Heroes: the Army
"...Later I learned he was shot in the leg! I believe it was on D-Day but he was standing in water and he didn't even feel it. The bullet went right through his leg and when he came out of the water he saw the blood. I'm sure he just sprinkled some Sulfa Powder on it and the wound healed..."
Jerome J. Levitt
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 26th Infantry Regiment
1st Infantry Division
- Dates: 1943-1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: PFC., Bronze Star
- Birth Year: 1920
- Entered Service: Chicago, IL
War Memories of Jerry Levitt:
Sunday, June 06, 2004
Today, on the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, I finally have some of the missing pieces to write my dad's known stories of his service during World War 2.
Originally, he was inducted into the Army on February 1, 1943. This came after a couple of deferments from his employer (Ashland Electric) because he was a Purchasing Agent and salesman for wire and cable in Chicago, Illinois and during that time his job was considered necessary to the war effort. After two deferments he told his employers " Fellas, let me get this thing over with!" Then he got his notice and he went.
He reported for Duty on February 8th, 1943 at Fort Sheridan in Illinois. He was originally placed in the 86th Division, 343rd Infantry Division. His basic training started at Camp Howze, Texas. There he met his best Army Buddy, Dick Reidy. He said," after the war in a twinge of nostalgia he went back to Camp Howze, Texas and he said it was completely gone. He said it looked much like when they first arrived there. He said when they first arrived here for basic training they had metal barracks and few facilities that you would generally find at a military post because it was brand new and had just started."
Jerome J. "Jerry" Levitt in dress uniform
In a taped interview I have which I am not sure of the date I have the following:
He said Dick Reidy, although born and raised in Connecticut was a rebel. Dick could find any means not to do what the military wanted him to do. The regimentation of military life was not his desire at all. And therefore he was always in trouble. He was the only soldier I knew who was on KP duty for 60 days, 3 days at a time continuously. We were very, very green. And we had to adhere to very strict military way of life and this was true of everyone in the camp, with the exception of Dick Reidy and myself.
Within 48 hours of being restricted to camp for 6 weeks, Richard and I went to town. Richard was constantly in hot water, and the camp was so new we had no stockade. We also had no POW uniforms, which was common everywhere else. For a slight infraction of rules or perhaps disobedience to an officer, Richard was found guilty in what was known as a summary Court Martial, in as such was obliged to spend 30 days in the stockade. The problem was we didn't have a stockade.
Richard was then commissioned to go to the Regimental Supply office and draw lumber, nails a hammer and a saw and build his own stockade. Richard was very mechanically inclined and handy and so he did his utmost to supply himself with a good shelter. Unfortunately, by the time Richard was done, the stockade didn't look quite as good as an ancient outhouse. Or was it as sturdy. There was a swinging door on the back of the outhouse, and I was walked around Richard 24 hours a day. After he had been in the outhouse for 3 days, I felt sorry for him and as night fell, I waited for the guard to be off duty from the stockade and I went into the swinging door. Where upon Richard waiting for his chance left and went to the local canteen and came back drunk. When Richard came back he replaced me so I could get back to my barracks so I was not reported AWOL. This continued for 3 days and three nights and the guards could never figure out how Dick was getting the beer. All in all, Richard was a very bad influence and on 17 different occasions I was reduced from the level rank I had to a lesser one. However, Richard is as close to me as my own brother and in fact saved my life. (This is where this interview ended).
In another taped interview we had with my father in 1986,
"He said he wanted to go. His bosses didn't want him to go. He said he wanted to go, if only for a selfish reason because all the guys he knew went. He said if you were of age, and you stayed at home they looked at you like you were a 4F or a traitor or something. Although he wanted to go, he said they had no idea what they were getting into, and if they had they may have thought differently about it. He said aside from the death and wounded it was a very, very strenuous, demanding, abusive position to be in. The food was crappy, on one occasion he was on the front lines for 134 days without a change of socks, without a bath, with trench-foot all around him, with sickness all around him, with bullets flying with artillery, you know, what's pleasant about it? But as it happens, I was lucky.
He said the basic training was 6 weeks. He also said how they differentiated basic training from the regular very strenuous training he had there after he didn't know, except that I suppose having come from civilian life, the stringent training course that you had to go through in basic training was more alarming because you came directly from civilian life. Your training there after was constant. For instance during the beginning of basic training we had a three mile hike." Everybody screamed how are we going to make a three-mile hike? Well, after that we had a 25-mile hike once a month. On one occasion I remember walking 36 miles without stopping. Lugging all our junk." My sister asked, "were you glad you had all that junk eventually?" "No, not really my father replied. For the most part it was all part of the hardening process to toughen you up and so forth and at the time we didn't care for it at all! Who wants to go through hardships unnecessarily? Of course, it was all for our benefit to toughen us up. We were very very tough in so far as, durability, stability, and dependability and as far as physical endurance, sure. But nobody liked it. You've got to be crazy to like it."
