Heroes: the Army
"...I believe our squad was the first to reach the river. We looked over the wall and saw all those pill boxes the Germans had built separated about 50 yards apart. In the background was the Black Forest. I said to myself 'It's gonna be tough getting past that line of fire.'"
Joseph F. Englert
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 3rd Infantry Division, Co. E., 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: New Orleans, LA
Image #1: Joe Englert in wearing his "Eisenhower [Ike] Jacket"
The image was taken in a studio in town.
Joseph F. Englert
3rd Infantry Division, Co. E., 2nd Battalion, 7th Regiment
My Memories of World War II
By Joe Englert
Induction and Basic Training
Image #2: Joe Englert in Class "A" uniform following
basic training and just before taking a 30 day leave
Image was taken by a buddy who had a small box camera.
Image #3: Joe Englert in Class "A" uniform following
basic training and just before taking a 30 day leave.
Image was taken by a buddy who had a small box camera.
Image #4: Joe Englert in Class "A" uniform following
basic training and just before taking a 30 day leave.
Image was taken by a buddy who had a small box camera.
When I reached the age of 18 on July 21, 1943 it wasn't too long before I received an "invitation" from Uncle Sam to join his group of other young men who were being "asked" to do a little something for their country in its hour of need.
I reported for a physical which I just happened to pass with no problem at all. When I walked out the last door I had a welcoming committee. "Which service do you want to go into? Army or Navy?" I replied "When do I have to leave?" They told me the Navy in one week, the Army in three weeks. I said "I'll take the Army!"
Three weeks later I was on my way to an Army camp in Louisiana (I think it was Camp Beauregard) for induction into the Army. After a short while there being bossed around by a "general" with a private first class stripe on his arm. You would think he was running everything the way he bossed all us recruits around. What a welcome into the Army. We were introduced to all the do's and don'ts and issued the basic needs of clothes, etc. that did not fit too well. Then it wasn't too long before we were shipped out.
All of a sudden I was on a train heading for San Diego, California. It was there at Camp Callan that I received my basic training. It was in the anti-aircraft learning how to fire rifles, water-cooled machine guns and 40mm anti-aircraft guns. The hardest thing to get used to was getting up early every morning and the "weak" coffee (I was used to coffee with chicory) and the "new" kind of food (after New Orleans cooking) "Yankee" food they fed us.
I entered the Army at 145 pounds and after I finished basic training I was up to 160 pounds with no fat left. Those long hikes and physical hardening and five-mile hikes before breakfast did its work. Then they gave us a 30-day leave to go home. (During the training period we spent two weeks on the Mohave Desert. You ran around in shorts during the day with no shirt and at night you had to put on an overcoat when you had guard duty. That was something new to me too).
One incident that happened while we were in the desert training firing the 40mm gun using what they called a director (something like a computer) used to steer the gun in the right direction. I happened to be operating the director when the plane pulling the "sleeve" (target) behind it came into view and I tracked on it. When the plane was coming into range the officer called out "this is a dry run. Track only." I couldn't get the sleeve into focus so I decided to track the tail of the plane until the sleeve came into view. Just about that time the officer called out "commence firing" and the man handling the shells started firing. The shells were tailing right behind the plane and I slid the controls onto the target just in time. For some reason that plane headed home and wouldn't come back to "fly in front a bunch of rookies."
Image #5. Joe Englert with a group of fellow soldiers
during the two week Mohave Desert training exercises
following basic training. Joe is the soldier in the
top row, to the left with M-1 slung over shoulder.
During basic training they decided that we should have some training in abandoning ship so they took us out to a beach that Bing Crosby owned that had a pier going out quite a ways. It was 33 high off the water and they gave us these Mae Wests that were water soaked to put on.
We lined up in twos and were to told to jump and then swim in to shore. We were very fortunate that they had gone under the dock and scraped off the many barnacles that were clinging to the structure holding the pier up.
There was this one little fellow who looked much younger that 18 who was afraid to jump but he had faith in the corporal who was training us and said he would jump if the corporal jumped. The corporal lined up with him and said "Let's go" and the little fellow jumped but the corporal didn't.
It turned out that the company commander was already in the water and pushed the little guy all the way in.
I didn't care to jump but I got up there and jumped. It felt like I was falling forever and when I hit the water I felt like I was going down, down and never coming up. Suddenly I popped to the surface and started swimming with the waves. I thought it was going to be fun but then the breakers came in and was pushing me under and I was swallowing a lot of salt water. I ended up bouncing off the pilings and going in between them. I sure was glad the barnacles were gone.
When I reached shore I felt like passing out. That salt water didn't agree with me.
