Heroes: the Army
"...I looked up to see something and saw men lying in the fields get up and make a dash for cover. It came to me too late that they were under an artillery barrage. Just then everything went boom, the Jeep jumped to the right and stopped. Sarge and Hairless jumped out as did Ross and Dowd. I saw Ross holding his left arm with blood coming thru his fingers..."
Edward L. "Ed" Souder
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Co. F., 405th Regiment,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC., Purple Heart
- Birth Year: 1922
- SN: 17114499
- Entered Service: Minneapolis, MN
28 November 2004
Ed Souder recalls the events of 60 years ago, 4pm and a long, long way from home. Here is a portion of an e-mail I received today. The words are befitting a humble man who has tortured memories of his time in the war...
Nov 28th 1944 -- Oops 2004 or 60 years ago at 4 PM to be in the jeep and stop a 88 artillery shell just outside of Geronsweiller, Germany and so I will get out my uniform and stop and think about that time and place and you and me and when the fighting war stopped for me and the pleasures of the devises hospital and the start of the stopping of that part of my humble life.
so you are again taking time to work on the gdamn doggies of F co. and when you get that done whats next???
Just now I've got a 4 pound chichen roasting in the Oven and with fresh snow on the ground and the radio going and wonderful smells coming fron the kitchen and some wine to complement the roast chicken and gibblet stuffing and gravy and aa very quiet house and no one else to share the roast chicken with and sinse I didnt go to church this morning and so you see what this old doggie will do in about 4 hours EAT and at 4 PM rememberthat GGOD DAMMED 88 shell ecplosing under the jeep. Things I will never forget. and 103 days of pennicillin shots 6 times a day and such a long time ago!
The nice thing I recall about the MUD in the beet fields was the smell of fertilizer in the MUD. How can beef (shit) smell so nasty after a growing season and approaching winter and a soldier lying in the mud alongside the jeep back tire and being unable to crawl away and think that you were paralized with no place to crawl to to get away from the 88 fire.
So you are working on the last of the 102 accounts and when you get that done -- youll be thru with Co.F for a while...
...OK time to baste the chicken and sign off Eat well today Ed Souder
Ed's Story: Background Information:
Pfc. Souder began his service time in 1942, when to finish his last year of College -- he enlisted in the Army Reserve Corp.and did not see active duty until March of 1943. The Army offered the enlisted man a chance to finish his last year of college and then be inducted into the army . Not knowing how the Army worked -- I thought that a promise was binding on all parties -- but the Army didn't work that way.
So -- on March 3, 1943 we were called to active duty and I was 9 weeks short of graduation from Music College and was inducted through Fort Snelling, MN. And, because the Army didn't need any musicians, and [had] I told them that I had driven a truck in the Boy Scouts -- I was sent to Ft. Knox, Ky., and got basic training in the armored Force. That meant a ticket to drive a jeep a half track. And a 4x4 truck -- but was finally put in the 1/2 tracks because that's what they needed at that time.
Upon graduation from Ft. Knox -- the army opened the ASTP program and because I was a "degree" man -- was sent to Columbus, Ohio. I ended up in Basic Engineering at Ohio State University and stayed in that very specific program until the Army again shut that program down and with no notice was sent to Basic training in the Infantry at Camp Swift TX -- near Austin TX.
I found that having a Bachelor degree didn't make any difference -- and so got put in a squad in Co. F -- 405th Reg. 102nd Division (second Battalion).
As the end of that basic training a little branch of the company opened up -- called "company Headquarters" and as I was a friend of the Sgt., he asked me to retrain as the Company wire and radio operator. So I was on TDY at Battalion for 6 weeks training -- just before the Division was sent to Ft. Dix, NJ. Then [I was sent] on to Camp Kilmer, NJ for shipment overseas. The operational set up of "Co. Hqtrs" placed a BUCK Sgt. as the head Sgt. and his name was Brown and I -- as his assistant was allowed to be a PFC. As were many others in the Co. Hqtrs. The top Sgt was the 1st Sgt. - and a nasty Guy -- ( old Army) called Pittman to his face -- but the enlisted men called him "Snake Eyes" - at any other time. The Co. 1st SGT. Is the only man to whom the officers have to render a salute to once a day and as far as the enlisted men he is GOD --(though in this case -- I doubt that GOD would want Pittman -- ever.)
15 September 1943. Pfc. Edward L. Souder during training in Columbus, Ohio.Souder is wearing the Armed Forces patch on left shoulder.
10 September 1944. Pfc. Edward L. Souder in New York City. Infantry uniform image taken five days before shipping overseas to England and eventual combat in Europe.
In the Army in 1943 -- there were 186 enlisted men in a Company and the TO called for 6 officers -- The Company CO was a Captain -- the executive officer was a 1st Lt., and then there were a 2nd Lt. as officers for each of the 4 platoons. Each Platoon has 2 NCO's. The Top NCO was a 6 stripe SGT and each of those had an assistant NCO -- usually a 5 or 4 - or 3 stripe Sgt. Each of the 4 platoons had 3 or 4 squads of enlisted men. So the full strength of a Full Company was 186 men and 6 officers. In each infantry battalion there were 4 companies under a staff of higher officers in Battalion command. The highest Officer in a Battalion was a Bird Colonel.
His assistant Officer was either a Light Col. (Lt. Col.) or a Major. The chain of command went on up from Battalion levels and the enlisted man never saw anything of those Officers unless the enlisted man was assigned to a Battalion officer as an assistant or a cook -(slave).
There is no need to go further in this command status as very few of us EM's ever reported to a Staff Officer. I was one of the few that had this duty -- but only by chance.)
Back to Co. F 405th Reg...The CO was a captain from California -- named Capt. Peterson. He was "Old Army" and was an officer before the war started -- and was greatly loved by all his men and other officers -- ( Not a" chicken Shit" officer). His Exec. was a 1st Lt. named Donald Evenson. The officers of each platoon were -- 1st Platoon -- 1st Lt. Hiram Rabinowitz from New York; 2nd platoon was 2nd Lt. Fletcher - from Michigan; 3rd Platoon was 2nd Lt. Huff from Pennsylvania; and 4th Platoon was 2nd Lt. Jack Weigand from California.
The NCO's were from many states as were the enlisted men in the squads. Once the Co. Hdqtrs was established it contained men from each of the squads and they were the drivers - the cooks - the message men - the medical men - the armorers - the clerks - the supply men and the " runners" (each officer had a "runner"). I as the wire (radio operator) was in a peculiar position. I was the enlisted man who reported directly to the Captain and often was his runner -- and served as company guide to other high ranking officers at Battalion and sometimes way above that.
I also had control of all the telephone lines when the Company was in a stationary location and in an attack position was passing all vital communications up from the Company to Battalion and back down to the Captain. I usually marched directly behind the Captain and for a PFC -- that was a challenge (How would you like the job of raising artillery fire and ordering the tanks to position -- or calling for the medics to evacuate the wounded?)
When in "a static position" I often had over 500 yards of telephone wire to maintain and keep in repair. Once I was called upon to take the British general Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (Cmdr. The Brittish 2nd Army) for a personal tour of our front lines outside the German city of Geilenkirchen. Very few American Enlisted men had that kind of orders. WHY me? Capt. Peterson ordered me to do these things -- and when he was hit by sniper fire and wounded -- it was I who helped him bandage his left leg before he went beck to the rear for medical attention. And On Nov. 28th 1944 it was Lt. Weigend who came to my aid and got the medics to get me to emergency medical aid -(while still under artillery fire on a lonesome road near Geronsweiler, Germany.) This you will read in the following war story.
Officers and men named in my story are:
Golden Boy -- Lt. Evenson Dugan
Sgt Tom Brown -- Sgt. Co Hdqrts Co F.
Ross Earnie -- Runner for Lt. Weigend.
Sibold -- runner 2nd Platoon Huff
Kitten -- company clerk
Wilcox -- PFC one of my longest and closest friends
from Grand Rapids, Mn. KIA
Col Williams and Col Bryant -- Battalion officers 2nd Battalion
Capt. "Pete"-- CO. Co F. 405th Reg ( Peterson) Nicknamed" HOPS"
Chaplain Hill -- 2nd Batt. Chaplain
Hairless -- 2nd Lt. 4th platoon Co F Jack Weigand
Mousey -- 2nd Lt. 2nd Platoon Co. F.
Rabbi -- 1st Lt. 1st platoon-- Co F
Faure -- EM part time radio operator
Kincheloe -- EM from 3rd Platoon
Sgt Otis -- Reardon -- MeCullough -- Platoon Sgts
1st-3rd-4th platoons Co F
DeCamp -- Lt on battalion artillery - communications detail.
PFC Walker -- Wonjask -- Grey -- Isbell-- various men in the platoons
Sgt Hancock -- NCO 2nd Platoon
Vandergrift -- McMillan -- Moya -- assistant gunners
Sgt Tedford -- old time army man from the National Guard
Ganz -- Supply Sgt a wizzerd at his work in the field
Mitchell -- oldest EM in the Company -- 38 yrs old
Lewis -- Machine gunner 4th platoon
Large -- Head driver for the Co.
Dowd -- Ross -- PFC's runners for 2nd - 3rd - 4th platoons
Matushevsky -- Sgt. and NCO 1st platoon -- and Old army and a B---ard
Maj. Frasier -- Battalion Commander 405th Battalion
General Bernard Montgomery -- CO Brittish 2nd Army second in command
to Gen. Eisenhauer -- supreme commander USA forces in Europe
Buzz Turner -- NCO in Co E and close friend of Ed Souder
Wermeling -- gunner -- Co E
Wright -- PFC friend of Ed Souder from Iowa
Major Houston -- Surgeon Army Hospital -- Maastricht, Holland
Derky driver -- ambulance driver on trip to base hospital
on Nov 28th 1944
Maj. Scilliano Heed -- Doctor 3431 HOSP Unit, Devises, England
Robeson -- Barker -- ward men, Devises hospital, England
Gambel -- Richardson -- Patients Ward 2 -- my bunk mates
Garrison -- Head ward master, Devises Hospital, England
Maj. Smith -- operations doctor Devises Hospital, England
Lt. Lysle -- Lt. Duffey -- surgeons, Devises Hospital, England
Maj. Sloward -- surgeon over Lysle and Duffey
Killduff -- Sgt Kildare Ward 2, Devises Hospital
"MA" -- head surgery dept Devises Hospital England
Maj. Fitzhugh -- Head NP dept. Devises Hospital
Maj. Usher -- head ZI Board Surgeon (ZI Board - Zone of Interior)
Wolf -- Ward Master Ward 45&emdash; Devises Hospital, England
Capt. Blair -- Doctor Hospital ship St. Michael over the Atlantic
ocean @ hospital ships mentioned &emdash; St. Michael and a
1000 bed sister ship Wisteria
Capt. Deeannio -- doctor St. Machael
Maj. Waters -- Neurosurgeon Hospital Walla Walla, WN., USA
MOM -- BILL NONNIE -- family of PFC Souder in MPLS., MN
Wound of PFC Ed Souder -- to Left Buttocks with embedded shrapnel in 5th Lumbar Vertebrae and fracture -- 4-5th vertabraes and adjoining tissues. Had the shrapnel gone 1/4 inch further&emdash; Souder would have been paralized from the waist down and in a wheel chair the rest of his life.
The enclosed letter -- (see story text) is enclosed but was never mailed from the hospital in England because of censorship by army doctors -- and was later delivered to PFC Souder's family in 1945 after discharge from the Army.
PEC Souders story was typed in March of 1946 when Souder began his career as a teacher in Forrest Lake, MN. Public School System.