Taken during basic training.
Taken during basic training.
I asked him, when people tell us about World War 2, why do they say it was so great?" My dad answered that "he thought people said that because after it was over they remembered the good things that happened. For the most part we remember the good things and try to forget the bad ones. Basically this is how we are commissioned. To remember the good and try to forget the bad. If a mother remembered labor as vividly as she had gone through it, she probably wouldn't have a second child." My sister asked, "When you were in basic training besides Dick Reidy, who else did you meet?" "He said, I met hundreds of guys". She said but were any others who are close friends now?" "He said, there is no such thing, honey. As a matter of fact you soon learned, especially after you went into battle, not before, not to make too many friends. "My sister said because they were dead?" My father said, sure because tomorrow they were gone!
My sister asked, "Did Dick Reidy ever get injured?" My dad said, "oh many times". I asked my dad, "You said that Dick Reidy saved your life?" My dad said, "Well maybe I went too far when I said that.
I didn't want to fight in the South Pacific. Dick was instrumental in putting me on a list to go to Europe. My sister said you didn't want to go to the South Pacific because there was heavy fighting?" My dad said, "No! They both had heavy fighting." There was jungle rot and disease and heat He said he felt going to Europe was the lesser of two evils. He said that Dick ultimately received the position of training his regiment. Our regiment was comprised of 3,000 soldiers." (I am just guessing that at this period he would have been in the 86th division of the 343rd Infantry, if Dick put him on a list as a replacement for the First Division and Dick became a Paratrooper this would make sense to me). Dick laid out all the training and other duties and one of them was, maybe once a week or once or twice a month a list would come up for replacements for the wounded. Lists came up for the Pacific Theatre and the European Theatre and Dick put both his and my dad's name on the European Theatre list as replacements. We were together until we got to Europe. We were together not quite a year I guess. I asked him "If he ever saw Dick while they were in the war?" He said, "No, after the war we learned we were often within 20 miles of each other but during the war Dick wasn't one to write so once we got to Europe we were separated.
I asked, "Where did you first go when you went to Europe?" "He said, we went to England. We went to a place called Southampton. I asked my dad "when was the Blitzkrieg?" He said that was not until much later, it was in the winter of 1944. My sister asked, "What was your job? Did you have a specific job?" He said "well my job alternated from being a foot solider and a scout to being a Supply Sergeant. I was a Sergeant twice. I asked, "I heard you say you were promoted 16 times? He said," No, I was promoted or busted 17 times." I said, "Because you started fights?" He said no I DID NOT START ANY FIGHTS, but I ended up in fights because I was Jewish". I asked him if he was aware of what was happening to his family in the Holocaust and was he aware of what was going on in the war. He said for the most part no! There were lots of stories circulating but we didn't know for sure until we ran into those concentration camps." I asked him so America was not aware of what was going on in Europe and you also weren't?" He said, you know you can only understand something when you go through it. You hear stories and absorb some of it but until you see it, you just don't understand until you go through it.
Jerry Levitt (and others) on the Seine River in Paris in October 1945...ON THEIR WAY HOME
Then I asked "you mean you were picked on for being Jewish?" My father said, well you were thrown into a melting pot of guys from the KKK and southerners who had never worn a pair of shoes before and you have to remember that basically speaking there was always an undercurrent against Jews especially at that time which will continue until the end of time for two reasons; one because of ignorance and two because of envy. Those are the two faults they find with not only Jews but also other races and religions. My sister asked, "after basic training did you go away to a technical school for special training?" My father said "well for the most part we were very foolish.
For instance we had the opportunity to go into the NCOs, we would have much rather they recruit a draftee or regular army guy for those positions of NCO.
We said, Ahh, who wants to be an officer? I want to be one of the guys. My IQ was 42 points higher than my commanding officer! Not my immediate CO but the Commanding Officer in charge. In many instances I had to sign his name for him. He was an uneducated guy from Arkansas who received a Battle Field Commission who joined the NCOs and had come up through the ranks. So I had the opportunity to do it and it had nothing to do with intelligence and Dick got into it basically because he was lazy.
