PAPA'S WAR , PART 6
Late at night on May 3rd Colonel Donovan Yeuell's 411th Infantry Regiment motor marched more than 40 miles, through the 409th advance positions in Innsbruck and up toward Brenner Pass, one of only two routes through the Alps between Innsbruck and Italy. As was his style, Col. Yeuell rode in his jeep, the second vehicle in the convoy, behind the lead tank. Our radio truck was the third vehicle followed by the rest of Task Force Brenner. We traveled with our headlights ablaze for the first time since before we were committed to action at St. Diè. The weather was lowering and getting worse by the minute. The temperature dropped below freezing again and it began to snow.
Thousands of German soldiers, in awe of the glaring headlights of the 175 vehicle column, poured out of the forests and surrendered. They were directed to discard their weapons and were sent, disarmed and unguarded, back toward Innsbruck to our PW cages. We advanced at very high speed considering road conditions and weather and secured Brenner Pass at 040151 (May 4th, 1:51 a.m.), without opposition.
The task force stopped for the night and the CP was set up in a building right next to the Brenner Pass border check point gate.
Incident in Colle Isarco, Italy, May 4, 1945
Our radio team was sleeping in a nearby barn. Around 040600 (May 4, 6:00 a.m.) two radio operators from the regimental command net, who had been in the CP all night, shook me and Seymour Fader up from a sound sleep and told us that Field Marshal Kesselring had surrendered all of the German forces in Italy and that, during the night, the 103d Division had linked up with the 88th Division of the Fifth Army. They proposed an excursion down into Italy and suggested that this might be the last chance that we would have to "liberate" a Luger or a P-38 pistol.
Ever since we got into Alsace we all knew that Fader was a good guy to have around. He spoke a mishmash of Yiddish, "Hollywood German" (English schpoken mit eine cherman occent), and fractured German put together from a few phrases from the Army's German Phrase Book. Somehow he managed to make himself understood so he frequently interpreted for us.
We were too sleepy to think clearly or we might not have gone. However, Seymour and I piled into their jeep with them and took off into Italy. There was a faint morning glow in the east as we set out.
Probably closer to the truth about the reported linkup was that after we had secured Brenner Pass, an M-8 Recon Car from Division Recon had dashed down into Italy in the dark of night and had met a recon team from the 88th Division somewhere in Italy. They shook hands and then both hightailed it back where they came from.
As we soon found out, the territory between our perimeter and theirs was still in the hands of the Germans who, because of deteriorating communications, had not received word that they had been surrendered and who had no idea that we were within a hundred miles of Brenner Pass. In the dark, they had probably mistaken our M-8 Recon Car for one of their own vehicles and had not challenged it.
Blissfully unaware of the situation, we drove south and entered the little town of Colle Isarco, about eight miles south of Brenner Pass. After rounding a bend in a narrow street, we ran into a company of armed German soldiers. The street was so narrow that the jeep driver could not turn around or back up so he floored it. Fader shouted something in passable German that sounded like, " Make way for the whole American Seventh Army." The Germans, who had their rifles and burp guns slung over their shoulders, flattened against the walls of the buildings on both sides of the street as we barreled right down the center. Their faces were just inches from ours as they struggled to unsling their weapons. It reminded me of riffling through a Pinochle deck. We got through the soldiers and out of sight around a bend in the road without a shot being fired.
We wasted no time heading out of town and continuing south in hopes of running into some element of the Fifth Army.
We stopped at one point to get our bearings and heard a vehicle approaching from the south so we hid the jeep and crouched in a ditch. It was a great relief to see that it was a major and an enlisted driver in a jeep from the 88th Division. We jumped from concealment and flagged them down. Before we could say a word, the major said, "Boy, are we glad to see you. We just came through a town full of armed Krauts who don't know the war is over and we were lucky to get out alive. Get us to your CP immediately so we can report the situation."
They had bullet holes in the jeep to punctuate their story.
The major was not too happy
to hear about our experience. We discussed what to do and concurred that
the first troops to arrive from either direction would be German. Even
so, the major opted to hide his jeep and stay there whereas we decided
to try to get back to Brenner Pass.
