Heroes: the Army
"... Bullets from long bursts of machine gun fire are now cracking all around us. Mortar shells begin exploding just behind us. Sergeant Radice, who is bringing up the rear after finally leaving the shelter of the house, is hit almost immediately. His body threshes convulsively as Greenfield runs to his side..."
MEMORIES OF SERVICE IN THE SECOND PLATOON, COMPANY K, 407TH INFANTRY March 1944 - September 1945 MEMORIES OF SERVICE IN THE SECOND PLATOON, COMPANY K, 407TH INFANTRY March 1944 - September 1945
Edited by Paul N. Haubenreich and William L. Schaible
Printed September 1995
OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE SECOND PLATOON
SECOND PLATOON CHRONOLOGY
1. PREPARING FOR OVERSEAS
1.1. Camp Swift
1.2. Troop Train
1.3. Fort Dix
1.4. Camp Kilmer
2. CROSSING THE ATLANTIC
2.2. Life on a Troopship
3. MOVING TO THE FRONT
3.2. A Different Troop Train
3.3. Across the Border
4. FIRST SHOTS
4.1. Into the Front line
4.2. First Day at the Front
4.3. Events in the Nights
4.4. Making Ourselves at Home
4.5. The Island 4.6 Random Shots
4.6. In Division Reserve
5. EDEREN 5.1 First Views
5.2. Buried Alive
5.3. A Combat Patrol
6.1. Riflemen's Views of the Battle
6.2. After the Assault
6.3. A Glimpse Through an Enemy's Eyes
6.4. Civilians under Fire at Welz
7. HOLDING THE LINE
7.2. Laying Wire and Digging Holes
7.2.1. Christmas, 1944
7.2.2. An Unforgettable New Year's Day
7.3. On the Front Line at Lindern and Linnich
7.3.1. Friendly (?) Fire on a Snowy Night
7.3.2. Trading Hand Grenades
7.3.3. Frigid Outpost in the "Roer Pocket"
7.3.4. A Flood in the Night
8. ATTACKING ACROSS THE ROER TO THE RHINE
8.1. Preparations for Roer Crossing
8.1.1. A "Dry Run"
8.1.2. A Night of Confusion
8.1.3. A Night on the Dike
8.2. D-Day Crossing
8.2.2. The Crossing
8.2.3. On the Far Side
8.3. Movement and Battles
8.4. At the Rhine
9. SWEEPING FROM THE RHINE TO THE ELBE
9.1. Mopping Up Bypassed Forces
9.2. The Watch at the Elbe
10. AWAITING TRANSPORT TO JAPAN
10.1. Gross Garz
10.2. Nauendorf, Thuringia
10.3. Iggensbach, Lower Bavaria
10.4. The End
OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE SECOND PLATOON,
Company K, 407th Infantry
WELTI, Carl L.
WILSON, John E. Jr., 1st Lt
FORD, Robert E.
BURNS, Robert E. PFC
MILLER, Charles W., Sgt
MOLLICA, Tony P., T/Sgt
SHOCKEY, Eugene P., S/Sgt
MADISON, Elton, PFC
HURLEY, Ronald F., PFC
SAUNDERS, Charles R., PFC
McGUIRE, Manfore H., PFC
WHITAKER, Whyte W. Jr., PFC
LAHTI, Eljas O., PFC
VAN ATTA, Arthur H., PFC
STUMPFF, Hal N., S/Sgt
SCHAIBLE, William L., PFC
HAUBENREICH, Paul N., PFC
WANNAMAKER, Joseph E., Sgt
HARRIS, James R., Sgt
HUFFMAN, John D., PFC
DUNLAP, Wurtsbaugh H., PFC
GROTZ, Wesley H.
BARON, Matt, PFC
BOWAR, Manuel F.
DELANO, Ysidore, PFC
SMITH, Robert A., PFC
WOELKERS, Frederick J. Jr., PFC
FIORI, Frank J., CPL
BEHAN, Joseph C., Sgt
CURCIO, Salvatore, Sgt
FRANCOLINI, Sergio F., S/Sgt
LOVE, Clarence S., PFC
MANSOUR, Alfred A., PFC
GRIFFITH, Walter A., PFC
HANSEN, Vernen M., PFC
MILGATE, Robert W., PFC
TOLLISON, Loyd E., PFC
REIST, Wilfred G., PFC
POKORSKI, Stanislaus L., PFC
SCHMIDT, Herbert P., PFC
VOCCIO, Frank, PFC
SOMERS, Victor J., PFC
PHILLIPS, Roger W., PVT
TEDROW, Jack V., PFC
NOLAND, Earl J., Cpl
TOVAR, Humberto I., PFC
VALDEZ, Stanley, PFC
CHRISTINE, Carl R., PFC
ABERCROMBIE, John B., PFC
McNABB, Earl G., PFC
SAUTTER, Charles A., PFC
PEMBERTON, Robert E., PFC
GAMPO, John, PVT
JARAMILLO, Refugio, PFC
BABB, Quentin M., PFC
HANLON, Theodore T., PFC
WHEAT, Gerald S., PVT
TROCHET, Rene A. , PFC
JENNINGS, Harold R. G., PVT
IMBROGNO, Peter A., PFC
SOMOZA, Tony C., PFC
INGOLD, Russell C., PVT
GIORDANO, Frank, PFC
OLIVER, Joseph D., PFC
MUTISPAW, Robert L. PVT
ATKINS, Edward K., PVT
SECOND PLATOON CHRONOLOGY
1 July 1944
Arrive at Fort Dix, New Jersey on troop train from Camp Swift, Texas.
