THE MILITARY “CAREER” of John E. Walters

High School

     In my senior year I took tests to see if I could qualify for the Navy ROTC or the Army
Specialized Training Program (ASTP) I thought the Navy would be more exotic but I was
worried about water splashing on my glasses. I therefore selected the ASTP because of that,
although I was accepted by both programs. This decision was typical of my ignorance at the
time. The Navy guys stayed in college the entire war. The ASTP ended up in the Infantry.


    I reported for induction on August 11, 1943, 2 days after my 18th birthday. I went to Fort
Sill and reported in that afternoon. A wait of over an hour for something to happen was my first
experience of Army efficiency. I was finally taken to a large room full of bunks and people;
probably 60 double bunks in neat depressing rows. Nobody was in uniform as yet. I however
had a khaki outfit I was proud of because I thought it made me look like a soldier. It turned out
that was the case. I was pulled out of the place, put on a truck and went to the mountains to help
fight a forest fire. Before I had to actually do anything, a Lt. noticed my civilian shoes,
questioned me, ate me out and sent me back to camp.
     The following day I went through the induction routine. We went naked through a long
line for various humiliating inspections. The man behind me was obviously a full-blooded
Indian who also obviously had his penis cut off. I don’t know if he was accepted but the rest of
us passed. After that we were sworn in. I then took a written test and was questioned by a
Psychiatrist? . He informed me that I was only mediocre soldier material. I don’t recall why he
told me that but I hoped to prove him wrong. Events probably proved him correct. (He probably
said average instead of mediocre but I thought I was way above average.)
     My first experience with KP occurred at Fort Sill. I was given a large barrel of boiled
chicken and was required to tear them into smaller pieces with my hands. It ruined my appetite
for chicken for some time.

Basic Training

     A group of about six of us was ordered to Ft. Benning, Georgia. (The Infantry School)
In spite of my “Mediocre” capabilities, I was put in charge of this detail. We went by civilian
trains. My being selected to lead this and many other details were a common occurrence. I
finally decided it was because I wore glasses and looked smarter than the other dodos. Anthony
Hillerman, the famous author, was one of this group. I strutted up and down the aisle of the train
with all civilian eyes admiring me (I thought). It turned out I was wearing my helmet liner
backwards. The train went through exotic country I had never seen before and I thought I was
the luckiest guy in the world to get to do this.
     The barracks at Fort Benning were tar paper shacks with the usual double row of double
bunks with a latrine on one end and the sergeants quarter on the other. We learned military
courtesy, (how and who to salute etc.) And marching, marching, marching. The days started
before sunup with much whistle blowing and hollering. I thought it was great. (Temporarily)
Physical conditioning of many types were performed constantly. This was not fun.
     The squad I was assigned to and perhaps our entire training company was all assigned to
the ASTP. We would go to college after the training. My squad was nearly all from Oklahoma.
It contained Hillerman, Huckins and several others whose names I don’t remember. I made the
mistake of writing to the base newspaper stating us Oklahoma soldiers were superior in every
way to other groups. It unfortunately was published and I was besieged by several other groups
taking up the challenge. It then turned out I was the only one from Oklahoma and had to eat
crow. I was then questioned by an unknown officer who apparently decided I was still not officer
material. He was looking for OCS candidates.
     Basic training at the Infantry School was different from most. We had to be familiar with
all Infantry weapons and had to qualify with most. .

     I did very well at all the shooting qualifications, although I broke my glasses on the way
to the rifle range. I was allowed to take it over when I got my glasses replaced. I did not do well
at the pistol, which led me in later civilian life to buy an Army 45, join a gun club and try to
master the pistol. I never did.

    We were then given written tests again, asked where we wanted to go to college, what
branch of the service we preferred. We ALL asked for the Air Corps. Many asked to be sent to
prestigious eastern colleges. All the Oklahoma people were sent to Oklahoma A&M for
Engineering courses. We were to be commissioned when and if we graduated.

Oklahoma A&M

I never seriously studied when I was in high school. I was immediately over my head in
these Army classes. It was a very heavy class load and I could not keep up. I took free time
tutoring in an attempt to grasp it. My problem was that I had not had plain geometry in high
school and the courses I was taking were based on the assumption I had. It made trig. and other
advanced math classes almost incomprehensible. (I had to take geometry my senior year in
college at no credit. (At OU) It turned out that is a requirement to even get admitted to college. I
did not flunk out at A&M but I was miserable and requested a transfer (To the Air Corps). This
request was refused. One math course I took turned out to be of great help to me in the Army
and later in life. That was Ratios.
    The exams at A&M were usually multiple choice, with four possible answers. The tests
were designed to not be finished. On the final exams (Before being sent to the Infantry), I
worked as far as I could and then working with ratios on the answers, I finished the entire test. In
chemistry, I scored the highest in the school and was very high up in all the courses. Amazing
     Due to heavy casualties in Europe, and a severe shortage of cannon fodder (Infantry), the
ASTP program was disbanded and the troops sent to Infantry Divisions. We were again asked
what branch of the service we preferred. My request and everybody else’s were ignored. I even
volunteered for glider pilot training. (No glasses) Most of us, including Hillerman were sent to
the 103rd Infantry Division in Camp Howze Texas. This is near Gainesville in north Texas.

         103rd Division (Spring, Summer & early Fall of 1944)

     I was assigned to the 1st squad of the 1st platoon of B Company
of the 410th Regiment of the 103rd Division. This is a rifle squad. A
rifle squad at that time consisted of 12 men. A squad leader (Staff Sgt.),
an assistant squad leader ( Sgt.) and 10 riflemen. Three of the riflemen
were the B.A.R. team, two were scouts and the others were ordinary
riflemen. All were equipped with the M1 Garand rifle except the BAR
man, who carried the Browning Automatic Rifle. This is a hand held machine gun equipped with
a bipod that is fed with 20 round clips. It weighs 22 lbs. empty. I was later to be assigned this
job. This entitled me to get promoted to the high rank of PFC. The other two members of the
BAR team were used primarily to carry extra ammunition for the BAR. They were named
Nelson (Assistant) and Hafer (Ammo carrier) Neither survived the war. I preferred to think it
was my leadership abilities and superb marksmanship that caused me this assignment. Actually
it was because I was the biggest and could carry all that weight.

     Training in a division is different from basic. We did much of the same things but would
do it as a unit. 30 mile marches were very common and we had at least one a week. They
weren’t as hard as the shorter marches (10 miles) because these were mostly forced (A lot of
On all these hikes, we were required to run the last half mile or so back to base. We spent much
time in weapons training, (assembly and disassembly, maintenance Etc.) And not near enough
time in actually firing practice. The Army was very stingy with ammunition.
     Maneuvers were interesting. We would do simulated combat with blank ammunition and
sometimes with live ammunition. On one occasion we maneuvered with tanks. They had us lay
down in front of the tanks while the tanks were firing to get us familiar with the noise. This was
one of the worst experiences. The blast was deafening and the shock would make you bounce off
the ground. We also did advances under live artillery fire. On one occasion there were two short
rounds which fell pretty close to us. I had flopped down in this stubble field and a stalk jabbed
me under the chin. The cut bled profusely (I still have the scar) A Lt. ran up to me thinking I was
wounded by the shell. He was very ticked off at me when he discovered I wasn’t.
     On maneuvers at Lake Murray in Oklahoma, I had a couple of adventures. One by nature
and one by my own stupidity. We were camping in the woods when a very violent thunderstorm
hit us. Lightning split and knocked down a large tree right by our (Nelson & me) pup tent. The
tree fell on the front of the tent but missed us. I decided then that I was probably indestructible.
During a break I decided that I could probably swim across the adjacent neck of the lake to a
tower of some kind. I wanted to see what it was. I had no bathing suit so I went in my birthday
suit. I tied my dog tags around my neck so they could identify the body. (I wasn’t too sure I
could swim that far.) By the time I got to the far bank, I was totally exhausted and wished I had
better sense than to do that. Just then I heard all these giggly girls laughing and I realized I
wasn’t alone. There was a girl scout troop camped near there. Knowing I was going to drown, I
got back in the water and swam for the far shore. It wasn’t easy but I made it.
     On the 4th of July, our battalion was selected to march in a parade in downtown Dallas.
We set up our tents at the fair grounds. People walking down the sidewalk would bend down
and admire us trying to sleep. The parade was fun and I felt very heroic, since everybody clapped
for me as I went by.

Expert Infantry Badge

     On one occasion my parents visited me at Camp Howze. It had become second nature for
me to use the only adjective used in the army. That adjective is f---ing.
As I drove them through the f---ing gate, through the f---ing intersection, to the f---ing barracks, I
suddenly realized it was very quiet in the car. Nothing was said about it but I am sure much was
thought. The army was not a good influence on their baby.

     Our division got the basic elements of glider training just before we shipped overseas.
This consisted of loading and unloading out of mockups of the gliders. They even had that
stupid exercise of jumping off of platforms again. (I hate that) A few of us got to actually go up
in a glider. My squad was chosen. We sat on the ground with a nylon cable attached to us and
suspended between two tall poles. The C-47 flew over and snagged the cable, pulling us into the
air. It wasn’t as big a jolt as you might think; it was like being on the end of a rubber band.
After a very short “glide” we landed back on the ground. This glider had wheels as well as skids.
Most of them only used skids. Other squads were towed off the ground by the plane.
The short ride did nothing to make us want to repeat the experience. On banks, the fuselage
would noticeably sag and the wings would protest. The structure of wood and canvas seemed
very flimsy. There was a rumor going around that they were going to tow the entire division
overseas in these things. We all prayed it wasn’t true.