Part #1: Going off to war
[1-87] Well, how to start this long story is a question. Suppose the best place is from our departure from Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. Around 4 P.M. on Sept. 11, 1944, we took our full field packs, duffle bags -- arms, belts, and records and marched to the train siding a matter of two miles. I behind in order of Hdqrts, platoon 1,2,3,4 of companys E-F-G-H 2nd Battalion, 405 Inf., 102 Div. Each of us had a number on our steel helmets of train letter and seat number, so we loaded on waiting trains in order and rolled on Central of New Jersey to the Staten Island docks where we marched thru an old station down a long flight of steps and out on a big tug and seated on our duffle for a 45 minute trip to Staten Island.
Upon arrival a band of the transportation corps was playing as we marched into the shed in long columns. Then the ladies of Red Cross came around with overseas bags, candy bars, hot coffee and we ate and looked anxiously to our right at the huge hulk of grey steel which was our ship. In a half hour or about 20:20 the colonel took the roster and called our last names. As we passed him we answered with Edward L-1711449, shouldered our duffle to climb the gangplank to receive a card marked D4 just inside the gangway, so we followed the man ahead single file down aft into compartment D4 about 20 feet below the water's level. Here we were told to grab a bunk so I took #3 on the bulkhead near the stairs and to the right of the fresh air vent, put my pack at the foot and hung my bag on the foot and climbed up to wait for final check and filling of the compartment.
After much counting by "Goldenboy", we went to sleep from sheer exhaustion to awake about midnight to hear the rumble of propeller shaft and feel the vibration of bulkhead as we moved out from port. Then with a few prayers we left the "Land of the Free" for somewhere else. We were not sure just where. I went back to sleep and woke up as the P.A. system came on with instructions to all personnel on messing, wearing of life belts, cartridge belts and full canteens when on deck, also steel helmets and side arms (pistols) but not rifles or carbines. Then a list of messing times were read off -- D4 going at 0930 up starboard and down port below decks. Above decks all traffic was port to starboard, and no going against the populate. So at 0930 we lined up for our march down to the galley for garbage. So by 1030 we were thru drinking our coffee and were allowed on deck. So up we went to a great grey day with a navy blimp off port and ships as far as the eye could see -- right, left, and back.
We were lead ship in front with a big white British liner to our right and the Valley Forge carrying nurses and W.A.C.s -- 3 down and 2 across -- that is in ships, not women. A grey sky and heavy seas -- such a dismal scene. Soon the ships crew broke out the garbage cans and they were well ringed around in short order -- yours truly included. Around 1500 the ones who were able took mess kits and wandered down stairs for slop but I for one of many pulled my knees close to my belly and with face to the wall [2-88]wished the mess kits were at the bottom of the ocean. The cold sweat ran off me and as the ship rolled and the water banged against the side. I tried to sleep but things kept coming up making freguent trips necessary. That night an officer and one non-com assumed vigil at the stairs and I watched them as they talked and censored letters and some of them were none too well, but this was no time for shirking duty. We were at war. The next morning I tried to make breakfast but was so weak and drenched with sweat that I couldn't make C deck until noon when Dugan rolled over and we steadied each other up the steps and down to the galley for a cup of green split pea soup and soda crackers. These we took up to B deck aft and seated by the rafts we forced it down. We kept it down and soon felt much better so we started forward to the bow stepping over feet on the wide covered deck near the gutters and as we got forward the sun came out and from that time on we were dry land sailors. We ate like pigs -- bought candy bars by the box and ate them between meals, while we read and played Casino, 500, black jack, hearts, in fact, anytime. So that night I watched one of the most beautiful sunsets from a deck aft and thought of those I loved in the land of the setting sun. At 1900 the ship was blacked out each night -- no more smoking on deck and below decks except in latrine and the air there was thick enough to cut with a knife and was awful when mixed with the other smells. Fresh water was available for drinking from 0800 -- 0900 and from 2000 -- 2100 each day. All washing and shaving was done in salt water and the soap curdled with the dirt so many of us shaved dry and washed but little. However the salt water shower was refreshing but cold, and I tried to do this before 0700 every other day.
Each morning I'd get up about 0600, dress and go up on deck and go forward to watch the sun creep up into the sky. At that time all gun positions were manned for action and as they swept the sky and sea in practice the sun would touch the clouds a lovely pink and be full up in twenty minutes and then the crew would wash the decks and the dit-dots would start clicking out conversation to other ships and I would go below decks and get ready for chow and clean up the deck hold. Dugan and I filled the PX order each day with Ross and Sibold as helpers. This was down at the swimming pool forward in A hold. That night we got orders to where steel helmets on deck plus belt, canteen, sidearms, and life jacket and light attached. Each night we retarded our watches 30 minutes as of 2400 and did so until the 22nd. A total of 8 hrs. All day I spent forward sitting at the rail on starboard watching the blue sea and flying fishes and jelly fish sweep by and it was lonely to see -- a good spot to read and I did lots of reading. Read much of "Topper", Ernie Piles book "This is Your War" and "What to do aboard a transport" which I saved because of the star charts and navigation information it contained and this was the pattern of most of the days. The nights were far different but so touching and beautiful it is hard to record here. Many [3-89] stand in my mind. Many on deck with the stars overhead -- the rush of water and the dim half-lighted hulks of the other ships marked only by the dim phosphorescence from the spray at water line and no moon. Somehow this all lead to conversations and Tom and I had several in which we told each other the story of our lives, and dreams, loves and joys, sorrows and our faith in the Almighty.
Starting the 4th day out were headed together each afternoon for boat drill and this took 20 minutes. We were supposed to go to a definate spot but with 5,000 on board this is difficult so I always stayed forward unless caught aft then went to B4 aft with our bunch. On the 5th day they started exercises immediately following the drill but none of us overdid in the exercise line. On the 6th day the men were recalled to their compartments at 1100 and told to strip to the waist. Then with life jacket in hand we were marched up to B deck midships for our first Typhus shot. Boy those are terrible. They burn like hell and are so strong you can taste them within 20 seconds. You get 20 C.C. first, 30 next, and 50 C. C. last. Afterwards you are afraid your arm will fall off and then you wish it would. These we got every 3 days and they made many of the boys violently ill and caused serious cramps. They didn't bother me however.
Toward the 20th of September we were getting ship weary and on each others nerves. We now swung N.E.after going S.E., E for 10 days in beautiful weather. That night over the P.A. came the announcement we were waiting for -- we were bound for Cherbourg direct with a layover of one night at Weymouth, England to take on the advance party. Yes, we were surprised. That night at chow the whistle blew, the Erickson headed to port and all hell broke loose. Our first submarine attack. All troops were ordered below decks and for an hour we zig all over with our 6 destroyers shooting all over and around us back and forth. None of our ships were lost. Then the fog closed in and all was quiet again. And we went to bed rather reluctantly hoping the subs were truly chased away.
On the 22nd a great call rose as off port the huge English battleship steaming to us all in the haze with a huge radar station there on. We also received our last physical today and final Typhus shot which was hell. We gathered our equipment, polished our weapons, wrote letters and read our Bibles, and after supper we gathered aft to watch the ships put into Weymouth Harbor where we anchored and the crew hung a big lighted lamp on the aft mast to signify that we were at anchor. The night was beautiful, clear stars and the feeling of being close to sound land made us very homesick and so we talked until taps and went to bed wondering.
On the 24th we got up to watch the tugs opening the submarine nets and we passed out single file thru the mine fields bound south east to Cherbourg, and at 1600 we were in sight of the wrecked forts guarding the harbor entrance. It took a long time to get in thru the sunken ships and so we [4-90] had a good chance to study the port -- it lays like a jewel in a green crown but showing the effects of heavy fighting and the effects of bombing is very evident. We were called below at 1800 to get ready to unload -- we were issued 3 K rations and 2 D bars so we stood by until just before 2100 we got our call and shouldering our gear we marched, or should I say staggered, to the gangplank and down onto big barges lashed together and powered with a tug and a mule and by 2200 be were pushed to a dock near the bombed out railroad station.
Here we ran for shore in company fronts and settled on our duffle in the rain soaked -- arms ready in the dark in a hostile land to await the trucks which were to carry us to our bivouac area. By midnight we got our number called -- loaded in a hell of a hurry in trucks of all descriptions -- run in low gear thru the railroad station still with German snipers in the ceiling. We crouched in those trucks feeling like rats in a hole and bumped thru the rain thru the town -- up the bluff side and out into the country adjoining.
After an hour's ride we pulled up into a field on the right side -- piled out and dumped our duffle bags in company piles -- left two men per each platoon as carrying party and soon we found ourselves marching down a rough cobble stone road in the pitch dark in full pack and weapons looking for area M117. This road ran up and down turning and just before we nearly gave out we came to M117 on he right side of the road in a hedgerow enclosed pasture standing sharply off to the lower right corner in a valley. Headquarters pitched by the gate and Tom, Kitten, and I slept together in one pup tent thru the rain until 9 A.M. when we rolled out and ate cold K rations and looked around our area. Naturally we had to dig the first latrine. When the big tents came we moved farther down the hedgerow to make room near the gate. 2nd Bn was kitty corner across the road and on the 21 they ordered guards posted at all gates all the time so our headache started then. In this week we started getting our supplies from the ships by the truckload. Tom and I remained in the same tent -- the weather was always met with rain coming from all directions but we managed to keep partly dry by diving for the tent at the first downfall of drops and staying there as long as possible after it stopped.
Tom and I would read our Bibles during that time and talk long about home. How we missed it! The country side was lonely. Each night the Catholic Church rang its bell in the valley and the boys would go to vespers. We could hear the Protestant service in our tent across the row in M119. The sun was gorgeous on the hills, clouds, and valleys and only the rumble of tanks, trucks, and the roar of C-47's overhead reminded us of the business we were there for. God was in that land.
Soon radio school started again and our 536 and 300s came plus wire and SPs and then one day the call came for drivers for the Red Ball express. They took 12 from our company -- mostly armored force boys -- Wilcox included. I [5-91] was nearly sent but for the fact that radio was all important and so I stayed. These boys had a rough life and didn't get back until Oct. 9, just before we left for Vallognes, the railhead. We were issued ammo bags, more clips and holders, more wire equipment, phones, and equipment. We also had a talk, now famous on "care of the body" and "so you're going to be occupation troops -- occupy what?", and from that time on we knew we were just a new bunch of Joes in the dirty infantry. The rain turned our area into a sea of slop. The water made our afternoon hike to the invasion beaches hell and blistered our feet so we could hardly walk. So when we couldn't walk, they had us run! And how we loved our Jeep -- riding colonels -- the big bastards! (Lt. Col. Bryant and Williams).
One Sunday afternoon our patches came back and we sewed them on our uniforms again. I used yellow yarn on my combat jacket and it looked like rays of sun, I thought. Then we hiked down for showers and got dirtier than before by wading thru the mud after going home. On the 8th of October we got orders to pack our duds, clean our rifles, wear ODs and be ready to go on the morrow for the rail head so we were finally off reserve for Patton and were going to form the 9th Army in Germany.
That Sunday it rained all day and so we rolled wet full field packs, loaded our duffle bags on trucks and started hiking at noon, each man carrying a pack of 70# plus a full issue of ammo and all of it wet. We hiked to Valognes about 20 miles away and got there at sundown, pitched camp in an orchard so small that many couldn't set up a pup tent and slept until 5 A.M. Got up and ate cold K ration, got our duffle bags and hiked thru slop 6 inches deep to the R.R. viaduct and climbed into our 40 Hommes, 8 Chevous (an American one -- transportation corps) and with a huge bang, took off for ????
We finally got settled, duffle bags on the floor, packs and rifles hung on telephone wire and in the ceiling and so we lived for five days, ate 10-in-i rations cooked on coleman stoves, shit in the fields, got wet, cold, bumped and stood with cold fear in our hearts as we saw the horrors of wrecked towns bombed and shelled out of existance -- people with those dazed looks and little children looking for chocolate for "Mama" and cigarettes for "papa". Many times we were shunted onto side tracks to sit for hours to have an ambulance train slide by with those men in them -- just out of it the easy way. One stopped beside our car the second day. It came out of the rain and a boy only 18 or 19 lay on a bunk missing a leg and in a body cast with dried blood on the gauze and that look in his hopeless eyes as he kept his eyes toward us -- we going up. It hit us all pretty hard even Capt. Pete. We went up north east of Paris, past the Renault factory all wrecked and broken - we even buried the little dog and gave a case of ration to the little girl who lost him and wept over his grave like a little sister, anyone's.