Leave and then Advanced Infantry
By the time I had finished my 30-day leave we had gained control of the air in Europe. Evidently they figured they didn't need any more antiaircraft men so when I reported for duty at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri I was put in Advanced Infantry (which I had no idea of what to expect). They treated you as if you had infantry experience and expected you to fall right in step. That was another experience. It took a while to pick it up but it finally fell into place.
They transferred a group of us to the West Coast to train with the Navy to learn amphibious landings. I happened to run into a buddy by the name of Freddie Cook from home (New Orleans) who was serving in the Navy. He had access to a jeep and in our off time we headed to town where I was introduced to his favorite drink. I don't know what the name of it was but when we got up to leave we both needed help. We headed to a line waiting to catch a cab. He barged in front of the line causing such a commotion that the SP on duty put us in the first cab that came along just to get us out of there.
It looked like we were headed for the war in Japan as we were given jungle training. Hitting the ground, rolling behind a tree to fire your rifle, etc. We were just about to get to practicing making landings. Just as I was getting the hang of it things changed.
All of a sudden they learned that we had lost a lot of men in Europe and needed replacements so guess what? They picked 500 of us out of our group and shipped us to the East Coast as replacements. They dug through the records and found out that I was an experienced typist so all of a sudden I was the company clerk. We were sent to New York city and when they told me to make up passes for leave in New York City, guess who got the first one? Being in New York city without much money in your pocket isn't much fun. I went to the Stage Door Canteen and looked around. I saw Ray Milland on the street. The soldier with me rushed up and got his autograph. This is when he (Milland) must have been filming "Lost Weekend" because he looked pretty "seedy" with that beard he had. That was about it.
This company clerk thing sounded pretty good. It even lasted shipping overseas on the Queen Mary. They had this officer that was a real jerk who was pushing everybody around on the trip over. Everybody was talking about "getting even" with him when they got over there in action but guess what? He waved goodbye to us as we were leaving on the tug boat and went back with the ship.
Our Trip Overseas on the Queen Mary
It took us five days on the Queen Mary to get over. During the trip a lot of the guys were getting seasick. I tried eating a lot to keep from getting sick. I understood that when you don't keep your stomach full you had a tendency to get sick. We alternated sleeping on the open deck and the next night in hammocks. One day I wandered up to the top deck and saw how beautiful it was. The sun was shining and the ship had a slow roll to it. I said it must be a quiet sea. Then I looked out in the distance and a convoy of Navy ships were heading back the other way. They would disappear below the waves and then reappear. They looked like bobbing corks. Well so much for quiet seas.
We had plane escorts for awhile but then they turned back and we were on our own. They steered a zigzag course I understand to dodge the submarines. Well anyway we made it okay. We were put on a tug at the end of the trip near Normandy and when we were pulling away from the ship you could realize on just how big the Queen Mary was. WOW.
The Long Trip across France
When we reached shore we were put on trucks and started on our long trip across France. It took us several days moving further and further away from home. Looking back at how far we had come I said to myself "I'll never get back" thinking it would take so much time to do it. All we could see when we drove across France were apple orchards. The French must have made wine with them because when we stopped along the way people would come out and offer us wine to drink. They were really friendly and it helped by their offering us wine.
As we progressed through France we would stop and drop men off at different units along the way and slowly our numbers were dwindling. They were really spreading us around. Finally they stopped at Company E, 7th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division and I was dropped off there with a few others.
It was late at night and I was ushered into a tent and introduced to the company commander. I didn't know it at the time but they only had 36 men left in the company. The captain asked me if I had fired a (Browning Automatic Rifle) and I said yes I had. (I had punishment at one time for skipping over to the service club to shoot pool and the MP's walked in looking for my pass and I ended up cleaning all the BAR's as they came off the firing range). He told me that I was a BAR man for the third squad.
That was it. I was in the 3rd Division. To bring you up on our company commander he had been wounded 3 or 4 times but always came back. He was looking to move up in rank on the battlefield and volunteered for just about any mission they wanted him to take. That is probably why there were only 36 men left when I joined them. My squad had five men.
We went through several simulated attack runs and then (it didn't seem very long ) we were off to our first battle near St. Die. I found out later it happened November 19-20, 1944. (I was informed by a former member of F company Earl Reitan that this battle happened when we crossed the Meurthe river. He became a history professor and has written books on the war.) I was scared stiff and I guess I was lucky in my first action as we didn't meet too much resistance. It was just a small town that we occupied but it was my baptism of fire and I had to run into the woods as Montezuma's Revenge snuck up on me. That's a hell of a way to get started.