    The squad leader was a man by the name of Newis. I didn’t like him very much as he
was very aloof. He got married just before we shipped out. I ran into him and his new bride at a
movie in Gainesville. She was extremely beautiful and nice. I can still see her in my minds eye
and wonder how she bore up at the news of his death. Newis was to meet a violent end while he
and I were lying side by side in a fire fight. I always felt his death was partly my fault.
Explanation later.

      The entire 103rd division had a review just before we shipped out. Flags, bands, generals
& everything else all lined up and paraded. An infantry division has about 15000 men in it. It was
very stirring. The officer’s wives were lined up along the street and most were crying. The
enlisted men’s wives were not allowed on the base for this.

     In late Sept. 1944, we took troop trains and headed east. This was the first indication we
were going to Europe instead of to the Pacific. We arrived at Camp Shanks New York near the
city. There we had some training, mostly climbing down nets off of simulated ships, loading
landing craft etc., and physical exercise.
I got two passes while there to go into New York. I tried to see the show “Oklahoma” but was
told it was sold out into the foreseeable future. The famous Stage Door Canteen was nearby and
I did go into it and met the “Girl who falls down” from that play. The significance of that part
now escapes me but it was a big deal at the time. I went up the Empire State building and some
other tourist attractions in the short time I had.

     We loaded all our belongings into duffel bags (45 pounds), a full field pack (15 pounds)
and our weapons & kit (25 pounds) and by slow painful stages proceeded to the ships. I don’t
now remember the details but it was one of the more unpleasant happenings.

OVERSEAS The cruise

     The ship I was assigned to was designed and built as a troop ship. This was a definite
improvement over the converted ocean liner. We did not share a bunk and did not have to take
turns going on deck. The meals were at predictable times and were always good. In fact, the
meals were among the best I had while in the Army.


     My bunk was on the lowest deck and was the most forward part of the ship. The ship was
so narrow at the front of the compartment that there was only room for one bunk. Mine.
We had a very stormy crossing and the movement at my bunk was unbelievable. When the bow
would rise to its highest point, it would shake VIOLENTLY and then plunge down and down to
its lowest point and then SWERVE back and forth several times. It was more thrilling than a
roller coaster but not much fun. Consequently, I spent most of the trip hiding on deck underneath
the life rafts. I escaped K.P. and other like details doing that. We did not have roll calls that I
can remember.
     The convoy we were in seemed very large to me. It included a baby aircraft carrier and
quite a few destroyers and escorts. We had blimps escort us out of New York. The aircraft
carrier was damaged by the high waves on the Atlantic part of the trip. The flight deck was bent
up at a 45-degree angle and the planes were useless. We had no submarine trouble as far as I
know. We did pass two burning ships but the captain said it was due to a collision during the
storm. We passed through the Strait of Gibraltar just at dusk and went to Oran in north Africa
but did not get off or stay long. We had another violent storm in the Mediterranean. It was so
severe that all the life rafts and boats were washed off the exposed decks. The sailors said it was
the worst they had seen. I slept through the whole thing. After 14 days from New York, we
arrived off of Marseille in the south of France. We loaded into landing craft and charged ashore
with no opposition. The war had moved to the north.

FRANCE: Marseille and the trip to the front.

     We carried the 45# duffel bag, the full field pack, and our weapons down a landing net
dangling above a landing craft at Marseille. This was a bit scary but very few were hurt. We
then began to march carrying all this stuff through the city and up a tall cliff to our staging area.
This took from about 10am to about 11pm that night. All of it was up a steep slope. It was very
difficult. After dark, a German plane flew over and dropped a flare. We understood that it did
that every night. Nobody shot at it. One of the weapons platoon men who drove a jeep with a
radio in it said that Axis Sally welcomed us to France. We were thrilled. (In a recent publication
of biographies of members of the division, the event often mentioned as the worst experience of
the war was this climb up from the docks at Marseille.)
     The division encamped in a very large mudhole north of Marseille. Living conditions
were pitiful in the pup tents. It rained so much we couldn’t keep the mud from flowing into the
tent. This turned out to be good training for what was to come. We had no lighting at night, so
on my only pass into town I attempted to buy a candle. The French people I talked to thought I
wanted to pray and would direct me to a church. There were two long, long lines of GIs snaking
through town. One line was to the Cat house and the other line was to the pro station. (Or so they
told me) Black market people were everywhere wanting American currency. Those GIs in the
know who had any money easily tripled their funds in the blink of an eye.
     I was assigned to a work detail, unloading supplies from ships at the Marseille docks.
There were mountains of supplies all over the area piled 20 feet high. I was working on
restacking a huge pile of Life Saver Mints which had been damaged. Those mints lasted me
quite a while.
There was a French civilian sitting up against a mountain of Anti-Freeze and was drinking one of
the cans. This is of course poison. Nobody stopped him. The Germans had scuttled most of the
ships in the harbor and about all you could see were the rusted bottoms. One narrow lane had
been cleared through the entrance. The ship I worked on was an English merchant. It was filthy.
It did not seem to have permanent bunks for the crew. They slept in hammocks which they
would take down during the day.
     In late October, we loaded into trucks and began the trip to the combat area. Before
getting on the trucks they had us put our duffle bags in a huge pile. These had all our personal
possessions and anything else of value we couldn’t carry in our pockets. They said we would get
them back. We never saw them again. Because I was the BAR man, I was assigned to stand up
in the front of the cargo area with the tarp pulled back. I was supposed to be the air lookout and
defense. Never mind that the Army had given us no ammunition. I didn’t mind this as I got to
see the countryside. Sitting under a closed tarp, the rest of the troops saw nothing but each other.
It did rain or drizzle constantly. This was not a plus. About 50 miles north of Marseille while
going up the Rhone valley, we passed a destroyed German convoy of trucks, tanks etc. that
stretched at least 35 miles, bumper to bumper. They had been trapped by the French
Underground, we were told, and destroyed by the Air Corps. I was surprised the Germans had
anything left. Another interesting thing I saw was our truck crashing into a fountain in Lyon. All
the troops in the truck were thrown forward and crashed into me. I understand that is a very
famous fountain.
     We arrived two days later near Epinal in Alsace. In the middle of a dark rainy night we
unloaded, attempted to get organized and marched to a staging area somewhere near there. At
about dawn we set up camp in another mudhole and began to get organized. We were issued
ammunition. I loaded all my clips with every fifth round being a tracer. My thumb was bloody
after all this. I was then told to take out all the tracer bullets as that was sure death to call
attention to your position. My thumb was in such bad shape that Nelson and Hafer did that for
     On Nov. 11, 1944, with a sleeping bag in our pack, ½ of a pup tent, a shovel or pick, water
canteen, spoon and raincoat we began our march to combat. The riflemen carried bayonets. I
was issued a knife with a 6-inch blade. Standard issue. It was dull and I had no way to sharpen
it. We all had one day issue of K-Rations. I liked K-Rations but nobody else did.


Combat Infantry Badge

     My memory of the days in the combat area is hazy with a few glaring exceptions. I have
no doubt that I have confused the sequence of events. I will try to stick to the facts as I remember
them and not make myself look more competent than I was I will NOT mention my more
cowardly activities unless it is interesting. I will avoid when possible the gruesome details of the
result of infantry fighting.
     The thing that first comes to my mind when I think of those days is the overwhelming
physical exhaustion. The constant movement, the lack of sleep, the difficult mountain terrain,
the cold, rainy and snowy weather made fatalistic zombies of us all.

The 103rd Division was assigned to the VI Corps which was part of the Seventh Army
commanded by General Alexander Patch. It was the Seventh Army’s job to penetrate the Vosges
mountains and hopefully cut off or destroy a large part of the German Army. The following are a
few published quotations from a recently written History of this campaign by a current Infantry
officer and a graduate of West Point. The name of this book is “When the Odds Were Even.”
It is the only campaign in Europe where neither side was able to use its air force nor tanks in any
meaningful way and the number of troops on each side was essentially the same.

“Remarkably, Seventh Army’s victory marks the first time in military history that an
attacker, by force of arms, had vanquished a defender entrenched in the Vosges.The GIs
were able to defeat his vaunted Wehrmacht opponent without the aid of fighter-bombers
and massed armored formations. Despite terrible climatic conditions and on terrain that
clearly favored a numerically superior defender, the GIs ousted Hitler’s legions from their
Vosges bastions “When the Odds Were Even.”
On December 1, after 14 days of backbreaking marches and sharp fighting in mountainous
terrain, thick woods, and winding trails, the 103d Division had broken through the Vosges
Mountains, a new “first” in military history and a feat which the enemy had considered

     We began our adventure with long columns walking up the road into the Vosges
mountains. My group was not in front of this column. The leading elements were often fired
upon by the Germans who would then disappear while the GIs dispersed into fighting groups to
look for them. This was of course a delaying tactic.

