Heroes: the Army
"...I remember an air base that was captured and there were hundreds of light bombers lined up ready to fly. We got the job of destroying them. We just stuck bayonets in the gas tanks of about every third plane and then set them on fire. What a waste..."
Roger E. Faris
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: Battery "A" 792 Anti Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion 9th Air Force
Military Occupational Specialty: Radio Repairman
- Dates: 1943-1945
- Location: Europe: Normandy, North France, Rhineland, Ardennes, Central Europe
- Rank: Sgt.
- Birth Year: 1924
- Entered Service: Columbus OH
MEMORIES OF WORLD WAR II
& PICTORIAL ART
ROGER E. FARIS &endash; DECEMBER 1946
MEMORIES OF WW II
On Dec.7, 1941 the family sat around the radio and listened to President Roosevelt tell about the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and that he was declaring war on Japan and Germany. It was exciting time for us young children, not really knowing what war was all about, but we soon developed hate for the enemy. As I know now, it was a good form of propaganda. The government wanted all of us to back their decisions. All the men were rushing off to join the Armed Forces. Any man 18 to 35 years old had to register for the draft. I was still too young, but I could hardly wait to become of age.
We lived in an industrial area, in Dayton, Ohio, and my dad worked for General Motors. They were gearing up for defense work, and ceased building cars and appliances. Soon gasoline was rationed along with some foods. The newspapers and radio were all about the war and how Hitler and Tojo were winning. They needed more men, more tanks, more guns, and more airplanes. The war effort was in full swing. Patriotism was the word of the day. Everybody was involved in it one way or another. People were turning in all their scrap metals. My dad even gave away an old Irish musket. It had been in the family for years and would be worth a fortune now. You can bet it didn't go to the war effort. It probably ended up hanging over some politician's fireplace. But dad meant well.
When I turned 18 years old I tried to join the Navy, the choice of most of my friends. I went down to the recruitment center with a buddy of mine, and got as far as the final physical exam. They wouldn't accept me because I was missing some back teeth. They told me to go home and get a bridge made. Money wasn't available right then, so while waiting for some funds to do the dental work I was drafted by the Army. They didn't care whether you had teeth or not. The first thing they did, though, was to make me a bridge (which I never wore). Being inducted into the service is probably one of the worst experiences I have ever gone through, next to combat. I had never been away from home for any length of time, and after all the excitement died down I wished I were home again. We were loaded on buses and shipped out to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. We were hollered at, cuss at, screamed at. They took all our clothes away, along with our hair. I remember how giddy we were. Everyone was scared to death. They ran us through showers, gave us each a poncho and put us in a long line. They looked down our throats, up our butts, of course we had to perform what they called "short arm", which is how the Army checked for venereal diseases. I think it was the most humiliating experience I ever went through. After that line was another line, where we got all our shots. The thought alone was bad enough and watching big men passing out one after another as they waited for their turn created much stress. The tension was so high you could smell the fear among us. We were naked under the ponchos and were sweating profusely. I saw grown men cry from the embarrassment after being picked up off the floor. But I made it without passing out or breaking down. That was the first taste of Army life, a bad taste.
The next 13 weeks were hell. They literally drove us to hate them and the enemy, and since they needed every able bodied man, most survived the ordeal. A few of them were sent home with what they called a "Section Eight", not mentally or physical fit for the Armed Forces. It wasn't a good thing to have on your record in those days. Everyone was behind the war effort. If someone failed, they were marked as a loser and a misfit. I was able to accept all the discipline that was shelled out. You soon understood the reason for their demands. Without discipline there would be chaos. I went from being a skinny little kid to a hard-bodied soldier in those 13 weeks.
For some reason I'll never know, after basic training I was sent to radio school, to learn how to build and operate all kinds of radios. I also learned to communicate by Morse code. That lasted only 3 months, so it was hard to cram that much into my head, since my education was very limited. But I got through the radio school all right and was sent to another camp in Georgia that was just starting basic training. I went from private to sergeant overnight, didn't have to go through the ranks, which meant that I didn't have to take all the crap that they give to a private. I was just 18 years old and had men some ten years older than me under my command. Sometimes I was a little embarrassed giving out orders. Sometimes they didn't pay any attention to me. It took a while to win them over. One method I had was that being a good boxer; I was able to knock a man down. That usually gave me a little more authority. Not many of the men in my weight class could whip me.