The Taking of Strausberg
The first time I saw the Rhine River was when we captured Strausberg. It was quite a battle. The Germans had set up machine guns in all the archways and we had a heck of a time getting across the big openings to get into the buildings. We had to call in a tank to occupy the machine guns. We were pinned down for a little while but then one of the men in my platoon fired a rifle grenade that blew a door open and we all took off across the opening a few at a time to get into the building. We worked our way up to the attic area and used a bazooka to blow openings in the wall so we could move through. We would quit when it got dark and find one of the plush beds available in the apartments to rest. It took several days to clean out the entire area.
I believe our squad was the first to reach the river. We looked over the wall and saw all those pill boxes the Germans had built separated about 50 yards apart. In the background was the Black Forest. I said to myself "It's gonna be tough getting past that line of fire." We set up lookouts in the attic overlooking the river. Every time a soldier would come out to get firewood or whatever the lookout would phone for artillery fire and chase them back into the pill boxes.
We set up a camp there and it was like a garrison in the states for a while. It didn't last too long because the 45th Division had taken a bad beating so they moved them in to replace us and we took their place in the line. We were back in action again.
We had set up a defensive position and were going out at night either laying constantina wire or patrolling the perimeter. We had dug our foxholes in the snow and covered them with our shelter halves while we were gone.
When we got back in the wee hours of the morning the wind had blown the shelter half off my foxhole and it was filled with snow. I had to get down into it and try to get comfortable somehow and get some sleep. That's when I realized how snow was wonderful to admire at times but not very nice to sleep in.
The Germans would zero their guns in on where we had left off laying the wire and the next night when we resumed they would shell us. It was a game of cat and mouse.
When they decided that we were going back into action they had to lead us through our own mine fields to get to this road. As soon as we reached the road our first sergeant stepped over on the other side of the road and had his leg blown off. They had laid their mine field right up to ours.
Our officers thought they had an anti-tank gun some where ahead and they sent my squad around the right side of the road and the 1st squad around the left. We had orders that if we ran into anything to fight our way through.
We went several hundred yards and met with no resistance so we returned and saw these men laying on the ground covered with canvas. We didn't realize it but it was the 1st squad who had run into mines in the woods on the left side.
After talking it over they decided that the mines were probably on the shoulders of the road so they told us to line up in single file and hold on to the back pack of the man in front and we went right up the middle of the road. It worked. We made it through without any trouble.
Our First Major Battle
The first major battle I remember we had received word from intelligence that we should meet light resistance. We were lined up with the First and Second Platoons were next to each other and we the (Third Platoon) were a little ways behind them in reserve. What stands out the most is that the snow was everywhere and we had on white sheets for camouflage. When we got close to the woods all hell broke loose. Machine guns opened up and the front two platoons took quite a pasting. You could hear the pop of the bullets going by your head and some landed in the snow with a sizzling sound. We were ordered to fall back to the woods we had come out from. We collected everybody together and a spotter for the artillery called in a barrage from the 105 batteries. This went on for awhile and they brought it in not too far from where we were. I commented as I saw the big chunks of shrapnel spinning through the air: "Man look at that stuff." The captain said "Yes, and you all are going out under it."
When the shells were hitting about 50 yards away we lined up what was left of the 1st and 2nd platoons, the 3rd platoon and the headquarters platoon just as the captain had said and we moved out. The shells were hitting out in front of us and all of a sudden a round fell short on my right and I saw one of our medics "Heinie" go down (I found out later that a short round had killed the observer who was calling in the artillery). We kept running forward firing as we ran toward the woods ahead. When we reached a ditch about 50 feet away we settled down in it and I found out that I had completely run out of ammunition. Evidently my assistant who carries extra ammunition for me had disappeared. I asked one of the riflemen for one of his M1 clips which held only 8 rounds. I loaded them into my magazine and we took off again. A German on one of the machine guns who had his hands raised made a grab for the gun. One of the other BAR men shot him down.
All of a sudden they were running away. I could see them in the distance going past an opening and I used my BAR firing one shot at a time until my 8 rounds were gone. We checked with each other and just about everyone had run out of ammo. This being the second time we attacked this day we had shot most of it up in the first attack. We were fortunate that they didn't counterattack as we were in a bad way. I volunteered to try and go back to see if they could send us more ammunition but at the moment there was none to be had. On the way back I spotted a belt of 30-caliber machine gun ammunition laying by a tree and strung it over my shoulders and started stripping the bullets from the belt and loading up my magazines.
The only bad feature about this I found out later was that the rounds contained quite a few tracer bullets which is a dead giveaway when you are firing as to your location.
As we were moving along we were bypassing different areas to keep on the move. In doing this we left pockets that weren't cleaned out behind us. We were going through this area near these pockets and we were having problems with snipers shooting at us. We had this fellow named Hurd from Brooklyn I believe who thought he was immune to being hit. We were moving along the buildings staying low when Heard stopped short and turned back toward me and I heard a popping sound and a piece of his camouflage popped off his chest. I thought it came from behind me and spun around. Then I realized that he had been hit in his back and the bullet going through his chest made it look like it had hit him in front.