We attempted to work our way through the opposite side of town from the place where we ran into the armed Germans but soon found ourselves driving into a large cul de sac facing a German Army Headquarters building of some sort. There was a single guard standing at the entrance. Our driver skidded sideways up to the guard kicking dirt and gravel all over his boots. After an angry look at his boots, he looked up into the barrels of our grease guns and gave up his rifle, quietly.
Fader told him that we were from the American Seventh Army and were there to take charge of all of their weapons. We made him take us to an armory, but while there were weapons of almost every description in the armory, there were no pistols. We insisted that there had to be pistols so he led us to the main building and up a flight of stairs but was reluctant to open the door at the head of the stairs.
One of us covered him and the rest barged into the room where there was about a dozen German officers looking at a large situation map. A high ranking officer was outlining his plan for getting the troops under his command back into Germany to the redoubt for the last stand.
Fader made it clear that they had been surrendered by Kesselring and that they were to turn over their pistols to us. The General or Colonel (or whatever he was) was reluctant to do so indicating that it was beneath his dignity to surrender to an enlisted man. He could not believe that we were from the 103d Division because, on his map, the 103d was still north of Ulm, more than a hundred miles to the north. Fader said something like, "You invented blitzkreig, but we perfected it. Brenner Pass is in our hands. You cannot get back to Germany." Fader then shocked them with the announcement that Hitler was dead. They had not gotten the word.
The officer seemed both resigned and relieved that it was over and started making plans for a formal surrender. Fader told him that there would not be one, that this was it, and that they would have to surrender their arms to us. Fader said, "Send your troops up to Brenner, unarmed and with their hands over their heads and they will be directed to PW cages." We insisted that the officers give us their weapons right then and there and they reluctantly complied.
The pickings were slim. Most of them had Schmeisser machine pistols which were lying on a table near the door. We didn't want them because there were plenty of those around, but we took them, just in case they had second thoughts. One of the GIs from the regimental radio team got the commanding officer's P-38. The other patted down one of the other senior officers and found in his side pocket a small flat black pearl-handled 25 caliber automatic. I got a Walther PK and that was about it. Fader, who had done all of the talking, came away empty handed.
The General wrote out a
safe conduct pass for us and provided an enlisted man to ride on the hood
of our jeep to show it at each roadblock. (It seems that after our encounter
with the armed troops, the Germans had concluded that we were escaped prisoners
of war. They had no idea where we had escaped from, but were hastily setting
up road blocks to try to catch us.)
When we got back to Brenner, the 103d Division band was loaded on several trucks and playing marches. The Commanding Generals of the 103d (Mc Auliffe) and VI Corps (Brooks), plus a host of other generals and colonels, reporters from BBC, Reuters, and various US news agencies, along with other VIPs, were loaded in trucks and jeeps for a festive jaunt into Italy to formalize the linkup that had occurred during the night. Luckily, our radio team was not to be part of the convoy. There was no need for us. After all, the Division and Corps commanders were right there with him. Who else did Yeuell need to communicate with?
It was going to be a splendid parade with flags waving and the band playing (as best they could, considering the fact that they were loaded into several 2-1/2 ton trucks).
No one was dressed for combat.
One thing was certain, we couldn't tell them what they might have run into because we were not supposed to have been there and were very close to being listed as AWOL. We forgot all about the fact that a similar "parade" was probably forming up in the 88th Division's area.
Hopefully, the 88th Division approached the formal linkup in a much more prudent manner. Or maybe the word filtered down to the Germans south of Colle Isarco in time to avoid a disaster.
At mid-morning on May 4th the column moved out with orders to link up with the Fifth Army if they had to go all the way to Rome to do it.
The formal linkup with the Fifth Army's 88th Division took place at Colle Isarco, without any snags, at 041051 (May 4th, 10:51 a.m.).
However, I have always wondered
what might have happened if we hadn't gotten to Colle Isarco first.
Fulpmes, Gries am Brenner, VE Day, May 8th 1945
On May 4th 1945, we received word that the formal surrender of Innsbruck was accepted by Brigadier General John T. Pierce, Assistant Division Commander, 103d Infantry Division.