After another 13 weeks, we were sent to an advance training center in Virginia. We lived outdoors in little two-man pup tents. It was wintertime and cold, but we were preparing for the next winter in Europe. We spent a lot of time on gun ranges, since we were now an anti-aircraft gun battery. We had to learn how to operate all the guns in case we lost some men during combat. But my crew spent most of their time learning all about communication in a gun battery. Part of the crew was telephone linemen who strung or laid the wires between gun positions. The others were the men who sent and received Morse code or radio telephone. We had to learn all phases of communications, Army style.
Those times were not as stressful as basic training. There was a little more fun and we also got passes to get into town to chase the girls and drink beer. That we did. Most of us were so young that we hadn't developed a solid relationship with the girls at home, so we felt free to roam. We thought that our chances of returning home again was pretty slim, so what the hell, we lived that way. We were developing a fatalistic attitude: just what the Army wanted.
After our training in Virginia was completed, we were moved to Massachusetts, near Boston somewhere. I remember that in the middle of the night they got us up and we were herded into a large ship. It had been an ocean liner at one time but had been converted into a troop ship. I know there were at least 2000 or more of us crammed into the hold. The bunks were five high. I was lucky (I thought); I was given a bottom bunk. I had been designated sergeant of the guard on the main deck, so I had to be available. This was in January and the Atlantic Ocean was at it's worse then; rough. The convoy consisted of hundreds of ships. We didn't travel in a straight line; we zigzagged all the way. It took three weeks to get to England. Myself, I loved the sea, but most of the men were seasick. Remember the bottom bunk? When the man on top throws up, it dribbles down to the bottom. The stink alone could make you ill. But I managed to get through that also.
It was frightening on the high seas, knowing that German submarines were tailing us waiting for the opportunity to sink us. Often you could hear the destroyers using depth charges against the subs. I didn't know it then, but our convoy was the largest ever to cross the Atlantic. There were some ships lost, of course, but we were not told this. Always the need to know was in effect. I remember how terrible the food was and how little of it there was, but by luck I ran into a sailor from my hometown on the ship. He worked in the kitchen and took care of me. I was eating what the sailors were, first class.
I don't remember where we embarked in England, but we were loaded (like cattle) into boxcars and shipped to Wales. In fact, they called those boxcars "40 or 8", meaning that the boxcars could hold 40 men or 8 mules. We were packed in with everything we owned on our backs. There was more training in Wales, but we also got the chance to see some of the country. It was what I would call quaint. They spoke an impossible language; Welsh. I believe it was one of the most beautiful countries I have ever visited. My biggest memory of that time was that the whole unit got food poisoning. There weren't enough toilets to go around, many just let go right where they stood, and it wasn't funny. We had some really sick men. That morning, we had what was called "shit on a shingle" (gravy on toast). I never cared for that again. Food poisoning was prevalent during the war, along with contaminated water. Throughout the war, everyone carried chlorine tablets to put in their drinking water.
After a brief stay in Wales, we were transported to the East Coast of England, near a city called Weymoth. It was to be one of the areas where the invasion would launch in June. Our mission was to guard and protect the materials and equipment that was being brought in daily. You can't imagine how much. Until we established a beachhead in France, all the materials had to be brought to these areas or left on the ships. There were thousands of men all along the coast, waiting. At that time, my unit was attached to the 1st Infantry Division called the "Big Red One". They had seen combat in Africa, so they were seasoned soldiers. Most of us were green, but that was soon to change.
The generals couldn't seem to make up their minds when this invasion would take place. The troops would be loaded up on the boats, then unloaded. In another couple of days, the same thing would happen. We surmised that they were trying to confuse the Germans, but they were also confusing us. It was important to keep the morale up among the troops. They would get all hyped up ready to give all, then told to disembark, wait for another day.