Part #2: Belgium
Soon we passed into Belgium and on the afternoon of Oct. 24 we pulled into Tongerenges, the railhead, heard a washing [6-92] machine motor and everyone but us hit the dirt. We just sat there and laughed at them. Then we learned they were buzbombs VIs -- none hit near us tho. They were going on to Liege -- to the railroad yards and the airfield and hospital. We loaded off the train onto trucks and as darkness fell we rolled into Holland -- piled off the trucks and huddled in the cold listening to planes drone overhead.
The country changed as we rolled on. We put on our overcoats and by 2000 it was dark. Now and then a shell screamed overhead and with 20MM ack-ack dug in on all sides and soon we passed a set of dragons teeth and a marked sign -- This is the border -- beyond lies Germany!! We turned left into, a pine forest and stopped. We had been driving black out and in the dark they led us into a forest only 200 yards inside Germany. We established a C.P. and Tom told me to organize the Guard for the rectangle. We got the sign and countersign and dug in -- shallow foxholes 20 ft apart -- babes in the woods. I was up all night.
In the morning we saw where we were. Orders were given to clean up and get our radios from Bn., roll our battle packs and go up as advance party for the company. Soon a truckload of overshoes came and the captain saw that the runners and messengers and radio men got first choice. I took a 5 buckle pair size 12 that came up to my knees. After lunch we dug deeper and at 1600 a note came around that church services would be held for all across the road and so Tom and I went together. Chaplain Hill spoke quietly on the things which might lie ahead and as we prayed the Lords Prayer, they came over again. He paused and told us to cover up again and he went on -- "for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever ahmen". He spoke of our teachings in our homes and in closing we kook our Bibles and turned to Romans 8 -- "There is therefore no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, for I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principles nor powers nor things present, nor things to come not height nor depth nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord". Now may God bless you and keep you safe -- amen.
So we rose, shouldered our weapons and with tears in our eyes, Tom and I went slowly back to our duties. That night I wrote a V mail to mom saying I am putting on my pack and going up - may God be merciful to me and to you both. That night went quickly and at 5 A.M. the guard woke Tom and me to go to Bn. with Lt. Weigand. It was a dark rainy morning and so loaded with full field pack and 2-pr. shoes we went over. I gave Kat my letter asking him to mail it which he did and by 0900 we loaded in half trucks -- radio on, my backpack, between my legs and standing beside and loaded and cocked 50 MG with a Lt. and driver from the 29 Inf. div. we took off over a network of roads past bloated cows and horses and beet fields. We stopped in a town to ask directions and soon stopped at a spot where a sign said "Hot corner". We piled out -- the vehicles turned around and [7-93]
From a German field map.
Area of action -- Co. F., 405th Reg. From: Fraelenberg to Roerdorf.
Note: Underlined towns are of special interest in this war story.
Area is about 20 miles west of Cologne, Germany.
The Roer River is depicted in the upper right hand corner of map.
Click on the above image for a larger view of map.
roared off leaving us beside the road to cache our packs and wait. Tom and I kept about 20 ft. apart and hugged the bank on the right side of the road. This was Frielenberg -- Bn. C.P. was in the basement of a drug store and later orders were given to bring our packs inside and wait. Tom and I went out together across the road and just as we got in the center of the road Jerry came over. We flopped down there -- no protection at all as shells ripped the bank ahead. We laid there and prayed. He made three passes. None hit us or came closer than 10 feet. Hairless got instructions to billet the company in houses and set a CP in the pillbox atop the hill which we did.
The 2nd armored was pulling back and we took their houses -- (basements) -- the cooks fed us hot food and by 1600 we were ready for the men coming in by truck at 2100 at Bn. We ate some supper and soon Weigard came running -- changed orders -- set up CP in domed pillbox -- dig in 2 platoons and occupy defense positions and move in outlying houses. They had no basements and so with the radio we went out the gully to the plain and Tom and Hairless scouted -- found nothing available safe from artillery -- went back to Bn. and had the orders recinded. They left me as guard at the Y and darkness fell. Soon flares, shells, and screaming mimi's came in. I Huddled in a doorway and waited -- pitch dark. No further instructions but halt and recognize all passing troops. Soon out of the darkness came huddled figures. They halted on order -- sign and countersign Rain Cloud, and passed on down the slimy road. It was E co., then came H and part of G co. as forward troops, next came I and R and a group of C and pioneering boys. Then listening past for BV. Soon it was raining hard. A Jeep rolled up and to my relief out stepped Dugan. "Souder, report to Co. Hqtrs. at once". "OK". They loaded the Jeep again and I jumped in for a ride back to Hqtrs. At least I wasn't forgotten. I found our C.P. in 101 as we had planned and later Hops came in and asked for a guide. Took 2nd platoon and Lt. Fletcher and I led them out to the domed pillbox to dig in. The slope to the entrance was a slippery mess and hands and knees were the best transportation. Hops directed the digging in and left me as messenger to Mousey for the night.
At dawn he left and I crawled inside for 2 hrs. of sleep in 48. Around 0700 I was awakened to be told the line was out so I started out tracing it back over the flat ground toward the outer village past H co. dug in with their 80 MM mortars -- past the vangard of big M4s with long 76MM and 75 artillery, back down the Y over the left bank and up street #1 -- to the company C.P. to find Tom waiting -- smiling as usual and as usual also bent on putting the company maps on a Bn. basis for Hops. Kitten had been sent out with 130 wire to form a net in company area on a sound power set up which required constant operators from each platoon. But it was a good chain. Rabbi, Mousey, Birdman, Hairless wire code names of platoon Lts. and a suffix of #2 for the Tech sgt. Mousey needed packs, hot boxes, overcoats, gloves and gasoline, [8-94] plus ten and ones and K rations. So at dark the 4 platoon was ready to pack the supply out with me as guide for them. Each man had a pack board full loaded and guns at port arms. So we led out down the Y out thru the outer town and by that time the moon was high in the sky. We cleared the last house and tanks at 5 yd. intervals -- a burst of MG fire cut loose so we sank as we did for daylight flares over German lines. After what seemed an hour we got to the pillbox and inside this was the first touchy job for our men and they were soaked with sweat. Somehow it didn't bother me too much. Then after a rest they started back. While going thru the outer town a horse clopping on cobblestones scared us to death. He did it to other groups until an armored man put an end to it. I was sorry for the horse. And so back to basements.
This was the pattern for 3 days. We ate 5 -- 7 meals a day and shit accordingly. We rounded up the cows and kept them in the kitchen until Golden boy objected so out they went. The nights were clear starlight -- full moon and very frosty. Guard was kept -- two men at night on 2 hour shifts, one on 3 hr. shifts during the day. At 2230 Bed Check Charley came over each night and I suppose he took night photos for artillery spotting. Our 300 was set up in a chicken coup across the street two doors down to avoid direct shell hits from radar detectors and this required an operator so we pulled our boys from the platoons and let them work that under Kittens direction. I don't remember all their names but the hardest working bunch of men were from Hqtrs. and nowhere else. No other platoon kept the hours, did the amount of work, nor had the responsibility that we in Hqtrs. had -- so lets get that straight.
The fifth night I lead a pack party out and because of a barrage had to wait until past midnight to get back to the C.P.
Upon arrival the C.P. was a madhouse. I slipped in and crawled in to sleep. Soon Hops came from Bn. with the report that an enemy patrol had come thru G. Co. lines and were prowling the back area looking for the Bn. C.P. armed to the teeth. We were ordered to send out a combat platoon along the Y taking the right road to an estate called Muthagen and back -- to send a radio man along for Bn. hookup and to do so at once. So 4th platoon got the Grease guns and moved out at 0030. Faure was the radio man and the Captain gave him orders not to open the net unless attacked and be careful about obeying messages, so out they went. They were gone an hour and the report was called false so Bn. radioed our boys to come back but Faure was under orders and wouldn't reply, so time passed to 0200 and still not back. Hops called the platoon leaders and asked for a volunteer to go out and bring them back. No, one spoke. I sat up to watch and soon felt all eyes on me. I was the only one there who knew the route so I said I'd go. Got up and dressed. Hops showed me the big map and told me to take a guard and "God bless you". "Remember the boys are scared and are apt to be trigger happy." I took Kinchloe and we [9-95] started out.
The moon was just east of the Zenith making it hard to see. Everything was deathly still and the slop of mud was terribly loud as we walked. We cleared the outer village and walking cautiously moved out. At the next junction I thought I heard something so stopped and listened, then moved ahead. Soon something settled in a ditch. I was afraid to stop and afraid to go on so I stood upright and moved slowly ahead. I heard the grit of sand on a trigger and then "Halt". I froze. Sgt. Otis had challenged me, change sign and counter sign. Weigand came forward and we filed back. Hairless later said that if an angel had come out of the sky, no one could have been more welcome than me. This cemented our companionship and I always felt that when I would get it, it would be with Hairless nearby. So it was. The Captain said "that's a good job -- thanks -- very well done", which meant more to me than a months salary. "To him who serves" and the captain was a real man. Brilliant and sincere now and careful of his men -- careful of their safety.
The next 2 days passed quietly. I roamed the rest of Frielinberg with Hops. He visited all of the C.P.'s of G Co. and looked over the rough terrain which lay to the south of Geilenkirchen. G co. had 3 C.P.'s and all were captured pillboxes. We skirted the old Catholic Church on the hill and found a pastry shop disguised -- another troop shelter -- that no one had been in before. They blew it up the next day. Also looked over the layout of the one remaining resident who later turned out to be an agent who was sending news to the Jerries by pigeon. They fixed him with the help of T/sgt. Reardon who had to keep pigeons, boy! Did they ever move him out in a hurry. We also rung more wire out of Lt. DeCamp and even some 110 -- about a mile of it. So we laid it out to the forward O.P. for Bn. These were grey wet days. Just exchange of artillery and mortars. Burst of MG fire at night and recorded broadcasts from the railroad tracks in Germany. The old chow line with clanking mess kits and the horse and wagon on a cobblestone road.
The next day we got orders to relieve E co. on the line so we moved out the next night. Never have I seen such a mess of wire. The com. sgt. of E co. was green and his lines were laid under direct observation of Jerry. So we packed up and moved out night and early morning. 1st platoon and part of 2nd took up a forward chateau surrounded by an apple orchard, two highways to Geilenkirchen and a RR track 250 yds. foward) over flat beet fields and 1500 yds. to the town. The rest of 2nd was dug in just south of head-quarters while 4th or part was dug in mortar positions to our east. 3rd platoon had the pillbox some 4000 yards away connected with only wire and a 536 radio. Sgt. Reardon and Sgt. Thims had this little plum with a section of 60 MM mortars. The next morning E co. sgt. took me over part of the line out to the forward C.P. and the other running over to Birdman. This last line was OK to our old advance C.P. but the rest was untemantable by day and under MG fire. So [10-96] he pointed out the line and said it ran that way. With Reardon was McCullough and he kept the line in up to the other C.P. and Bn. O.P. so I didn't have too far to go when the line went out often. Out at 1st platoon was also an artillery O.P. observation Lt. and an 0.P. for direct cannon fire from cannon co.