Rumor had it that each successive day would see the formal surrender of all German forces but several days passed with no proclamation. It just took time to line up the right German officers to effect a formal surrender and officially end the war in Europe. Nevertheless, after the linkup with the Fifth Army, the heavy action was over and Hennum's radio team was relieved. We once again left Col.Yeuell's 411th Infantry Regiment and moved back for some much needed rest. We were sent to an Eidleweiss Mountain Troop School that the Germans had set up in Fulpmes, Gries am Brenner. The only way to get there from Brenner was down a very rough and bumpy unpaved road. We arrived there on May 8th 1945 just as VE (Victory in Europe) Day was officially proclaimed .
I had been saving my bottle of Champagne wrapped safely in my Nazi flag in the tire chain compartment ever since I got it, way back in Landau, on the other side of the Rhine. I was saving it for a special occasion and this seemed to be special enough. It was time to break it out and celebrate.
Unfortunately, the trip down that bumpy road and the change of temperature from near freezing at Brenner to a mild spring day all had detrimental effects on the Champagne. When I popped the cork, the Champagne spurted out toward the ceiling and everyone ran around like kids in the rain, trying to catch a few sips in their canteen cups. They all managed to catch a little and there was still a small amount left in the bottle for me. Its a good thing, because I had been too busy trying to direct the spurt to catch any for myself.
We toasted the end of the
war with Germany but there was no wild celebration ------- it was a time
for quiet meditation. Japan was still there and we would undoubtedly have
to head for the Pacific, but hopefully not before a Rest and Rehabilitation
(R&R) leave in the States.
Innsbruck Occupation, May & June 1945
In a day or so we were ordered to drive to Innsbruck where we would be assigned quarters in homes requisitioned from the citizens of Innsbruck. Our team was quartered in a home located at 4 Rilkestrasse near the eastern edge of the city. During the previous month we had "liberated" some photographic supplies and a couple of cameras. We quickly set up a darkroom and began developing and printing pictures that we had taken over the past several months. Letters home written weeks earlier asking for rolls of film and photographic paper began to bear fruit. Supplies started arriving and we were able to do a lot of photographic work although our products were pretty amateurish. We discovered that the house that we were occupying had an enlarger and that gave our work a whole new look ---- LARGELY amateurish.
4 Rilkestrasse Innsbruck
Life in Division Headquarters soon became very garrison-like. Once again, the "Willie and Joe" look was out. A GI haircut and a clean shave were the order of the day.
We had to demolish the "improvements" that we had made to our vehicle to make it livable. We felt bad about that. It was like tearing down our home.
The 103d Signal Company motor pool honcho, Warrant Officer Edwin St.Cin, jumped all over me about the way the truck body was all chewed up alongside the battery compartment. He was not at all understanding about my duel with the tank but finally accepted my argument that we really couldn't stop at the crest of that hill and fill out accident reports or there would have been no truck to discuss.
Inspections became a way
of life again and we were forever having to find safe places to stash bits
of "liberated" contraband that we hoped to get home but eventually had
to leave behind.
Innsbruck, The Luftwaffe Airfield, Booby Trap
Rilkestrasse was only a block away from the last houses at the easterly end of Innsbruck. Beyond that, down the flat valley of the Inn River was a long meadow that had been used by the Luftwaffe as an airfield. Like many Luftwaffe airfields, there was no paved runway, the firm grass providing a very satisfactory landing strip.
Near one end of the airfield was a JU-87 Stuka dive bomber that had nosed over on landing. The nose was crumpled and the tail section had broken almost completely off and was dangling down one side of the plane. This plane had a rather remarkable story. Two German mechanics at an airfield about to be overrun by the Russians had deserted, stolen the plane, and somehow managed to get the plane into the air without having ever been up in a plane in their lives. Miraculously, they even managed to fly the plane to Innsbruck, in the American zone, and had survived the crash landing. They may have made the wise choice. Only about ten percent of the Germans captured by the Russians ever got back to Germany alive.
Also on the field was a disabled twin engine Messerschmidt ME-262, the first practical jet fighter. It was nicknamed the "Blow Job" by American troops who seem to have to give nicknames to everything. It was a beautifully styled little craft and had a very simple cockpit layout.
Mike Schindler and I walked
over to get a closer look. He sat in it and I took his picture then I climbed
into it and Mike took my picture. I fiddled with the controls and, remembering
how the only one I had seen in the air turned straight up and left our
planes in a cloud of smoke, I pulled the stick back and imagined what it
must be like to climb straight up in one of these things. I got carried
away and pushed, pulled, or turned just about every control in the plane.