Move to Camp Kilmer (staging area for New York Port of Embarkation).
Depart Staten Island, NY aboard S.S. Santa Paula.
Cross English Channel from Weymouth, anchor in Cherbourg harbor.
Go ashore, move to Area M, near St. Pierre Eglise. Go into bivouac.
Hike 14 miles to Valognes, depart in 40-&-8 car in troop train.
Arrive Hasselt, Belgium, ride trucks to Brunssum, Netherlands, hike into Germany, bivouac between Brunssum and Teveren.
Hike into Teveren, take over defenses from 29th Division troops. Guard "Island," patrol, forage. Saunders killed by artillery shell.
Relieved by British 43rd Division, move to rear.
Bivouac in forest by British artillery near Dutch-German border.
Ride trucks, then hike to Puffendorf. Wait until midnight.
Hike on to Ederen, relieve 406th Infantry troops.
Combat patrol hits corner of Welz, Mansour shot.
Attack; take Welz from 10th SS Panzers. Radice, Hurley killed, many wounded
Get replacements: Love and Hansen.
Actions under fire in and around Welz. Amore, Love killed, more wounded.
Move toward Rurdorf. Return to reserve in Welz.
Replacements: Reist, Voccio, Milgate, Pokorski, Phillips, Schmidt, Summers Ride trucks to Eigelshoven, Holland for "rehabilitation." "Battle of the Bulge" starts. Pull out of Eigelshoven.
Arrive back at Welz.
Move into foxholes near Gereonsweiler. Start laying wire and digging holes.
Move into house at edge of Gereonsweiler. Continue work on defenses.
Christmas Day. Leaflets, dinner and religious services. Then back to work.
25 Dec 1944
Somers arrives, is killed. Baron, Delao, Francolini, Lahti, Phillips wounded.
1 Jan 1945
Lt. Welti sick; goes to rear, never to return to Second Platoon.
Lt. John Wilson arrives, takes over as Platoon Leader.
Move up to Linnich (Smith's birthday).
Spearhead across Roer aborted by flood.
Cross the Roer on footbridge, under artillery fire. Schaible wounded.
Fight at Erkeleaz. Phillips killed, others wounded.
Advance past Wickrath to Rheydt
Begin rest and rehabilitation near Krefeld
Take up position on Rhine
Cross the Rhine at Wesel, in trucks with lights on.
Hit by Panzers near Fallersleben. Wheat, Eller wounded. Three captured.
Move up to Elbe at Heinrichsburg.
Victory in Europe Day
Move to Gross Garz
Move to Nauendorf
Move to Iggensbach
Hear the news: Japan has surrendered! We won't have to invade!
Move to Lichtenfels for occupation duty.
5 Sep 1945
Ozark Division returns to U.S.A.
Someone, talking about memories, aptly said, "When an old person dies, it is like a library burning down." What you have in hand is a slim volume that was put together from fragments in several "libraries" that were about to "burn down." It is a collection of memories, most of which were put on paper between 45 and 50 years after the events, by some of the men who were involved.
These memoirs will not interest everyone. We would not feel hurt if we knew that you were asking yourself: "Why should I take the time to read this stuff?" That is a question that each person should answer for himself after learning just what the writers tried to do.
If you are related to one of the men of the Second Platoon, we hope you will read what we have written because you are likely to learn something that is personally significant. If, on the other hand, you are unrelated to any of us, you could be thinking something like this: "Scores of books have been written about World War Two; so why has anyone bothered to write yet another account of events that happened almost half a century earlier? What is in it that is unlike what I have already read?" For you we offer the following remarks.
This is an authentic, personal account by the surviving members of the Second Platoon; the word "we" appears in almost every paragraph. We have tried in some places, along with the factual account, to describe what the experience was like for us, how it felt to be in that foxhole or cellar or wherever we were. Few books try to do this; even fewer succeed.
The critical reader who wasn't there may be distracted by the obvious deficiencies in our writing. You must realize that most of us are not especially articulate and all of us are inexperienced in writing history. We hope you are not turned off, but make no apology. We are writing mostly for ourselves, for whom these defects are unimportant, and for our posterity, who we hope can overlook them. Unlike the general reader, we need only a reminder of some episode to bring the scene to our minds' eyes. Thus we neglect to paint a complete word picture of the surroundings. The years 1944-45 was a period in our young lives that left indelible impressions and memories. Thus, the mere mention of a familiar event triggers a flood of memories; some bad, some humorous.