To get there we went thru a shallow draw then thru a hedge into an apple orchard -- past a downed tree and then into the outer courtyard, past the green house, an old still steam threashing machine, between a tool shed and the main house and into a stone arch down 27 steps -- turn left, thru a blackout drape, turn right and into the concrete and brick cellar supported by steel I beams. Here Sgt. Matufefsky held forth. He had a huge dressing table mirror on which he wrote notices, news on how much artillery was behind us (some 57 Bns) and orders to his boys. Here also was T/5 Walker as cook and Wonjack the medic plus Sgt. -- and a section of light MGs who ate Cs/Ts and ten in ones -- were always out of H20 and ammo. and grenades. Sgt. Hancock, Sgt. Gray, Sgt. Isabell and Sgt. Otis. They were dug in between the two roads and little ---- kept the platoon line in and used the 536 when cut off in the pinches. Hqtrs was dug into an old hedgerow with our C.P. about 15 feet underground carved from solid clay.
The main room was 30' long by 6' wide and 5' high with a T off of it about 4 x 6 x 4 where the officers slept. In front of the T was the desk and phones with the constant flickering candles or pot of bacon grease at the far end by the air vent. The Hqtrs boys slept with Sgt. Brown and Pittman -- the runners were over by the door at the other end. And so we kept house. That day the line went out so at dark I started out to fix it. Took 3 guards on Hops orders - Vandergreft, McMillan, and Moya -- and started on the line to 1st platoon. Found the breaks -- mortars -- and went out to 1st platoon -- darn scared -- but was ordered back to the C.P. Started on the other line, never having been over it before. Bumped into the AA boys and suprised them to see a 4 man patrol going thru the beet fields over the road, and into the other beet field past "Hot Corner" testing the line with a EE8A A every 200 feet, so I got the name of the "Minnesota Kid". As we neared the old O.P. we ran on E co. positions, were halted, sign and countersign -- passed on. Still no break. Stopped there to get warm. Then started out following the line toward Jerry -- not knowing whether we were bound. Soon about 600 yards away a spot started to rise out of the plain and took shape as a pillbox surrounded by dirt and barbed wire. We found a break near there and checked in with Sgt. Tedford. From there to Reardon was in so I never got down to Reardon that night.
So went back to our hole in the ground. And so to sleep for a few hours. The radio shack was about 30 feet from our C.P. Also dug into the bank with a bush for camoflage for the antenna then an old 75 shell case. Here "Mother" Mitchell and Faurre held forth and just below them was Katy and Ganz -- always arguing about the mud. The other [11-97] tracked in. The radio shack was in the shape of an L with the opening about 2 feet off the floor level. Our radio chain was on partial alert, on to check in on net call each 2 hrs. and always open for emergency after dark till dawn and was blacked out. Batteries were changed every 2 days using battery pack 80's. Mitchell had one squad stove and always was cooking or washing dishes. Many the bacon and coffee I had there. Mitch was a fine fellow, close to 38 but cheerful and a good man on the radio. Each noon Sibold and Lewis came from Bn. bringing authentification, password, net calls and card crown codes so we saw them off and on. Lough and Robeson were guards at Bn. and T/4 Slim was cooking at Rest Camp. Zimetbaum and T/5 Large, Murphy, and T/5 Cushman were at supply point with the Jeeps and came up at dark with supplies. Sgt. Brown was always in the C.P. with Pittman. Ross was with the Captain. Dowd with Hairless and myself on the line or with Evenson, Rabenowitz, Fletcher or any other place where needed. Sgt. Brown tried to save me and kept me from daily details so as to be fresh for my nightly work which lasted from dark to dawn (or 14 hours.)
Part #3: Belgium
I tried to get off a letter home once a week and on Nov. 7 I got a pass back off the line from 0600 until 2000. Ross, Dowd, and I went back to Palenburg for showers. We met at Bn. for a truck and by 0700 were eating our breakfast in a house with a roof on it just within artillery fire range. We hurried for hot showers and so warm and clean we took the two hour truck ride into Maastricht, Holland.
This town on the Maas River was little destroyed except along the river and many of the churches are still standing. Ross, Dowd, and I bought some tarts against the rule of barter with civilians and some sweet winter pears and started up to St. Christopher's built in 1226 with its enclosed abbey grounds, covered cloisters and great sanctuary. We had our arms and belts and ammo on and as we went in we slung arms and walked up the isle to he altar where a maid was fixing flowers for a wedding that night. We looked over the altar and moved back looking at the shrines then at the organ in the balcony in the rear, then we took off our helmets and knelt in prayer) side by side. I don't remember what our words were but I'm sure we prayed for our families, friends and forgiveness for the things we were doing and so after a while we rose, crossed ourselves and took our arms and moved out with care, and fear somewhat lifted from our hearts. And so back to the trucks for the ride back to -- only God knows. That night the line stayed in and I got lots of sleep. On the next day we were told to watch out for Jerry trouble so we cleaned our equipment and ate well. My line stayed in all day and everything was so quiet that it wasn't healthy.
At dark many flares went up over the lines. We had an air alert and at 2200 all hell broke loose. All lines to the 1st platoon went out. We alerted Bn. by 0300 and as the ground shook under the artillery barrage we realized the long awaited counter attack was here. Capt. Pete chewed his [12-98] nails. We were all ready to go so by midnight we couldn't wait longer so Capt. Pete said "Souder -- I've go to know how 1st platoon is -- fix the wire but be careful -- take Mac as guard". So I crept up the steps and took the line in hand and found the first break by the 50 MG nest, fixed it. Shells were coming in one every minute in the orchard ahead and we moved on. At the hedge a tree cut the line again. We heard one coming and flattened and got showered with branches -- a tree burst. We were unhurt. At the downed apple tree was another break. Fixed that and by the green house the wire was all gone so I cut into another line and patched. As soon as I made the last connection I felt the current go thru so I knew all was alright. Took Mac into the C.P. and Matrisefsky with tears of joy greeted me "God I'm glad you've come". (And you say there is no reward for my wire work.) They gave me wine. Got orders back to the Hqtrs. C.P. so Mack and I went out.
Jennings had the radio on at the top of the steps. One came in close and we rolled down the steps together. Went up again but was told the line was out again. So we took up the line. Moved out to the greenhouse and we found the break. Got to fixing it when we heard them coming -- 150s -- and we flattened on the bare ground. Everything flew around us -- glass, bricks, steel, trees, mud. After we could breathe again I looked at Mac. He was alright. Where our line was -- 12 feet away was a hole big enough to hide a Jeep and we were safe. 0 Great and Merciful God. We again patched and went to the C.P. Got a call asking for a guard for prisoners coming thru and an armed German medic. So out I went again. Got 4 of them -- all Poles. Brought them back and took the medic down to the Capt. Just a kid. He was the N.C.O. over the attacking Poles, each of whom had a surrender pamphlet for safe passage.
The counter attack, under a 40 minute rolling barrage had failed. Two columns were to cut behind the chateau and one got thru, the other never materialized. We killed and captured the others -- 18 in all -- thank God -- no tanks -- so we turned in for a while for my much needed sleep and still a set of quaking nerves. The day passed quietly then we got word that the 84th would attack in two days thru us at 0600 with British tanks in support. That night a bunch of 84 engr. came forward to clear the lanes for the tanks with mine detectors. I led them forward at 2000, took them to the lines with Maj. Fraser in tow returned to the C.P. and got settled only to hear boots on the stairs and down came the commander of the British II Army. Gen. Montgomery and his staff -- two colonels and a major -- after formalities they asked for a guide to the entire front lines in our sector so the Captain said -- "Souder take these men forward to Mats, Reardon, and any place else they want to go and be careful -- go alone". So I saddled up, took grenades and moved out in the darkness -- in one spot I had to lead the General by the hand thru the orchard.
We went out forward in the right orchard and waited as he looked around. Then into Mats C.P. Were [13-99] the fellows ever surprised to see a British General. Then out along the road over to Reardons. Then back cross country to the brick wall on the British Bren carrier. The General said "good work corporal", got in, and rolled away. The Capt. was all questions and had me tell all. Then out came "dome Glo" and a battalion listening post. I took them out, got lost, and rewound my wire and went around another way. Laid the new line and at 4 A.M. turned in for the night in an hour the sun came up and up came more division artillery officers. So I took them up -- nearly asleep on my feet. This went on all day.
That night the British put on the artificial moonlight, searchlight battalions, tanks moved up -- troops came forward and huddled in the field near us. At 0500 the artillery opened up. At 0600 the men moved out. They didn't know what was going on. So by noon many were dead in front of us. Tanks knocked out and burning and so -- Hairless and I went forward in a convey of Jeeps -- "just to get close to the action". Our route lay north toward Geilenkerchen. As we moved up we entered a ravine and the town lay ahead of us -- all was still so we turned right and up another hill was a felled tree and a pile of branches near by. Just then a Jerry opened fire on us so we jumped for cover and returned the fire. This went on for a few minutes so Weigand said "let's go thru" and he and the first 3 Jeeps got thru the hole but the last Jeep thru dragged a big branch into the hole so I had the drivers turn around and got out of town the way we came in.
I reported back to the C.P. and told Hops what had happened. Not long after, Hairless rolled up in a tank to report that I was taken a prisoner and it was his fault. Hops smiled and said "some day I'll loose a good wire man and a damn fool Lt. now get the H out of here". Hairless gave me a little compass as a keepsake of our trip together and I still have it. That night after supper Rabinowitz got hot about the line being out so I told him to go fix it himself. When a division of men and tanks move, no line stays in. So we slept quite well that night as the front line was a mile farther up from us. The next day we packed up and after spending the morning salvaging wire we rolled back to Frielenberg for awhile -- 1 day. Here we got the things I could use -- A billfold, pictures, cheese, plum jelly, Fanny Farmer candy, crackers and a pound of fruit cake. The latter I kept in my left hip pocket. Had to load the Exec. officers Jeep trailer and at 9 A.M. the next day we moved to Geilenkirchen along the RR tracks from the east. We moved in carefully in the rain as usual.
I was just behind the Captain as we neared the buildings and was busy transmitting when the Captain grabbed me and pointed down. There was a 3 foot RR mine. I would have stepped on it and so Hops saved us all -- just a real C.O. We moved into a jeweler's house with a grand piano in it. It had lots of music on the piano -- all Peters addition and I wanted to send it home. The basement was full of canned food in glass. And after we moved the potato masher [14-100] grenade from the potato bin we got 6 bottles of red and white wine under them. So we put on a feed.
That night as I posted the guard I was scared -- an unfamiliar town and a dark street and a nice friendly shell now and then. By the next day we were ready to move. We caught a pig and locked it in the outhouse. The next day we caught a sniper in a church tower and plugged him with our 50 on the Jeep. Nice little work for the afternoon -- with more rain. Then we were ordered to move to Puffendorf and Immendorf. So we bound the pig -- put it on the truck. Passed the Col. Bryant and headed out at 1730 but my radio wasn't working so we finally in two hours reached the town and finding no basements we put up in an old house on the 1st floor. That night we got orders to move out the next morning at 0800 against Beeck. We were up all night but I got an hour sleep between 0500 - 0600, got my boots on (never had them off), took a slug of the C.O.'s whiskey, took the radio to Bn. and got it fixed. Stuck transmitter. After seeing Tom and giving him a fourth of Mom's fruitcake we saddled up and got splashed by the English tanks coming up for the attack.
Group picture - Taken on Jan. 1, 1945 with Chaplain Damn holding services for Men of Co. F - 405th Reg 102 Div. In Geronsweiler, Germany
Here it is interesting to note that the chaplain has not been in any foxholes and is in a spotless uniform and with neatly trimmed hair. Contrast this with the men he is talking to -- in battle gear and freshly out of the mud and grime of the fox holes.
This picture first appeared in the Division history book published in 1946. There was NO caption as to what unit these men came from and it took 40 years for the identification to be made public. These men were in thecrossing of the Roer River after the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945 and at the present time (2002)-- there are only 3 still alive. (in this picture). (Click on Image to see larger version...)
