sad letters were written by the departing men. The initials carved into barracks and on benches in the recreation and orientation centers were testimony to the sadness of war, as each month 40,000 troops left, some never to return.

It was from Shanks that the invasion began. Shanks, where thousands of military buildings sprang up, when months before there were only cornfields. It was Shanks where soldiers who were civilians months before came together to form a force—a force that would later cross the ocean and bring Hitler to his knees.

Today, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of D-Day, only traces of the buildings mark the land, and spirits of the troops keep sentry where Camp Shanks once stood.

A page in this month’s issue (November 1993) of the VFW magazine tells of a museum being built at Camp Shanks in honor of those who passed through there on their way to Europe. My pass through date was in November of 1943. How well I remember. The Museum is schedule to open on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, 1994.

Arrived Camp Shanks October 28th, 1943 – Left November 4th, 1943.

This page written November 30th, 1993.

MEMORIAL DAY, 1997

This Memorial Day Betty and I received a very special gift from the last remaining member of the Baggen family in the Netherlands. Vicky sent us a VCR tape modified to play in our VCR. The title is DO YOU REMEMBER. The tape was made by the Dutch Government of the American Cemetery and Memorial located in Margraten, Holland. Yes, the Dutch people DO REMEMBER the American troops who died for them in order that they may be free. Bless Vicky and her family for doing this for me.

Mom and I spent the day with Linda and family in Geneseo. A very cold, damp, overcast day for the Memorial Day Program held in the park at 10 a.m. As always, the tributes are very touching and get to me quickly. I was happy to have Granddaughter Laura and Daughter Linda on my right and left during the Firing Squad and Color Guard presentation and the playing of Taps and the Echo. It was nice for us on this Memorial Day to pause to reflect on the enormity of the sacrifice made by so many while in the service of our great country. It’s a day for us to recognize those who died while fighting for the principles and aims of this country. Like it or not, America is the “home of the brave.” From the Revolutionary War to peacekeeping in Bosnia, Americans have laid down their lives in military service.

Our family served starting with Valentin Unangst (1769-1857). He had a Revolutionary War marker on his grave in the state of Pennsylvania. Solon S. Unangst (1844-1926) served in Co. N, 98th. Reg. of the Pa. volunteers in the Civil War. And the list goes on. Thomas Unangst, a member of Co. M.B. 51st. Reg., Pa. Vols. (1840-1864) died in battle at the age of 24 years, 13 days, during the Civil War. (Uncle) William H. Unangst served in France during WW I. Roland C. Unangst served a total of 37 months, with 24 months in Europe during WWII. Roland Z. Unangst served seven years (1960-1967) with the Navy. Let’s not forget Brian Zane Unangst, who served with the 24th Division during Desert Storm. Clifford G. Unangst served 42 months in the peace-time Navy.

On the Zane side of the family the story is the same. They served their country well starting with the Civil War. Don’t ever forget it, Squire Boone Zane (Mom’s brother) was the first man from Mahaska County, Iowa, to pay with his life on December 27th, l941 when a Jap bomb went down the smoke stack of his ship. He is receiving his highest commendation ——in heaven. “DO YOU REMEMBER”? Harvey Zane wounded badly in action during WW II when a German buzz bomb hit the hospital in which he served. Joe Zane who still has a piece of shrapnel in his body from a Jap shell. Brothers Minor K. Zane and Lee Zane also served during WW II in the Navy.

It’s been said that brave are not the people who have no fear. Rather, brave are the people who indeed are afraid to thrust themselves into harm’s way, but they do it anyway. We can reflect on our war dead and be thankful that they were citizens of America. So on this Memorial Day and every other day of the year, remember how Americans proved this nation to be indeed the “home of the brave”. Also, family and friends, YOU would not have liked doing the German “Goosestep” or bowing down to the flag of the “Rising Sun.”

Thank you Vickie, for at this moment in time I am listening to the music of Glenn Miller. A Tribute to Glenn Miller, who with his band were vet’s of the BIG ONE, WW II. I heard his band in Bremen, Germany after the war was over.

THE MEANING OF MEMORIAL DAY

I for one, feel that this special day of remembrance has been lost by the majority of the American people. It’s a sacred day to all war veterans. None of us need to be reminded why Memorial Day must be commemorated. But what about the general public, and more important, the future generations? Do most non-veterans really recognize the importance of May 30th?

Changing the date to merely create three-day weekends has undermined the very meaning of the day. Little doubt, this has contributed greatly to the public’s non observance of Memorial Day.

Hell’s fire, judging from what Memorial Day has become—-simply just another day off from work—-the answer is a resounding NO. Is a reminder due the general public? Yes, we all need to relay the message.

Without remembrance, sacrifice is meaningless. All Americans need to recall on special occasions the untimely deaths of their fellow countrymen during wartime. Far too often, the entire nation takes for granted the freedoms all Americans enjoy. Everyone should remember those freedoms were PAID for with the lives of others few of us actually knew. That’s why THEY are all remembered on one very special day. It’s kinda like the national debt that can only be truly paid for by each and every American. By honoring the nation’s war dead, we preserve their memory and thus their service and sacrifice in the memories of our future generations.

I am lucky, I served our nation in a time of need and went on to enjoy life, wife and family. And after 75 years it is easy for me to remember ALL who served, regardless of the conflict or the year. They all had one thing in common—-love and loyalty to country. Did you ever stop and think about the goals they achieved? I find that I am kinda bonded to ALL who made the greatest sacrifice possible—-giving one’s own life, so those of us who still live—-ARE FREE. A simple means of paying tribute, pausing for a few moments of personal silence is available to one and all.

Attending a commemorative ceremony is the most visible way of demonstrating remembrance: placing flags and flowers at grave sites and wearing Buddy Poppies are yet other examples of showing your thanks. It’s the thought that counts. And do help instill the remembrance in the young.

As America’s 12 million war veterans fast disappear from the landscape, there are fewer and fewer left to carry the torch of remembrance. Such traditions will live on only if there is a special movement to which that torch can be passed.

LIKE YOUR FREEDOM? REMEMBER A VET.

—BOMPO, 9 May 1997

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Comments
  1. ann urban collinsworth says:

    Thank you for posting this memoir. My Dad was 132nd Ord, & I wish I had such a priceless story about his WWII experiences. It was wonderful to read about Roland Unangst’s service, especially since there are Unangst’s on my Mother’s side. She comes down from Edward Unangst (wounded Gettysburg). I’m going to trace back to see how her line fits in to Roland’s. Thank you again.

  2. Rico says:

    Nice memoir, still today we are thankfull to the US soldiers… Greeting from Heerlen NL

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