We believe that the facts are reasonably accurate. We realize, however, that even eyewitness accounts are imperfect; what a witness sees is colored by his viewpoint and his emotions at the time. Especially with regard to our stories about combat, we witnesses freely admit that at the time we were under great emotional stress and our attention was usually focused on something immediately ahead of us rather than on trying to comprehend everything going on in the panorama around us. As for the effects of time on memories, we can only note that after 45 years the agreement among us as to what happened was better than one might expect. We were at an impressionable age and the nature of some of the events was such that the memories won't fade, even if we want them to.
The question of what we have written is easier to answer than why we have written it.
All of us hope that our families will want to know more about us. We imagine some young person reading with interest what happened to Granddaddy. We have tried to give this person a fuller and clearer picture than he could possibly get from family traditions passed down by word of mouth or from any history book about the war, written from a more distant perspective.
But that doesn't answer the question of why we think our experience is worth recording for posterity. Our feelings have something to do with the nature and historical importance of World War Two and more to do with our attitudes toward military service and combat in that most earth-shaking of all conflicts. In war we were brought face to face with some realities about life and death that transcend the concerns that later came to preoccupy our minds: jobs, automobiles, entertainment and the like.
We feel a need to tell someone that for us it was not like the picture of war in some movies. As critic Richard Bernstein wrote in the New York Times, "For several years now, as the movies have focused on the Vietnam War, combat has come to be portrayed as destructive not only of life and limb (which obviously it always is) but also of personal values, morals and the very spirit of comradeship. The battlefield is pictured as a place where conflicts among soldiers on the same side go from bad to worse and the spirit of brotherhood dissolves in the general horror." We want to say that it was not like that for us in 1944. In training together and later on the battlefield, we developed extraordinary loyalties and "a spirit of brotherhood" that for at least some of us has survived for decades.
Perhaps you will get a message from what we have remembered and written. Perhaps not; if you discover nothing profound, attribute it to our inability to put our feelings into words that convey what we want you to understand. We went through some things that affected us for the rest of our lives, but are hard to pass on to those who were fortunate enough to miss the kind of experiences we had.
In one of Bill Mauldin's cartoons, Willy and Joe are in a foxhole in Italy, reading in Stars and Stripes about the invasion of France. One says to the other: "The hell this ain't the most important foxhole in the world &emdash; I'm in it!" Mauldin had something there. Those who were in the Second Platoon, Company K, 407th Infantry feel sort of like that about our Platoon. When we try to be objective, however, we admit that among infantry platoons in Europe in World War Two, our platoon was more typical than outstanding.
Our Division, the 102d, was called the "Ozark Division" but thanks to the draft, we in the Second Platoon came from all parts of the U.S.A., from various ethnic backgrounds. The great majority of us were between 18 and 21 years of age when we went into combat. Only some of the sergeants were older, with more experiences in civilian life. Most of us learned a lot about death before we had a chance to learn much about life.
The Second Platoon was also probably somewhere near the middle of any scale that might be used to measure the experience of a rifle platoon in combat. In that regard, we tend to think of the extent and quality of suffering rather than the number of battle stars on the theater ribbon or the number of citations or medals that got handed out, or even the number of days on line. The casualty list is a more relevant indicator. A glance at the list for the Second Platoon will show that "battle-scarred" is not an empty phrase when applied to this unit. Less than one-third of the 39 enlisted men who went overseas in the Second Platoon remained with the platoon continuously until the end of the fighting. During six months of combat, four of the 39 were killed, 19 were wounded and four others were transferred out because they were physically or emotionally disabled.
The nominal strength of a rifle Platoon was 40 men and one officer. The attrition due to deaths, wounds or other incapacitation was such that a total of more than twice that many served for a time in the Platoon. Some served only briefly; two replacements were killed during their first day with the Platoon. The chart at the beginning of these memoirs lists the names of the two officers and 88 enlisted men who served in the Second Platoon between the time we arrived in Europe in September 1944 and the end of fighting there in May 1945. The symbols beside the names in the chart tell something about our experiences. A heart means a wound for which the Order of the Purple Heart was bestowed. 'In many cases, the wound was so severe that the man never returned to combat. In other cases, the man came back to the Second Platoon after hospital treatment and recuperation. A cross means the man was killed. We did not have any missing. We did, however, have three men who were captured near the end of the war by a die-hard German force trying to link up with others for a last stand. All three escaped after a couple of days and wound up back "home" in the Platoon.
The titles in the table of contents give some feel for the Platoon's history. The table entitled "Second Platoon Chronology" lists some of the important events in that history.
After V-E Day the Platoon began training in preparation for taking part in the invasion of the Japanese homeland. While awaiting shipping space, we pulled occupation duty. The surrender of Japan, following the use of the atomic bombs, spared us from further bloodshed. Not long afterwards, transfers involved in the demobilization process began to scatter the veterans of the Platoon and in March 1946, when we returned to the States, the dispersal was completed.