Then I got out and we went back to our quarters.
I thought that I had manipulated every control in the cockpit but I must have missed one. The next day the ME-262 blew up with a GI in it. It was booby trapped. The hand of providence must have kept me away from that one fatal control.
Clearly, my "lucky" 20 dollar gold piece had nothing to do with it. I had lost that on the mountain above Garmich-Partenkirken.
I guess a lot of us tried our hands at poetry over there, including me:
VE Day, May 8, 1945
Silent we stood,
Like things of wood,
Watching bursts of orange in the snow,
Wond'ring if it was our time to go.
Death came so near,
That we could hear,
The tortured screams when He found his prey,
But we were spared for another day.
Our God was good,
How little we had learned before this show,
How many things there were for us to know.
The smoke has cleared,
The Death we feared,
Has vanished, with the snow, in May,
To snare us in some other way.
We had time now to catch up on letters home and to do some sightseeing or to enjoy some of the recreational facilities.
There was a swimming pool at Bad Somezingorudder. It was fed by the melting snow of the Alps which flowed in one end and out the other. I went to the Bad with several of the "Coolies." We stripped to our OD undershorts to get some sun but on a mutual dare decided to take a dip in the pool. We lined up side by side at one end and dove in together. I have no idea what the world's record is for that length pool, but there is no doubt about it, we all broke it, that day, in the fastest heat (or was it cold?) ever raced. If that pool had been 25 feet longer, I am not sure we would have made it.
High above Innsbruck on Hafelekar Mountain on the north side of the Inn River valley was Seegrube Wintersportsplatz, a beautiful mountain resort with excellent skiing facilities. It could be reached by taking a cog railway part way up the mountain to Hungerburg and then transferring to a cable car for the remainder of the trip ---- or you could climb up.
My "GIs" had cleared up about the time we got to Landsberg. They had not let up since early in December. Now, I was trying to get myself back in shape after such a long and debilitating siege so I opted to make the climb.
Near the top, the Seegrube Hotel had been made into an Enlisted Man's Club, off limits to officers.
Skis could be checked out and there was an Austrian ski instructor to assist the novices. I checked out a pair. They were very primitive by today's standard. They were made of wood, bent up in front and were attached to your boots by leather straps.
I had never been on skis before but tried a few gentle slopes and after falling down several times finally negotiated the slope successfully. Looking further up the mountain there were guys zigzagging down between sticks stuck in the snow. That looked like fun.
I didn't know how to turn on skis either but how hard could that be? Those guys just waggled their knees and shifted their bodies from side to side to side and the skis followed.
I decided to give it a try.
Another cable car went up to the starting point but again I opted for the climb. I couldn't cut it wearing the skis so I carried them and climbed the rocks along the side of the ski run. It was a tough climb.
Upon reaching the top I rested for a few minutes, put the skis back on and stepped into the starting gate. It looked a lot steeper from up there curving up in a slight rise at the bottom, then a sheer cliff and down below, --- Innsbruck.
From this vantage point I wasn't sure I wanted to do this, but what the hell, those other GIs were doing it, so could I. I pushed off and then realized it was even steeper than it looked. When the course took a swing to the left I waggled my knees and shifted my body to make the turn.
I turned, and I was aimed down the trail but my skis were still headed straight down the mountain and I was off the trail bouncing over some rough snow. Now if I shifted my body to the right I would be back on the trail again and it was coming up fast. I did that and zipped directly across the trail and off into some small moguls on the other side. There was something about turning that I obviously didn't know.
Realizing that I didn't know how to stop either, I began to panic. If I managed to get to the bottom at this speed, I would make the longest ski jump in history right into the heart of Innsbruck. The more scared I got, the lower I crouched and the lower I crouched, the faster I went and the scareder I got.
Then I hit a big mogul and was airborne. If I didn't know what to do with both skis on the ground I sure as hell didn't know what to do in the air. I hit and made a big hole in the snow. About 20 feet further down I bounced again. My skis and poles then made a series of horizontal lines on the snow as I cartwheeled for 50 feet or so. Then I left a deep furrow in the snow until enough of it piled up in front of me to bring everything to a halt. One leather ski strap had broken and my left ski was still sliding down the mountain.
