George Courlas

G Company, 157th Infantry Regiment

NOTE THAT LINKS WHICH LEAD TO THIS SITE ARE BEYOND OUR CONTROL,
AND WE DO NOT ENDORSE THE WEB CONTENT OR ACTIONS OF SUCH OTHER SITES OR THEIR OPERATORS.

Introduction to the WWIIRA and 45th Infantry Division, World War II Reenactors

An explanation of who the WWIIRA and World War Two reenactors are

What you will want to know if you have an interest in working with us.

The photo gallery has historical images of the WWII, Thunderbirds and 45th ID reenacting photos.

Information about Venturing Crew 1941, Boy Scouts of America

HomeWho We AreWant to volunteerPhoto Gallery Venturing Crew

These are the World War II events that you will find the WWIIRA in attendance.

Learn about the Men and campaigns of the 45th Infantry Division in WW II.

Links to 45th related, World War 2, or community support websites

Learn about our project to help our present day Military with civilian relations

Table of Contents listing all of the pages on our WW II 45th Division and Reenacting website, including a list of Maps.
Schedule of Events Unit History Wounded Warrior Project    LinksTable of Contents


Yahoo Group replaces
message board!

We have shirts, sweatshirts, Golf Ts with Thunderbirds and regiment crestsStickers, calenders, clocks and more...Hats,Mugs, travel mugs, We'll work on customizing just ask us!
Looking for Thunderbird gifts?
Would you like to help support this website?

Please stop by and visit the Gift Shop!

 

 



George Courlas
Eastern France Feb-Mar 1945

 

YOUNG AND DISCIPLINED

 

 

THE LIFE STORY OF A SOLDIER WHO
SERVED IN WORLD WAR ii

 

 

 

 

Written by George Courlas
edited by Eric Rieth

ORIGIN AND MY PARENTS

My father, Sam (or Spyros), arrived in the United States (Ellis Island) in 1913, a boy of 15 years old. His brother, Peter, had arrived a year earlier. They settled in New York City for a very short time with an uncle who had settled in Brooklyn, NY. After a few odd jobs in NY City, they were notified by friends and relatives that factory jobs were available in upstate New York in a small town of Johnson City, NY. A shoe factory (Endicott-Johnson) was prominent in the area and was hiring extensively. Moreover, it was only 200 miles from the big city of NY and it was on a direct train ride on either of two railroads (the Lackawanna or the Erie).

Endicott-Johnson Shoe Factory

They accepted the challenge and settled in the village of Johnson City, just prior to WW1 and worked for a short time at one of the many shoe factories, owned by E-J Corp.

In 1921, like other immigrants, the females began to arrive in great numbers on Ellis Island. My mother, Helen, and her sister, Pearl, were part of that year's exodus from Greece. Eventually, my mother and father were brought together by senior relatives and married in 1923, and settled in Johnson City, NY (a village then, of perhaps 10,000 people). The combined population of the area (Johnson City-Endicott-Binghamton) was closer to approximately 50,000. I don't think it has changed much since.

1920'S, 1930'S, THE DEPRESSION


I was born in 1924 during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, known as "Do Nothing Cal." My parents were Greek immigrants (from the Sparta area of Greece), farmers in trade. They both, like most other newly arrived immigrants supported the democratic, liberal philosophy. They were strict disciplinarians and we were raised in such an environment (I was thankful of that). The language initially in our home in upstate NY was Greek. However, gradually that changed to a mixture of English and Greek, as we entered the public school system in Johnson City, NY and a very good school system by any standard.

Orthodox church in
Endicott, NY

Early 1930's, we attended Greek School on a 3 evenings per week schedule- all five children in the family. It was, to my surprise, an asset in our public school classes, especially in word derivatives, math and literature. My parents and family were Orthodox Christians and supported strongly two churches in the neighboring communities of Endicott, NY and Binghamton, NY.

Our neighborhood was a mixture of Slovaks, Poles, Russians, and Ukrainians, mostly immigrants also. As a result, we mixed extremely well in the neighborhood- north side Johnson City, NY.