He called for a medic but by the time we laid him down and put his helmet under his head he had started turning white. The blood just drained from his face. I guess he must have hemorrhaged somewhere inside. He died right there. I really felt bad about that. More so because a few days before that we had lost our bearings in battle and ended up with F Company. We had moved out of the line of fire when a fellow from F Company says "I think I saw him move." He was talking about one of the wounded laying out in the field. Heard told me "Come on let's go get him." I found an old ladder laying on the ground and we picked it up and went out there and got him. We saw him (the wounded man) with his head bandaged up later on that day so we knew he had survived. Hurd said "Tell you what, I'll put you in for a citation and you put me in for one." I told him okay but to this day I never did. I sure wish I had. He deserved it.
The captain called up two tank destroyers who had those 90mm guns on them. He got 15 of us together and said we were going to climb up on them and we were going out to clean up on those troops we had bypassed. We sure didn't feel safe doing this but he said "I'm going along with you." So he climbs inside one of the tank destroyers and we were off. Oh yes, he also told us not to take any prisoners.
It was a hell of a feeling from the vibration when those big guns fired and trying to hang onto the side of the tank destroyer. When we got close all we could see were heads peering over the edge of the snow and white flags waving. There were hundreds of them and we could see that they had a lot of weapons. They wanted to give up and I knew if we started firing and killing them we wouldn't survive being on the outside. (To give you an idea of how nervous we were I spotted an officer's blue steel Luger lying in one of the holes there and jumped in and got it. When I rose up to get out all the others pointed their guns at me. That was kind of scary.) Needless to say we took them all prisoner.
The next day my left arm started aching like crazy so I went to see the medics. After peeling off three sweaters, jacket, etc. the medic took one look at my arm which had a red streak right up the middle of it. He said it looked like blood poisoning so he put a tag on me and I was sent back to the Evacuation Hospital.
It seems that I somehow had a cut on my left hand and it became infected. When I got to the hospital they were just starting to use penicillan and they gave me a shot every three hours for 11 days. The nurse would come in every three hours day and night. I got so used to it that when she would come I would alternate arms automatically. Both were aching and she told me she could give it to me in the butt but I said it was bad enough my arms were hurting. It really did the job and it cleared up the infection leaving just a little "boil" at the end.
(I know my unit was involved fighting in the Colmar Pocket. I do believe it happened during the 11 days I was in the hospital because I can't remember my being there or anything about the battle).
When I returned to my unit they had an influx of replacements taken from a former hospital unit. They gave them a little training and put them in with us. I was given an M1 rifle and we went through several training runs to get the new men a little experience. The change didn't agree with me. It felt funny firing one shot at a time. The young fellow who took over my BAR was complaining up a storm saying such things as "a BAR man is always a target and draws fire, etc." I reached over and took the BAR from him, gave him the M1 and told the sergeant "I'm BAR man again, okay?" He said it was okay with him. It sure did feel good getting my gun back. I felt more secure.
Image #6: The above photograph is courtesy of Mr. Rich Heller, who's Father, S/Sgt. William Heller served as the official photographer (Signal Corps) for the 3rd Division. He was a 33 year old portrait photographer, when he volunteered for the Army. His wife allowed him to go and do his "John Wayne thing". The collection of photographs has been compiled by his son, Mr. Rich Heller and illustrates this collection of photographs from the war 1943-1945, along with the captions written on the reverse on his web site. The caption written on the reverse of the photograph states: "GI's in Winter camouflage gear, advancing in Colmar Pocket, France - January 1945". The image is #bh990xx.jpg. Mr. Rich Heller's web site offers copies of this image along with many others for sale: S/Sgt. William Heller: World War II Memories
There are other things that happened somewhere in this period that comes to mind and I am not sure as to the exact sequence so I am just going to mention them as I remember them: We were dug in protecting this certain hill in the snow and under open observation from the Germans. My feet were killing me from the cold and I was sure they were frozen so I took a chance to run over to the sergeant's location and when I jumped into his area artillery fire came in. Luckily none of the rounds hit close enough to do any damage. I told him about my feet so when it got a little dark he told me to go back to the aid station and have them checked. When it got dark I started out to find the aid station falling into snow drifts along the way and finally reached this house where the station was set up. When I walked in there was a big roaring fire going in the fireplace. It sure did feel good. The doctor told me to take off my socks and wash my feet and he gave me some ointment to rub on them. He told me to change my socks regularly and try to keep them dry. Ho Ho Ho. How do you do that? He said keep a pair inside your shirt against your body.