     We relieved elements of the Third and 45th Infantry Divisions. They were part of the VI
Corps and had been moved up from Italy along with the 36th Division and the Japanese
American combat team The Japanese team suffered 80% casualties in the next two weeks. We
didn’t do much better.
     They were a sorry looking bunch and seemed thoroughly whipped. They kept telling us to quit
bunching up and other good advice which we thought was unnecessary to fine soldiers like us.
Later, we became just like them. They had fought the preliminary battles of the campaign and
had captured most of the highest ridges. Their moral was very low. They had been fighting
defensive battles from prepared positions. In one of these holes (It even had a roof of logs) I
found a part of a “Frederick Leader,” my hometown newspaper. I was never able to determine
that anybody from Frederick was in that area and wondered if it might have been meant for me. I
never got any mail while I was overseas.

     We did send out patrols to our flank and front. This was usually late in the day before we
stopped for the night. I was INVARIABLY picked to lead the patrol (Because I had the
firepower, BAR). This resulted in my having to dig a foxhole after dark when everybody else had
sacked out. I never was able to finish a fox hole while I was in combat. Very often, we
“captured” a town or farmhouse and managed to sleep indoors. The squad took turns being
lookouts or outposts at night. I was not excused from this. We had some casualties (In the
Company) every day. Early on this was from Booby traps, mines and occasional artillery fire.
The villages we passed through often had booby traps behind the doors of the houses. We all
hated checking the houses for Germans for that reason. Sometimes, we didn’t check them and
said we did. We figured if there were enemies in them, they would have shot at us before then.
Another favorite trick of theirs was laying a hand grenade in the middle of the road as though it
had been dropped. Picking it up or moving it was not the thing to do. I personally never
witnessed any casualties from these things but we were told they were common.
     The first time I fired my BAR at anybody was a surprise to all concerned. It was early on
in our advance and we were advancing through woods in combat formation as we had heard
firing in the area. We were not the point group. As I stepped out of the woods onto a narrow dirt
road, I saw one of our squad raise his rifle and fire down the road. I looked that way and saw
what turned out to be a German staff car coming our way. As more of a reflex than a deliberate
action I emptied most of the 20 round clip into the car. One door opened as the car ran into a
ditch and one man fell out. There were three German officers and a civilian in the car. All were
dead. We didn’t hang around to find more about this or their intent. Later a Lt. whom I had not
seen before approached me about the incident. He seemed to think I had leaped into the road to
do battle and mentioned a possible citation for me. I did nothing to discourage him. Nothing
ever came of it. I was surprised at my reaction to this first shooting: I had no reaction. I think
this was typical of most of us.
     We lost two squad members on the second day. One was called back to the states for
Officer training (They forgot about me again) and another was sent back because he couldn’t take
the physical strain. He was the old man of the squad; he was 25. The rest of us were teenagers.
We got one replacement. His name was Prianti and he was from Brooklyn. I felt sorry for him
as he knew no one. I felt he would be the first to die. He was.
     The most physically demanding episode I have ever endured happened a day or two
before Thanksgiving. We climbed this mountain in the dead of night in the usual drizzling cold
rain. It was totally black and you could not see the proverbial hand in front of your face. We
were going in double file up a road so steep and muddy it was difficult to stand. Some Jeeps
with shielded lights were also on the road. I was so exhausted that I fell over backwards and
couldn’t get up. A Jeep was coming and the only way I could keep from being run over was to
roll off the road. The mountain was so steep at that point that I rolled quite a distance before I
could stop. I could not climb back up so I worked my way laterally back to the road. By then my
group was nowhere to be found. I rejoined them about dawn.
     We dug in on top of this mountain and awaited orders. While trying to dig my foxhole I
kept running into all this wire on the ground which impeded my activities. I was ticked off at
whoever left it lying around so I stupidly cut it and moved it. It turned out I had cut the
communication lines from us to Company Headquarters. They soon came by and repaired it. I
looked as innocent as I could. That night we got the only hot meal of the campaign. It was
because of Thanksgiving they made the effort. I don’t know how they got that kitchen up the
mountain. None of us had anything to put it in but our canteen cups as our mess kits were in the
duffle bags in Marseille. Salad on bottom, main course in the middle and desert on top. We
tried to eat this glop with our spoon in a driving rainstorm on the side of a steep muddy mountain
in very heavy brush. It made nearly everybody sick, including me. I smoked my first cigar
instead. My first ever. I forget where I got it.
     The next morning, I awoke in my foxhole feeling warm and cozy. I was covered by an
8inch blanket---of SNOW. We were snowed on occasionally, but not like this. The sun came
out and it was beautiful. Everything seemed right with the world. That mood didn’t last long.
     That night Nelson and I were on outpost on the flank of the mountain overlooking the

town of LaBolle which is near St. Die, our objective. The snow had melted and the foxhole was
full of water and mud. In the infantry, you can sleep anywhere and we took turns doing that.
S.O.P.. While I was on watch, something happened that scared the daylights out of me. I heard
this loud crashing through the brush and it was getting closer. I had no idea what it was and was
considering shooting in that direction. It turned out to be a bunch of horses. They ran by about
20 yards from us. I don’t know what spooked them or where they came from. The Germans
used a lot of horses in their transport. I felt very silly being so scared. Usually, you are too tired
to be scared. The next morning, we were relieved by other members of the squad and we started
back to rejoin the company. We sat down on a log to rest next to a couple of soldiers who
seemed to be sleeping. They were dead. We couldn’t tell what happened. Very depressing.

     Coming down from the mountain we encountered the Meurthe River. It flows in front of
St. Die and had to be crossed to get to St. Die. Here occurred one of my many cowardly acts.
That night, me and my squad (Nelson & Hafer) were ordered to cross the river and scout the
other side for 300 yards. We were to listen for enemy activity and capture one if we could. This
was being done by other groups up and down the river. As usual it was pitch black and raining
lightly. We got our rubber raft to the other side without incident but could not bring ourselves to
go further. It seemed suicidal as we could hear Germans. We did not want to capture one. We
reported the activity to the Captain. (The only time I saw him in the combat area) He said that
confirmed what he suspected. We were to expect a contested crossing. The engineers built a
pontoon bridge about a mile away and we crossed there with no opposition the next day. We then
proceeded down a road to the area where we had heard the Germans. The road was adjacent to
the river and a very steep brushy slope was adjacent to the road. The Germans had a line of
trenches about 30 ft up the bank from the road. They could not be seen. Our idiot Lt. ordered
“Fix Bayonets” and told us to climb that bank. It was impossible. We then found an easier way
to get up there and it was obvious the Germans had departed. This fortification was well made
and had been there some time. It looked like a WWI trench with small rooms cut into the side.
We then proceeded down the trench to make sure it was clear. As we rounded a turn, a German
soldier carrying their equivalent of a Bazooka stepped out of one of the side rooms. He seemed
no threat and as I was about to ask for his surrender, my ear was nearly shot off by Nelson who
was shooting the German. This made me mad as it was unnecessary. Nelson thought he had
won the war and was a changed man after that. He became a real killer. Later in St. Die, while it
was burning at night, an old civilian man ran into the street and Nelson tried to shoot him. He
missed, but I had to physically restrain him. From then on, he was the first to fire at anything.
Sometimes that was good.

     We captured St.Die as it was burning. The Germans had set it on fire for reasons known
only to them. It was virtually destroyed. The division then passed further into the High Vosges
where we began to run into serious opposition. Most of the activity is confusing in my mind.

St. Die was a charred ruin when the 103rd arrived

 American Memorial Building. St. Die.

This is part of a page from my Mothers Scrapbook she kept for
Me during the war. She did this for all the kids. The picture
Is of a BAR man in the mountains. This is the way we dressed.
The BAR has the bipod removed. I did that also as it was always
Hanging on the brush. Sometimes, I wished I still had it.

Some Episodes I Remember:

A muddy plowed field east of St. Die
     While crossing a very muddy plowed field in the rain, a German artillery shell hit
amongst us and tumbled end over end and stopped about 10 yards from me. It seemed to be
moving in slow motion but of course wasn’t. I took this as another sign that I was indestructible.
In this same field, we passed a German multi-barreled antiaircraft gun mounted on a wooden
cart. How or why it was there we didn’t know.

The town of Ville: A bitter fight and many casualties but not to my squad. We took over what
must have been a children’s hospital in the early afternoon. (All the beds were short) It was
deserted. It had an earthen berm all the way around it about 10 feet tall. The only land
overlooking the grounds was some distance away. I was bored and went out into the space
between the building and the berm and began playing with a stick, throwing it into the dirt as
though it was a spear. I fear I may have attracted attention doing that. I tired of that and went
back into the building just as Prianti and another of the squad came out and began to play with
the same spear.
The Germans dropped a mortar round right on them. Both were killed, Prianti not instantly. His
stomach was ripped open and he kept trying to raise up even after the medics said he was dead.
This upset me as I thought he was still alive. The squad was now down to nine.