My father, Sam (Spyros) worked for Endicott-Johnson Shoe Company, prior to and during WW1 (1910's). A few years later, he and his purchased property (a house first) then a storefront in the same neighborhood. They opened a sort of farmer's market,which included the sale of groceries, a meat market, hardware, icehouse, a gasoline station in front and in winter the sale of coal (bagged). The bachelors (my father and his brother) did very well during this decade and following decades.

Neither served in WW1; my father was just below draft age at that time. Nevertheless, the war was short in duration and many male youths in the area were not subject to military service.

Many of the immigrants in that era had brought knowledge of wine making from the "old country;" my father was one of them. It wasn't long after he started to produce wine for personal use. His brother saw dollar value in it, so when Prohibition started in 1924, he generated it into a nice, although illegal business.

My father produced the wine in the cellar of his house. The sweet aroma from wine penetrated the neighborhood so it wasn't long before some "temperate" leaning people reported the issue. Thus, over a period of the Prohibition (duration 1924-1932),the NY State Police would raid the storage area (a garage) and "bust" the inventory.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt & George F. Johnson.

Although the wine was stored in a garage, (which was a series of many garages), it was difficult to identify who was the wine producer and who was the owner or renter of the specific garage. Eventually, the authorities would drop further investigations and/or charges. I remember well in 1930, I witnessed the final "bust" by the State Police, and I must say, they were big guys in uniform and they were thorough, for we smelled that aroma for days afterwards. Ultimately, the "problem" was solved when Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President in 1932 and Prohibition was repealed, throughout the country.

The 30's (1930's) were a decade of much economic hardships. First, in 1929, the stock market crashed severely, which resulted in an increase in unemployment in the US and in many of the developed nations of the world. Thus, began the "Recession" that continued for most of the decade (1930's). Lifestyles changed drastically for the worse.

Unemployment was rampant; delinquencies were evident in every aspect of everyday life. My uncle and my father (now, with five children) tightened their belts (so to speak). They extended credit to many customers at the market and with collections of debts on a partial basis, managed to survive during this time luckily. They had no mortgage obligations; their properties were free and clear and their grocery market was quick to secure a beer license (Prohibition was over in 1932). The business improved considerably. Incidentally, beer sales were on a cash basis only. It was unlawful to extend credit on beer sales.

Thus, we, as a family managed to endure a middle class lifestyle. The market (ahead of its time) remained open seven days per week as well a opened on all holidays…all this, with long hours of operation (7:00a.m. to 10:00 p.m.)

About 1935, my father wanted me (his oldest) to commence private violin lessons and that I did. I received a high degree of proficiency at the end of the decade. Individual (solo) performances were numerous. Private lessons were $1.00 for an hour of instructions. While our lifestyle was fairly comfortable growing up during the 1930's in the USA; the economy would improve somewhat then drop back; but generally in our area, there was a slow improvement. By the end of the decade, my uncle had managed to collect all debts owed in the market, a major achievement.

While the economic improvement was slow, jobs were still hard to get. We saw many of our neighborhood youth join the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), as the name implies, (an environmental conservation effort), particularly in the western part of the USA. Little did we know that those young men joining the CCC in the mid-to-late thirties would become the leaders in the military, a few years later as "war clouds" were vibrating in Europe and in the Pacific.

1939 Buick Century

In 1939, the depression had virtually dissipated, and my father saw on the horizon a war developing with its accompanying shortages. So he purchased a new automobile (a Buick Century for the total cost of $1,000 cash). He figured it would carry the family through, a good many war years. That was a vast improvement over a 1927 Jordan that carried the family through the Depression. Incidentally, to own an automobile during the Depression was a major accomplishment. On the highways in rural country the "horse and buggy" were still somewhat evident.

THE WAR YEARS

As 1940 arrived, we began to see improvement in the economy what with most of Europe under the NAZI yoke. England, the only power still free, America began rebuilding virtually everything to assist England and Russia survive the Nazi stronghold.

Thus, our economy rebounded and then we began to see our nation prepare for war, the draft was passed by Congress. During 1939 and 1940, we saw one European nation after another crumbled under the Nazi blitzkrieg. Trouble ahead for the world!