Over the years we went in all kinds of directions, both geographically as well as with regard to careers. Most of us remained in touch with only one or two or three buddies. Decades after the 102d Infantry Division Association began to have annual reunions, during the time that our Jim Harris was Association President, eleven members of the Platoon got together, most of us for the first time since the war. Out of that came the idea of a separate Platoon Reunion, where we could have more time in the company of just the men with whom we had been closest during the War.
Jim Harris had the idea and was a prime mover in an effort in 1984-85 to get in touch with as many survivors of the Platoon as possible. The result was a reunion in September 1985 in a mountainside lodge above Gatlinburg, Tennessee, at which 14 of the veterans were present. Most of us came with some apprehension about how well we would hit it off with people we had known for only a few months and had not seen for 40 years afterwards. We need not have worried. There seemed to be few, if any, hard feelings left over from the old days. Instead everyone enjoyed reminiscing. We seemed to selectively remember with wry amusement some of the circumstances and events. Along with the laughter, however, there was a recognition of the extraordinary bond of comradeship that had been forged in combat.
At the 1985 Gatlinburg reunion there was general enthusiasm for pulling together a written history of the Platoon, from Camp Swift, Texas, in the spring of 1944 through the return from Europe, in March 1946. How something got done is described in the Acknowledgement at the end of the report.
What you have in hand might be regarded as a draft, in that the editors (Schaible and Haubenreich) still welcome additions or corrections from other members of the Platoon. On the other hand, there is no assurance that it will ever be more than what you see. What Hitler's forces didn't do, time soon will; the surviving witnesses' leases on life are fast running out.
1. PREPARING FOR OVERSEAS
I.I Camp Swift
The 39 enlisted men &emdash; seven sergeants and 32 privates &emdash; who went overseas together in the Second Platoon came together for the first time in May, 1944. Second Lieutenant Carl Welti joined the Platoon in August, shortly before it departed for Europe.
The Platoon Sergeant, Canio Radice, had been part of the cadre from the Second Infantry Division when the 102d Infantry Division was activated in September 1942 at Camp Maxey, Texas. Most of the other men had been with the Platoon since Maxey, training together there, on maneuvers in the swamplands and pine forests of Louisiana and then in the scrubby hill country of Camp Swift, Texas, 25 miles east of Austin.
The Ozark Division was not chosen to be part of the invasion of Normandy. Instead, early in 1944, as part of the preparations for the invasion, the Ozark Division was required to give up about a fifth of its personnel to be used as replacements for the inevitable casualties on the beachheads. In March, the Division received 3,250 men to fill its gaps. The newcomers were transferred from the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) on various college campuses. Some had received basic training in the ASTP Training Regiment at the Infantry School at Fort Benning before being assigned to a unit at Purdue University. But others had been assigned to ASTP from all kinds of Army units including the Air Corps and lacked basic infantry training. Each of the Division's infantry regiments organized a provisional company, with a cadre of officers and non-corns from the regular companies, to give the trainees an abbreviated version of the Army's standard 13-week infantry basic training. They were then assigned to each of the Regiment's companies to fill the gaps. The Second Platoon, Co. K, 407th Infantry got about a dozen ex-ASTP men.
[Following are notes, to be amplified if time permits]
ASTP replacements are gradually integrated with the Platoon. Lots of hiking under simulated tactical conditions, with scouts out on flanks of columns. Training in teamwork through a series of progressively larger-scale tactical problems, with live ammunition fired at silhouette targets. Final exercise is battalion-scale: night-time defense and probing patrols, pull-out of defending battalion before dawn, leaving silhouette targets in foxholes for the attacking battalion to shoot at, including artillery support and overhead fire from mortars and machineguns. On passes, we visit Bastrop and Austin, Texas.
1.2 Troop Train
We are still in Camp Swift on D-Day. Three weeks later we leave, en route to Fort Dix, New Jersey aboard a long troop train. The Second Platoon is in one of the wartime creations: a "troop sleeper." This is a freight car undercarriage, topped by a box with side doors, containing triple-deck bunks. (Air-conditioning? What's that?)
We chug across flat south Texas and Louisiana. The little old steam locomotive isn't able to pull the long train up the ramp onto the Mississippi River bridge at New Orleans, stalls. Once past that hurdle, we roll on across the south, up through Carolinas to Washington DC. There we get on the Pennsylvania railroad, behind a big electric locomotive for a fast run to Fort Dix.
1.3 Fort Dix
July and August are hot in New Jersey. Nearly everyone in the Platoon earns the Expert Infantryman Badge by surviving long, grueling hikes and passing all kinds of proficiency tests. Those who pass get the Badge and $5 a month extra in pay. We practice squad-size reconnaissance patrols, day and night through cranberry bogs and woodlands, past farmyards with barking dogs. We climb cargo nets draped over the side of a simulated ship and jump "overboard" into deep water while wearing steel helmet, etc. The Platoon gets three new Browning Automatic Rifles (B.A.R.) and the B.A.R. teams zero them and practice from-the-hip, assault fire.
The whole division, about 14,000 men, spreads out on the huge Fort Dix parade ground for inspection of what we will be taking overseas, with each man's items spread out on his shelter half.