25 November 1944
We turned out E and G forward and us in reserve about 1000. In a grey fog under artillery barrage, we moved out slowly thru an apple orchard in a hollow diamond with the Captain in the point. A red brick barn was in the distance and that was Beech. By now it had started to rain and snowing but I was the only radio contact with Bn. reporting advances and raising artillery fire. E. Co. on the right got stopped cold on a down slope. G Co. got trapped by a pillbox reported neutralized by Bn. G Co.tried to rush the barn but all were killed -- even Buzz Thurner and the Lt. who had the 300. We were in a draw near the advance medics and here we saw our own men bleeding. Wemelling with both cheeks of his ass cut off by a burp gun and laid on top of where they belonged with the blood running out underneath. He was only one of many and with the mud and noise and fear and bogged down tanks and no Jeeps to move the wounded -- all calls for everything passed thru me to Bn. and back. Then the "Bull" ordered us to retreat -- go around E co. Right flank and attack -- as I turned to give this message to Hops, we started up the hillside, my radio cut out with a snap.
We got up on top with the tanks and I reported to Dugan about the radio and took it off. On the left rear was a bullet hole and the back of the radio had a dent (just by my heart) I would have been dead in a minute if it had come thru -- Thank God.
We loaded the radio on a British tank and just then the mortars came in. Hairless had put the mortars into use. And I guess they hurt Jerry as we got lots in return. I had no entrenching tool so I took my sheath knife and in half an hour had a hole 4 feet deep. But we moved forward on order of the tanks so we went down another valley where the platoon of tanks bogged down by the stream and here we met our own company men coming back wounded. Sgt. Hancock was holding his hand with a hole the size of a teacup clean thru [15-101] it. God it made us sick. Others came back the same way and then darkness settled down to be cut by streams of tracers and H.P. So we dug in and protected the tanks until they moved back to night positions. I remembered seeing a dead Jerry, so I went and took his shovel with a hole in it and dug off of a shell hole to be soon joined by Dugan and Ross. The C.O. was back 10 yds so we were close together and after getting down 5 feet I fell asleep to be awaked by Ross saying a 300 was over at the Captains hole so I crawled out and got it, ducking the streams of tracers from the right, got it working, and boy it was nice to hear others voices again. So it rained on. We all were sitting in 6 inches of water -- covered with mud -- but my pistol and carbine were clean. Soon it was light and we were told that Fort Knox was coming at 0800. So we waited. By 1030 they came up over the hill and were cut down by 88s. During the night we learned we were against a Panzer regiment with Tiger Royals dug in the outskirts of town. Nice people -- we got orders to attack behind the tanks at 1200. They came over and 3 got forward and our first platoon moved out but Gunfire came in on us -- our own, firing from the flank. So we called and called for medics but none could get up to take our wounded out -- so some of our men died there without even a shot of morphine.
At 1400 another try was made with Col. Bryant riding a tank. This also was a failure and pinned them down up front -- wonder how Bryant liked living in a foxhole with mud and water running down his neck. At 16 - 1700 orders came for us to move without tank support. We got ready and started to leave our holes. How I prayed it would stop. Just then Hops went down -- a sniper bullet thru his right leg and then the effort was called off as an answer to someones prayer. Maybe mine. I went forward with Hops to the front platoons for a little bit. Ducked a mortar barrage and came to a tank track rut to find Wilcox screaming in pain with Wright there. His leg was torn off just below the hip and he had gotten a burst of MG. There wasn't anything to do. He said "go see my folks if you get back." We said we would and soon the end came. We all somehow got back to our holes and reported that Hops was hit and Rabbi was in command. Huff came back after being pinned under a tree. Our wounded were brought back by my hole and laid on the straw near by. Some medics did get up then around 2200. We also got some Ks up and ate first time in 2 days and then we all dozed off. No one had a weapon that would fire so we passed out grenades and close to 0400 we put our heads out the holes to see boys from the 84th there to relieve us as Hairless had gone back to Bn. and told them how things really were. Hqtrs was the last group away so Dugan helped me with the radio and we moved off over the hill and 2 miles to Plummerin, past knocked out Tiger tanks. My back started to give out and I grabbed onto the F.O. coat for support twice as he was ahead of me. Guess Tom went ahead -- I lost him anyway. We got thru town and into a house where we dumped our gear. [16-102] Here Matusefsky was passing out turkey sandwiches and an inch of rum with water chaser. That was terrible stuff but it gave us a boost. We ate them and ducked for the cellar when the 88s came in again. Here we got together and counted noses and cried like babies over our lost friends. Then we moved to another house, took off our shoes. Woke up about 1600 next day.
26 - 28 November 1944
I Slept 36 hours as had most everyone else. We started to clean up and dry out by scraping our clothes with knives. I got the radio next morning and so started cleaning it up. Some job. That morning was clear and P-47's came in and we watched them bomb Beeck. How we cheered as the bombs fell and how we wished for a little of that kind of support the day before. My back was still bothering so I went over to the medics and got it taped and it did help. So by 1500 we were ordered to get ready to move out at 2000 so we started out in the bright moonlight by the round about way. Jerry knew we were moving but he gave the wrong road a barrage and we got out safely. We stopped thru the icy mud between great lines of trees on the roads and thru two more towns as we neared Geronsweiller, just 1200 yds. from the Roer. Here we got lost. After waiting at the schoolhouse and hour and as morning came on we were lead out to our position. The ground was perfectly flat so we climbed down into a trench. Here the water was in places over our knees, and the footing almost impossible until we came to a pillbox. We were the point of the line, like at Geilenkerchen and gaps covered only by fire on our flanks. Here we moved in, got the phone lines in and settled down while Johnny Aircorps droned over. We got a 2 hr. guard started and radio contact every hour on the hour. I got 2 hrs. sleep then Tom and I took over the shift -- Tom working on the maps and I on the radio and also got 2 pages of a letter written to Mom. The radio was weak on my last call out. I let it go as morning was near. We woke up Ross and Pittman, turned in until we woke up to rifle fire at 0730. I jumped for the radio and called for artillery but the set was dead so I grabbed a battery and broke the set down, stuffed it in, and got sending. Meanwhile Hairless was shooting above our heads in the trench -- and so was everyone else. But we got the enemy patrol away. So we finished our breakfast with cherry jam in 10-in-1 ration. Weigand was going in for supplys and I needed shaving equipment so I asked Dugan to go along. He said OK but get the crown code at Bn. for the attack, so we got rolling at once. Stopped to get Sarge and the Jeep at the shit house. Took a B.A.R. in for repair and went on into Geronsweiller. I stopped at Bn., got the code, then rolled on back to Geilenkirchen and up to our old C.P. and greeted Zimetbaum and the cooks and Cushman. We loaded our Jeep. I finished my letter -- signed Weigands signature on the letter and then took an hoars bath. Changed to clean clothes from the skin up. Took off the tape on my back. Then we ate a hurried dinner of HOT food, mostly German. And then we took off for the front again. Sarge and Hairless in [17-103] front, myself, Dowd, and Ross in the back -- as we rolled out past the spot we had been sniped at, hairless said -- "remember the place". I surely did. We rolled on in the light rain that was falling.
1600 Hrs: 28 November 1944
As we reached the outskirts of Geronsweiller, we speeded up and crouched lower to avoid the rain. I looked up to see something and saw men lying in the fields get up and make a dash for cover. It came to me too late that they were under an artillery barrage. Just then everything went boom, the Jeep jumped to the right and stopped. Sarge and Hairless jumped out as did Ross and Dowd. I saw Ross holding his left arm with blood coming thru his fingers. Then I tried to jump out but couldn't move my left leg, so I rolled to the right, off the Jeep and down into the mud by the right rear wheel. I tried to get up but couldn't. I reached down to feel for my left leg -- it felt as if it wasn't there but I touched it. Then I became aware of a terrible burning that I couldn't fight. God I was scared. Then Hairless ran up and crouched beside me and asked how I was. I told him I couldn't move and was paralyzed -- hit in left side. He said "hang on, and I'll get you help". I tried to move but the effort was so terrible. Just dropped my head in the mud face down and cried. I remember listening to the air escape from the tire as some more shells came in. Then there was shouting and grinding of brakes as a Jeep pulled up.
From a German map of Geilenkirchen.
The image above is in 3 sections. Click on ANY section to view a full map with description of events that unfolded there during October and November 1944.
Click on the above image for a larger view of map.
Soon two medics were on my left side with a stretcher. They rolled me over on my left side, over the wound, and I guess I screamed in pain. They left me flat on my back, loaded me on the rack over the left fender and with Dowd and Ross rear and Weigand standing in the front, clearing traffic, they took off. I grabbed onto the white flag on the fender as each bump hurt me and I know I was praying out load -- O God, give me strength to stand the pain. Finally we stopped beside a house. Dowd went in the door and me they passed in thru a window after they had pried my fist off the flag. The room had electric lights and shutters on the window. They laid Ross down on a stretcher and fixed his arm. I laid on the floor asking one of the aid men for a shot of morphine.
In 10 minutes they carried Boyd off and laid my stretcher up on the table. They cut my right sleeve off and gave me the morphine while the surgeon cut the clothes off my left hip, felt around, removed my cartridge belt and bandaged the hip. I reached inside my shirt and gave them the code board with instructions as to who it was go to and then the dope started to flood me with the sweet warmth. They put me in an ambulance lower and we took off for someplace else -- the 405th reg. aid station. Here they checked the bandage, put on by the 734 tank Bn. station cut my right sleeve up the the elbow and started a transfusion. But they had to work on it as air got in the tube and meanwhile Ross and Dowd were carried in. We talked for a while and as they didn't get a transfusion, they were taken out before I was ready to go. soon the plasma was in and I was covered with blankets and placed hurriedly in a waiting ambulance on top.
Part #4: Germany -- Belgium -- Holland -- England
The [18-104] darky driver drove fast for a half hour and we got to a big tent hospital. Here they unloaded us, carried us into a room where men asked us our names and addresses, checked our evacuation tickets, counted our blankets and then I was singled out and placed in another ambulance with a Major who was in danger of bleeding to death from loss of a foot. That was a wild ride back into Holland to the 76th Evac.
Here they took us into a tent, then on into a big auditorium, put us on tables, took tin snips and cut every stitch off of us. I got my pockets cleaned out and saved for me. Then they gave us warm blankets out of an oven and in 5 minutes was moved to the Xray machine and kept on our backs. They took two pictures and loaded us on the stage with wires strung 5 feet overhead to wait for the proofs. I dozed and woke up to see mine hanging above me. One was full of dots and one showed a piece of metal by my spine all ruff. Almost at once a chief nurse started around and came to me rapidly. She looked at the pictures, called two orderlies in a hurry and they picked me up an took me to room 2 &emdash; a school room fitted with 2 operation tables. A major short and fat, smoking a stub digar and dressed in off color white shirt and trousers, Major Houston, came over, flipped off the blankets, while a lovely nurse grabbed my right arm and pulled it out, tied it down, inserted a big syringe in the vein and the doc asked me where my stomach hurt. He punched around some and I was just going to tell him over on the right side when the nurse said, you'll never see any action again. Then everything went black.
29 November 1944
I woke up the next morning about 0700 and saw the room was full of men on stretchers. With ward boys watching us. As we stirred they came to us to see were we alright, serviced us, and we dozed off to wake up soon with a Dutch nurse raising our pajama sleeve for a penicillin shot. I told her I hurt and she smiled and went on. They washed our faces and brought us hot cereal and cocoa. Then they gave us some sulfa and dope and got me ready to move.