We, in the village continued on our "merry way;" we were high school students and life was good. We traveled, ate well, social functions were many and parties were proliferating. It was a good time in the USA, especially for me, a freshman in high school.

In Europe, it was going from bad to worse; the Soviet Union (Russia today) was in difficulties with the Nazi military penetrating deep into their country. In the Atlantic, we were seeing even merchants ships torpedoed regularly; we were supplying both England and the Soviet Union with supplies and equipment to survive.

Pearl Harbor

Then, December 7, 1941, arrived and the Japanese attacked the USA, that day, a Sunday, on the East Coast. I was working in our market about 3:45 p.m. (EST), Joe Matyas, our neighbor, came in alarmed. He only wanted a quart of milk for his mother when he told us "Hey, George, where is your radio? Did you know what has happened?" We were busy that Sunday and my dad and I were the only workers. "No, Joe, what happened?" "They (the Japanese) bombed Pearl Harbor!" "You're kidding!" "No, I am not."

My dad had a good grasp of English by then (1941) and said to us "George, Joe, where is Pearl Harbor?" "Shucks," even I didn't know but Joe said, "Somewhere in the Pacific." You see, those of us on the East Coast only knew where Honolulu was located. We had never heard of Pearl Harbor being a military base, next door. Nevertheless, my dad followed up in his broken English, "I pray and hope you and Joe don't have to go into the Military to fight." Joe said, "Sam, don't worry. By the time George gets out of High School (1943), it will be all over." I felt the same way…but the situation was bigger than we could ever imagine.

B-25s on the USS Hornet ready to bomb Japan

The year 1942 came about and other than the James Dolittle airplane bombing on Japan, the war news was bad virtually everywhere. Everywhere but in the village of Johnson City…. life went on as usual. At the store, business was good. I did a lot of violin solo work and played in a Chamber Musical Group. I was a junior in high school.

That summer, I came up with the idea of driving all the way to Chicago (a distance of 750 miles each way). Mother wanted to visit with her sister who lived there. Now, that was a challenge! Problem -- how to get enough gasoline ration coupons to cover the round trip? My brother had the answer-we'll ask a number of farmers in the area who were steady customers at the store. Farmers were given many more gasoline coupons than the average driving family. They (farmers) came through! The coupons were a necessity, more so than the cost of gasoline. In July 1942, my brother, sister and mother and I made that trip without difficulty. In fact, we had a few coupons to spare.

Rationing was a way of life for the duration of the war years, not only gasoline but meat, sugar, and other commodities. Incidentally, in 1942, gasoline was 29 cents a gallon; moreover, there were no freeways then, just highways (mostly two lanes) from Upstate New York, through Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

The following year (1943) fast approached. I was a senior, graduating in June. My parents had hoped that I could go to Cornell University, some 28 miles west of our home. That was not to be, the military was staring at me. Interviewed, took a physical early that spring, declared fit for active duty. Two weeks after graduation in June, I was drafted and on my way to the Army.

I lived to regret the Army choice, as I had two additional interviews with the Navy. I wore glasses-a necessity-couldn't see without them. Prior to June 1943, they (the Navy) would not consider me because of the eyeglasses, however, that month, they lowered their standards and would accept me. They asked me to interview a second time with an officer who assured me a yeoman position in the Navy. I asked, "What's a yeoman?" He said an office clerk, typist, etc., in other words, a desk job. He also commented your kitchen would be "right next door!" Sounded great! I requested a week to think it over. My answer to the Ensign, the following week was, "No, but thank you." He inquired as to why? I told him in one of two bad decisions I would make since, that I "couldn't stand those bell bottom trousers" that the Navy enlisted men wore. He almost flipped out of his chair. In hindsight, that was mistake #1.

Camp Croft's water tank

We arrived at Camp Upton, on Long Island, NY, an Army induction center where apparently the whole high school graduating classes of our region were there. It was a mess and a mass of humanity. Two weeks later, we were enroute to Camp Croft, outside of Spartanburg, S.C., a basic infantry training camp.

Camp Croft was in a beautiful state, one that I liked very much. Infantry training was strenuous, as expected but it was worse for a fiddler who spent the prior 7 to 8 years playing a violin.