We have chances to see Trenton and Manhattan on overnight passes. Francolini introduces his buddies to a new dish &emdash; pizza. Everyone gets last furlough before going overseas. Haubenreich and Harris travel together on train as far as Washington en route to Tennessee and West Virginia, both flat broke after paying for tickets.
1.4 Camp Kilmer
On September 3, we make the 3-hour trip to Camp Kilmer, near New Brunswick, NJ, staging area for New York Port of Embarkation. Turn in cotton khakis, fatigue uniforms and woolen dress blouses and send personal belongings home. Final inspections. Sergeant Chambers has failed to return from furlough home to Ohio; Behan replaces the AWOL Chambers as Cox's assistant squad leader. Behan turns over the Platoon's sniper rifle to Haubenreich, who had gone through sniper school at Swift and Dix with Behan.
2. CROSSING THE ATLANTIC
By the time our platoon left U.S. soil, we had gone through months of intensive training together, followed by day after day of extremely thorough inspection and preparation of weapons and equipment. We were ready. We had turned in our khakis, fatigues and blouses; from now on we were to wear woolen OD's (olive drabs) winter and summer. We were lean and tough, honed by the strenuous demands of training in the field in the heat of summer, capped by the forced hikes and other physical tests for the Expert Infantryman Badge. We were confident. Each man knew his ability with the weapon he carried. Each knew that he could count on his buddies on either side when the going got tough.
Naturally there were apprehensions; no one expected that defeating Hitler's armies would be easy. Every individual soldier was acutely conscious that our outfit would soon be in bloody battle, killing and being killed and maimed. That was the job that had to be done, was our fate to do, and for which we had been prepared. We could only guess at what our particular test would be like &emdash; how withering the fire into which we must advance, how resourceful and resolute the enemy whom we must attack and overcome. On one point there was no shadow of doubt: for us there was to be no turning back.
We knew that when the time came for us to fight, the Second Platoon would do what had to be done, regardless of the cost. We had no idea what our individual chances of surviving would be. The greatest fear for us was not death but coming out of the war horribly crippled; we willed ourselves not to think about that probability. (Ernest Hemingway was right when he wrote that the greatest gift a soldier can have is the ability to suspend his imagination.) Those of us who were eighteen or nineteen years and free of family responsibilities were the lucky ones. Most of us, most of the time, were able to put out of our minds not only thoughts of death but also any thought of postwar life. Career, marriage, family; these were fond dreams on which it wouldn't do to dwell in our circumstances lest they cause us greater fear of death. Only a few in the platoon had wives; fewer had children. Those who did didn't talk much about them; what they thought and felt the rest of us could only guess.
Finally the day came to ship out: September II, 1944. It was late in the day when the Second Platoon, with the rest of the 407th Infantry, boarded troop trains and pulled out of Camp Kilmer. It was still hot, especially since we were wearing woolen uniforms. We rode with the windows open (no air-conditioned coaches back then), taking a last look at America (unlovely, urban New Jersey). Although the distance was not great, darkness had fallen by the time we clambered down from the train at a dock on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson. There wasn't much to see: the metropolis was "browned out" to avoid backlighting ships at sea, making them an easier target for torpedoes from the German U-boats that sometimes lay in wait on the surface at night a few miles offshore.
Soon we were standing jammed in the automobile deck of a ferry for the journey across the harbor to where our troopship was docked. As we filed off the ferry onto the enclosed pier, we found that despite the late hour. Red Cross girls were there to dispense coffee, doughnuts and cheery words. Surely everyone one the pier knew that many of us would not be returning to these shores alive, but such thoughts were not evident as we joked and laughed. After a brief pause without breaking ranks, we moved on down the pier, burdened down with packs, rifles and duffel bags, to the gangplank. There each officer checked off the names on his roster as we moved single file across the gangplank and through a cargo door in the side of what appeared from our limited point of view to be a very large ship.
The Platoon was led through passageways in the steel bowels of the ship into what had obviously been a cargo hold, now converted to accommodate about 200 men. Sleeping racks, separated by narrow aisles, filled the space except for the cover of a hatch to a lower deck, which was covered with folding canvas cots. The racks were made of pipe and taut canvas stacked five high. Each bunk was so close to the one above that there was not nearly enough room to sit up, only just enough room to roll over. Literally one had somehow to achieve a nearly horizontal position alongside, while holding on to the side of the racks, before inserting his body into his slot.
Despite the novelty of our surroundings and the cramped space, we were all soon fast asleep. The ship must have left the dock not long after we dropped off to sleep, for when we wakened after several hours, its slow rolling told us that we must be out of the harbor and onto the open sea.
2.2 Life on a Troopship
Our ship was the S.S. Santa Paula. Years later we learned that in peacetime she had been operated by the Grace Line in fortnightly luxury-class passenger service between New York and the Pacific Coast. She had a displacement of 17,000 tons, a length of 508 feet and a beam of 72 feet. Built in 1932, the Santa Paula was the first American ship to have all outside staterooms, each with private bath, mechanical ventilation and automatic fire alarm. The outdoor swimming pool was the largest on any American liner and the elegant dining room was two and a half stories high.