Well anyway when I was finished it was late and he told me I could go back to my unit. I told him no thanks that I would go back in the morning when they sent supplies. There was a roaring fire in the fireplace and I curled up on the floor and went to sleep. The next morning I rejoined my unit.
Then there was the time around Thanksgiving that they promised we were going to get a turkey dinner. They turkeys were in a freezer for other holidays that we couldn't celebrate. We were really looking forward to it but all of a sudden the cooks started frying hamburgers and we knew something was up. We moved out to take a position on another hill that needed defending so that the troops there could move up into the line. We got the hamburgers later ice cold as we were in our fox holes. We then found out that the Germans had broken through and they had sent this other unit to help plug up the gap. This was when the Battle of the Bulge started.
My Last Battle (Utweiler)
I am having trouble trying to get everything in so I will move on the last big battle that will forever remain in my mind. We were told to paint our helmets to cover up our IDs and take off our Third Division patches, rank, etc. THIS was going to be some kind of surprise attack. We were all gathered out in the open getting organized when a German spotter plane flew over observing us. We were wondering how this could be a surprise attack with the plane spotting us out in the open.
Well anyway we all got lined up into position and moved out. It was in the wee hours of the morning and quite dark. All of a sudden they crisscrossed two beams of light way off on the left and from the right. They created a sort of artificial lighting. What it did was silhouette the men in front of me as they were going over the rise in front of me. I figured that wasn't the way to go so I went around the side moving forward all the time. I could see muzzle flashes from the German guns in front of me and every time I did I dropped down and sent a burst at them. We finally joined up together around the other side of the hill and my sergeant asked what happened to me (probably thinking that I had run away) and I told him that I didn't want to be silhouetted and be a sitting target.
As daylight came up we found ourselves out in the open in this small village or city with most of the buildings demolished and only half cellars showing. It seems that they (our troops) had captured a couple of hundred Germans and had them collected by this cemetery. We set up a defensive position and were waiting for our tanks to come up. But then we got word that the tanks ran into a mine field and weren't coming up.
As the day moved on we started receiving artillery rounds (we thought it was artillery) but it must have been coming from the German tanks out there. Then it became direct tank fire and we moved into one of the half cellars and settled down. I leaned my BAR against the wall and dozed off. I awakened when I heard excited talk "it's coming down the street" and I became very alert. It seems that a tank was coming up the street near us and two of the guys had loaded a bazooka, had opened the door and was planning on trying to get the tank. Well the tank stopped and trained their 88mm on the bunker and the two jumped back and closed the door. At that time I had my BAR in my hands and looked out through one of the holes in the wall and couldn't believe what I was seeing.
There were tanks, halftracks and infantry coming at us. I stuck my BAR through the opening and fired a magazine at them. And then I jumped back. That is when I saw a German grenade (potato masher) come through the opening. I yelled grenade and ran away from it. I ran right into another that came in through another opening and was hit in the face. I put my hand up to my face and could feel my right eyeball and said to myself "There goes my eye." Just about then another grenade exploded behind me hitting me in the back. It hurt like hell and I looked down at my chest expecting the shrapnel to come through. My ears were ringing and I started saying an Act of Contrition thinking that this was it. I was going to die.
Then they stuck a burp gun through the opening and sprayed the place. Luckily no one appeared to be hit. Then they proceeded to pump in smoke. I was one of the lucky ones who had not thrown away my gas mask and I put it on. I had taken my wool knit cap and put it by my right eye to try to stop the bleeding. Just about then they told us to come on out. I could see a couple of guys were bleeding from the ears and others were coughing their heads off. We filed out one after another and as I was going through a young fellow about 15 or 16 yanked my hand down (probably thought I might have a grenade) but he saw the blood on the wool knit cap and let me put it back on my eye.
There were quite a few young ones and it looked like they wanted to shoot us (we were well aware of the reports that they had machine gunned prisoners captured in the Battle of the Bulge) but thank goodness an officer stopped them and told them to take us prisoner. The officer spoke perfect English and led us to an aid station they had set up. They checked us over and put a few bandages on us and then they decided to make a stretcher case out of me and had the others sit up as they placed us in a German ambulance. As the driver drove off we could hear the artillery coming in. We sped off across the Rhine river on a pontoon bridge. (I learned later that our people had given up on us and decided to go after the tanks. I understand they also sent in planes to bomb them.)
I don't know what they did with the other people that were with me in the ambulance but I do know that they cleaned me up, put fresh bandages on me and moved me into a German hospital (as far as I know at the time I seemed to be the only American there). I laid back and thought to myself well at least I'm out of it for the moment. While in there several events happened:
A young German girl came over by me (I think maybe she was a nurse's aide) and she had an English version of Mein Kamp and she wanted me to help her with the English. I looked around at all those scowling faces looking at me and I said that I was sorry but I couldn't help her.