About 1000 we were loaded into an ambulance and rolled back to Liege, Belgium, getting there about 1300. Here German P.O.W.s carried us into long tent wards and I drew one near the door on the horizontal side &emdash; near the stove. They fed us and checked our tags and folios. Then, as night fell, we slept until several boys jumped up and dove under their beds. As I listened, I heard a washing machine motor. Then it cut out and soon the tent nearly collapsed. Then came the sound of the explosion -- they were VIs headed for the city, the RR yards 600 yds. away and the airdrome. They kept coming over every 10 minutes and even had I wanted, I couldn't have gotten under the bed then. The boy next to me stood several hours of it and as one came and hit the hospital, he dived under his bed -- he was in a full body cast and refused to be raised up so they covered him there and he stayed there until dope took effect. Then they put him back to bed. I was hurting so I got a blue 88 and went to sleep.
30 November 1944
Woke next morning and ate some breakfast and soon they started to talk of the air evac. as it was a clear day. [19-105] In came the nurse and said beds 1 thru 16 were going out.I was #2 or 3 so the PWs came in and took us out to the ambulance again. I was put on the bottom where I could look out the back window. The darky driver pointed out where several VI's had hit. We worked our way up a bluff to the field where we were quartered in a house, lined up by number, and here we had lunch. About 1500 the doctor came around and checked us again. I asked for some codeine and got 3 tablets. Then we were loaded in the ambulances for a short ride to the waiting planes. They had just brought in cargos of 100 octane gas and each 6 ambulances raced for a waiting C47. Here we were loaded in great speed and as soon as all were on and fastened down, the plane took off for England.
I drew a bottom deck and being full of dope I don't remember much but the sun over the channell was all gold and made us feel better. We flew about 15 - 2000 feet and just before dark we set down somewhere in England and were placed in ambulances for a 20 mile ride to the 347th station hospital. We were carried to another ward and put in real beds. Oh how soft they seemed after 112 hrs. on a canvas litter. Soon they brought in our ice cream which froze on the trip over the channell in the tail. Then a young M.D. came around and changed our dressings and we were made ready to sleep. I got a much lighter dressing and se went to sleep.
Next morning I woke up about 0600 and pulled my hand out from under the covers and it was wet and sticky. I called the nurse who looked under the blankets and took off for the doctor who came on the run. Guess I had bled most of the night and the whole place was wet with blood. I got two pints of whole blood and 3 of plasma in 20 minutes. Guess they were scared and I was pretty scared too. They loaded us in more ambulances and at 1300 we hit the main gate of the 102nd gen. hosp., near DeVises, England. I was taken to a general surgical ward -- #47 and was put in bed #2. They asked me if I had ever been in a cast and were puzzled when I said no. This was Major Scilliano's ward with Lt. Robeson, Lt. Barker as nurses, with Jim as ward boy. They got special chow for us and I rolled over and slept until 1600 when the Major came around and looked at our wounds. He ripped the tape off me and I cried. He told me not to be a baby and I said "Yes, sir" and swallowed. Then Barker dressed my hip while Garrison stood by and made remarks about the hole. I had never seen it and he promised me a mirror the next day to look at it with. He said with a wound like that you'll go home -- no kidding. Gee, Garrison was swell to us all. Gambell was in bed #1 and Richards in #3 with a lung injury and a pinch graft.
The next day while Barber was putting hot packs on my hip, Garison brought over a mirror and I took a look. It nearly made me gasp -- a hole 8 inches long, 6 inches wide and so deep it went down next to the hip bone. Guess it was 4 - 5 inches deep, all full of red blood with spots of dirt. Each time they changed the hot pack more dirt would be sticking to the gauze. They kept on feeding us sulfa and pencillin every 4 hours - 2, 6,[20-106] 10. Ganhill next to me had a nasty gash in his right leg above and behind the knee -- guess it hit the chords as when he got up he couldn't straighten his leg. But he loved to gamble, so he got down to the end of the ward despite everything. When he got a red bath robe I got one too and when he tried a pair of crutches I followed suit. Garrison farmed out his big #12 shoes so I used a left on my right. Garrison said he would help me and he did, lots. Got me in my robe, as I had no trousers on, then steadied me as I started down the hall to the biffy where I took my first crap in 5 days and also on the way back to bed and oh how good it felt so I kept this at a minimum -- once a day after supper.
This routine kept up until the 5 of Dec. when the Major came around and said -- no breakfast tomorrow -- we'll sew him up in the morning. So that night I got a yellow sleeping pill and slept until 8 A.M., then they came around with a blue 88 and more dope. They stripped me and I started to get dopey. Soon the meat wagon rolled for Bambill and in a half hour they came for me. Texas was on the cart and he was a peach. They rolled in next to me and lifted me onto the cart, covered me, wrapped a towel around my hair, stopped at the office for more Xrays, and rolled down to the operation theatre. I fell asleep. Woke up to hear the Major talking to me and he said this will hurt a little. I felt a jab and then numbness in my hip. Again he said -- hang on -- this is a deep one and boy it surely was. Then they had me back in my own bed and supper was coming around. Had slept all afternoon. I had some cocoa and toast and with another blue 88 and dope went back to sleep. Woke up and talked to Gambill at 2100. Got more shots and sulfa and went to sleep. At midnight nurse Lt. Robeson found me awake and gave me a sleeping tablet - my how fine she was. And so that part was over.
On Dec. 3 I got off a note to the folks on just what had happened in November and also a money order for $50.00 for their Christmas. But we kept hoping for mail to reach us from home and were not encouraged by the other fellows who said it would take close to 3 weeks for mail to follow us from the old outfit. Every morning the nurse would come around with hot packs for our wounds which stayed on for two hours. And again in the afternoon with more and they did feel good as the warmth helped the tissue knit as good as before.
On the 7th of Dec. a man from the P.R.O. came around making out our purple heart records and so the days passed until the 12th when the sun came out full on a fresh fall of 2 inches of snow and the hill back of the ward was so white and lovely. Very unusual for England to have snow in that amount. After lunch Maj. Smith came in and called "Attention" in a loud voice, then started to read General Order #33 -- Order of the Purple Heart. The head nurse came around and watched while Maj. Smith pinned them on. He pinned it on my pajamas top, over my heart, shook my hand, wished me good luck. It makes me feel funny to lay there and look down at that purple and white ribbon supporting the [21-107] gold heart with the picture of Washington and think what it stands for. It puts a lump in your throat. We took them off shortly after and put them in the boxes by our beds.
Click on image to view
Mine had turned to face my bed as I couldn't get over on my left hip to get in it proper. So we read a little, wrote to the folks, and then ate supper.
On the 13 the Major came around and ordered the nurse to take out every other stitch that day. So Lt. Robeson and Barber did it and cleaned out the holes. They only hurt was when they pulled the stitches, but the hip did feel easier and it did help when I moved around.
We kept praying for mail. We learned how to work the English Pound and the silver and in our odd time we read the pocket editions that the Red Cross brought around. Five days later Maj. Smith came around and ordered exercises in each ward and the last remaining stitches removed. So they pulled the other 15, and some of these did hurt a whole lot. By the 20th more men were coming in and they told Gamhill and I to get out and try walking. I tried and my left leg wouldn't hold me when it was straight. My back hurt too much and Gambill's leg was crooked at 30 degrees.
They sent me down to Physio each day at 2 and got me some socks to wear and the night of the 22nd I took my first shower and nearly fell on the slippery floor in the latrine. In physio they used deep heat and leg raising exercises and I noticed that the raising of the left leg to the rear caused considerable pain and told the nurse about it -- which later got back to Maj. Tom by the grapevine. Xmas eve came and still no mail. We had decorated the wards with paper chains and window transparencies the Major brought from London and when Xmas morning dawned clear I asked the nurse if I might go to church and she said if you want to. So I put on a clean robe and started out down the inclined ramp. Over the frosty H20 pipes and across the parade by the gate -- finally made it after six stops and enjoyed the service and stayed for the communion which followed. Chapel was full and Major Tom was there. On the way back I walked with Lt. Perl and Garrison and enjoyed the fresh air. We had baked ham and raisins and Jello for desert and the Red Cross came around with a little box of candy, cigarettes, and a waterproof cover for them which I put on my billfold and still have. And still no mail and none from my outfit.
On the 28th I went to the afternoon show, came back after supper time and found 34 letters waiting for me and the ward all torn up. I got orders and moved up to ward 64 under Lt. Lyle. I got the 3rd last bed in the cold end of the ward. Stayed there for 4 days, got shoes and was moved down to 45 on rehab. Again under the Major. Ward 45 was lovely -- a long ward with only a foot between beds. No duty to pull and lots of easy living and always warm. I got the 3rd bed on the lower right side and was next to Calliamia who had a sprained back and was a goldbrick. From here fellows went back to the Repo depots or back to the States -- Z.I. I stayed here a week and got up enough courage to tell the Major how my [22-108] back was hurting. He had me show him where and he felt around and told me to come up the next day when Maj. Smith was there. So I did. They punched my back and told me they would take that steel out of there shortly. Told me to keep quiet and get lots of rest so I did.
On Sunday, Jan. 6th, the Major took me over to Xray at suppertime and Maj. Smith was there. They stripped me and put me and Bennett under the fluroscope and located the steel and marked it by a X which they finished off with a skin scratch by a pin. They ordered the nurse to give us dope -- a blue 88 and a yellow capsule and no breakfast and so we turned in early with fear in our hearts and the lights went out early for us. Jan. 7, 1945, Monday, at 6 A.M. the nurse came and gave us another blue 88 and a sleeping pill -- took our pjs and we dozed off. I was to go first and at 0800 Texas came in with the meat wagon grumbling about having to get people from ward 45. It was still dark outside and the other fellows helped load me on the wagon as I was too dopey. We got to the operating room and I heard Maj. Tom's voice tell me to roll over and raise up and they slid a pillow under my tummy. Then Tom told me what he was going to do and I felt the first needle. Then 4 more. Soon I could feel the warm trickle run down my ass and as they worked each time they cut it hurt more and I jumped. Soon the Major asked if it was too much and I said I guess so, so he said "Nurse, penathol". She grabbed my arm and tied it down. He told me to raise my right knee and then start counting. I got up to 16 before I went out.
I woke up that afternoon about 4 P.M. in a strange ward. And Oh how I hurt. Lt. Reiley came. When the fellows said I moved and she asked me how I was and I tried to move and cried aloud. I couldn't so she gave me another 88 and 2 codeines and I went under again. Woke up again at 2000 and got my penicillin, sulfa, and soda, plus some fruit juice and a yellow pill and went back to sleep. 0 how it hurt and I couldn't stand to move anyway. The next day passed slowly. Bennett was beside me and we were miserable together. But he got up and walked around. That night Major Tom was C.Q. and he came over and asked how I felt. He told me he was sorry he'd gone in 2 inches and found nothing and he was so nice and friendly and sincere that I'd let that man do anything on me whenever he wanted to.
Part #5: Recuperation and Heading Home
I woke up several times that night and the nurse was very nice and helped me as I needed it. In the morning I ate a little breakfast and the day passed rapidly. Bennett was feeling fine and showing everyone the ball bearing from his knee which was rusting already in the air. Next day Lt. Lyle came around in a foul temper and tore away the pillow behind my back and ordered me to move my legs 20 times an hour, which was impossible. I had a bed with a 6" hollow in it, just like lying in a trough and I couldn't get rolled over, so I told Reiley I didn't know what I'd do so she got a smaller pillow tucked it under my back and she and Daisey moved on up the ward. Ward 64 was always torn up and didn't have the atmosphere of old 47, very brusque, Lysle was [23-109] young, a front line man who got trench foot and was put in a rear hospital on that account. His superior was Maj. Sloward, a big fellow, but well thought of. Wolf was ward master and a pain in the ass and was always trying to put a fellow on K. P. or shining the floor often before the boy should have been out of bed. I got some more mail and managed another letter home. Guess it was a pretty sorry excuse. The dressing man Pvt. Killduff (Kildare) was very nice and tried to shelter those of us who were not so well off.