However, one hopeful opportunity appeared while at basic training… I was accepted for the ASTP program that the Army maintained…. a program to enter or resume college at some local university. In September of 1943, we were informed that the program was discontinued, period. That was a shocker to many of us hopefuls.

Infantry training continued. Prior to this, I had interviewed with an officer at the Cook & Baker School at Camp Croft, SC The officer was a graduate of the Hotel Management School at Cornell in Ithaca, NY. He suggested I enter the Cook/baker School, but I refused because I had hopes to go to ASTP. When he asked the second time and my refusal that followed, it didn't sit too well with the Captain, so…. mistake #2.

Infantry training continued, ending November 1943. Most of us looked forward to additional training that never materialized. The combat situation in North Africa and Sicily, Italy were successful for the Allies, however, the undertone of conversation among us novices was that we suffered more casualties than reported. This was confirmed after the war, as information was released.

Thus, I realized that overseas was my next destination. Late November 1943, a

group of Infantry trained personnel were shipped to Fort Meade, Md., known at that time as the final campsite before shipping overseas. I took every opportunity to take the train home. On my final trip home, Christmas and New Year (1943-44), I had a long conversation with my father at the market. He was in tears, nevertheless, he told me his innermost thoughts. "Son," he said, "either I will die (he had a severe case of high blood pressure and an enlarged heart) or you will be killed in the service and this will be the last time I will see, talk, and touch you." Then the tears flowed for both of us. The following week, early January 1944, I was at Hampton Roads, VA ready for boarding a large transport for overseas assignment. Late January of that year, we arrived in Oran (North Africa). We later transferred to the "Empress of Scotland," as we "hugged the coast" towards Sicily, then close along the body of Italy disembarking in Naples, Italy. Among the hordes of soldiers already there, our contingency added to the numbers. We were bivouacked at the racetrack outside the city where we underwent physicals and Psychological exams. After a few weeks (early February, 1944), we were trucked to Bagnoli, Italy. We were Infantry replacements, so we knew things were not going well for our forces that made the amphibious landing only a few weeks earlier.


Anzio was a noisy beachhead, the enemy (the Germans) shelled the small landing area continuously, and it was night and day, incessantly. The following day, we were gathered together in a wooded area and assigned to a unit. Thus, the 45th Infantry Division, 157th Regiment, 2nd Battalion was to be my home for the duration of the war. I was assigned to G Company, a line company composed of primarily riflemen, machine guns, and mortars.

My first day of combat, some Sergeant assigned me to the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). It was February 17,1944, and I was told to cover a small squad going out towards the enemy, to possibly capture a prisoner. I was placed on a promontory, the BAR was securely perched and there I waited, overlooking the valley below. Late that day, after a couple hours, the squad returned with the enemy infantry in pursuit. The sergeant ordered me to "open up" over head; I sprayed first, one side of the trail then the other side, leaving the center clear for the return of our squad. Some enemy fire could be heard off in the valley. It stopped after I sprayed that specific area and the "moaning" ceased. Thus, my "baptism in Combat." From February to May 1944, we remained in a defensive position-improving our foxholes, writing letters, which were all censored somewhere up the chain of command. Incoming mail arrived with comments that shortages were more pronounced on the home front. Occasionally, "goodies" from home arrived and much appreciated.

K Ration Supper

The word "K-ration" brings up another issue. I had some bitter memories of infantry life and this was one of them-food. A K-ration comprised of a hunk of cheese, crackers and Spam, or some cured meat. All ideal food items for constipation-and throughout my combat experience (from February 1944 to May 1945), I had occasions of constipation. It never improved, until I arrived back in the States and home.

To this date, whenever I incur a constipated period of a day or two, I think back to those days overseas in the infantry…..a life so difficult and yes, debilitating. Also, as we sat on the Anzio beachhead for months, on this kind of diet, I thought of mistake #1…..Army vs. Navy……almost a year prior, and also mistake #2, at Camp Croft, SC (Cook and Baker School vs. Pending ASTP).

ASTP was a program initiated by our government to transfer qualified soldiers/sailors to college during the war years. The Army Specialized Training Program was terminated late 1943. One of the reasons, losses in the war zone at that time (North
Africa and in the Pacific) were far more than projected.