Later on a German nurse who reminded me of the witch in the Wizard of Oz came over to me and said: "Your name is Englert? That's German isn't it?" I told her my family had migrated from Germany but my parents were born in the USA. She said: "Fighting against your own people. Poor Germany, attacked from the East and from the West."
Later a motherly looking German nurse came over to me and started removing my bandages to change them. All the while she was saying sweet nothings in German and I pointed at myself and said "Americaner" but she continued removing the bandages and said "What difference does it make?" Boy what a difference in people.
Some of the Germans in that ward were in pretty bad shape and I wasn't too comfortable sleeping at night.
I am not sure but I think it was the next morning but when I woke up the sun was shining brightly and I said to myself "It looks like a beautiful day." Just about then I heard the sound of a diving plane and then a big explosion. It pretty much shook the hospital. Everybody started grabbing things and running for either the cellar or maybe a bomb shelter but I stayed put. I walked over to the window and looked out. There was a big red cross on the hospital grounds and I was sure we wouldn't bomb a hospital. I also saw a big railroad station and tracks and figured they were after the rail center. The antiaircraft was hot and heavy and there were a few more bombs dropped. Then I saw that one of the planes was hit and then a parachute opened up. I understood later that the civilians had caught the pilot and beat him up pretty bad and then he was brought somewhere in where I was. I never did get to see him or talk to him. (Watching all this going on I felt like I was watching a movie and it wasn't real.)
There was a blond-haired German who had lost his arm walking around playing a harmonica and singing. He figured he was going home soon and I got to talking to him and he told me he had spent five years on the Russian front and didn't get a scratch but when he moved over to fight us a rifle grenade knocked his arm off. He started showing me pictures of his girl friends. He was in each picture with a different girl. He seemed friendly enough and I said he must be okay. Then when he got to one of the pictures with him in uniform I saw the lightning insignia of the Storm Troopers. Oh well so much for first opinions. He wasn't too happy when the propaganda minister came in the hospital to give a report on what was going on. (He was a kind of fat guy with a little gun strapped on his belt in the back.) He started telling them all about some "victories" but then he got to the information of what they had lost and lo and behold one of the losses was the hometown of the storm trooper who thought he was going home.
It wasn't too long before I started seeing other Americans in the hospital and finally they got us all together and moved us to a former insane asylum that was converted into a prison camp in Heppenheim (near Heidelberg) and that is where I stayed until one of the regiments of the 3rd Infantry Division came through and liberated us. While I was there a French doctor was treating the prisoners. They told me to take off my shirt and the doctor ripped off the scabs on my back (boy did that hurt) because they were all infected. He said that was the only way to let them heal. He then put new bandages on.
While at the camp there were several men who had amputations done on them before they were brought to this camp which they cried were totally unnecessary. Because they didn't have medications to treat them they just amputated. They said that they gave them a piece of wood to hold in there teeth to bite on and then they operated. Boy, I don't know if I could have taken that. We helped them with the bedpans, etc. and made them as comfortable as we could.
We had to sleep on pads full of straw on the ground and everyone ended up catching lice. It was a mess. We were given a piece of black bread with a little white margarine as a meal. Sometimes we had potato soup with maybe one small potato. In two weeks time I lost about 15 pounds.
We heard all the shelling and activity getting near us and wondered what was going on. Soon the troops pulled out and we started moving the amputees to a better location but just about then the civilians with patches on their arms (the home guard) chased us back to where we were before.
The next day I looked out the window and saw this tank coming up the street with the infantry in front of it and everybody let out a howl of joy. These guys had the 3rd Division patch on their arms and it was a sight to behold. Of all things being rescued by your own division after all this time. What luck.
They kept us in the camp because some of the men were prisoners for so long that they needed to be fed just a little at a time because their stomachs couldn't handle real food right away. I went out in the yard and saw a break in the fence and headed for one of the mess tents. I asked if they had any coffee. They said help yourself. I filled up a cup with hot coffee and put what I thought was sugar in it. When I took a swallow I had to throw it away. It was salt. I filled up a cup and sweetened it with sugar this time and took a big gulp. They gave me a piece of white bread and it tasted like cake. Man, what a treat. We talked to the Red Cross and asked them to notify our families that we were okay. Well I found a V-mail, filled it in, and asked the cook to mail it for me. I found out later that my family didn't hear from the Red Cross but they did get the V-mail that let them know I was okay.
(Another coincidence I found out later after I returned home was that my mother and her two sisters were notified around the same time that their sons were missing in action. One of my cousins was in the Navy on the Bunker Hill and was almost put into a body bag and thrown over the side. The other cousin was flying a B17 when he was shot down and had to parachute out of his plane. It was snowing when he jumped and he said it looked like the snowflakes were going up instead of down. Everyone did return home by the end of the war.)