One foggy, rainy morning, it happened. The first wave of troops left in the dark. My unit would not leave for seven more days, but our hearts were with them. We knew that many would die. We heard many rumors about how many men were killed and wounded during D-day, but even though it was less than a 100 miles away, we were kept in the dark about causalities. We did assume they had established a beachhead, because they were still sending equipment over. About a week later, my unit was put aboard a small ship and made the short trip across the English Channel. We all knew by then we wouldn't be meeting any resistance on the beach (code name: Omaha). The main force was some miles inland. What most of us were not prepared for was that the ship was anchored out about a mile from the beach and they pulled some small landing craft up along side of the ship. A net was thrown over the ship's side, and they told us to go over the side and climb down. We had all of our equipment on our backs along with a rifle. There were hundreds of us. It must have been a 50-75 feet to the landing craft, which was pitching up and down. We were told not to fasten our helmets to our chin, because if we fell, we might break our neck. That was encouraging. In spite of the pure chaos, we all made it without killing each other. That was the first real fear of the day.
The next two years would bring many more. I have always had an inquisitive mind and it really bothered me to think that the majority of us were under 21 years of age, not old enough to buy a beer at home, or to vote, but here we were fighting for freedom, while the old men were staying home getting rich. It didn't take me long to see that the same people that had convinced us about patriotism, duty, and honor, now stood behind us, way behind. But I still believed that we had to finish what we started. If I made it home, maybe there would be something left for me.
The landing craft took us in to about 100 yards from the beach, dropped the front end and turned us loose to wade the rest of the way. It was about waist deep for me, but the short guys were into it up to their necks. We were all soaked. The beach was littered with every thing you could imagine, as far as you could see, tanks, trucks, guns and men sitting around waiting to be transported up to where the action was. In all the confusion our guns had been lost, nobody knew where anything was. But we couldn't sit there on the beach. They were beginning to shell the area, so we moved up 7 or 8 miles and camped out in the woods all night.
The shelling continued back and forth, going right over our heads. It's amazing how much noise a shell can make when traveling. You can imagine how much sleep we got that night. Guess you could call it our baptism of fire. We lay around most of the next day. That evening, they loaded us into trucks and took us inland to a small village where we set up our headquarters. Our guns had finally arrived and we were in business.
Anti-aircraft battalions are made up of four batteries: A, B, C, and D. I was with the A battery. Each battery had around 200 men, eight 40-mm automatic guns, eight half-tracks or trailer mounted quad 50 caliber machine guns. Quad meant that there were four guns on one unit, the gunner sat in an electrically operated turret, and you could fire all four guns at once. We seldom saw the other units in our battalion. We were sent where we were needed. They called us a bastard battery. Sometimes we moved so much that our rations couldn't keep up with us, so we had to steal, beg or borrow food and everything else.
Soon after D-day, we were sent to Le Harve, France. We were stationed out on a breakwater, a mile or so from the coast. A breakwater protects the harbor from heavy waves during storms and high winds. Each section is about a mile long and probably 25 feet wide. This one was quite old, but still effective. We lived on it for a month or so, protecting the harbor from hostile aircraft and submarine attacks. As the war raged on the mainland, we soaked up the sun, enjoying every minute of it. I was always a good swimmer, and on the lee side we could fish and swim. Fishing usually consisted of hand grenades instead of poles. We would stun the fish with grenades, then I would dive in and get them. We always had plenty of fish to eat.
After the duty on the breakwater, five other men and I set up an observation post overlooking the Jersey and Guernsey islands off the coast of France. The Germans occupied them and couldn't get off after the invasion. Because the cliffs were so high, the only way off the islands was by boat or by air, so we just watched to be sure they stayed put and reported any hostile aircraft or boats that tried to land. We had some powerful binoculars that could even see all the activities going on there.