A rough and tough truck driver:
     Rear echelon troops always seemed to strut around and act tough. This guy had pulled
over beside the road to let about 15 German captives pass. We were sitting beside the road
resting. This jerk jumps out of his truck and fires his little carbine into the prisoners. He hit one
in the foot. He said he hated Germans and would kill them all. It was the first time he had been
anywhere near the action. He was very proud of himself. An officer had to restrain several of
our company from beating him up. The officer said he would be disciplined. I saw the same
attitude when I began to penetrate the rear of the German army after my capture. The safer they
were, the meaner they were.

A Roadblock in an unremembered village:
     Our squad took over a house, one wall of which adjoined a German roadblock.
This was not a smart move on our part as roadblocks are usually defended. The house was well
built with old thick walls. That was fortunate as they scored a direct hit on it with something big.
We were eating K-Rations at the kitchen table. Two of the guys had
minor glass cuts but I didn’t. I was still indestructible. I found a French
medal in a drawer there. (We “liberated” only small things we could
carry) and what I thought was a miniature gold spoon. I am not sure of
the rank of this medal but I think it is one of their highest. It is the
Medal Militaire. I kept it through the war and still have it. When
questioned by the Germans about it I told them it was a souvenir. They
let me keep it.
That night while on guard duty, foolishly using a German Burp gun, a
civilian came up to me in the dark and wanted to talk. He kept trying to
give me wine which I refused. He didn’t know that I would have shot
him if I had my own weapon. I was afraid shooting off that very
distinctive burp gun would have started something unpleasant. The
miniature gold spoon turned out to be a gilded standard teaspoon. I was
so used to seeing the Army spoon that I didn’t recognize it for what it was.

A mountain top in the High Vosges
     While lying among trees looking across a deep valley at another mountain which
supposedly held the enemy, a fighter plane appeared out of the mist behind us and began firing. I
thought it was an American plane firing at the Germans. Others thought it was firing at us. I
found an ejected cartridge which thunked the ground near me which looked like the 50 cal. round
used in American fighters. That was the only plane we saw while in combat. The book about the
campaign said the Germans had captured an American plane and used it against our troops. This
might have been it.

A nice French lady’s house:
     We spent one night at a house where the occupant was still there. This was rare. The
lady made up a bed for me with clean sheets. We never took off our clothes at night but I made
an exception and took off my muddy boots. I was having trouble with nose bleeding at the time
and during the night I bled all over me and the bed. She spotted this and decided I was wounded
and raised a big fuss. Very embarrassing.

A French barnyard
     I learned the hard way what the tall piles of what appeared to be hay stacked up around barnyards
actually was. While moving through a farm in the dark, I leaned up against a pile of hay only to
discover it was a pile of manure with thin layers of hay between. I smelled worse than usual for
two days. I had very few friends for a while. The manure was very fresh.

Somewhere near St. Die:
     We were preparing to cross open ground from one small village to another. The village ahead of
us was being shelled by artillery using phosphorus rounds. These burst into the air with
spectacular trails of white flame. As several halftracks and other vehicles raced across the 1/4
mile opening, they were fired upon by a German gun, probably an antitank gun. Every time one
made it across successfully; everybody cheered. None were hit. When it became our time to
cross, I feared the worst. We weren’t very swift on our feet. I was lying up against the wall of a
house thinking that this was not a good way to make a living. I rolled over on my back to look
around and spotted a mother and her two children looking at me out of the window directly
above my head. They smiled at me as though this happened every day. I attempted to look stern
and fierce. I wish I had smiled back.


     On November 27 or 28 we began moving rapidly down out of the mountains into the
valley of the Rhine River. We were nowhere near the river but it was obvious we were coming
down out of the higher mountains. The weather had improved, the road was PAVED, which was
rare and there was no sniper fire or other activity of that type. I wondered if the war was over.
That afternoon it became obvious it wasn’t. As we neared the town of Itterswiller, one of the
leading elements spotted a German tank, the first we had seen. This was not good news as we
had no tanks. Our squad could not see it but one of the weapons platoon men came up with a
bazooka and climbed a high bank near the road and fired it at the tank. He later said it was
probably too far away to hit anyway. He missed it. This brought a barrage of mortar fire down
on our heads. Fortunately, it was probably their smallest mortar. Unfortunately, we were on an
extremely flat stretch of ground which had no place for cover. This was my most frightening
experience of the war. Lying fully exposed on the flat surface, the rattling and whirring sound of
the shrapnel passing over my head made me think of all the bad things that could happen, such as
missing parts.
I tried to put my entire body under my helmet. I may have succeeded as I wasn’t touched and
neither was anybody else in the squad. Others were not so fortunate.

     That night, we dug in on an open field into obviously defensive positions and were told to
expect an attack. There was occasional machine gun fire and artillery fire but not at our position.
On one occasion, tracers from a machine gun were deflected up into the air. We assumed it was
firing at a tank. Flares were set off constantly, but I never saw anybody. Nobody got any sleep.
The Germans were using their “Screaming Mimi” mortars. They have whistles on them and
make this unearthly wailing noise while they are in the air.

      Early the next morning, the firing had stopped, the weather was trying to clear and I
assumed wrongly that this had been another delaying tactic. As we got out of our exposed
foxholes, nobody fired at us. The sergeant explained where our assigned advance would be. It
was rare that anybody explained anything to privates. Our first objective was to be the town of
     Itterswiller was at the terminus of two plunging ridges. A paved highway went down
between the ridges, made a right turn at an intersection with another road and went about ½ mile
into the town. Our company (B Co.) was assigned the ridge on the right or south side. The ridge
was very heavily wooded and had an untended grape vineyard on the lower slope. (This is an
important wine growing area) There was a narrow dirt road that rose from the paved highway to
near the crest of the plunging ridge as it neared Itterswiller. My squad was assigned the point
position. We forded a small stream and climbed past the dirt road and climbed up to the crest of
the ridge. The brush was so thick, it was impossible to see more than a few feet but by lying
down and looking under the brush, visibility was probably 50 yards. At a prearranged time we
began descending the axis of the ridge, while other elements of the Division advanced down the
highway in plain view. Another Company, (C Co.) was moving down the other ridge. We had
not moved very far when we heard firing by a German machine gun directly below where we
were. Our squad scout crawled in that direction and soon called us that way. The machine gun
nest was dug into the edge of the grape vineyard in plain view of us who were above them. The
squad leader then called me and my team into position and we easily disposed of them. There
were two of them and they never knew what hit them. They were firing at the troops moving up
the valley. (C Co.) We could now hear a lot of firing by other Germans directly ahead and below
us. Following the same procedure as before, we surprised another position and got them before
they knew we were there. This was so easy that it was difficult for the squad leader to maintain
fire discipline. Everybody wanted to get into the act. So far, I had done most of the shooting.
This would lead to Sgt. Newis being killed.

    The next German position was different. The scout spotted a single German much
higher on the ridge and almost directly in front of us. He could only be seen by lying on the
ground and looking under the brush. I could only see his head. I fired and got him. He was in a
very narrow and deep hole he could stand up in. He was armed only with a rifle and I suspect he
may have been some sort of rear guard to protect against just what happened. He may have been
a sniper. He was one of the few enemy casualties I had the opportunity to see up close. He was
extremely young and to this day I wonder if it wasn’t a girl. The thought occurred to me at the
time but I could think of no way to find out that I was willing to try. The body was still standing
and I felt very bad about it.
     By this time we had come to the little dirt road and we began crawling up it as we could
hear more machine guns below it. It offered good cover from the guns below us. In the
meantime, the troops coming up the valley were being shot up by the remaining machine guns
and artillery fire. They were taking cover in the small creek which flowed beside the road. At
about this time, a German tank appeared at the intersection and began firing down the valley.
We continued to move up the little road. Sgt. Newis crawled up ahead and looked over the edge
of the road. He then raised up into a kneeling position and began firing his rifle. This was not
according to his procedure, as he should have called for the BAR team if he spotted something.
He then flopped down and began frantically waving at me to join him. I knew we were in trouble
from the expression on his face. I crawled up to him and asked him where the gun was. He
pointed over the edge and said “THERE, THERE, THERE.”. I saw a gun position about 200
yards away and thought that was it. I began to fire at it but he banged me on the shoulder and
said “No No There” I then saw the proper position only about 40 yards away. There were two
men in it and the bigger one was in the act of picking up the machine gun, slamming it into the
ground and pointing it at us. He was so close I could see the expression in his eyes. We made
eye contact. The other seemed smaller and was bent over in their hole. He may have been hit by
Newis. I had a bead on him and fired the BAR. I had only four rounds left in that magazine. As
I rolled over to get another clip, he fired. If I had not been in the act of rolling over to my right to
get another clip, that first round would have got me between the eyes. The first round grazed my
cheek just below my glasses. It felt and sounded like a firecracker exploding in my face. It
caused a line of bloody blisters. His following shots walked to the right and disintegrated Sgt.
Newis. Bones came out of his back and he was making this horrible sound. I was drenched by
his blood.
I then fired at the position again and I know I hit the gunner as firing ceased from his direction
but I could not see him anymore. I slid back into the road to reload where I couldn’t be hit from
below when he started firing again. There was a constant fire at the edge of the road which never
seemed to stop. It was a belt fed machine gun and he apparently had lots of ammunition. He was
keeping our heads down.
About this time, an American tank destroyer appeared at our position and wanted to know where
the German tank was. We told him but the tank was nowhere to be seen. The tank destroyer
looks formidable but has very thin armor. The machine gun had stopped firing and everything
seemed better. The tank suddenly appeared and began firing at us. The tank destroyer then
backed up and left. I don’t know why; he never fired a shot. The machine gun began firing