A few days later I was flown to a hospital on the outskirts of Paris, France. It was my first plane ride. It was a C47 which would really bounce around. It was a new experience for me. I was glad when we finally landed. When we got to the hospital they took us to the showers and scrubbed us down. Boy did that feel good. Then they sprayed us down with DDT to get rid of the lice. I went to bed that night thinking at last I was nice and clean. When I woke up the next morning my body was outlined with black specs on the bed. I headed for the showers and took another long shower. Then I headed to supply and got a new uniform. I was sitting outside the doctor's office waiting to see him and hoping to maybe get a pass to go see Paris. When I walked into his office he told me to take off my coat and sit in the examining chair. He looked at X-rays he had taken and saw three pieces of shrapnel located in the corner of my right eye (they were in the sinus area). He said they might not bother me but again they could work themselves into my eye or brain so he decided to take them out.
He put drops into my eye which turned out to be medication to perform a local operation. He went into my right nostril and started probing into my sinus looking for the shrapnel. He found two pieces after about two hours, the perspiration was running down my arms it was something similar to a dentist drilling a tooth. He taped the probe onto my face and sent me in a wheel chair to get a wet print. He told the nurse he had to go to a meeting and would be back in a few minutes. When I got back from X-ray he looked at it and said "Oh, I was in the wrong area." He then scraped again for another hour and finally said "I got it." I said Amen to that.
My face swelled up twice its normal size and my eyes were swollen shut. My temperature climbed to 102 and they were concerned about complications. I was in bed for about a week and then I was feeling better and still looking to get to seeing Paris. The colonel was so proud of his operation on me. Not cutting open the area and going through the sinus and cutting it out seemed to have been something to brag about. Every time he had a visiting doctor he called me in and explained to the visitor just what he had done.
I finally saw Paris from the seat of a bus driving through to the train station. They sent me to an Air Force hospital in Scotland. There were quite a few other POWs there with me and the thing I liked the most was the food. They had fresh milk and everything. As you walked into the mess tent you just reached down and picked up a quart of milk and took it with you to the table. It was quite a luxury getting that kind of food again.
I was dreading the long trip to get back to the states but I had a surprise coming. I had returned to my bunk and was sitting there trying to decide on whether to go see a movie. A soldier stuck his head in the door and yelled "Englert, come on, you're holding up the plane". It seems since I had been a POW I was given air priority. Boy, what a surprise that was. This would be the second time I would be flying. I had to rush and throw my stuff in a barracks bag and head for the plane.
The plane was a big four-engine C54. The seats ran along each side of the wall. We made several stops along the way home. We stopped at Newfoundland, Iceland and spent a lot of time over the water. We could see the waves on the water which appeared to be pretty close. I had this crazy feeling like I wanted to get out and walk around. I guess you can tell I wasn't used to it. When we were going in for a landing I was looking out the back of the plane. Just when it appeared we were going to land in the water the land appeared and we were okay. We landed at Long Island, New York.
We were continually talking about what we would do when be got back to the states. Even after we were there we were talking that way. I didn't kiss the ground when I got out of the plane but it was a great feeling to be back in the good old USA.
On the subject of my wounds I consider myself so very fortunate as to the end result. At the time I was wounded I thought sure that I may have lost my eye. It turns out that the sight in that eye was checked out at 20/120 but after treating it over a period of time it returned to 20/20. The scar tissue in the corner of the eye was pulling my eyelid down halfway over my eye so they moved me to Northernton General Hospital in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for plastic surgery. As far as the wounds in my back again I was most fortunate. They couldn't find any shrapnel and found only some holes right next to my spine which healed up over time. I could have lost an eye and/or been crippled. So I figured I got off easy.
When I got to the hospital in Tuscaloosa I observed some miraculous things in the works. This one soldier had been hit in the face with a large piece of shrapnel which took out his left eye, ear and also his nose. The first operation they did on him they took and placed a large patch of flesh and skin over the area and let it heal up. Later on they cut into his stomach area and formed a roll of flesh and skin into a tubelike structure. Over a period of time it healed up and they took one end of it and planted it into his arm to take root. After that healed up they took the end that was attached to his stomach and planted it into the area where his nose had been. He walked around for quite a while with his arm braced up until that healed. Finally they formed a nose and were planning to cut in an eye socket and give him an artificial eye. Also they planned to make an ear for him.
In my case they cut out the scar tissue by my eye and released my eyelid. Then they cut a small piece from the inner part of my right arm and sewed it over the hole they had made when they took out the scar tissue. They did a great job but the only thing was when they started sewing it up the pain killer had quit working so I felt every stitch they put in it.
