Heroes: the Army


"...Four brick walls around you during nature calls became helpful. Only a mortar round from directly above can cause concerns. Basements were off limits because they were often used by support personnel..."



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 Ralph K. Wittle

  • Branch of Service: Army
  • Unit: HQ-3, 407th Regiment,
    102nd Infantry Division
  • Dates: 1942 - 1945
  • Location: European Theater
  • Rank: Sgt.
  • Birth Year: 1925
  • Entered Service: Florin, PA



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Being Resourceful

Ralph K. Wittle, 407-HQ-3


     This is a tribute to all the men who were ordered to dig a latrine the size of an entrenching tool blade in width, handle length deep and long enough for each man in their platoon.

     Most humor it has been said is based on some unfortunate situation. During wartime and especially to those being shot at, there are times when it creates an occasion for creating a hilarious scene. Humanizing the horror of war has to include some humorous events. Those such as Bill Mauldin did an excellent job, and publications like Stars and Stripes did not downplay the fact that war was indeed serious but some laughs helped. It is with this in mind that I, after almost 60 years later, decided to add my two cents worth of what I think was funny during WWII.

     My infantry unit occupied some towns near or along the Roer River. The residents naturally had left for safety reasons. When they returned I do not know. We had moved east toward the Rhine River. The roofs on most houses were no longer in existence. German and American artillery left these homes in shambles. The residents when they returned also found something else left behind by many from my unit. We said there would be a funny surprise when the Krauts come back.

     When you gotta go you gotta go and if a building is nearby the safety it offers is very assuring. Four brick walls around you during nature calls became helpful. Only a mortar round from directly above can cause concerns. Basements were off limits because they were often used by support personnel and for storing equipment and supplies. Not all on line were able to make use of what we exploited. For safety reasons we ignored what was told to us, and the upstairs rooms minus a roof became useful. It started with remaining pieces of furniture with drawers. (Ralph included a graphic sketch but we'll let you use your imagination.) When the drawers became filled it became wherever you could find a spot on the floor. Sick humor? Absolutely, but war is no fun and staying alive is what it is all about and still getting the job done.

     This crude memory is not in any way designed to disparage or cast an improper thought about the tragedy of war being funny. But effort must be maintained to keep troops safe when possible and still be effective. Am I one of the guilty? I survived with others and we did so by making use of every means to do so while performing what was required. I'll leave the heroic exploits to those past recorded deeds and salute their actions. I was just one of those infantrymen who did my job. Some scenes I choose to forget. Some of the humor I remember.


     ----- Ralph K. Wittle




(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.)


Interested in some background information?
Check out the related links below...

United States Army, 102nd Infantry Division

102 Infantry Division

History of the 102nd Infantry Division

Attack on Linnich, Flossdorf, Rurdorf - 29 Nov -- 4 Dec 1944

Gardelegen War Crime

image of NEWGardelegen: April 13, 1945:
Massacre at the Isenschnibbe Barn

American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll

National World War II Memorial



The above story, "Being Resourceful", by Ralph K. Wittle, HQ Co-3., 407th, was originally published in the 102d Division "Ozark Notes", Vol. 54, No. 4, July/Sept., 2002, pp. 11-12.

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 25 March 2005.
Story added to website on 26 March 2005.


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