After taking stock and finding nothing personal broken or even sprained, I sat on the ski still in my possession and paddled down to pick up the other one. With only one working ski, I had to take it off and struggled through waist deep snow to get back to the Seegrube Hotel where I turned them in.
When I returned the skis some of the GIs said, "We saw you up there. What were you doing? Are you crazy? Those aren't other GIs on that slope. They are Austrian experts who have been doing this all their lives".
Yes!! I had stupidly tried the slalom run. I didn't make it but I survived. I was elated as I scrambled pell mell back down the mountain but I have never been on skis again since that day.
Back in Innsbruck, I started reviewing all of the times when, by all rights, I should have been killed (several of which preceded my entry into service) but wasn't. They totaled up to many more lives than a cat is supposed to have.
After that sobering reflection, I did nothing more dangerous than sightseeing strolls down Maria Theresa Strasse, going to USO shows, and watching the latest movies.
But --- within a few days came a disquieting realization. I had actually enjoyed the war. At first I tried to deny it but could not. I did not enjoy it the way most people might assume. However, there is a thrill, an exhilaration, that comes when Death has been right in front of you, reaching for you and you beat him. You got away. The knowledge that you came that close and survived is a high like no other and I have been relieved to find out that I was not alone in experiencing this elation. It must fill a primal need. The last time I experienced anything even remotely like it was at the end of my shot at the slalom run, and that wasn't even close.
It is no wonder that when there are no wars, people do things like mountain climbing, bungee jumping, and sky diving, or even becoming astronauts, but I do not think that the high that they get is the same.
They know that their odds are very good.
That takes the edge off.
On May 29th there was a formal dismounted Division Review on the airfield. The new VI Corps Commander, Major General William H.H. Morris affixed battle streamers to the colors of the three infantry regiments. As all of the units of the 103d passed in review we looked sharp.
The VI Corps Commander sent General Mc Auliffe a very complimentary letter on the appearance of the division.
But when division reviews start, so does the chicken. As nice as Innsbruck was, it was going to become more and more GI every day.
As we settled down into a garrison routine competitions began to spring up everywhere. The Signal Company had a pretty good baseball team, high in the league standings. The same was true of softball.
Then the Division started looking for expert marksmen to represent it in the Seventh Army Rifle and Pistol Matches. That was BAD NEWS.
Word had spread throughout the division about the pistol marksman who could shoot flies out of the air. By now, there were hundreds of GIs who knew someone who purportedly had seen this extraordinary feat and several officers had heard the story. The search was on and I was lying low. When the search narrowed to the Signal Company I had to do something fast. I got a friend in the medics to help me out with some bandages.
When Capt. Beck called me in, my hand was heavily bandaged and my trigger finger stuck straight out bound snugly to a tongue depressor. He asked what happened and I told him that I had injured it when we tore our trucks apart to get rid of our winterizing innovations. I said that my knuckles were all banged up and my forefinger badly sprained.
Then he told me about the pistol matches and asked me about the flies. I told him that the story was greatly exaggerated. He persisted, pointing out that several people claimed to have seen me do it.
He thought that the medical officer, Major Burger, should look at my hand but, luckily, Burger was out of the area for several days.
I was running out of places to hide.
The Austrian Tyrol had been good duty, if only for a few weeks but, like all good things, it came to an end for me just in the nick of time. By the end of June, I was among the first to receive orders assigning me to the 5th Infantry Division Signal Company for quick return to the States. I was getting out just in time to keep me from making a fool of myself in the pistol matches. That was the good news.
The object of this exercise was to reassign us to the Pacific Theater of Operation after a short R&R leave. That was the bad news.
One of the last things that I had to turn in to the Supply Sergeant before departure was my radium-dial military wrist watch. Since I am left handed, I wore the watch on my right wrist and it had survived the entire war. When I took it off for the last time, I noticed that the skin on my wrist under the watch movement was red and peeling but did not think much more about it.
Now, fifty years later, the skin on my right wrist still gets frequently red and angry looking, taking on the appearance of a healing burn. When this happens, I am forced to wear my watch on my left wrist. Somewhere in the back of my mind is the nagging feeling that the radium-dial watch had something to do with this.