When I shave in the morning I still have to occasionally shave that part because it grows hair. But I am well pleased with the job that they did. I walked around for a long time with a patch until it was okay. Meanwhile I got to go to some of the University of Alabama football games. I couldn't see too good with the one eye from the stands so I went down on the field and they let me sit with the football team on their bench. That was quite a thrill because at that time they had this All-American Harry Gilmer who was one of the first passers who leaped high off his feet when he threw the ball.
I consider myself one of the luckiest guys to come out of the war. God was looking out for me because I lucked out in so many ways. It took me a long time to sit down and write this. I would have hoped to have done a better job of it but I just waited too long to do it. It's hard to realize that all of this occurred 54 years ago.
Just when I decided to end this story I was contacted by Bob Cook who was in F Company in my division. He was captured too and was held in a different place than I was. But after all these years wondering about what happened to the rest of my battalion Bob contacted me and sent me a story written by Earl A. Reitan called "Disaster at Utweiler."
Earl was a Professor of History at Illinois State University. He served with F Company as a rifleman and did a wonderful job collecting information and stories from just about everyone in the battalion. In reading his story I found out that we had started out with "640 officers and men and in the space of several hours had been reduced to 184 scattered and ineffective personnel. Records compiled later showed that of the 456 personnel missing, 21 had been killed in the action, 72 wounded and evacuated, 17 missing and 222 had been taken prisoners by the enemy. The other 124 members were to be gathered up in the next two days."
It seems that we had (again I am quoting from Earl's story) walked into a buzz-saw. Lying in wait were elements of the tough 17th SS Panzer Division, supported by the 37th and 38th SS Panzer Grenadiers. The determination of the German defenders and the amount of German armor committed to defense of the frontier came as a surprise, for serious German resistance was expected at the Siegfried Line, not at the border.
This is only a very small portion of Earl's story but I am borrowing it to show just why we had so much trouble in this final battle (for me). I am certainly glad to get some answers to all the questions I had and I heartily recommend anyone who can get a copy to read "Disaster At Utweiler (15 March, 1945): An Historical Reconstruction of a Battalion Action in World War II."
Thanks to Bob Cook for sending this story to me and helping me finish up my story. Also thanks to Earl Reitan for letting me use some of his information. Earl is writing another book called "Rifleman: On the Edge of World War II." I'm betting it's going to be another winner for him.
We had been pulled back off the front line to Nancy, France for maintenance and some R&R but we kept our ammunition and weapons with us. We settled down in this building which was really a large open area where we set up our sleeping quarters.
I proceeded along with the other men to strip down our weapons and clean and oil them. The normal procedure for my BAR was to take it apart, clean it and make sure it was working okay. This last thing I would do is pull the bolt back and squeeze the trigger and when the bolt slammed home, everything was okay. Well, involved in conversation with my buddies, I did this but made one "little" mistake. I had inserted a magazine and pointed it toward the ceiling and pulled the trigger. About three rounds tore into the ceiling making a sound like a grenade going off. Everyone dove on the floor and I quickly removed the magazine.
Needless to say I received a "chewing out" and if we had been in the states I probably would have been courtmartialed. Thank goodness the cooks who were sleeping upstairs were not hurt.
----- Joseph F. Englert
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
Joe Englert's Personal Home Page
S/Sgt. William Heller: World War II Memories
(This excellent web site is by Rich Heller, the son of S/Sgt. William Heller, the official photographer [Signal Corps] of the 3rd Infantry Division. The web site contains upwards of 200 images taken during the war by Mr. Heller. I recommend this web site highly!)
Official Website of the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division
3rd Infantry Division
Welcome to the 3rd Infantry Division
3rd Infantry Division
Related Home Pages for the 3rd Infantry Division
World War II Causality Search
Information was generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by Mr. Joseph F. Englert of New Orleans, Louisiana. The images depicted on this web page are courtesy of Mr. Joseph F. Englert as well as Mr. Englert's allowing us the use of one of the images from Mr. Rich Heller's web site.
Original Story submitted on 4 September 2003.
Story added to website on 6 September 2003.
Story modified on 9 September 2003.
September 5, 2002.
Would YOU be interested in adding YOUR story --
or a loved-one's story? We have made it very
easy for you to do so.
By clicking on the link below, you will be sent
to our "Veterans Survey Form" page where a survey form
has been set up to conviently record your story.
It is fast -- convenient and easy to fill out --
Just fill in the blanks!
We would love to tell your story on
World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words.
WW II Stories: Veterans Survey Form
© Copyright 2001-2012
World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words
All Rights Reserved
Updated on 28 January 2012...1804:05 CST