It was pretty good duty, like being on the breakwater, until one of the British companies nearby lost some men by snipers. A wire stretched across the road decapitated one man. He was a messenger on a motorcycle. It happened so often that all vehicles were equipped with an angle iron bar on the front to ward off wires, but this wouldn't work on motorcycles. This kept us on alert, and a man would be on guard at all times. We watched, as bombers would fly over by the hundreds, twenty-four hours a day. They were dropping bombs on Germany. The U.S. planes fly in the daytime, the British at night, never a let up.
I don't remember what towns we went through as we crossed France. Everything was happening so fast. Now and then we stayed a week or so in one area. The French civilians treated us like gods. We liberated them from the Germans. The infantry actually did the liberating, but we enjoyed the rewards. The French have some of the most beautiful women in the world. Our daily (k) rations consisted of a small can of meat, some crackers, a chocolate bar, and three cigarettes. Armed with that, anything was available, from sex to alcohol. Trading was as good as money. We were all healthy young men, able and willing.
At times, we were attached to the 9th Air Force and guarded the engineers as they laid metal airstrips. The airstrips came in large rolls and were fastened together. The engineers didn't bother to level the land; the mats just followed the contour of the land. These strips were considered forward strips for refueling and planes that were damaged and couldn't make it back to their base. A lot of planes came in all shot up. Many crashed trying to land. The airstrips were temporary and were moved often as the war progressed.
Much of our time was spent setting up guns along the roads and firing on aircraft trying to strafe convoys. The 3rd army was a force of tanks led by General Patton. They ran on gasoline. It had to be delivered to them daily, mostly in five-gallon cans, the cans were loaded on large cargo trucks and many were driven by the Negroes. It was hazardous duty. Just one incendiary bullet would set the trucks off. The truck convoys would be made up to hundreds of vehicles. When one was hit and on fire, the driver would drive it off the road and bail out, if he could. Sometimes, they just blew up. Nobody stopped. The highway was dubbed "The Red Ball Highway". There was always a meat wagon (ambulance) following to pick up the wounded and dead. Death was becoming common. The smell of death was on everything
As General Patton advanced, he left behind many of the Germans, both dead and alive. Many wanted to surrender. They were all so young, much younger than we were. We just took their weapons and sent them on to the rear. We didn't feed them; we didn't have enough food for our selves. The 3rd Army would spearhead the attack, then surround them so no supplies could get through. It didn't take long for them to give up. I don't think most of them even wanted to be in the war. Winter was coming along with much rain; the roads were turning to mud. Half your time was getting out of a rut, only to get right into another one. When you get stuck with a 6x6 truck, it was pretty bad.
The only advantage to winter is that the smell of death diminished. We were in an area where the winter was not in sub-zero readings, but wet and cold, the kind that goes right through you. I remember shaking so bad sometimes it hurt. We couldn't have outside fire because it would give away our positions, and anyway, we couldn't sit around a stove all day. Even if we were lucky enough to have a building to be in, we wouldn't be in one location very long. I tried to find a building or some cover to set up the radios. Sometimes, we just set up in the back of a truck. Whenever the guns were set up, we had to be able to communicate with them. They were usually in a perimeter of maybe ten miles across. We had to string telephone wire to each of them. That's miles of wire, mostly right on the ground. When necessary, we used trees, poles, anything we could. Sometimes we would just finish stringing the wire, and we would get an order to move out. Then, since there was a shortage of telephone wire, we had to pick it all back up. The wire shortage got so bad, we began to steal each other's wire.
There were times we went 24 hours without sleep. We had lots of temper flares. This is bad when everyone has a weapon. Some of the fields we had to cross had been mined. Sometimes it was too far to go around, so we tied the truck's steering wheel so it would go in a straight line, and then we would walk in the tire tracks. The mines were small. They were designed to maim, not kill. We blew a few tires, but no one was ever hurt from a mine in my section.
The gun emplacements didn't have radios with transmitters, all they had were receivers, so the telephones were the only way of communicating with the battery headquarters. The wire was in constant need of repair. There were always a couple men out repairing the lines. There was also a shortage of ammo for the 40mm guns. They couldn't fire at will, unless they were fired upon. They had to wait until they were ordered to fire. They didn't like that, as you can imagine. After the shells were fired, they had to account for every brass casing they used, which had to be turned in to get another live round. The ammo shortage was because the 3rd Army was moving so fast that the supplies couldn't keep up. They couldn't slow old General Patton down.