The last piece of good news I received in Innsbruck was that lightning had struck again. I was promoted from T/5 to T/4. It took a while, but apparently the Army finally recognized mediocrity as a virtue and I seemed well enough endowed with it to be rewarded with another stripe.
A Retrospective Look at the 103d Infantry Division
At this point in time, I have come to realize that this narrative has given a very narrow perspective on the 103d Infantry Division. It has focused sharply on the activities of Bud Hennum's radio team and the 411th Infantry Regiment to which it was attached for essentially all of the time when the 411th was engaged in combat with the enemy. However, the 103d Infantry Division was much more than just the 411th, the 103d Signal Company and the small part Bud Hennum's radio team played in the Division's success.
Here is a brief overview of the entire Division to put our small part into perspective.
We must never lose sight of the fact that the most important man in any army is the infantry soldier. It is he who must ultimately dig the enemy out of his defenses and force him to surrender. The Infantry is called the "Queen of Battle", apparently a reference to the most powerful piece on a chess board, the queen. An infantry division is structured to make the most effective use of the individual infantry soldier that it can.
The 103d Division was organized to improve upon the older awkward prewar "rectangular" divisions having four infantry regiments. The 103d was one of the newer, streamlined, "triangular" divisions having three infantry regiments. Each regiment, in turn, had three infantry battalions, and each battalion had three rifle companies.
This arrangement made for a very flexible operation. In an attack, two regiments would carry the thrust of the attack and the third would be held in reserve to guard against attacks by the enemy around the flanks of the forward regiments, or to attack through the forward regiments to take advantage of sudden breakthroughs or to dig in and provide covering fire for the forward regiments if they were forced to fall back. Each regiment arrayed its troops in the same manner with two battalions forward and one in reserve and each battalion did the same with its three rifle companies, and each rifle company did the same with its three platoons. This arrangement also permitted rapid changes of the direction of the main thrust with the resultant confusion of the enemy. It had worked well for us.
The infantry rifleman could not do it all by himself, however. He had to be fed, clothed appropriately for the weather conditions, and supplied with ammunition and other materials needed for the conduct of the war.
He had to be kept healthy, provided with prompt and appropriate medical assistance when wounded, and, if necessary, quickly transported to a field hospital for treatment of life-threatening injuries.
If killed in action his body had be retrieved and properly cared for.
The infantryman required close-up support from the heavier weapons such as 60mm mortars and 50 caliber machine guns carried by weapons companies.
He also needed combat support from tanks, artillery, and tactical aircraft.
He required transportation when sudden redeployment was necessary, and military police were employed to ensure the smooth flow of traffic in critical situations.
Mine fields had to be cleared, roads swept of mines, and bridges built or rebuilt, often under intense enemy fire.
Weapons, radios, telephones, vehicles, and other gear had to be maintained and repaired as needed.
A network of radio, wire, and messenger communications was provided to convey important information about his combat situation to field commanders who promptly transmitted orders via these communications channels to the troops actually fighting the battle and to those units supporting the effort.
These needs were all met by specialized units that were organic to the 103d Division or by specialized forces attached to the division or its regiments to meet specific needs that developed during combat.
These attached units typically included tanks, tank destroyers, and even such diverse units as electronic countermeasures, psychological warfare, searchlight battalions, and controllers for tactical air support.
Obviously, there is a lot more to an infantry division than just a lot of infantry soldiers carrying rifles. There were more than 20,000 men in the augmented 103d Infantry Division, only about half of whom were actually rifle-carrying infantrymen.
This is not to say that the rest were in plush rear-echelon jobs, out of harm's way, --- far from it, as will be noted later.
Enumerated below are the organic units of the 103d Infantry Division.
The 103d Infantry Division basically consisted of the 409th, 410th, and 411th Infantry Regiments organized as discussed above but, in addition to its infantry battalions, each regiment had a Headquarters Company and a number of specialized units such as a Cannon Company equipped with 105 millimeter howitzers.
However, in order to command this infantry force, to provide combat support, and to provide the variety of services and supply noted above, the 103d Infantry Division consisted of much more than just these three infantry regiments.