Late April, early May 1944, we heard "rumors" (and rumors were many in any idle infantry unit), that the Anzio Beachhead leader was replaced. This, plus the fact that he never or seldom meandered out of his foxhole (fortress would be a better word).

From February to May of that year, we remained virtually stationary on the beachhead. During this lull in the battle zone, I was nicked in the arm by enemy artillery. I failed to remain in the foxhole and was left exposed. My foxhole partner noticed the blood and with the sleeve ripped on my left arm and advised me accordingly. By then, I could feel the sting and upon the advice of the platoon sergeant (Patty Williams of North Carolina) and company medic, I reported to the Aid Station at Battalion Headquarters.

They patched the arm and pulled out a piece of metal, then he made his report-a Purple Heart, which was eventually to be the first of three by the end of the war in May, 1945. I reported back to duty, after a good lunch at the Aid Station. During the lull early 1944, the weather was horrible-rain and cold and colder at night. I caught a cold twice that season and ended up at the Aid Station. On the second occasion, they detained me for two nights. That was a good feeling-I had a cot to sleep on and the food was much better than those K rations in the foxholes with an occasional C-ration can.

Late in April 1944, during this so-called "quiet period," despite heavy artillery activity from the enemy, I was called before the Company Executive Officer (Capt. Carl Byas). Initially, I thought I had done something wrong, written some letters classified information, etc. The captain quizzed me as to how I ended up in the Infantry. I was a tall, gangling and skinny 6'4 soldier. He said, "Soldier, you don't stand a chance in a line company, so I am assigning you to our Mortar Squad." At the moment, I didn't understand the significance of the change but once I returned to my rifle platoon, their comment in general was "how did you swing that, that's rear echelon?" The Mortar Platoon generally followed the Rifle Platoon in combat, especially in an offensive action. Moreover, mortar squads would "dig in" in defilade, in a valley behind a house/building, etc. Thus, chances of getting hit by enemy rifle fire were substantially reduced, which I, a gangling slim Jim, really appreciated.

Left to Right: Thomas A. Riordan , James Baskett, Fred Papro,
George Courlas,

Location: Salerno, Italy July/August 1944

So, for the remainder of 1944 and into January 1945, I remained in the Mortar Platoon, G Company. On May 26,1944, the Allied forces went on the offense, artillery fire increased on both sides. Our rifle Platoons went into action, we (Mortars) followed and casualties started to mount as I saw my first German casualties. We walked, ducked, ran, and crawled through the Anzio beachhead, from the Molletta River area, the overhead bridge, the village of Cisterna, and eventually the village of Veletri (near the Pope's Summer Retreat). A few days after our breakout from Anzio, we arrived at our objective-Rome, Italy (June 5,1944). We walked through Rome and bivouacked on the North/Northwest side of the Big City. Then, began the "good life" with daily sightseeing visits to Rome. Tom Riordan, another Mortar man, and I toured the sights together, took snapshots, drank a little vino, winked at the pretty girls, had a breakfast with fresh eggs, and so the "good life" continued for about three weeks. Then, we were back to the hard and difficult life of a combat Infantry unit. While in Rome (June 6, 1944), we heard the big news that the Allied forces had made an amphibious landing on Normandy, France. We cheered, as did the rest of the Platoon. Many of us felt that enemy pressure would subside in Italy. Oh no, there were other plans for the 45th Infantry Division.

We were trucked south from Rome to Salerno, Italy (south of Naples), and there, among the fig trees, we established our pup tents. We commenced amphibious training; out we went into the beautiful Trryhenian Sea in small boats and in we came to shore, sometimes short of our goal (getting wet but good). This, plus long marches, also a few replacements arrived but not many. As long as we remained in pup tents among the fig trees, my bouts with constipation vanished, and others in our platoon endured the same.