     We couldn’t move forward because we would be exposed to the machine gun. The squad Sgt.
ordered me to crawl down a line of brush toward the grape vineyard and see if I couldn’t get him.
It is not easy to crawl with a BAR ammunition belt so I took that off as well as my pack and
began to SLOWLY crawl down the slope. My heart wasn’t in it and after about five minutes
when I had progressed about 10 feet, the Sgt. told me to come back. About this time was when
the Germans decided we were a major threat and begin to unload on us with everything they had.
I am sure most of it was mortar fire, but the tank was definitely adding his gun to it. I thought at
one time that some of the shells were American but I am not sure. The firing was so intense the
very woods all around us were beginning to disappear. At least two of the squad were hit but not
seriously. The machine gun had stopped again and the Sgt. said “Lets Move Out.” I was still
trying to retrieve my belt and pack so I was the last to leave. HOWEVER, I was apparently
knocked unconscious by a near miss. I woke up later lying on my back, beside what had been a
tree with an 8-inch trunk which was only a stump. My head was
against that tree. A wood splinter about the size of a tent stake was
sticking out of my leg. This looked awful and bled profusely but was
actually superficial and gave me little trouble. I was covered with
blood, mostly from the Sgt. but a lot came from my nose which was
still bleeding and from my leg. At the time, I didn’t realize I had been
unconscious but was surprised to see that it was late afternoon and
nobody was shooting. (Time flies when you’re having fun) I got my
belt and pack and began to run in a crouch toward Itterswiller to catch
up with my squad. The area for about 100 yards had been completely
stripped of vegetation by all the shelling. It looked like a World War I
battlefield. The trees and vegetation began to thin out and I could see a
deep valley between me and Itterswiller. I could see no sign of the
squad as the terrain in front of me was open. I could see into
Itterswiller and could see Germans. I then decided I didn’t know what I
was doing and began a cautious retreat, wondering where everybody
was. There was no sign that the army had been there. I suspect but
don’t know that the squad probably pulled back instead of going forward. As I got back to near
where I was earlier, I began to hear a voice from the German gun we had so much trouble with.
It was the voice of a boy. He was crying Kammerad (Surrender) and was also crying for his
Mother. I considered shooting him but didn’t. I think maybe he was wounded and was the one
doing all the late firing. I am sure I got his partner.

About this time, I saw walking up from the way we had come what turned out to be an
officer Artillery Spotter. They normally will hide out in forward positions to direct artillery fire.
He wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there. I felt like a deserter. He said”Come
with me.” He took me back down the hill to where a group of dead and wounded were. He had a
jeep and driver there. He had me help one of the wounded into the jeep and we drove back down
the road and across a field to what was the Battalion Command post. He ordered me to wait
there for some Medics, and to guide them up the mountain to help the large number of casualties.
I did not see any of my squad among the casualties but most of the bodies were lying face down.
My BAR was lying in the jeep and as the Lt. began to drive away I hollered at him to get it back.
He ignored me. (To give him the benefit of the doubt, he may have thought I was hurt worse than
I was and wouldn’t need the gun. He may have meant the medics for me.) I suspect he really
wanted that B.A.R. I was then unarmed and felt naked. This probably saved my life. I would
have felt obligated to use it when in danger of being captured.


     My mother had written to various soldiers I had kept addresses on. One, a man
named Reeder, was a member of another company. I knew him at Okla. A&M. He came over
to B Co. And inquired as to what happened to me. (This was some time later, after I was
reported missing in action) He was told that I had gone out in front of the lines to rescue
somebody and did not return.

     This battle and this Lt. was mentioned in the Division History. The following quotations
are from that book.

During a series of small actions near Itterswiller, “B” company of the 410th Infantry
Regiment was subjected to intense mortar and small arms fire. The company suffered
heavy casualties, including all its officers. A red-haired, freckle-faced artillery officer came
to the assistance of the company and reorganized it. After that long, cold night of
November 29, “B” company was only a thin line of its former strength. Second Lieutenant
Clare J. Boyle of Ogden, Utah, was a forward observer whose communications with the
383rd Field Artillery battalion had been cut by German shells. The lieutenant gathered the
riflemen the next morning and successfully led them in a drive on Itterswiller behind the
protection of a rolling artillery barrage. For that action Lieutenant Boyle won the
Distinguished Service Cross.


     It seemed to me that officers got most of the medals. The privates didn’t last that long.
After I got back to the states, I tried to write to other members of my squad. All but Hafer, my
ammunition bearer died that day. Hafer was killed March 15, 1945. I did not see them die. I did
get a letter from the platoon Sgt. (Promoted to First Lt.) He said only nine men were left in the
company at the end of the day. (The company was around 200 men at that time.) I don’t know
how many of the casualties were killed but there were at least 43. I could not bring myself to
reply to the requests for information from the parents. I am still ashamed of that. The award
given to Lt. Boyle that day was the highest award given to anyone in the division during the war.
One other man and the Commanding General (Gen. McAuliff of “Nuts” fame got that medal.)
Since I helped him on part of his mission and he stole my BAR for the rest, I think part of that
award belongs to me. Ha

Another Note

     Tony Hillerman and Huckins were in the first patrol to enter Itterswiller the next day.
Huckins shot one German.

Back to the story

     There was a small garage attached to the house and I lay in it behind some lumber. I felt I
was so far behind the lines that I was probably safe. I was shaking so violently I almost bounced
off the ground. I don’t know if it was the cold or was the relief from the adrenalin. I was
miserable but safe (I thought; this was Officer country). I knew I would be in trouble for losing
my gun. I was very ticked off at the Lt. As it began to get dark, a high velocity shell penetrated
clear through the garage but didn’t explode in it. I was so exhausted and inept that this didn’t
even alarm me. I think I had some sort of shell shock. There was then quite a bit of shelling
going on and somebody came out of the main building and told me I could wait for the Medics in
the basement. The basement turned out to be a wine storage area with huge wooden barrels. I
crawled beneath one and passed out. I don’t know whether I dreamed it or not but someone
MAY have called down and said they were pulling out. If that did happen, I ignored it.
Sometime around midnight, I was waked up by very loud explosions inside the house above me.
Shrapnel was coming through the floor and making sparks on the cement. The house above me
began to burn. I could hear a tank running outside that was obviously firing into the house. I was
now fully awake and was trying to decide whether to burn up or climb out and let them shoot me.
I then heard a voice in good English holler that anybody who wanted to surrender should come
out and do so. He said his name was Pennington. I did not hesitate long and climbed the ladder
to get out. There was another soldier I did not know down there with me. He was just as
surprised as I was. When I got up to ground level, there was this huge tank with the gun inside
the house (That wall had fallen away) and a group of German soldiers all pointing their rifles at
me. There was no one who admitted being Pennington in evidence. They were all German
soldiers. While they were searching me for weapons (They missed my knife) the 22 American
Medics I had been waiting for marched out of the darkness in good order. They had no idea what
was going on. I suspect that the large casualty count suffered by B Co. was partly because of the
lack of aid by the medics. The wounded probably froze to death during the very cold night.

     They marched us in total darkness down the road toward Itterswiller. We passed quite a
few German troops and one more tank. About half way to the intersection we were challenged
by an American outpost who said “Halt, who goes there?” I was amazed and frightened by this
stupidity. He probably heard all the rubber soled boots Americans wear and didn’t know he was
outnumbered. Somebody (It may have been me) said “We are Americans.” There was a long
silent pause and the guards moved us on down the road. (In 1997, I met these two men who were
manning that outpost. The were manning a machine gun. I thanked them for not shooting me.)
As we got to the intersection and started toward the town, we came under American artillery fire.
One round landed amongst us. It was dark and difficult to see but as near as I could tell, two
were killed & several wounded. The heel of my boot was sheared off and the seat of my pants
was exposed. I was not hurt otherwise. Later, the Germans said they drove a captured jeep with
a couple of the wounded with stomach wounds to near the American lines and left them. I don’t
know if that was true. We were kept in a yard in Itterswiller for about an hour and then moved
into the second story of a place which seem to put on plays. There was a stage which we were
arranged upon. They gave us a can of meat to eat. It was nearly all grease or fat with a thin
column of meat down the middle. These troops were obviously mature and experienced soldiers
and treated us well. They wanted to know why we had surrendered. I suspect the young kids we
This map shows the terrain from St. Die to Selestat. The paths of the regiments is shown by
parallel lines with the name of the regiment written between the lines. I was in the 410th. The
path of the 410th went from St. Die through Ville where Prianti was killed, through Itterswiller,
near where I was captured and to Selestat, near where I spent the night of Nov. 30, 1944.

Quote from History: Heavy pressure exerted by the attackers forced a passage of the Vosges
Mountains when the 410th, outflanking the mountain pass from Provencheres to Fouchy, fought its way through the
minefields and mud to the town of Ville on November 25th.