Dick didn't want to do any of the work. He volunteered for a position that ultimately put him in charge of training all these guys. Dick did reach the position of Master Sergeant. He would never wear his stripes. They always wanted him to put them on but he never would. I asked why?" My dad said, well for one thing, Dick was worried about going overseas into combat with a higher rank because than he was at risk for being a big target. Dick was busted many times for not wearing his stripes by the time he was discharged his was a Staff Sergeant. I asked my dad if there were any other Jewish men in his unit. He said there were only two out of 200 men. Himself and one other guy who was a perpetual student from Ohio and he was in his 40's so I don't know how he got in the service at that time anyway, and he had been in college most of his life. My sister asked was he an officer?" My dad said "no," My sister said did he have a bunch of degrees?" My dad said "yes, he was never a teacher he was always in school to learn.
They put you through an aptitude test, if you had a sufficient count than you had the opportunity to go into other areas, as was so common with young people, we didn't want to be an officer? I just want to be one of the guys, they were stupid reasons. I asked, did you make any more friends?" My dad said, really more acquaintances, I lost a lot of friends. My sister asked again "were you aware of what was going on in the war?" My dad said again, you were a sheep, they told you to fight and you weren't aware of any alternative. My sister asked again "Did you know about Hitler?" He said of course! We had publications; we used to read the Stars and Stripes. You learned what they want you to know and that's all. You were sheep." My sister asked, "Were you involved in the Invasion of Normandy?" Then I asked, "What was the invasion of Normandy?" My dad said "when we went in boats across the English Channel. Then I interrupted him and asked "Did they drop you from Planes too?" My dad answered, actually that happened before and Dick was in on that. Dick was a Paratrooper.
When we were on our way over seas and it took us 7 days to get to England, we had both decided we were going to be in the Paratroopers. The reason was selfish again. The reason being was that we already knew we were going into battle anyway. The difference between the infantryman and a paratrooper was that the infantryman was in battle constantly. The Paratrooper was sent in to do a particular job and when he did the job he got out. So we thought it would be easier to do the job and get out so you weren't in battle constantly. So when we got to England we both went to volunteer for the Paratroopers. We were standing in line and Dick was first and they swore him right in.
Then they said to my dad, where the hell are you going with those glasses [eyeglasses], get out of here. They tried to get Dick's papers and rip them up, but it was too late. So I asked him again to tell us about Normandy. He said we went over there in boats and there were German Soldiers all over there. But Hitler was stupid and we surprised them. They had a small amount of Soldiers and a heavy amount of concentration in another area. He was just stupid, his Generals tried to tell him where we were going to land and he didn't listen to them. So while we had many thousands and thousands of casualties, it could have been a lot worse. My sister asked, "Did you meet Eisenhower?" He said "yes." My sister said when?" My dad said he came traveling through the front lines, which he shouldn't have done, he was too vital to the effort and too important of a man.
And at that time I remember we had a shortage of socks and shoes and all kinds of things. And he asked us what we needed and we told him and the next day we had it."
I asked him, "Where did you see him?" he said we were in the Hurtgen Forest which is where the Blitzkrieg started, well I shouldn't say that because really the Blitzkrieg was Hitler's term he used for bombing from the beginning of the war. But the Hurtgen Forest was at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. It was just before the Battle of the Bulge when I saw General Eisenhower.
In the Battle of the Bulge there was tremendous confusion. The German's had captured a lot of Americans and took American Uniforms off of the dead. The German's infiltrated our lines and we didn't know whether we were shooting German's or American's. They did it to fool us and penetrate our lines and everything was helter skelter and mass confusion. I asked why did they call it the Battle of the Bulge?" My dad answered because the German's had American's surrounded and trapped into a Bulge. The lines you fight are generally straight. Then I asked, was this in England?" He said NO! This was in Germany. I asked how long did you stay in England and he answered "two or three weeks". I asked then you went to Germany?" He said NO! We went to France and fought our way through to Germany. After this he said he didn't want to talk about it anymore.
So Dick signed my father up as a replacement of a Division from a New York Camp that I believe was stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey. The 1st Division of the 26th Infantry. Or as my father also explained this to me because it was hard for me to understand, the 26th Regiment of the 1st Division. He also explained the following:
The First Division during World War Two was comprised of the three following Regiments
The 16th Regiment was the First Regiment of the First Division
The 26th Regiment was the Second Regiment of the First Division
The 18th Regiment was the Third Regiment of the First Division (I think)
My father was wounded but never reported it. My father happened to have 3 nipples on his chest. As a little girl I had just assumed they had taken the bullet out right before it reached his heart. Later I learned he was shot in the leg! I believe it was on D-Day but he was standing in water and he didn't even feel it. The bullet went right through his leg and when he came out of the water he saw the blood. I'm sure he just sprinkled some Sulfa Powder on it and the wound healed. At any rate he certainly didn't want a purple heart for what he considered to be such a small wound compared to all the carnage he saw around him. I am the third out of 4 children born in 1956. I remember standing next to my dad in the yard one day when I was about 7 years old. All of a sudden this feeling came over me &endash; that I was standing next to a great man! But I never understood the feeling or why. But ever since that day I was always able to feel his presence in a room even if I couldn't see him yet, I could tell when he entered a room. I never knew what this feeling was. It was a very noble and pleasant surprise to learn that my father in addition to being a wonderful father and businessman and overall exceptional human being was a man of D-Day. I didn't know what D-Day was but I did go to a D-Day Reenactment on Santa Monica Beach marking the 50th Anniversary and I taped lots of documentaries that day and then I knew what that feeling was since I was 7 years old &endash; I was standing next to a man who had helped save the world.