Most of the rivers that we crossed had to have pontoon type bridges put down by the combat engineers, because most the bridges had been destroyed. They called on us to lay down ground fire across the rivers where they would be working. Every gun would fire on automatic. Each gun had extra barrels, because they got so overheated that they would warp. We even fired our rifles. My ears are still ringing. We did this on 4-5 rivers. The bridges that were intact had guns placed around them for protection. As an anti-aircraft unit, we seldom fired at aircraft. As we got closer into Germany, the Germans Air Force was losing so many pilots; we didn't need all the anti-aircraft units. I remember an air base that was captured and there were hundreds of light bombers lined up ready to fly. We got the job of destroying them. We just stuck bayonets in the gas tanks of about every third plane and then set them on fire. What a waste.
All of us were required to do guard duty. I remember being on guard one night on a small bridge, the moon was full, there was a battle going on miles up stream from us and the bodies of the dead were floating down, both German and American. It was sad. We are all but human beings. I wondered if it would ever end.
With the liberation of France, we were getting into the homeland of the enemy. We began to see entire German towns bombed out, not one building left standing. I'm sure most of those killed had nothing to do with the war and I found out later that this was very true. There were many times I was discouraged with the way we had to do things. It wasn't only the enemy; we had people on our side who enjoyed killing. I saw our men beat civilians for no apparent reason. I guess it's the dark side in many of us.
My unit was in Luxembourg at the time the "Battle of the Bulge" started. That battle was the German's last big offensive. They put everything they had into it. I remember it so well; it was near Christmas time, and lots of snow on the ground. Luxembourg is a small country, long and narrow, but a beautiful country. They spoke a little bit of French and German. I really don't know what their language was. But they were nice people. The Germans got right up to our front door before they were stopped. There were a lot of men killed that time.
I was in a small village right outside the city. I remember the enemy planes coming in so low that one hit the top of a church steeple. Most of this was at night. The sky lit up from the fires, so the planes were very visible from the ground. Our guns were on the hills surrounding the city and they couldn't be lowered far enough to fire. Anyhow, we couldn't fire upon the town. The German pilots knew that. A man I was doing guard duty with and myself saw a bomber coming in real low. We both fired on it and it caught fire. Lucky shooting. But didn't see it go down.
This was the first time that we used our 40mm guns for anti-tank. Since our shells couldn't penetrate the skin of a tank, they fired at the tracks. With the tracks damaged, they were stuck. It didn't take long for them to surrender. The Battle of the Bulge was the real turning point in the war. We moved into Germany with little resistance.
In the winter it was difficult to find a place to bathe. We would go for weeks without a shower. We usually slept with most of our clothes on, so our body odor could get pretty bad. We all smelled the same, so we didn't notice it. The clothing we wore was treated with a waxy substance, so that if we were attacked with a poison gas, the wax prevented gas penetration. Thank God both sides were humane enough not to use it, as they did in World War I. A large trailer came by once a month and we had a chance to bathe. It was a portable shower unit. The men lined up and we entered one room and stripped all our clothes. The next room we were wet down and soaped, then into another and rinsed and dried; kind of like a car wash. It took less than 10 minutes, I think, at the end we were issued new clothing. But it did feel good. Some towns we went through still had utilities and if you were lucky enough to make friends, you might get a bath now and then. Of course, I tried to have a girlfriend in every town. When the trailer wasn't available, we usually had to bathe out of our steel helmets. We would heat water on our gas cook stoves and pour it into the helmets. It was also necessary to shave often, because our gas mask wouldn't fit snug over our face with a beard, and with the constant fear of poison gas, we pretty much kept clean shaved.