S.S. Santa Paula, from the collection of Björn Larsson. http://www.timetableimages.com/maritime.
None of that was evident to us at the time. The conversion to allow transport of the maximum number of troops had included turning the swimming pool into a troop latrine and installing sleeping racks and latrines in the cargo holds. Bunks had been installed in the former staterooms and on the promenade deck, which was now enclosed in plywood. In addition to the eight lifeboats, life rafts were stacked high on the foredeck and aft on the roof of the one-time swimming pool become latrine. The peacetime paint was now covered with dull gray over the whole exterior.
We boarded the Santa Paula on September 11. We left her twelve days later. In a way those days were an interlude, a transition from the tightly scheduled, mass activities and formations of training camp and staging area to the less predictable surge and ebb of activity in a combat zone, where platoons, squads and even the next foxhole was about as wide a view as one sometimes had of the army. For most of us in the platoon, this was the first time we had ever been on a ship at sea and we were enjoying the novelty of the experience. It was still the army, but the routines were different. The unaccustomed amount of leisure time was easy to take, of course, but some of the differences from barracks life took getting used to.
On that first morning, as we awoke to the motion of the ship, most of us thought immediately of climbing to the open deck where one could look around. (In our compartment in a lower deck, there was no porthole.) No one was permitted to go up the ladder, however, so we had to wait until we were called to chow to go above. Meanwhile we were told to wash and shave and incidentally to get acquainted with Compartment C-5 and the adjoining "troop head" or, in our army jargon, the latrine.
In the troop head there was a double row of washbasins back to back, supplied with unheated seawater. There was no adjoining shower room, as we always had in barracks latrines. We were told that somewhere else in the ship were troop showers that we could use later. We had been warned that ordinary soap would not lather in salt water. We soon found that the bars of saltwater soap that we had been issued didn't do much better, producing only a sort of slime. When one succeeded in rinsing it off, though, it did take most of the dirt with it. Shaving with cold water and unsoftened beard was uncomfortable from the start. Worse was to come: razor blades soon rusted and shaving became downright painful.
The toilets in the troop head were interesting. There was a steel pipe, about a foot in diameter, running crosswise of the ship from one side of the compartment to the other, with holes and toilet seats mounted at close intervals. The pipe was much higher off the deck at the midship end than at the other end. Ocean water pumped continuously into the high end, flowing briskly along with its accumulated burden and out the other end. Later, when we were allowed to go on deck, we discovered that the outlet poured out into the sea not far above the waterline.
In preparation for going to breakfast, as ordered we put on the shipboard uniform consisting of woolen OD's of course, plus field jacket, life vest and cartridge belt with full canteen. When C-5 was called for breakfast, we lined up and began climbing the steep ladder that led up two flights to the main deck. Haubenreich recalls what happened then as follows. The line stopped with me at the foot of the steep ladder, looking up through the distant open port at the sky. Blue sky and white clouds swung back and forth across my view as the ship rolled. Whether it was the visual effect or the feel of the rolling, I do not know, but it wasn't long before I began to be nauseated. So were others. Some dropped out of line, going back to their bunks or into the troop head to retch. I clung to the ladder and in a few minutes was able to step out on deck. There was a fresh breeze and the cool air on my face felt wonderful. It was a beautiful morning, with a bright sun shining on a blue sea that was flecked with whitecaps. No land was in sight. Stretching off to the horizon in all directions I saw ship after ship, all gray, all plowing purposefully along on a course parallel to ours. We were in a big convoy. The full extent we could not make out. With the fresh air in his face, my seasickness disappeared. It returned only a few times, always when I was below decks.
Looking around we saw that we were on the foredeck, just forward of the high bridge. Piled high were stacks of life rafts, but there was quite a bit of open deck around the masts and cargo-handling gear. The chow line led along a side deck, which seemed to us landlubbers to be quite far above the water that rushed along the side of the ship. We turned into a passageway and found ourselves in the troop mess hall. At a glance it was obvious that this had been a large dining room/ballroom. The roof high above us had sections that could be slid back (and now were) so as to let fresh air and sunshine in. The room was now filled with ranks of tables, each running all the way crosswise of the room. The tabletops were above four feet off the deck and had a raised rim along each side. G.I.s stood along the tables, eating from metal army food trays. Passing through the chow line, we got food dished out by what appeared to be Chinese civilians; from the Santa Paula's peacetime crew, we supposed. The food was more or less G.I.: coffee, toast and scrambled eggs. A difference was that green peas were mixed in with the scrambled eggs, which we attributed to Chinese cooks. (At other times they included tomatoes in the scrambled eggs and sometimes there were tubs of hard-boiled eggs.) At the tables we stood shoulder to shoulder. Today the sea was relatively calm, but on rough days, one had to hold on to the table and struggle to eat, depending on the ledges to keep the tray from sliding off.