Left to Right: Paul Wood, (Killed in Action), Roland Van Buren, George Courlas,
Co. G, 157th Inf. Regiment Heavy weapons platoon

Location: Salerno, Italy July/August 1944

Then on August 15, 1944, we made an amphibious landing in Southern France (St. Tropez). Opposition was virtually nil; the Germans had gone north to support their situation near Normandy. Pockets of Germans remained, to delay our advance. We walked by Provence, a small village inland where the civilians, who hailed our arrival, gave us some good wine to drink. My high school French came in handy. After a good stop there, a decision was made to truck us a few miles, followed by a walk and so it went as we moved north to Bourg, Lyon and Grenoble. We never stopped in these cities but we noticed the road signs.

We were on foot near Bourg and we had to go over a hill where German artillery was shelling our location. One by one, at the command of our platoon sergeant, we went up a slight grade and down to a valley. I had the mortar barrel and as I reached the peak of the hill and on my way down, a shell came and hit in front of me. The impact of dirt, and rock threw me one way and my barrel went another way. I was unconscious for a considerable time. All I remember is waking up in some aid station with the doctor and staff hovering over me, picking the dirt, rock and metal from my face. This was Purple Heart #2. It was about 3 to 4 days later, that I rejoined G Company and the Mortar Platoon.

From the middle of France, north to Alsace-Lorraine, it was walk, run and trucking to the north. Time frame was September 1944 to November 1944. Some of the towns we covered were Epinal, Martiney-Les-Baines, Wimmenau, Ramberviller, Luneville and on it went. Our battalion would walk forward, enter the line of combat, stay put for a while, then pull out for relief; and that procedure would repeat itself. As we moved north, the weather got colder and snow began to fall and colds and "sniffles" and coughs appeared. It seems everyone in our infantry company took turns visiting the Infirmary for relief. We all knew we were in for a cold and miserable winter (1944/45).

During December 19, 1944, or thereabouts, our company (G Company), had penetrated the Siegfried Line Area, our mortar Platoon, was placed on a high plateau overlooking the pill boxes, the entanglements and German soldiers up ahead, some distance. Sergeant Wood (Wilmer) ordered us to dig in (foxholes) as quickly and quietly, as possible; and to crawl in as we were within machine gun and sniper range of the enemy. Joe Saldis, my foxhole companion (ammunition bearer) and Brooklyn boy and I dug, and dug, and dug our foxhole. Of the three mortar squads, we were the last to finish. By the time we finished digging a fairly decent hole for a couple of six footers, it was getting dark and we both fell asleep. Exhaustion had set in, as we had walked with our weapons virtually all that day, prior to settling down.

A few hours later, the order was given by Sergeant Wood to pull out. We were going back to a densely forested area, where our command post (G Company) was located. Joe Saldis and I never heard the order to pull out-we were in deep sleep. Later that evening, I awoke (some enemy artillery fire closing in). I crawled around to check on the other mortar squads, they were all gone, weapons gone; then I started to call out for Sergeant Wood and others-no reply. I crawled back to my foxhole and awoke Joe and advised him of the situation. "Holy crap! We better get out of here!" Joe murmured. He followed with another expletive then said, "George, do you know the way back?" Luckily, I did. "Grab your ammo, Joe, and follow me." I replied. We walked a few feet, crawled a few feet, and went up a slight incline with Joe behind me. We made noise, enemy machine gun fire spraying nearby. We reached the crest of the plateau when suddenly we were challenged for the password, in English. Initially, we were elated as they were our boys but then, I turned back to Joe for the password. That night, neither one of use knew it. After I identified our unit, our rank and the weapons we carried, the guard and his machine gun partner allowed us to pass behind the crest of the hill into our CP area. They all thought we both had been killed by enemy sniper fire. Then we were informed that Sergeant Wilmer Wood was shot in the head when the Mortar Platoon pulled out of their foxholes earlier in the evening. He was declared dead shortly thereafter. He was an honest young man with a good demeanor and a very religious individual. We had attended services together on many occasions. There are a few veterans, living today who remember him well. To those who knew him, he was known as Paul Wood (from New Jersey), He was one of the few men who I knew well and in our platoon, to die in the line of duty.

Ironic as it seems, Joe Saldis and I escaped his fate, all because we had fallen asleep from total exhaustion. According to the General Orders, Wilmer (Paul) Wood was killed on December 19, 1944.