As we moved into Germany, the Army wanted all of us to see the death camps. It's still the single most memorable thing I remember about the whole war. I saw a lot of death, but these concentration camps left me with a feeling of despair. One camp we walked through was where they cremated the Jews. The bodies were still stacked like firewood, stripped of all clothes, naked, men, women and children. It was stilling winter, so they were frozen and had turned a bluish color. There were hundreds of them, waiting their turn to go into the furnaces. It was truly a heartbreaking experience. We hadn't heard of this practice, so it was a shock to us all. It was one thing to see dead bodies of soldiers here and there, but to see this, it was terrible. The purpose of showing us this, I'm sure, was to make us to hate the enemy even more.
Further into Germany, we were sent from one end of the country to the other. It got so that we didn't even bother to dig the guns in anymore (which was our practice). There were eight battle stars awarded for the whole war. In Europe, including Africa, we received seven of them; not that it meant anything to us. They did look pretty on our dress uniforms, which we hardly ever wore.
When spring came, I headed a small section of men, and set up an observation post in and around the Black Forest, the best duty I ever received. We were to keep watch for any hostile activity. The Black Forest is similar to our Black Hills of South Dakota. For the last two years, our diets consisted of mostly canned food. We ate very little meat. We noticed there were large herds of deer and decided to shoot one and try the meat. It was delicious. We had steak every day. One day, an officer came by to inspect our post and had a meal with us. I told him about the abundance of deer in the woods. He went back to headquarters with the story. Then some colonel came by and told me he wanted us to kill enough deer to feed his whole battalion. He said he would send out some people to butcher them. We found a fancy deer stand overlooking a small lake. Later, we found out that Hitler himself had hunted there: it was his personal deer stand! We were hunting for food, not sport, and the deer herds were becoming a nuisance to the local farmers. The farmers had been relived of all their weapons, so they couldn't hunt anymore. We killed hundreds of deer. I'm not much of a hunter and I felt guilty about killing so many of the animals, but I guess it was for a good cause. Search lights set up at the deer stand, and an hour or so after dark, we would turn them on and kill the deer with machine guns. They brought refrigerated trucks out to keep the meat in. Even the farmers benefited. We delivered meat to them as well. Everyone was appreciative of it. I thought I was going to get the metal of honor, (joke) but didn't.
I think every farmer in Europe must have had a still. Everyone distilled 200 proof alcohol from anything from beets to potatoes. We could drink it (watered down), or we could use it in out cigarette lighters. We often traded our supplies for theirs. We were drinking their alcohol one day while patrolling in a truck (drunk). A German airplane flew low over our heads then circled to come back. Thinking the plane might do us harm, I fired on it with a machine gun. It caught fire, and went down a considerable distance from us. Since we had been drinking so much, we decided to not pursue the incident. Good thing we didn't, we found out later that the war had ended. Nobody told us. The plane had some senior officers in it, and that they were coming to surrender. Nobody got hurt. That was to be my last shot of the war with malice, but it would be about another six months before I could get home.
My outfit became part of the occupation forces of Germany. One of our duties was to guard hundreds of P-51 fighter planes, row after row. They had been shipped over, but now we didn't need them. Other than that, we didn't have much to do. I probably only worked a couple days a week. We confiscated a house from a German officer for our headquarters and tried to be friendly with the locals. We were not allowed to fraternize with the German girls, but there were plenty of other ones. The Germans had brought in young girls from Poland and other small countries they had invaded years before, and put them to work as slave labor. They lived in barracks with bunks three high, slept on straw mattresses. They had the poorest of living conditions. After they were liberated, they were considered to be displaced persons by our army, and everyone that wanted to was sent back to their own country. Some had been gone for years. Many had no family left and decided to stay in Germany. There were thousands of them. The men of these countries had been inducted into the German armed forces and sent to the Russian front, most never to return. Hitler was a brilliant man, but his greed killed him, like a lot of us. When is enough, enough.
The only R and R I ever received was after the war ended. I got a seven-day pass to London. I flew in a C-47 across the English Channel. It was set up for paratroopers, with hard bucket seats along the sides. That was the roughest ride I ever took. It was like driving across railroad tracks the whole way. I did enjoy the 7 days there, but the first night I was robbed of my money and pistol while I was asleep. Fortunately, I ran into a pretty red head Irish girl. She took care of me as my guide and companion for the rest of the week. I still have some money she gave me when I left. I wrote to her for a while, but we soon lost track of each other.