                St. Die                    Ville

Captured here
Quote: German defenses of the walled city of Selestat were cleverly conceived and well executed. Selestat, a city of
15,000, was situated like a pancake in a frying pan, rising up out of flat ground---a defending machine gunner’s
dream. Around the town, as an outer defensive ring, the enemy had deeply dug-in machine gun emplacements.

encountered in the fight were probably the Hitler youth that they committed in the late stages of
the war. I don’t really know. The next morning, we moved out to the South toward Selestat and
the beginning of my Prisoner of War stage.

PRISONER OF WAR Nov. 30, 1944 to May 3, 1945

    It was dark when we arrived in Selestat. There were about 15 of us. They put us into a
box car and left us there for some time. We nearly froze to death, actually. I got severe frost bite
and had difficulty walking when the opportunity came. When we were let out, we began walking
to the east. We crossed the Rhine River on a raft pulled by cables. We then walked a few more
miles and were put on a civilian train. The passengers looked at us as though we were from outer
space. I was surprised the trains were operating. I thought they had all been destroyed by our air
     We were taken off the train in Freiberg and marched down the street to a school building
which had obviously been bombed. Workers were still digging children out of the debris. On
this short march we were pelted by a few rocks but our guards made them stop. The school was
next to the tracks which were not hit. I saw no evidence of other bomb damage. Very strange.
Next, we marched up onto the side of a hill overlooking the rail yard and sat there for
sometime. This was the Black Forest and seemed very sinister. It had now been about three days
since we had anything to eat and we were beginning to feel it.
     At some point we were transported to a camp at Ludwigsburg north of Stuttgart. I can’t
remember now how we got there. This was a converted dairy. I don’t know if it was a regular
POW camp or not. I saw very few people, Germans or POWs. We spent several days there.
There were no bunks. You either slept on a wire frame that was meant to hold a mattress or on
the cement floor. While I was there, the Germans gave me a pair of shoes to replace my
damaged boot. They were apparently French Army issue. They replaced my torn pants and my
shredded and bloody field jacket with almost new American issue. I don’t know where they got
them. They did not have any stenciled name in them. They also gave me a French Army
overcoat. My knife was discovered at this point and my steel helmet was finally confiscated. I
am sure they must have fed us but I can’t remember.
     A large group of prisoners was loaded into two boxcars and began what we were told was
a trip to permanent camps in the interior. We were loaded into a boxcar with so many people
that we could not all sit down at the same time. We were told this would be a short time because
we were to transfer to something else. They also said the camps where we were going were very
nice and that we would like them. None of this was true.
     We had been allowed to keep our canteens filled with water. This was fortunate since
they didn’t let us out of that boxcar for about seven days. We got organized and managed to
arrange for times to sit down and rest. Several vicious fights broke out because of the crowded
conditions. Four men died on the trip. I don’t know for sure what happened but the fights may
have contributed to this. Since the call of nature had to be answered and there was no place to do
it, we had a problem. The four bodies were stacked up near one wall and people relieved
themselves on the other side. This train trip was the first period of intense starvation we were

This is a map of Germany and surrounding areas. The places indicated in color are some of the
places mentioned in this paper.

subjected to. Most of us had some scraps of food in our pockets so I doubt if any of the deaths
were because of starvation. I had a place to stand near a grilled window which let in air. We
spent at least three days in the rail yards at Ulm. (I saw a sign out the cracks) It was snowing
heavily outside and I was able to scrape off enough snow to put more water in my canteen.
Every time we stopped anywhere, we would pound on the walls, and demand to be let out.
Nothing happened and nobody acknowledged
     The doors to the train were finally opened and we were let out at the town of Dachau. We
knew nothing of the infamous concentration camp there so were not alarmed. They said the trip
took so long because of air raids and that no guards had accompanied us. They seemed shocked
at our condition and at the presence of the dead. Dachau is near Munich but we were headed for
Stalag VII A near Mooseberg, northeast of Munich.

     A strange thing happened to me and one other fellow while we were there. We were
transported several blocks to a small building outside a barbed wire stockade. We were
questioned for several minutes in only French. They were very interested in my French Medal but
let me keep it. We were both wearing French clothing and they probably thought we shouldn’t be
with the Americans. They then questioned us in English and took us back to the train. The
group we had been with was nowhere to be seen. We rode in a German troop compartment to

     This seven days in that boxcar changed my personality I think. From that point on, I lived
completely inside myself. It seems as though I spent the rest of the war in total isolation. I
cannot clearly remember anybody as an individual. I made no friends -- or enemies.

STALAG VII A About the middle of December 1944

This camp was one of the largest in Germany. It had many prisoners from various nations and
services scattered over a large area. I could see very little of this as visibility was limited by
buildings and barbed wire fencing. The first place I was put (with the other “Frenchman”) was
not typical of what was to come. There were just the two of us in a small room with no bunks.
The fenced area was small and had its own latrine. They gave us a straw mat which turned out to
be crawling with man eating fleas. Their bite made sores the size of a dime. It was miserable.
We stayed there only two days and were sent to the more typical quarters.
     The compound I was assigned to was typical of the entire camp I am told. There were
four buildings arranged in a rectangle and surrounded by a double barbed wire fence with coils of
wire between the fences. There is a trip wire about 6 feet from the fence with signs which stated
that anybody crossing that wire would be shot. They meant it. The barracks were about 100 feet
long and about 40 feet wide. The walls were lined with wooden platforms with shelves going to
the ceiling which served as bunks. They were stacked four high. I had the top bunk. I was glad
about this as it was usually warm near the ceiling. It would have been very bad if it had been
summer. There was a pot bellied stove near the middle of the barracks but we had no fuel for it.
We didn’t need it as the large number of men in tight quarters supplied sufficient heat. At one
end of the barracks was the quarters of the noncommissioned officer who was in charge of the
barracks. He was an English Sgt. We were all American privates. Prisoners are segregated by
rank. Only the privates were required to work.
     My compound had two barracks with Americans and two barracks with Polish soldiers.
We had very little to do with each other. They seemed to exist better than we did. We were near
the edge of the camp. There was one compound between us and open country. The compound
next to the perimeter was for Russians. While I was in the camp, at least four of the Russians
were shot because of the trip wire. One time, we had two men wounded while in our barracks.
The bullets fired at the Russians came through the walls and injured them. We were told they
treated the Russians differently because the Russians did not recognize the Geneva Convention.
There was a large latrine with no running water. The place would occasionally fill up and run
over. It was as big a mess as you might imagine. The “Honey Wagon” usually came before that
happened. There were no facilities for washing. There was one outside faucet but we never got
any water from it as it was always frozen.

Camp Food

Breakfast: There was no breakfast. The guards normally brought in a barrel of hot Ersatz coffee
or tea. The “tea” was normally so bad that we usually used it to wash with. It was hot however.
Lunch: If we were in the camp at lunch time (This was rare as we usually were out working
somewhere during the day.) We sometime got a watery soup usually made of potato peelings.
Sometimes, we got nothing. In the evenings (If we were in camp) we got a bowl of soup and a
slice of bread. The bread was awful and actually consisted of 22% sawdust. It had a bitter taste
and I have not liked brown bread to this date. On Fridays, we got the bread and a slice of
Bloodwurst. It looked like raw meat but wasn’t too bad. Sometimes we got barley soup which
was thick and good. This diet was barely adequate to keep you alive and everybody lost much
weight. What we really lived on was Red Cross Parcels. These were made up in the U.S.,
Canada and sometimes Australia. We were supposed to get one parcel per week. We actually
received one parcel to be divided among seven men. All the cans and packages were opened to
discourage hoarding for escape attempts. The packages usually contained canned meat, raisins or
prunes, crackers, canned butter, jelly, powdered milk, candy bar and cigarettes. The cigarettes
were the medium of exchange in Germany and could be used for bribes and food. It was difficult
to acquire an unopened pack of cigarettes. They were worth their weight in gold (Or Bread).
The dividing up of the package was a long and careful process. We would even count the
individual raisins. Food was the main topic of conversation. Everybody planned to run a
restaurant or grocery store when they got out of the Army. When we went on work details out of
the camp, we were usually fed a nourishing bowl of soup. This was usually in Munich but could
be anywhere in the nearby towns.


Every morning, usually around 3:30 to 4:00 A.M., we were called out of the barracks and lined
up to be counted. “Charlie,” the guard who had this duty was a close copy of Colonel Klink of
TV fame. He rarely completed the count successfully. He became enraged when he failed.
Mostly he was O.K. To make sure everybody left the barracks, another guard with two vicious
dogs would turn the dogs loose in the barracks. It the dogs found no one, the guard would then
enter the building and inspect it. In my memory, no German entered our barracks unless it was
empty. If any of the prisoners were too sick to come out for the count, we carried them out. I
feel sure the dogs would have killed anybody left in there. There were supposedly a hospital and
doctors to treat any of us who were too sick to work. The few who did sign up for sick call never
returned to the barracks. We don’t know what happened to them. They may have been assigned
to another group but I wasn’t curious enough to get sick and find out. After the morning count,
we returned to the barracks long enough to get the hot tea, gather into work groups assigned and
went back outside to be counted again and marched to the train station. We usually went to
Munich. This took several hours as it was slow going. This routine was almost every day
including Sundays. I don’t remember the time we arrived back at camp but it was always well
after dark.
Camp life was neither dreadful nor pleasant. I guess it was best described as uncomfortable and
boring. It also smelled very bad.