Our band of Infantry (157th Regiment) had entered Germany on December 16,1944, near Lemback and we returned to France on December 28,1944. It appeared that the intent was to straighten our lines. The bigger picture seems to prevail-all efforts (supplies, equipment and manpower) was directed up north as the Germans had commenced a major offensive known as the Battle of Ardennes (or the Battle of the Bulge).

We were pulled back for rest, hot food, showers, and change of clothes in or near Haguenau. During this time (early 1945), I developed a cut on my jaw shaving. This festered to the point whereby it was noticed by my sergeant and the medic. They directed me to the Battalion Aid Center and from there I was transported back to a hospital for treatment. A doctor lanced the jaw (evident to this date) and detained me for a few days at the hospital. On or about January 16, 1945, the hospital released me and others to return to our unit. Rumors were rampant that our unit was involved in very heavy combat near the Maginot Line, something we, in the line companies dreaded to hear.

A few days later, we reached Litchenburg, France (very near the border of France and Germany). Word down the line was that his was last stop before the combat zone. Jeeps full of supplies and equipment and trucks with soldiers came to a full stop and there in Litchenburg, we sat.

Among the returning hospitalized troops was a friend from G Company-Samuel Booth, whom I got to know quite well from Anzio, Italy days. Sam, a farmer from Kentucky, knew his weapons and was a sharpshooter. He also liked to tease his friends. On Anzio, we both joined G Company at about the same time in our initial meeting, it was common to inquire of one's origin and background. He knew I had studied music (violin) in my youth in high school. He questioned whether I could play "country music" tunes or as Sam put it, "hoe down." I advised him that the study of violin involved classical music primarily however a violinist was capable of modern and/or country music.

Here in Litchenburg, January 1945, Samuel Booth walked across the street to a building that looked like a schoolhouse or the mayor's office. He looked around and a few minutes later, he appeared with a case that appeared like a violin case. He shoved it to me and said, "Now, George, give us some good hoe down!" Here we were, on a very cold evening, soldiers all over the street, and a row of houses on one side of the street, he challenged me. I was a bit nervous as I hadn't played nor practiced in over a year. Nevertheless, I tuned it up and to my surprise, it appeared to be of very good quality.

Before Sam Booth and the soldiers all over the street interspersed among jeeps, trucks and troops, I played a few melodies that pleased him considerably. It was apparent,we weren't moving as we could hear artillery shelling up ahead so I continued playing to a point where I started to play "Lilly Marline," a German love song about a German soldier who missed his girlfriend back home. That brought the civilians out in numbers-mostly women, children and elderly men who were in tears when hearing someone, an American soldier no less, playing a song that was close to their heart. Litchenburg in Alsace-Lorraine had a significant Germanic influence, as it had changed sides between France and Germany, a number of times, early during the century.

After playing for it seemed hours, the word came down the line-saddle up. I quickly packed the violin and handed it to Samuel Booth, to return it to the school. It never was returned, Sam placed it on a jeep, scheduled to drop us off the 2nd Battalion Headquarters. I didn't notice this until we had moved a few miles down the road. I confronted Sam, "What are you going to do with that fiddle (as he liked to call it)?" He mumbled something, which I couldn't understand, because of his "country" slang.

At our next stop, Battalion CP, Sam said, " Put it in your duffle bag, if you can find it." What duffle bag? We've been on the go for so long, we didn't know what we had and where it went. Sam advised the Jeep driver of our destination and wanted the instrument taken there, wherever personal items were stored for G Company. I didn't see or play that violin for a few weeks.

It was nearing the end of January 1945, the battle of Reipertwieller was at high pitch; Booth and I and the others were returning from the hospital never reached the combat area, as G Company and other units in 2nd Battalion were captured, wounded or killed. In other words, the enemy fought with such intensity that casualties on both sides were high and devastating. When we assembled with our unit, we found that the rifle platoons in G Company were hit badly but our weapons platoon (mortar and machine gun) was intact in most areas. My records show we assembled (rest area) at Lohr, then a few days later, we relocated to Hangweiller, both villages near Wimmenau, Alsace.