On the afternoon of the 16th of Jan.I asked what was going to happen and got no answer but a sneer. The next morning "Ma" came in after a big convoy and helped the nurses with their work. She was the lass in charge of the operating theatre. She came to me and asked when I had my last bath. I told her 5 days so she flaxed in and got a basin, tore off the covers, stripped me and went to work. I felt silly as hell but that never bothered her. She even pulled back the skin on my peter and washed that for me. Changed my bed -- all over, got me in clean p.j.s and put a big turkish towel in the hollow of the mattress and just as she finished she said "I'll bet you 5 American dollars you're going home inside 2 month". (She was right and I never got the chance to pay her back) but she was a real woman. In the afternoon of Jan. 23, Major Sloviach and Lt. Lysle came around, ripped the tapes off, yanked the stitches, ordered me down to Xray, after telling me they were going to use a magnetic needle to locate the steel. They wired on cross wires and hustled me in a wheel chair down to Xray. I was barely able to stand and was very weak.
I got the usual blue 88, yellow sleeping pill, lost my p.j.s and went to sleep a worried boy, though I said my prayers, looked at my pictures and woke up next morning about 6 A.M. then got another 88 and then Bennett woke me up as the meat wagon was there. He helped me on and off I went -- got on the table and was told to double up which I couldn't do and in went a spinal. In spite of all the dope, I hope never to be hurt so again. They pushed 3 times and I nearly crawled off the table. Then came the terrible point of the needle going into the spinal cord. Then they pulled out the spinal fluid to mix with the dope, then pushed it back in again. Then my toes, feet, lower and upper legs got numb - up to my buttocks. But then they started to cut again and it hurt terrible and I said so.
So after 4 times like that they decided the spinal wouldn't take so while I cried they ordered penathol and I went under, Thank God, in 8 counts. They went in following a big artery. I must have twisted and Lysle cut that artery and got it all over his and the Major Slovach's glasses and continued to spurt until a stranger who was watching stepped up and put on the clamps. It was Major Scilliano who came down to keep an eye on me. Thats the kind of guy he was. They sewed the artery and closed me up -- unsuccessful.
Took me back to the ward and Bennett got the job of watching me. I didn't wake up until 4 P.M. the next day, or 28 hours later to look up and see a big oxygen machine by my bed, [24-110] tent ready to go into action and boy they were worried. Then Reiley came and took my temperature. It was 104. Asked me how I was, gave me more dope and pencillin, and read a letter just arrived from home to me and I went to sleep. On the safe side. Learned later that if I hadn't come out in 15 minutes they would have prohibited all smoking and started me on the tent. Marked me as very serious and wired Mom to that effect.
Every two hours they gave me from 2 to 4 tablets of codeine to fight the terrible pain, and oh the thoughts it brought, of screaming shells, the nights on the line wire, the stabbing of the German guard with my trench knife and the feel of the warm blood running over the hilt, the shell fire, the attacks, and all the long hospital siege went around and around. I was scared. When I woke up to keep my senses they gave me cocoa and pulled the intraveinous feeders and after that they left me alone for about 10 days and slowly I climbed back to 130#.
One lovely day I asked Lt. Lysle what was going to happen next, he came in close and said "You will be presented to the board". I asked which board. He said the Z. I. board. That meant the U.S.A. if awarded in another 3 days they helped me sit up. I couldn't get my head off the bed so one pushed my feet down while Wolf raised my head. And that was a long step forward. Next day Killdare helped me walk into the latrine but I could hardly put one foot 6" ahead of the other and to straighten up was impossible. But at least I could walk. The mail continued to come and it was very hard to answer as you couldn't say too much about the situation while writing. Then to each few days brought more and more conveys and our ward was packed with 80 beds -- I and less and less room between beds. And the food wasn't as good and the meat was irridescent at times. In about a week I was moved down to 45 again when a big convoy came in and while walking down I had a good chance to read the latest Xray and medical record reports. They didn't read very well but I learned that my spine had been broken and that was enough for me. Major Tom was in 45 again and life was about the same as before down there.
We all kept looking at the Major's notes and codes when ever he was out -- as to where we were - 60 - 90 - 120 cases and we all kept track of the number of days we were up on. About the 85th day the Major told me to report to Major Fitzhugh up at ward 57 the N.P. ward. Fitzhugh kept me waiting for four hours one afternoon and never saw me, while those N.P.'s were all around doing crazy things. The next morning he sent for me again and we talked things over again 3 days later. He tried to confuse me in what I had said and turn it back another way -- tried to make me angry with him and tell him off but I kept cool and didn't break. Finally he said he was recommending that I be put in an AA battalion behind the lines to "avoid the mental strain of combat", but that would put an N.P.on my service record and that was like being killed but there was no other way out.
Letter Home...This letter was never mailed from the hospital in England because of censorship by Army doctors and was later delivered to PFC Souder's family in 1945 after his discharge from the Army.[24A-111]
This will be a strange letter I expect. I've never before written this way and pray I never shall again. Its hard to start. As you know by now the doctors here have tried to get this piece of steel out of my back twice and have been unsuccessful both times. Now they seem unwilling to try again. I am still bothered with it sticking me off and on and feel that it might handicap me if I go into action with it there. This I have told them. So it was a deadlock as it stood.
Last Tuesday they sent me down to a Major whose field is insaniy and I had quite a session with him. It seems that they won't admit defeat with me and now are trying to get me to say I am imagining the pain and presence of the remaining steel. By so doing they could wash their hands of the whole matter and send me back to action without further ado, with no black marks on their records. Its a dastardly tick and they can do it any damn time they want to -- a privates word is not good against a Majors -- a specialist in his field. Its true that many men do carry steel in them for years but why if this steel in me was worth going after twice should it become a trivial matter in a couple of weeks? The Xrays show it clearly and the two surgeons have told me that they didn't get the steel out. There is no court of appeals for things like this, so they can screw a man anytime they want.
I will admit I am high strung -- always have been -- and after 3 months in a hospital, 4 operations, and all the dope I've taken, my nerves are worn very thin, my hands shake against my will and this thing on top of it all is enough to drive anyone mad. However I haven't broken under it yet and as long as I tell only the truth I feel I can stand up under it -- come what may. There is no one I can talk to about it and so I turn to you to release my feelings. I don't want you to worry but I've got to let off steam to somebody. Whatever you feel like doing, don't do anything -- just sit tight. I know how you'll feel when you get this and by that time everything will be done, one way or another. There are so many angles I can't write to you about and so I can't give you all the angles of the full picture (censorship). I am not trying to escape combat as it holds no unusual fear for me and I'll go back to do my duty as well as any man, but as I am now, its murder if I go back this way -- tho it worries them not at all. This may be the will of God but I can't reconcile myself to it. The Bible says "The Lord is a just God".
It was during these days that Lt. Reiley kept me on the right [25-111] track. She grabbed me one Sunday afternoon and talked turkey to me and got me to stop worrying about it and I can truthfully say that she kept me from cracking up under the strain of the 5 days. She surely was an angel. Then one day while in ward 45 the head nurse read off a list of names to see Major Usher, the chief of surgery.
I went down and waited for him. He came in and talked to me, asked to see the scars and I took down my pants for him and he poked them and said that's all. Then he talked with Major Slowack and Smith and told me to go back to my ward. That was Feb. 19, Monday. That was all -- later I learned that that was the Z. I. board. And so the days passed -- each afternoon I went for a walk down the road in the warm sun and the land around the hospital was very lovely -- wild flowers and growing things. At night we went to the show or sat and read or played cards around the red hot stoves. March came and on the 4 of March we were moved out of 45 and back to 64 as the Major was transferred while Lt. Lysle was on leave -- every day someone would be called down to the supply tent to check out equipment list and get a class A uniform. And here one day I learned I was in IV E -- and then in 2 and 3 the boys would be moved out. We all turned out to watch them leave and we all hoped and prayed -- living in the tent was swell -- we were not easily available to Wolf to get for details and we took special pains to have coffee and fried eggs for Maj. Tom at 1000 each day -- even to keeping the chicken in the unused stove during inspection.
Five boys left March 11th and that left only 6 of the old gang and I had 103 days so we all heard that they were stopping sending men back so we were worried. On the 13th two more went from our tent and then just after noon after we had been to the P.X. Wolf came out and said "Souder, go to Receiving to change your money" -- this was it. I went down and got my $50 into U.S. greenbacks and was told to be at receiving at 0930 on Saturday, March 19. So we got up early, ate early chow at 0600, got out duffle bags on the cart and then walked slowly down with Wolf -- to find a line of ambulances all ready filled and a big bus for us. So as our duffle was loaded in the ambulances -- they called our names -- we boarded the bus slowly and at 1015 we rolled thru the gates of the 102nd Gen. Hosp., 4132 U.S. AHP, on our way to Bristol and the 74th General evac. hospital.
We got there by noon the same day and were processed at the Hqtrs and sent up to ward 14 on top of the hill. Here we turned in our records, were assigned bunks and blankets and went down to lunch. We stayed here -- had no work to do -- just lived and ate and slept and played cards and watched the shipping numbers and names as the boys moved out -- some before and after our arrival went first. Then our names were read on the 24th of March to be on the alert ready list so for a week we lived close and signed out when we went down to the show. On Friday, the 30th, we were told that we would leave at noon the next day. So we got our bags ready, dressed nicely and ate chow early and were in the tent at the foot of the hill [26-113] at 12:30. Here we waited for an hour and then we were given our tags and Xrays and I found I was lICE instead of IVE. (lICE = combat enlisted) Then we loaded in big busses and took off for a drive thru Bristol to the dock and our first sight of our ship. We all wanted to cheer but didn't as we got off the bus. Each man was helped by a darky who took our small personal belongings and put an arm around us and walked us into a covered shed.
Here we were put in groups and handed a differend colored tag. I got a red one with a blue edge. Then as our names and ASN were read we were assisted up the gangplank and down to our ward aft. Here we were assigned bunks and I got a lower one by a porthole. There we stayed until we were issued robes and P.J. s and changed then a short time later we were given instructions, examined by the doctor, a Capt. Blair and allowed on deck for a while. Soon we cast off and started moving only to tie up further down the dock. We ate supper and before bedtime we each got a qt. of milk and went to sleep at 2200. The next morning we got up and made our beds, then ate and at 0900 our ship the St. Mihiel cast off past the huge 1000 Bed Wisteria and bound for the U.S.A., thank God! Our dream was now coming true.
That night we played cards, read the books in our new blue and red Red Cross bags, drank milk, and got used to the life on ship -- once again.The next day was Easter Sunday, so I read my Easter story and looked at my pictures and went to sleep. The next morning (Sunday) we had fried ham for breakfast and then several of us went to Easter service on C deck.
It would be hard to set down all my thoughts as we went along in convoy past the first mine nets and slowly left the green cliffs of England under that cloudy sky. The water was quite rough and we did not stay on deck very long. By late afternoon we were leeward of an island at the mouth of the estuary to wait for minesweepers to clear our path as the high wind had broken some loose from their moorings.
The ships chaplin and a trio of nurses put on a nice little service and we even had an Easter lilly on the altar, of which all seemed rather proud. And the waves kept banging against the port hole glass and the wind was very high. The ship rolled heavily from side to side and even with reduced speed we took water over the prow each time. The fellows up on A and B decks were lashed into their bunks and everyone went around by grabbing from one bed post to the next. Easter evening I started to get sea sick and ate some tablets for it. They were yellow and came in black paper and were bitter to the taste. So I kept pretty close to my bed the next day and after that it didn't bother me much. The cyclone kept up for 3 days and the ship kept up just 2 knots an hour about 20 miles per day. The last night as we neared the Canary Islands the ship struck a huge wave and we listed 45 degrees. The ship capsizes at 57 degrees. I stayed in my bunk but on A and B decks there were 15 broken bones caused by that wave. God how we hated to see those men up there minus legs and arms, in steel and plaster [27-114] body casts, stinking wounds, traction cases and then the ICE over on C and D deck aft in the lock wards -- guys like you and me -- virtually maimed for life -- think they would have been better off dead but I guess God wanted to let them suffer some more -- and why was I spared?