     The troops who captured me asked no questions that I remember. When questioned at
Ludwigsburg, they told ME my division and company. They were mostly interested in my
French medal and did not seem to believe me when I told them I found it. They laughed when I
said that. I think that medal caused me to be singled out on various occasions.
     At Dachau, I was questioned in French and had to retell the story of the medal. They
were making sure I was an American soldier, I suppose.
     At Stalag VIIA, I had an unusual session with a questioner. I was called from the
barracks by name (Unusual) and taken to a part of the camp I had never seen before. To me, it
looked like a western movie set with board sidewalks and false front buildings. The guard took
me up narrow stairs to a room on the second floor and told me to wait. He left. There were two
chairs and a table with several pamphlets. I read these. They were propaganda stories about
Jews. It reported in great detail how Jewish children are taught that it is all right to steal from
non jews and many other things along that line. Being young and stupid, I believed some of it
but most was obviously outrageous. After about 30 minutes, the questioner arrived. He was very
friendly, knew my unit and seemed to know that I had been at Okla. A&M. He said he had been
in Stillwater and knew the country well. He did not ask me any military questions but the subject
of the medal came up again. He asked me if I thought we would win the war. He seemed
genuinely surprised when I said yes. As far as I know, I was the only one in the barracks to be
questioned at that place in that manner. This was soon after the “Battle of the Bulge.”

Remembered Happenings

Christmas: We didn’t work that day. We gathered around the English Sergeant and listened to
his war stories. He was captured in Africa. He thought we were going to beat him up and was
greatly relieved to find out otherwise. I was in favor of the beating as he seemed to rarely be on
our side.

Early January: Many new prisoners arrived in camp. Most were from the 106th division who
were captured during the Battle of the Bulge. News was hard to come by and we hung on every
word they had to say. It was not encouraging. It looked like a long war. The Germans we talked
with were very animated and encouraged by this.

Often: When Munich was bombed, we could feel the ground vibrate in the camp. The distance is
about 40 miles. Bombers rarely overflew the camp. If they did, we were not allowed out of the

Roof Repair: While working in Munich, I was assigned to lay tiles on the “New City Hall.” The
German name for it was something like Rathaus. This is a famous and ancient building which
has moving statues that come out of a clock. The tiles were broken mostly from falling
antiaircraft fragments. Most of the bomb damage had been repaired when I worked on it. The
building is about 15 stories high with a very steep roof. I was working up there one day when we
had an air raid. To get off of the roof you had to crawl up to the crown, go through a hole and
climb down a series of wooden ladders. I made it in record time. I also worked on the roof of a
church across the square. It had and even steeper roof and had no wall around the edge if you
slipped. Scary.

Landshut: This was a beautiful and quaint town east of Mooseburg, almost in Czechoslovakia. It
had never been bombed as far as I know. We went there occasionally to unload Red Cross
supplies for the camp. Landshut seemed to be a gathering point for bomber raids on Munich.
They would gather overhead, get into formation and proceed toward Munich. The Air Raid
Sirens were generally ignored because of this. On one memorable day, this changed. The
bombers formed up further out than usual and then proceeded to come at us aligned with the
railroad tracks where we were working. When the lead plane dropped a smoke bomb, we knew
we were the target. The guards took off running and we did the same. This was an extremely
accurate bomb run. Almost no damage was done to the surrounding buildings but the rail yards
were turned into a churned up mess. My immediate group had no serious casualties but the
bomb blast blew me through the air, ripped my French Overcoat (Again) and blew my glasses off
my nose. I caught them in midair. It all seemed to happen in slow motion. We returned there
the next few days to repair the damage. There were boxcars standing on end, completely under
ground level. I have never seen such thorough devastation. A German hospital train was on the
tracks at the time and virtually all the occupants were killed. The smell was as bad as you might
     Fred Sollars, a friend and coworker of mine at Humble Oil & Refining Co. was in Air
Corps Intelligence and was responsible for planning that raid. He said the train was the target
and they had reliable information it was a munitions train and had been painted with the red
crosses as camouflage. The Landshut rail center had not been bombed before because of its Red
Cross connection. He felt the Germans were misusing the area, (Thus the bombing) I saw no
sign of any munitions or other weapons in the debris we worked on. Sollars refused to believe
me and was very incensed with my remarks. I dropped the subject as he was my boss at the time.
     One happy thing occurred on this outing. A wrecked box car was leaking a fluid that
turned out to be condensed milk. We ate it until we got sick and filled up our canteens with it to
take back to camp. We mixed it with snow and made ice cream. Some of the guys had jelly left
from their red cross ration and mixed it with the milk to make even better ice cream.


     While digging a ditch with many other prisoners just outside the outer fence of Stalag
VIIA, I made the mistake of laughing at a guard who was totally bald. He was mad at something
and his head was amazingly RED. He saw me and ran over and knocked me down with his rifle
butt. He would have hit me again but a very large prisoner (a black man) stood over me and the
guard backed off. The black man was not from our barracks but I certainly appreciated him. I
refused to go to the hospital as was suggested. I was not hurt bad. This was the only instance of
personal cruelty I suffered and I probably asked for that. There were many instances of
impersonal cruelty.


Interesting People:
While working outside the perimeter, digging a ditch, an Indian NCO, dressed in classical Indian
military uniform made a point of talking to me on two successive days. He explained to me that
the nation of India actually invented the airplane, was the first to circumnavigate the globe and
discovered America before anyone else. The accomplishments of India were endless. He wore a
turban which he unwound on one occasion. It was very very long. He wanted to know what I
knew about India. When I told him I had heard of Bengal, he seem insulted. He was not under
guard and seemed to do as he pleased.

A man in our barracks was called Joe E.Brown (Brown was a famous comic at that time) When I
tried to talk to him about his unusual name, he was very evasive and had a foreign accent. He
kept to himself and rarely talked with anybody. He was never friendly and never smiled. It
turned out he was a Belgian fugitive from the Nazis who had somehow traded places with a GI.
It was safer for him in a military prison. He was in the group living in the boxcar with me when
Munich was liberated. He put on civilian clothes and headed for home. He still did not smile.

There was an American? GI who frequently visited our barracks. He was always dressed in a
clean uniform which had even been pressed. He made various announcements pertaining to
general instructions from the camp management. He announced church gatherings. He had no
guard and was passed through the gates without challenge. We thought he was a spy. He
brought us a newspaper which was supposed to be by and for prisoners. It seemed to be legit
except for one article which reported an American tank with two 90mm guns on it. It went on to
ask “Has anybody seen this?” I don’t think there was such a tank. Another time, he asked if
anybody wanted to join a new unit of POWs which was being formed to fight the Russians. The
Germans really believed the Americans and Russians would fight when they met.

One of the guards who spoke excellent English turned out to be from Chicago. I asked him why
he left but he evaded the question. He taught me enough German that I was able to communicate
with the non english-speaking guards. I was generally the “Dolmetcher” interpreter on work
details. I always asked the guards who would talk to me what their worst experience of the war
was. He, along, with a couple of others mentioned the naval gunfire in Italy, particularly Anzio.


Interesting Places: We often worked in the Marienplatz which is the historic center of Munich.
They attempted to keep it cleared of debris. (Most of the center of Munich was a sea of bricks
and wreckage with no apparent streets) The Munich Opera House is in this area. It had a huge
hole in the center of the ceiling and snow would accumulate below it. We worked at clearing
that. The Opera house is a classic and was still beautiful. The “New City Hall” which I
mentioned previously was also in this area. Hitler’s famous beer hall is nearby and we often had
lunch there. I saw no advertising that this was that place, but the guards assured us it was. There
was a large picture of Hitler there but they were usually in all the buildings in that area. Many
official looking men wearing the typical black leather coat were usually seen in that area. I
cannot recall ever seeing a German woman. The beer hall did have Russian women working in
it. They also had Russian women working at the camp. I worked at the main railroad station
quite a bit. It is located about four blocks from the square. It was heavily damaged but it was
obvious that it was formerly a work of art. Medieval statues lined niches in the walls. My main
job was cleaning mortar off of bricks so they could be reused. I bet half of the new buildings in
Munich have my bricks in them.
     We often were required to repair the railroad. Usually by filling up bomb craters but
sometimes laying rails. The rails were shockingly heavy and many of us were too weak to be
much help. The guards did not push us too hard.
     A small group of us were put in trucks (Very Unusual) and sent south to a ski resort
called Garmisch-Partenkerchen. We did very little work around a ski lift and returned to camp.
This was a long journey for practically no purpose. Very mysterious.
     Sometime in late March or early April, a group of us were sent to Munich to live in a
boxcar. We would be there until Munich was liberated in early May. There may have been other
groups sent elsewhere but our group of about 50 men were all I saw. We stayed in two boxcars
in the extensive rail yards about ½ mile from the center of the city. I suspect that Stalag VII A
was in danger of being liberated and they moved out the workers to get a little more sweat out of
us. We suspected they put us in the rail yards in hopes they would not be bombed. It didn’t work.
We did the usual shovel work around town. Nothing much had changed but we worked longer
hours. This was rarely anything really hard. When the Americans bombed Munich, it was
usually daytime and we would not be in the rail yards but would be in outlying areas. We had no
narrow escapes from the Americans. This was not the case with the night bombings which were
apparently done by the British. We were locked in the boxcars at night close by a German giant
searchlight. Fortunately, most of their bombs seemed to be incendiaries but not all. One night a
bomb hit so close, our boxcar was lifted off of the track. After that, they let us out of the boxcar
during raids. We huddled in large bomb craters which were very common nearby. Watching the
raid in progress was unreal. The planes were coming over very low and when they were caught
in the searchlight, you could see the numbers on the side. When these planes were hit, they burst
into flames and sometimes exploded. The only American planes I saw hit merely smoked. I saw
none of them crash.
     The Germans had virtually stopped feeding us in the last weeks of the war. They did
however, give our group an unopened box of Red Cross food. Having unopened cans of food in
my possession inspired me to take one more chance at being a hero. The lax attention of the
guards during the nighttime air raids made escape rather easy. Staying escaped was another
matter. It was impossible to escape from the prison camp but was ridiculously easy on work
details in Munich. Very few were successful.
Allowing myself to be captured had embarrassed me and I wanted to do something to atone. We
were all supposed to escape if we could. While in the camp at Mooseburg, we were warned to
not try for Switzerland. If the Swiss didn’t shoot you, they routinely turned you over to the
Germans. Their border was well guarded.