Leaving the mess hall after breakfast, we were sent back to Compartment C-5. There we were ordered to police up the area and clean and oil our weapons for extra protection against the salt air. Haubenreich recalls that in the poorly ventilated compartment, he became seasick again. He remembers not caring whether Sergeant Mollica would inspect his sniper's rifle or not. He slathered on oil without bothering first to carefully brush off all of the red dust from Camp Kilmer. Later of course he took proper care of the scope-sighted 03A4, but right then he only wanted to get back out on the open deck in the fresh air as soon as he could. The opportunity was not long in coming, since there was little we could do in the crowded compartment once we had straightened up our blankets, hung our packs, duffel bags and weapons in a uniform manner and the cleanup detail in the troop head had finished their work there.
Next came drills on where the troops in each compartment were to go in the event we had to abandon ship. Then we were lectured on security: no smoking on deck at night, throw nothing overboard that might tell a U-boat lockout that a convoy had passed. This didn't take long, however, and soon we were free to go and come between our compartment and the foredeck.
The sun was warm but the air was cool enough that our woolens felt good. We lined the rail or sat on the deck. Occasionally there was an interruption as the loudspeakers announced: "Attention, all troops. Clean sweep down, fore and aft! All troops, on your feet, make way for the sweepers!
One surprise that came the first day was the realization of the general direction in which our convoy was steaming. Although the ships now and then made abrupt changes in course, it was evident from the sun that we were moving in a generally southerly direction. This was quite different from what most of us had expected to be a great-circle route across the North Atlantic to England or Normandy. There was no official word on our route or destination. No one expected any &endash; everyone accepted the need for secrecy about a convoy in wartime. Furthermore we were by now quite accustomed to the typical army limitation of communication down to the line troops, even when security did not demand secrecy, The grapevine was active as usual, supplying conjectures and rumors to fill the information void. One rumor had it that the convoy would stay within the range of the shore-based planes and blimps that patrolled the sea lanes along the Atlantic coast on the lockout for German submarines until we reached the vicinity of Bermuda. Then we would head east toward Europe. This rumor seemed reasonable, considering what we had been hearing of submarine "wolf-packs" that lurked along the shorter route that led northeasterly out of New York.
Changes in course at random intervals several times a day were evidence of concern for the U-boats that were still ranging along the East Coast. The Santa Paula and the other ships carrying troops stayed near the center of the convoy. As far as we could see, the convoy's naval escort seemed to consist of only a few corvettes or destroyer escorts armed chiefly with depth charges. Each of the merchant vessels, including the Santa Paula, had one or two deck guns and several antiaircraft machineguns, served by Navy gun crews. Throughout the voyage the escort vessels usually ranged far out on the flanks of the convoy, which plowed along in formation at a speed dictated by the slowest vessels, which seemed to be the heavily loaded tankers.
Only once were we aware of any special threat of submarine attack. About a week out of New York, during daylight hours, we heard sirens and watched the speedy escort vessels racing through the formation toward one flank. We were glad when nothing more exciting happened. Although there were some who claimed they would like to see some real action, most of us were quite content with our convoy's success in slipping around any submarine ambush.
We were prepared for attack in any event. No one left his bunk without wearing his kapok or cork life vest, with its attached one-cell signal light, and his cartridge belt with a canteen that had to be kept full of water at all times. We were instructed and rehearsed the procedure for abandoning ship. We did not have a lifeboat assigned to us but depended on being able to reach one or another of the life rafts, now stacked on deck, which would be in the water if the ship went down. Despite thoughts of this nature, however, no one seemed to be particularly worried and we were able to enjoy the pleasant weather and the unaccustomed hours of leisure every day.
After a few days on the southerly course, the convoy turned to the east as predicted, squelching the rumors that we were headed for the Panama Canal and the Pacific Theater. Those who had favored that rumor now concluded that we were on our way to the Mediterranean rather than Normandy as most of us had expected all along.
We seemed to be pretty far south. No one knew our latitude, but the sun was high and warm for mid-September and the temperature very pleasant. Most days the weather was splendid, with bright sunshine and moderate seas. On such days, we would sit on the deck, soaking up sunshine and dozing, or stand at the rail watching the horizon or the water rushing by below. There were long, quiet conversations &emdash; about life back home usually, never about our chances of being killed or crippled. Some G.I.s occupied themselves reading pocket books that they had brought while a few wrote letters on the V-Mail forms that were available. Meanwhile, below decks in the stuffy troop compartments, crowds gathered around the cots where poker games and crap games seemed to continue non-stop throughout the voyage. To most of us, who were drawing only about twenty dollars a month, the piles of money in front of some of the players seemed huge.
When the weather became really warm, some of the troops slipped up to the deck at night with a blanket, to sleep in the fresh air instead of in the hot compartment. Some of them discovered to their dismay about the dawn wash-down of all open decks. A crew with a fire hose did the job and usually waked up the G.I.s to let them get out of the way, but occasionally a crew would turn the high-pressure stream on a sleeper, more or less accidentally.