Each day they posted a little chart on the inner bridge and spotted the route and distance covered noon to noon so we always checked it as we came up from noon dinner. Each noon the ships radio broadcast to Berlin the location, speed, etc.to protect the ship from submarine attack as an unidentified ship. Sailing alone with all lights on and radio going. However, we had no trouble from them. Daily routine on ship ran as follows: light on 0730, up, wash, make beds, get ready for breakfast. 0830 mop ward floor, stand by bunks for visit by ward surgeon and nurse and ward master, then free until 1230 and down for dinner. Then free until 1800 for supper. Then free until 2130 for lights out and taps. The deck has lots of steamer chairs with leg rests both fore and aft and long benches along the outside decks covered and out of the sun.
Each day at noon the radio came on with a quiz program between the various wards, then continued with jazz music and so on until 2115. Movies were shown in the forward rec hall and in the wards by schedule so we read, made Red Cross bracelets, skipped exercises classes, did a couple days of K. P. and in general the cruise healed broken nerves and the tension blew away with the wind. The warm sun along our southern route was swell and after twelve days we came close to the Bermuda's and we all watched the men of war, flying fish and porpoises and finally saw some gulls. That day we were on K.P. and the boat rolled and the refrigerator door flew open and cracked me over the left hip. The head nurse was near by and she saw what happened so she sent me down to my bunk and soon 3 doctors and the head nurse came down and examined my hip and back and were very careful to put in writing just what happened and were very nice about it all. Was pretty sore he next day but nothing was seriously wrong.
That night I saw "Going My Way" up in A2 and enjoyed it greatly. I must tell you about the closing program of the day. At 2120 the chaplain gave a little talk over the P.A. on how some person had overcome a physical handicap which was addressed to A&B??? decks. Then they played two recordings -- one of the "Ave Maria"' by Mascaggni Richard Crooks and one sung by John Charles Thomas doing the "Lords Prayer". Each starry night I used to wait on the fan tail for that and then go down to bed. I am sure I shall never forget the beauty of those nights as we drew closer to home. The next night the radio cut in about 2000 -- men attention -- the President of the United States is dead -- followed by the national anthem. The ship cut all speed. The flag was lowered to half mast and the whistle blew 3 times. Then the chaplin spoke and they took New York direct over the P.A. and we listened to the tributes paid to him -- ashes to ashes -- dust to dust -- somehow the ship was strangely still -- we all were sorry and wondering about [28-115] Truman.
Part #6: Coming Home
The ship at night was beautiful -- painted white all over with a green band 12' wide just above water line with a big red + in the center of each side. These were flood lighted. On the stack were two + in red lights and on the after mast, also spotted, was the Red Cross flag, snapping in the wind. We could be seen 20 miles at night. On the evening of the 15th day the ship was alive with excitement. We checked our uniforms, gathered our little toilet kits and watched the horizon. Many gulls were around and porpoises. That night we passed a line freighter and in the evening saw a C47 flew over going East. We all were on the front deck at sunset and it was lovely and then we went to bed late.
The next morning about 0230 the ship stopped. I woke up and felt it then at 0630 I woke again and looked out the port hole over my bed into the early dawn light to see two lone ducks flying. Then a navy blimp over a light house and a white house on an island. This was the United States at last. I crawled into bed and said my thanks to almighty God. No one else was awake. At 0700 the lights came on and we were told to stand by to go ashore. As we headed thru the submarine nets several of us went up on deck and forward to see the port of Charlestown, S.C., all green and fresh in the morning sun and the U.S. A.H.S. Wisteria to our right. Here we anchored. We ate breakfast and were ordered dressed then we got our tags and were issued cards again. This time I got a red one -- for WIA BC to distinguish from blue NP and the green litter case. Then we went up on deck as the ship moved up the Cooper river past the navy yard who tied down their whistles to greet us, and pay tribute to us, and we answered as we went under the high bridge with ours -- one short blast. Soon we were being shun ted up to the port apron by tugs and tied in place. Then we were ordered down to quarters and in 20 minutes they ordered D -- aft to the main deck -- we moved up the stairs, showed our tags, dogtags, and those of us with red cards moved down the gangplank as the officers stood at attention, present arms -- for us. At the foot of the gangplank were big G.I. busses, colored troops and ambulances so we boarded the busses, got clearance and rolled away from the St. Michiel. Stopped for ice cream at the gate from the Red Cross ladies and then on over concrete highways in military convoy of M.P.s to Stark General Hospital. I got in ward 49 in bed 6, and then went down to the mess hall for Sunday dinner, Apr. 15, 1945.
We stayed there for 3 days. I called home twice, then on the 18th April our names were listed for shipment to McCaw Gen. Hosp. Walla Walla, Wn. at 0800 next morning, April 19, 1945. Ate early chow and at 0745 the trucks came for us and took us to our RR car -- a new dining car converted to an ambulance car held 36 in 3 deck bunks, 3 corpsmen, a doctor, and a nurse. I got a 3 deck bunk but later moved to one by the doctors quarters in row 2 by a window. In about 15 minutes our train pulled out and we were close to the engine. Each car or so was bound for a different hospital and was dropped off as we moved inland.
Our train of 18 [29-116] cars got the right of way over all other trains -- even saw the "Southwind'" sidetracked as we rolled past. We changed to P.J. s and socks and lived like kings -- ate on stainless steel trays and watched the country roll by. As we went thru Ashville, Knoxville, Louisville, Cincinatti, Logansport, and finally into Chicago. By this time we were the last 2 cars and we were attached in the afternoon to the Empire builder. While waiting for the train to leave Union station we watched the people come and go and felt sorry for some women who said goodbye to their boys and turning saw our red crossed car and broke and cried as they walked up and down looking at the lighted windows and equipment of our car. The next morning we rolled into Mpls. for repairs and waited and held the N.P. North Coast Limited 45 minutes while repairs were being made. No one was allowed off the train and so we rolled west thru N.D. -- the officers wired ahead and our cars were met by various service organizations with fruit, food, etc. Sunday we were in Montana and late that night we were in Spokane where we broke off leaving on a spur line going to Walla Walla. It was raining as we got to McCaw General Hospital. After classification I was sent to ward 2 (surgery) and as the doctor was out I played cards all day and finally got a private room opposite the office. The next day Capt. DeCannio looked me over and as I left I asked him what might happen. He said you will probably get out on a CDD and my heart just soared. Then I started waiting for Xray, lab, and orthopedic, and these took a long time as they were so rushed and behind on their work.
My orthopedic consultation came on May 16 at 7 P.M. and Maj. Waters told me how close things really were. On the 21st, my papers were written up and completed and on the 25th of May they moved me to ward 12 -- the holding ward.
On June 1 at 2 P.M. I was called before the CDD board and they read by case aloud -- asked me if I had any reason for not wanting to be released and I said no sir. Then they said -- that's all -- I went out. The next day I started to make the rounds of checking out. Made my bonus application at Red Cross, cleared everywhere and on June 4, I got dressed in full uniform at 2 P.M., got down to receiving, was paid off, got my discharge and as it was close to 4 P.M., I went out and stood my last service retreat as a member of the Army.
I stood to the east of the circle and as the salute started I came up to present arms and held it as that "Star Spangled Banner" rolled over the Iron bugle, and the flag was grounded. I guess there were tears in my eyes. I turned around and went back to ward 2. Checked out, said goodbye to the ward boy, walked down the main corridor, out past information and out the front gate -- a civilian.
Went to the station and bought my ticket, went downtown, looked around, then came back and got the U.P. at 1030 P.M. for home by way of Spokane and the N.P. So I got home on June 6, to be met by Mom, Bill, Nonnie, etc., and as I came up the steps I saw Mom standing there with Bill -- I went to them and Oh how good it was to see them all. Then we went [30-117] home and I told and showed my discharge to the folks and so thru the grace of God I was at home again. After 9 months away and so my story ends. Others here wonderful to me and I am glad with all my heart that I could have done them and I'd join again if the need arises in a minute. I miss the comradship and closeness of the other men and I pray that I maybe as good a citizen as I was a soldier, as that was easy.
Thanks be to God, which bringeth us the victory, thru Jesus Christ our Lord, Ahmen.
Finished April 16, 1946.
After thoughts by Mr. Edward L. Souder: Beyond 15 September 1945
Mr. Souder began his teaching career in September 1945 at Forrest Lake. Mn. Public schools as instrumental and vocal director and was in that system thru June -- 1949.
The first 2 years he was required to march with his band and in the last 2 years he was made full time vocal music director giving up the band and the marching that was so painful to him.
The continued pain from the embedded shrapnel in his spine was treated with injections of novacane into the lumbar area as needed for pain relief but as the 3rd and 4th year progressed the injections were mixed with an oil that slowed the absorption of the novacane and finally in March of 1949 he again had surgery at the University of Mn. Hospital and the orthopedic surgeon was able to extract the steel in a 2 hour operation.
The steel was about the size and length of the last joint of the little finger on your right hand. The end pointed toward the spine was Vee shaped and very sharp. Following this operation a low grade infection started that took 6 weeks of penecillin shots to finally wipe that infection out. This long time infection was the main reason that Mr. Souder was fired from his teaching position in Forrest Lake, Mn. As the school board was convinced that they were possibly subject to a law suit because they required Mr. Souder to march with the band the first 2 years of his contract. With the steel out of his back -- the pain of movement was gone and since that time -- movement and life has generally returned to a degree of normalcy.
Three personal pictures of Mr. Souder
Look for these images at the following segment locations:
Ed Souder, Pfc., Co. F., 405th Reg.: Pt. 1
#1. Taken in the fall of 1943 at Columbus Ohio when he was in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) He is still wearing the Armored Force Patch and garrison belt, #2. In NY City In Infantry Uniform.
Ed Souder, Pfc., Co. F., 405th Reg.: Pt. 6
#3. Standing on leg (not the sore one) -- at Walla Walla Gen Hosp. Shortly be fore discharge on a CDD June 1 945. He is in the authorized patient uniform courduroy jacket and pants -- GI lowcut shoes.
Group picture - Taken on Jan. 1, 1945 with Chaplain Damn holding services for Men of Co. F - 405th Reg 102 Div. In Geronsweiler, Germany
Here it is interesting to note that the chaplain has not been in any foxholes and is in a spotless uniform and with neatly trimmed hair. Contrast this with the men he is talking to -- in battle gear and freshly out of the mud and grime of the fox holes.
This picture first appeared in the Division history book published in 1946. There was NO caption as to what unit these men came from and it took 40 years for the identification to be made public. These men were in the crossing of the Roer River after the Battle of the Bulge in January 1945 and at the present time(2002) -- there are only 3 still alive.(in this picture).
Additional Pages Devoted to Mr. Edward L. Souder's Military Career:
Edward L. Souder: the Return
Edward L. Souder: Letters Home
Edward L. Souder: Story Before Combat & Diary
Edward L. Souder: Ed's Story (Co. F., 405th Reg.)
Edward L. Souder: Additional Exerpts from Ed's Career
Edward L. Souder: Photo Album & Scrapbook
Ed's entire story, in his own (unabashed) words can be read on the website,World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words: Army Heroes, along with 28 other stories written by members of his infantry company. I highly recommend visiting the site and reading Ed Souder's story. I found it riveting. For those of you who wish to contact Ed, he can be emailed by clicking on the image below:
A special THANK YOU is extended to Mr. Bob Marckini, "Featured Member - Ed Souder", for allowing us to use his account of Ed Souder as used on his web site -- Brotherhood of the Balloon.
Interested in some background
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Information and photographs of Mr. Edward L. Souder was generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by the subject of this story -- Mr. Edward L. Souder of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Original Story submitted on 21 August
Story added to website on 21 August 2002.
September 5, 2002.
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