Other organic units included a Division Headquarters group, a Headquarters Company, Headquarters Special Troops, the 103d Infantry Division Military Police Platoon, The 103d Infantry Division Signal Company*, The 103d Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop*, The 103d Quartermaster Company, The 803d Ordinance Company, the 103d Infantry Division Band, the 103d Counter Intelligence Corps Detachment*, the 103d Division Artillery*, The 382d Field Artillery Battalion (105 mm howitzers)*, the 383d Field Artillery Battalion (105 mm howitzers)*, the 384th Field Artillery Battalion (155 mm howitzers)*, the 928th Field Artillery Battalion (105 mm howitzers)*, the 328th Combat Engineers Battalion*, and the 328th Medical Battalion.
Those identified by an (*) were either combat units or units that had substantial numbers of their personnel attached to combat units.
For example, the 103d Infantry Division Signal Company furnished radio and wire communications crews to front line elements of the infantry regiments, to organic combat units such as field artillery battalions, and to tank battalions and other combat units attached to the division.
These attached combat units included, at various times, the 756th Tank Battalion, the 761st Tank Battalion, the 781st Tank Battalion, the 614th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 534th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Auto-Weapons Battalion and the 991st Field Artillery Battalion (155 mm Gun, Self Propelled).
All together, the organic units of the 103d Infantry Division (including its three infantry regiments) suffered losses of 4,063 men killed, wounded, or missing in action in the short time that it was in combat. I had a lot of friends among those killed and wounded.
The casualties sustained by the combat units that were attached to the 103d Infantry Division are not known but some units such as the 614th Tank Destroyers sustained heavy losses.
However, to put the 103d Infantry Division's losses in perspective, in all of World War II, 58 million people were killed or missing and the wounded were at least 10 times this number and uncountable.
The 103d Infantry Division's losses seem trivial by comparison but we must never lose sight of the fact that each and every one of the killed or missing was an individual human being with relatives and friends, and whose loves and aspirations would never be fulfilled. It is easy to forget this and become numbed by the sheer weight of statistics that run into tens of millions.
One final word about the officers.
Major General Anthony Mc Auliffe was a genuine legend and his presence gave the entire 103d Division an esprit de corps that is hard to imagine. He got the best out of everyone. Colonel Donovan P. Yeuell, C.O. of the 411th Infantry Regiment was regular army, cut from the same cloth as Mc Auliffe, and a fearless leader who did not send anyone where he was not willing to go himself. I know of no one who was not proud to serve under these two men.
It must be kept in mind, however, that this narrative is told from the perspective of the enlisted man who must endure a lot of "chicken" and most of it comes from the officers closer to him, specifically his Company Commander, and his Platoon and Section officers.
The enlisted men view their officers in an entirely different light from that in which the officers view themselves. Having been both, I can speak authoritatively on this. If I appear to have been too hard on certain Signal Company officers, they probably deserved it, but something must be said to balance the ledger.
Signal Company wire and radio teams often operated independently for long periods of time. We saw the officers of the units to which we were attached but did not see a Signal Company officer for weeks on end.
Nevertheless, the enlisted men of the 103d Signal Company performed superbly. We always got the message through and it is unlikely that this would have happened without the excellent training required to function efficiently during the difficult and often terrifying conditions encountered in combat.
Clearly, we did not achieve this success entirely on our own. We owe a large debt to Captain Bernard Beck, CO of the 103d Signal Company, and all of the Signal Company officers responsible for instilling in us the skills, discipline, and confidence to make it happen.
They have earned a belated
respect and a parting salute.
Goodbye Cactus, Hello Red Diamond
About the end of June, and after a flurry of shakedown inspections, those of us going to the 5th (Red Diamond) Infantry Division loaded onto trucks and said goodbye to a lot of good friends.
It was the last I would see of many of them.
There was one good thing about it. It was not a total goodbye. Several of the "Coolies" went to the 5th Division with me.
However, John Donlan, a "Coolie", and a friend starting in North Camp Hood, through ASTP in Denton, and into the 103d Signal Company, stayed behind. He was the last one left of my buddies from the beginning of basic training at North Camp Hood, Texas.
It was sad leaving the 103d "Cactus" Division and Innsbruck.