In 1999, my younger sister and I went to Europe. Our trip included the Normandy Landing Beaches and Bastogne, Belgium. (I didn't know exactly where he was during the Battle of the Bulge when we planned that trip).
After the war, apparently my dad did not have enough points to go home. He had spent some time in a hospital so they sent him to Nuremberg and he pulled some Guard Duty at the Nuremberg Trials. According to Rudy (the former person in charge of the 26th Infantry) my father's Regiment actually guarded a camp that was filled with SS men. Rudy also told me that during the Battle of the Bulge, my dad's company &endash; actually Companies E and F held the North Eastern line at Merode, which was a very heroic thing. Rudy told me that the book Hell at Dom Butenbach talks about this. They were put in for a presidential citation, however because during that period they were temporally put under the command of another division. (My guess is because of the confusion of the Battle of the Bulge). So Rudy said for political reasons this other Commanding Officer of the other division refused to sign off on it.
Rudy said on D-Day my dad was in the 2nd wave. He was in Normandy in the afternoon because if the first wave did not make it, it would have still been possible to send the rest of the men back to England, which of course we know, was not the case.
My father also told me one more story. He said that as he went through Europe he had picked up duffle bags full of money because it was lying on the ground. He said he paid about $10,000 for 4 egg sandwiches in France. Anyway with all this money that he thought was worthless because it was lying on the ground. When they got to Nuremberg they rented a Castle to house 1,000 men to guard the German's. My dad said he took this money and hired German's to build 1,000 beds for all the men. He bought 16 barrels of beer a day for all his friends. He bought 7 mink coats for the girls back home. Before returning to the United States, he was told they had to get rid of everything. My dad was a very honest man and an honorable man and he followed orders and got rid of all the money and mink coats and whatever else and then he found out that the money was real and he had been a millionaire and he didn't know it. Also all the other men were taking tons of stuff back with them but my dad followed orders. Also one last story he had told us was when he was in Germany some soldiers were bothering some German Civilians and my dad got them to stop it. Because they were so thankful for my dad intervening on their behalf they gave him a gift of three sapphires and he later had a ring made out of them for my mother along with some diamonds in the ring.
Daughter of Jerry J. Levitt
God saw that he was getting tired,
And a cure was not to be.
So he put his arms around him,
And whispered, come with me.
With tearful eyes we watched him
suffer, and saw him fade away,
Although we loved him dearly,
We could not make him stay.
A Golden Heart stopped beating,
Hard working hands to rest.
God broke our hearts to prove to us.
That he alone knows best.
To Those I Love And Those Who Love Me
When I am gone, release and let me go.
I have so many things to see and do,
You mustn't tie yourself to me with tears.
Be thankful for our beautiful years.
I gave to you my love, you can only guess
how much you gave to me in happines.
I thank you for the LOVE you each have shown,
But now it's time I traveled on alone.
So grieve a while for me, if grieve you must,
Then let your grief be comforted by trust.
It's only for s time that we must part,
So bless the memories within your heart
I won't be far away, for life goes on.
So if you need me, call and I will come,
Though you see or touch me, I'll be near,
And If you listen with your heart, you'll hear
All my love around you, soft and clear,
And then, when you must come this way alone,
I'll great you with a smile, and say
Jerome J. "Jerry" Levitt
Born: 7 December 1920
Taps: 28 July 2002
26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
United States Army
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
1st Division in America's Wars
The Big Red One
Society of the 1st Infantry Division
1st Infantry Division
U.S. Army Infantry Divisions
U.S. Army in WWII
National World War II Memorial
World War II Causality Search
The above story, "War Memories of Jerry Levitt", was written by Lori Levitt, daughter of Jerome J. Levitt.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of Ms. Levitt. Our sincerest THANKS to Mr. Levitt for allowing us to share the memories of her late dad.
We at the World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words web site wish to offer our most profound THANK YOU to the daughter of Mr. Jerome J. Levitt, Ms. Lori Levitt, for her offer to share these excellent images of her late Dad,. The images above is a family tribute to the memory of their World War II hero.
Original Story submitted on 15 September 2004.
Story added to website on 15 September 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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