There were some days when white-capped seas ran high, driven by brisk winds (the tail of a hurricane, we were told). Then the behavior of our ship varied with the tacking of the convoy. When heading into the waves, there was not much pitching because the Santa Paula was so long, but sometimes, despite her height, spray dashing from the bow kept troops off the foredeck. It was when the convoy quartered into the big waves that the combined pitching and rolling motion caused many of us to become seasick. Whenever possible most of us who were sick tried to stay on deck, with the fresh wind in our faces. However, some lay in their bunks, miserably trying to control their nausea. The unsuccessful ones would climb down from their place in the 5-tiered racks, stagger into the nearby troop head and kneel with their faces over holes in the toilet pipe. Although the conversion of the Santa Paula's cargo hold to troop quarters may have included provisions for ventilation, our compartment was stuffy and on rough days reeked of vomit. The sick who were able escaped the stench by climbing to the open deck and draping themselves over the rail, preferably the lee rail. (Some on our main deck discovered the hazard from sick troops hanging over the windward side of the upper deck.)
On at least one occasion the toilet pipe became stopped up. Before someone figured out how to get the water supply turned off, the overflow, which gushed up through the holes, had flooded the compartment. As the ship rolled, the stinking mess rushed from one side to the other, each time sloshing over the threshold of the doorway into the troop sleeping quarters. Everyone who could retreated to the open deck above while an unfortunate work detail cleaned up.
One night during heavy weather, the door at the top of the ladder leading down to our compartment was left open. Waves breaking over the deck sent water cascading down the stairs. Haubenreich, in a bottom bunk, woke up to see one of his shoes sailing by on the tide that sloshed by as the ship rolled.
We ate breakfasts and suppers standing at the tables in the dining hall. The midday meals were always two sandwiches: one peanut butter and jelly and one bologna. The troops filed through the dining hall, picked up their sandwiches and went out the other side to sit on the deck and eat. There was a "PX" somewhere toward the stem, where troops could buy cigarettes and limited amounts of candy, but there were always discouragingly long lines.
Many hours were spent by some of us, just watching the waves and the other ships in the big convoy. The tankers were so heavily loaded that they tended to plow right through the wave crests. To those of us who had never been at sea before, it was amazing to see the green water surge right over the bow of the tanker astern of us, temporarily hiding everything except the superstructure and the deck cargo (trucks and crated airplanes). In contrast the troop-carrying Victory Ships rode unusually high in the water. Consequently in rough weather they rolled and pitched excessively so that the screws periodically broke the surface, tossing fountains of spray under the stem. We congratulated ourselves on being on the more stable Santa Paula.
About eight days out of New York, our course turned northward. Some early risers said they had glimpsed land on the eastern horizon at dawn. Guesses were that this was the Azores or the Canary Islands. (Our memories of geography were hazy and no map was available to the troops.) A couple of mornings later, when we came on deck we were greeted by a cold, raw wind that sent us below for our heavy overcoats. The sea was now gray and choppy and the salt water from the taps in the troop head was quite cold. Some said that this was water coming down from the North Sea through the English Channel.
Sometime in the morning, the word came down that our voyage was nearly over and, since there was no telling when we would have another opportunity to shower, all troops would shower to day. At first this order didn't cause much of a stir. Most of us had showered sometime during the preceding week and, although the unheated salt water in the troop showers didn't make one feel very clean, at least the prospect of another shower wasn't too unpleasant. But soon after the procession through the showers started, the word got out that the water wasn't just cold &endash; it was icy! Coming straight out of the chilly sea, it had to be. Recognizing the reluctance of the troops, the command took appropriate action. Each unit commander had to stand at the door of the shower room and check off on his roster the name of each man as he went in. It was required that he get wet all over, but he didn't have to stay long. Consequently some records for brevity were set as men jumped into and out of the icy sprays.
A wave of excitement ran through the troops as land was sighted. As the convoy drew closer, we saw cliffs with white surf at the bottom and green fields sloping up from the cliff tops to the distant skyline. Hedges subdivided the fields. Adding to the strangeness (from our point of view) was the absence of farmhouses scattered over the landscape. Instead here and there were clusters of steep-roofed houses in little villages. This first view of Europe made us feel that we were a long way from home.
After sailing along the coast for some hours, near nightfall we reached a protected anchorage. Here the troopships dropped anchors, maintaining a considerable distance between them. We were told that this was Weymouth, on England's south coast, and that tomorrow our ship would sail on to France, where we would go ashore.
----- End Part #1
Click on the link below to read the second installment...
Memories of Service in the Second Platoon, Co. K., 407th Infantry - Pt 2
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
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The above story, "Memories of Service in the Second Platoon, Company K, 407th Infantry -- March 1944 - September 1945" was originally edited by Paul N. Haubenreich and William L. Schaible and printed in September 1995. The story was forwarded to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words, by the son of Paul N. Haubenreich, Joe Heubenreich as a follow-up to an original e-mail sent in December 2006.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of Mr. Joe Haubenreich. Our sincerest THANKS for the men of the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 19 April 2007.
Story added to website on 19 April 2007.
September 5, 2002.
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