Writing letters during the war was real hard. We couldn't say where we were located or what we had even done that day and you really had to be careful what you said about anyone especially the officers. All our letters were censored by our officers and if you said anything against the rules it was blacked out. The only girlfriend that continued writing to me from the states was Lois, my future wife. We hadn't been that close before I left for the army. I meet her at a roller rink in Dayton. We went out just a few times. It was after I came home that we became close. Letters kept our morale up. We were just kids, trying to be adults. Most of us still needed a mother. Our officers were mostly older than we were and the commander was like a father figure. But we needed mail from home. We all felt bad for anybody at mail call when they wouldn't get anything. At times, our mail would be weeks old by the time we would get it. We would read the letters over and over. Occasionally one of us would get a package. Usually, it had cookies in it, and everyone shared. That was a real treat.
I believe the army was run on rumors. We could hear the darndest stories and were never sure whether they were true or not. The only information we ever got was a newspaper called the Stars and Stripes, and it was published by the Army. So you only knew what they wanted you to know. Our letters from home had not been censored and it was the best source of information to know how the war was going.
We had been led to believe that the Germans were evil people. I suppose it had to be that way. But when we arrived in their country, we found probably more Christian churches (Lutheran) than in the other countries nearby. They were very religious. It was difficult to understand the hatred for the Jewish people when the Christian faith was all about love for one another. Of course, most of the Germans didn't know about the death camps, or they just looked the other way.
My time in Europe was coming to a close. I had an opportunity to go to an art school in Paris, but I'd had enough of being away from my family and my own kind. My destiny could have taken a big turn there, my children of now would not have been, nor my grandchildren who I have written this for. I think about the time I spent and survived, that it was a real lesson in humanity and how men can turn on each other, either in the name of God, or in the name of power or money. We are like sheep led in the direction of whoever is in charge. After 50 years, it is difficult to remember everything that happened, and some things I don't even want to remember. I was surprised that I could recall this much. I did not exaggerate any of the happenings. I tried to put it down as it really did happened.
My trip home was aboard a rather small ship. They were called victory ships. I came home in December, and as it was when I went over in January, the seas were even rougher. I use to stand on the bow of this ship as it rose and then crashed back into the sea. I loved it. These ships were put together pretty fast and ours was beginning to fall apart. The main boom fell onto the bridge, breaking all the windows. Some of the railings were breaking off, so they wouldn't let us out on the decks anymore. Just about everyone got sick. But in a week we were back in the states. We were all called out onto the deck early one morning, and out of the fog to our surprise materialized the Statue of Liberty. We all held back the tears. It was one of the happiest moments of our lives.
We were shipped to a camp in Pennsylvania. Then, after going through some mental and physical exams, we were given some money and a train ticket to our homes. It was sad leaving our friends, but we were happy to finally be going home. It had been three years for me. I arrived in Dayton Ohio, around 4am and didn't want to wake my folks. So, I waited at the train station for a couple hours. I called them about 6am and told them I was getting a cab and would be there shortly. They were surprised, as I hadn't told them I was even back. When the cab dropped me off, they were standing on the front porch, waiting. We all cried tears of joy. The war was over, but my life was just getting started.
Through the effort of everyone, from the defense workers to the lowest soldier, the war was won. Many young men paid with their lives and disabilities. We all hoped that was the war to end wars. Myself, I doubt that there will ever be total peace. There will always be some disagreements, leading to conflict. It's the matter of us having free will. The war did bring about prosperity and advances in technology and we are what we are today because of that.
By Roger E. Faris
February 27, 1999
"Combat Boot and Overseas Cap"
Painted by Roger E. Faris, 1946
Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...
American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll
National World War II Memorial
Information and photographs were generously provided to World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words by Mr. Roger E. Faris of Dayton, Ohio. Our sincerest THANK YOU for allowing us to share his stories!
Original Story submitted on 7 July 2008.
Story added to website on 8 July 2008.
September 5, 2002.
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