Our convoy headed east, eventually arriving at Vilschaffen, a town close to the Czechoslovakian border on the Danube River. I (along with other "Coolies" including Jimmy Carr, Don Benz, Frankie Applebaum, Maurice F. "Bud" Zink, and Frank Tullio), was assigned to the 5th Infantry Division Signal Company. We had a few more days to enjoy the beautiful scenery, during which, we liberated a couple of outboard motor boats and spent a lot of time boating up and down the Danube.
We were just marking time while other GIs from other units were reassigned to the 5th Division. We took the Cactus shoulder patches off of our uniforms and replaced them with the Red Diamond of the 5th Infantry Division.
Eventually, the rosters were full; we had been through innumerable inspections; and we were ready for the trip back to the U.S.
We were crammed into trucks for a brief ride to a railway siding where we were loaded onto "40 and 8"s, the freight cars famous from World War I for carrying 40 men or eight horses. They only stuffed about 30 of us in each car but with our duffel bags it seemed like a lot more. We had to sleep in shifts. There was a pot in one corner of each car for bodily functions but most of the guys kept the doors open because of the heat and urinated out the side of the car onto the ground. The pot was dumped out the same way, usually during stops, to spare the GIs in the rear cars.
The trip across the full width of Germany and France took more than two days. Along the way we passed through the bombed out rail yard at Passau.
Another German city, Afschaffenberg, had a railroad marshaling yard. Our bombers had really done a number on the rail yard there. To top it off, the Seventh Army in its southward advance had pounded the rest of the city to rubble. We went through on the single track that had been restored since the end of hostilities. The rest was in shambles.
Arnold Schumacher, the 103d Signal Company Radio Section Tech Sergeant, bore a remarkable resemblance to Hermann Goering. Schumacher had, as he put it, a pot full of relatives living in Afschaffenberg. When he saw what the Air Corps and the Seventh Army had done to the place, he had a good laugh. When we asked him about his relatives, he answered, "Served 'em right." He obviously assumed that they had not survived the devastation.
We passed close enough to
Reims to get a good view of the cathedral.
Eventually we reached our destination, Camp Lucky Strike, a tent city near Le Havre.
Several "Coolies", Don Benz, Frankie Applebaum, Jimmy Carr and I got passes and did some sightseeing together. We got as far north as Dieppe where the British had made a commando raid early in the war. We explored several German bunkers, part of their West Wall defenses against an invasion. We stopped in a cafe for some vin rouge and, while there, were propositioned by the bar maid who offered to take us all on at once. We were not interested so she turned away. Seeing a driver from the "Red Ball Express," who obviously had been there before, she flashed a big smile and grabbed him by the arm. They disappeared up the stairs.
The tents at Camp Lucky Strike were stifling. We were there for twelve days that seemed like twelve years. The good old USA was tantalizingly close but we just had to sweat it out. Then everything fell together and we found ourselves cued up at the harbor in Le Havre to board our ship, the USS Le Juene. There was a Red Cross Canteen truck serving hot coffee and doughnuts that you could not miss. The Le Havre harbor area had been hammered, probably by both sides, until not one stone was left standing on another. As far as we could see, in any direction, there was a flat field of rubble that had been bulldozed smooth. The Canteen truck stood out like a beacon.
Homeward Bound On the USS Le Jeune
Quarters on the Le Jeune had standard troopship bunks, stacked four high.
The Le Jeune was a Navy troopship (probably intended for transporting Marines) so the chow was far better than on the Henry T. Gibbons, and there was some variety.
The only fault I found with the chow was that we once had grits for breakfast and before I could stop him, the server dumped on a large spoonful of sugar and poured milk all over the grits. He was a Yankee who had never heard of grits and thought it was cream of wheat.
We had to pass by the Navy crew mess on the way to our chow. It was far better, scrambled or fried eggs, sausage, bacon, grits, hash browned potatoes, hot and cold cereal --- the works, but we couldn't complain, not after what we had eaten for the past year.
The weather was much kinder to us on the way back so we were able to spend a lot of time on "C" Deck, the enlisted men's deck, getting some sun.
The trip was quicker, too --- no wide swings southward or zig zag courses to avoid submarines. It was like a pleasure cruise ---- sort of.
As we entered New York Harbor, fire boats, tugs, and other harbor vessels came out to meet us with displays of spraying water and bonking, honking horns.
As we passed the Statue of Liberty, a hush fell over the ship. We just looked at her --- and wept openly and without shame.