Heroes: the Army
"...Fortunes were made by many GIs before restrictions were put in force. Gambling and bartering accounted for large sums of money that were sent home. I recall a jeep driver who told me he sent home over $20,000 to his mother for safe keeping until he got home..."
Joseph J. Szalay
- Branch of Service: Army
- Unit: 380th FA Btn.,
102nd Infantry Division
- Dates: 1942 - 1945
- Location: European Theater
- Rank: CWO, Bronze Star Medal
- Birth Year: 1925
- Entered Service: Paris, TX
GI's Enjoy Vacation in Europe
by Joseph Szalay
The military government was responsible for printing the script that was used by the American troops stationed in Europe. The military pay was in the form of script which was also called invasion currency The local Germans would accept this scrip for payment of purchases by our troops but would rather accept payment in German currency. Every Gl had accumulated some German currency and didn't expect it to have any value after the war was over. Most of the troops planned to take it home as a souvenir. German marks were treated as worthless paper until we found out it did have some value.
During the bartering that went on with the Russian soldiers we suddenly realized that the Russians were using the same scrip as we were. The only difference was a dash before the serial number. Our finance officer would not accept this scrip that the Russians were using. Apparently he was not advised about this currency. Our military government must have had some sort of agreement with the Russian military government to use our equipment to print their currency. I'm sure politics were involved in this arrangement and, as usual, our government lost a fortune because of this questionable arrangement with the Russians.
Black marketing was going on in most all of the towns where our troops were stationed. Some of our soldiers accumulated large sums of money from these activities. It seems that almost every soldier had extra scrip that he managed to get through various dealings with the local fellas and others. Some made fortunes gambling with the troops. Now was the time to send the money home before you had a chance to blow it on some foolish endeavor.
Money orders through the military post office was the only way you could send money home. However, because of the black marketing going on, you were restricted to sending home only the amount that you received from your monthly pay. The military was determined to stop black marketing and this decision just about stopped this problem.
Fortunes were made by many GIs before restrictions were put in force. Gambling and bartering accounted for large sums of money that were sent home. I recall a jeep driver who told me he sent home over $20,000 to his mother for safe keeping until he got home.
Arrangements were made by our military to authorize leaves of absence to London, Riviera, Paris and Switzerland. Quotas were established for each unit to visit these vacation areas. Lists were prepared and priorities were set by the various organizations, There was a limit to the amount of money that could be converted to be spent at each vacation resort. I had an opportunity to go the Riviera (southern France) but I declined because I was waiting to go to Switzerland.
Everyone who went to Switzerland came back with interesting stories about their trip. A limit of $35.00 was all that could be converted to use for this trip. All those who planned to take this trip were advised by their buddies to take all the Gl raincoats that you could get to take with you. Raincoats were apparently a very scarce item there, although no one ever mentioned that it rained while they were there. Everyone returned with two or three Swiss watches. The thirty-five dollars went a long way if you had a couple of raincoats to barter with.
Back at our quarters in the village of Housenburg in the Bavarian Alps things were back to a normal routine. After our evening meal we would gather at our favorite meeting place adjacent to our quarters and reminisce about the folks back home while enjoying a cool glass of local beer.
Occasionally some local talent would be invited to entertain us. There were two former members of a German concert orchestra who came by one evening. One played the violin and the other played piano. They played a couple of their concert songs for us and you could tell they were real professionals.
We taught them a couple of songs which they learned in a few minutes. All you had to do was hum a song and the piano player would write the notes down on his music sheet. He would then play the song one time and would make any corrections we suggested. After some chatting in German, they were ready to play. And did they play! They added all the frills and made it sound like a concert number that they had played for a long time. What a talent!
My buddy, Bill, invited me to go on a boat ride on the Danube River at Passau which was a short distance from our quarters. He had managed to find a boat with a small motor that we were going to use for this trip. It was a beautiful summer day when we put the boat into the Danube River. The motor started on the first try and we were off on the cruise of the beautiful blue Danube.
Several minutes later the motor started to sputter and finally quit. We tried to start the motor and it wouldn't do a thing. The river had a swift current that took us down stream in a hurry. We would soon be approaching the locks and they would tear our boat to pieces.
Fortunately, a large cruiser was anchored nearby. The sailors saw that we were in trouble so they lowered some long poles that we grabbed and were pulled to safety on the deck of their boat. Our guardian angels came to our rescue one more time and we thank God for that.
----- Joe Szalay
(Editor's note: Attempts were made throughout the text of the following story to place full names to the men listed in the story. For the most part, this is an educated guess and some names may very well be mistaken in their identy. The names were all taken from the division history book: With The 102d Infantry Division Through Germany, edited by Major Allen H. Mick. Using the text as a guide, associations with specific units were the basis for the name identifications. We are not attempting in any to rewrite the story. Any corrections are gladly welcomed.)
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The above story, "GI's Enjoy Vacation in Europe", by Joseph Szalay, 380 FA HQ., was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 53, No. 1, October/December, 2000, pp. 13-14.
The story is re-printed here on World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words with the kind permission of the 102d Infantry Division Association, Ms. Hope Emerich, Historian. Our sincerest THANKS for the 102d Infantry Division Association allowing us to share some of their stories.
We would also like to extend our sincere THANKS to Mr. Edward L. Souder, former historian of Co. F., 405th Regiment. His collection of stories of the "Kitchen Histories Project" series entitled, Those Damn Doggies in F, were responsible for bringing the stories of the men of the 102nd Division to the forefront.
Original Story submitted on 2 November 2004.
Story added to website on 3 November 2004.
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 17 February 2012...1351:05 CST