This is a portion of my “escape map"

I had found a map from a geography book in
the rubble of Munich which showed me where
Munich was in respect to the rest of the world. (I
wasn’t really sure until then) It also had a small map
of Munich which indicated the railroad I was on
went generally West. My plan was to slip away
during the next raid, follow the tracks until morning
and hide in the woods or something until the next
night. I stuffed all my food items and a five pack of
cigarettes in my clothes and took off. Another
fellow was going to do the same thing. We left
together but soon separated. I don’t know what
happened to him. I kept telling myself “Don’t do this dumb stunt,” but I did it anyway. I walked
through the city into sparsely built up areas and into almost open country before dawn. I then
ducked into a small wood which was strewn with rubble and prepared to lay up for the day. The
rubble was from a group of soldiers manning an antiaircraft battery. They captured me, took all
my supplies, and took me back to the train. They thought I was very funny. I was not punished
for this. They had recently changed the guards and the new guards apparently had been
instructed to be nice to us. They saved us from the S.S. and other dangers. The officer in charge
of them was another matter. He screamed and hollered at me but did me no harm. He put me in
charge or our group and said I was responsible for their behavior. If any of them got away, I was
to be severely punished. I made no effort to enforce this but the other POWs seemed to accept me
as their leader. Our group had dwindled to about 20 men. I don’t know what happened to the

Munich before the war

 Munich, after the war

The picture on the left shows the Rathaus in the right foreground. The twin spires in the background are part of a
medieval church called the Frauenkurche. The picture on the right is the way it looked when I worked there. This
is the area in which I usually worked. The railroad station is off to the left, Hitler’s beer hall and the Munich Opera house is off to the right. Some people still lived in this area in caves dug into and under the ruins. We occasionally tried to dig out buried shelters. This was never successful.

     While working and living in Munich, I had a front row seat to witness the air war. The
base for the German Jet planes and their Rocket plane were near Munich and flew over the city
quite a bit. On every day of good weather, American P-47 fighters would circle the city hoping
to dive on one of these planes. I never saw them catch one. Jets are common now but then, it
was amazing. We couldn’t see them because they were so far in front of their sound.

     On the occasion of Roosevelt’s death, the Germans took us to a place and gave us a
shower. There were other prisoners there and we were allowed to line up and parade to show
respect for our fallen leader. This was actually the Germans suggestion. At that time, the front
was getting close to Munich as you could hear the artillery in the distance. Occasionally, a
155mm round would fall on the outskirts of Munich. We marched about one block to the shower
in step and actually sang a marching song. White flags began to appear out of the windows in
front of us. The civilians thought they had been captured (Liberated?) This enraged the officer
in charge of us who began to scream at the world in general. Most of the flags disappeared. We
had a bad moment when we saw the shower room. By then, we knew of the gassing of political
prisoners and this place fit the description of those facilities. It was a large room with nozzles
projecting out of the ceiling. The floor was wooden which did not seem appropriate. It did have
two drains. They did turn on warm water and it was wonderful. I almost fainted as did others.
When I took off my clothes, I had no underwear. Only the waist band had survived the months
without washing.

     As the front came closer to Munich, it looked as though the Germans were going to
defend the city. Machine guns and antitank guns were being put up all around. This was bad
news as street fighting would probably be the end of us. However, just before the Americans
entered the city, they all disappeared. There was still a lot of shooting and the nice guards we
now had ran the civilians out of a nearby apartment house and installed us in it. It had a
basement converted into an air raid shelter. The guards said the S.S. had orders to shoot any
POWs they found and advised us to stay put and they would guard us. All but the officer in
charge and one guard promptly disappeared. We took the weapons away from those two and
figured we could guard ourselves better. I have the officers helmet and a German Battle Flag
which he had in his gear. We didn’t seriously harm them but the officer was stripped and
confined to a closet. He can thank me for that. He put me in charge after all. The city was in
utter confusion and I figured it was O.K. to look around outside. I wanted to go back to the
boxcar and get something I left there. It was about 1/4 mile away through tall brush. While
making my way through the brush, someone fired at me from long range. The bullet snapped
above my head and I could hear the report a moment later. He fired one more time but by then I
was running and dodging. I don’t know who it was. I thought it was stupid of me to risk my life
when I was about to be liberated.
     When American tanks appeared in the streets, it was a scene of celebration. Even the
Germans seemed glad to see them. Prisoners, civilians, soldiers of unknown loyalties all filled
the streets. A passing tank gave me a box of C-Rations which I took back to the shelter and told
the troops we were saved. We had no way to open the cans but found a screw driver and opened
a few. We ate till we popped. About two days later (May 5, 1945 I think) we were organized by
an American team who checked us for health or wounds etc. . Most of us were semi-starved but
didn’t fully realize it until they put us on a scale. I weighed 122 pounds. My normal weight at
that time was about 175 pounds. The chicken American officer in charge told us that the Army
was confiscating any binoculars we might have. In searching the apartment house we were in, I
had found a German Naval binocular which would have been mounted on a ship. It was large
and heavy. The lying officer took it away from me. There was no such order issued by the
     After a few days, we were flown to LeHavre on the French coast. We flew over Paris and
I saw the Eiffel Tower. Looking at Europe from the air was interesting. It looked like the entire
continent was covered with bomb craters. We were kept in strict confinement in LeHavre and
were fed a strict diet so we wouldn’t overeat. They told us horror stories of POWs eating
doughnuts in large quantities and dying. After a few days, we were put on a ship and headed for
the States. This time, I had a bunk in the rear of the ship, right above the propellers. The
vibration was pretty bad but the seas were calm. I was assigned to clean some officers quarters
(Welcome back to the Army) but that was my only duty. I ate at every opportunity. We landed
somewhere in New Jersey, sent to some camp in Missouri and then to home with a 30-day
I had thought to get a lot of sympathy for being so starved, but by the time I got home I
had gained so much weight that I was a bloated 185 pounds. I was as fat as a pig.

HOME & Reassignment

     I gave several speeches to groups in Frederick while I was there. Most of what I said
sounds corny to me now. (Mother saved the newspaper clippings.) The bomb was dropped on
Japan while I was home but I was still concerned that I might be shipped to that area. I reported
for duty to Hot Springs Ark after my furlough and was promoted to Corporal. I went to an NCO
club for the first time, thinking it would be a big deal. I was disappointed and never went to one
again. The war against Japan ended while I was at Hot Springs.

     I was then sent to Camp Lee Virginia. I stayed there a few weeks and made several trips
to Richmond and Washington, D.C. I loved Washington. While at Camp Lee, I was assigned a
rifle to take care of. This depressed me to the point of complaining to my
mother who promptly wrote the chaplain of this outfit. He called me in
for comforting. I was very embarrassed.

My next and last assignment in the Army was at Walter Reed
Hospital in Washington, D.C. Originally I had a duty to carry mail
around to permanent residents of the hospital. Among those was Gen.
Pershing from World War I. I saw him only once as his aid usually
intercepted me. He was not very alert.

      I was later put in charge of a branch post office in Silver Spring
Maryland. Two WACs worked for me and were not pleased with the
arrangement. We got along fairly well. This was part of the hospital system and seemed to be
filled with amputees. I always felt guilty that I walked around on two legs.
      I spent much time while in Washington at the Smithsonian Institute. In general,
Washington was a very pleasant assignment and if I thought I could stay there, I might have


In December of 1945, I was told I had sufficient points for immediate discharge. I was
also told that I was in line for “several Commendations.” He wasn’t sure of their status. To get
them, I would have to remain longer in the Army. He said I might get them anyway. I elected to
leave immediately. I went home and to college and never looked back----Until Now


First furlough 1944

Captured German flag after war

Okla. A&M

My bunkmate, Bernard Brown

Only date



As I bent over to pick up the ticket from the
photographer, I was bumped and my
Pocket was picked.

Friend from A&M

This helmet and flag belonged to Oblt. Zirzelmeier
The officer in charge of the boxcar group