George Courlas now 2nd Bn. HQ Wimmenau, Alsace February 1945

It was at or near Wimmenau, that the regiment (157th Infantry) went through reorganization. A first since my baptism in combat, back in January, 1944 (a year prior).Those of us who were in the regiment a long time were transferred to locations and unit in the rear of the line of companies (G Company). Sam Booth, and Joe Saldis were assigned to Battalion Headquarters where Samuel and Joe were placed in the Pioneer Squad (a group of soldiers who did manual labor in and around Battalion Headquarters; assignments that were a distance from the front lines and thus your chance of survival was greatly improved. The stress level was diminished considerably.

Somewhere and someone at this level found out that I played the violin in civilian life and I found myself in Special Services group under the command of Lt. Bernard Lavine (of Syracuse, NY). His assignment was to develop a recreation/relaxation facility for soldiers returning to their original unit from the hospital and other combat soldiers who needed some time to unwind (relax) from the "noise" at the front. Raymond Penny (another original G Company soldier) was one assigned to do the "heavy lifting." He was from somewhere in Ohio.

Lt. Lavine was a big man, some six feet plus and somewhat overweight, a 'pudgy" built individual but he was organized and within a short time, had the word out looking for musicians. Ed Skandera (Cleveland, Ohio), G Company soldier appeared. He played the clarinet. Then, Joe Boslego (Kulpmont, Pa), another G Company soldier, appeared. He played the accordion. Then a young, short man, originally from Puerto Rico, and valet to the Battalion commander-Lt. Col. Lawrence Brown (Syracuse, NY) showed up. He played the drums and his name was Efram Vaz. His reputation went back to playing drums for Xavier Cugat, the famous orchestra leader of primarily Latin music.

Left to Right:Sgt. Melvin L. Clinger, (Deceased), Silver Star recipient, PFC George Courlas, PFC Raymond L. Penny, Lt. Bernard Lavine, Lt. (Deceased), Chaplain Leroy W. Raley, (Deceased)

Location: 2nd Battalion Headquarters , 157th Regiment
Rest Center, somewhere in Northern France
February 1945

Voila! We had a foursome and we rehearsed. Mike Boslego was our composer and leader. During February and early March, we entertained groups of officers at dances and dinner events. We played in various towns in and around Epinal where divisions maintained rest facilities. Nightly, we were escorted by jeep and a truck to the following locations: Ramberviller, Thaon, Epinal, Dombasle, Rosieres, Magnieres, and Baccarat. For dances, the local communities furnished the female patrons. Young and old were invited. On most occasions, food was provided. From fat grandmas, to young mothers with children, to high school teenagers, they virtually "jammed" the facilities for "soothing" dance music. Facilities were by and large school halls; large enough to handle the local villagers and the G.I.'s Yes, we played for the soldiers but most events were attended by officers.

One of forty rail cars full

During this time, military life was good, in fact, very good. The group was now established. We began to relax. Our music got better as a group but we knew " all good things must come to an end." Our foursome packed the instruments and we were off to the east, chasing the enemy. The rest period came to an end in the middle of March, 1945. Boslego, Skandera and I were temporarily placed in the Pioneer squad. Second Battalion Headquarters crossed the Rhine River on March 26,1945, south of Worms. We went to and through Darmstadt, Germany, then stopped in Aschaffenburg while the combat troops in the battalion (E, F, G Companies) fought and cleared some delaying tactics on behalf of the German battalion at Aschaffenburg led by a fanatic leader, von Lambert. I received my third Purple Heart here, from his artillery fire; a piece of shrapnel ripped the calf of my right leg. Received medical attention at the Battalion Medical Station and for two days went "first class" with the medical group enroute to Fulda, Germany. The next town was Bamberg, Germany where German resistance virtually disappeared. From there, it was Nuremberg and a 'tour" of the Dachau concentration camp on May 1,1945. The stench never left me; I can still recall it to this day (2007).

Pilled up near the creamatorium

We arrived in Munich, Germany on May 3, 1945, living in a Post Office building on Arbes Street.

I met Frank Hramalik, a neighbor of mine as well as an alumnus of my high school in Johnson City, NY (upstate). He was in another regiment of the 45th Division (180th Infantry). This was only the second time that I met someone from my hometown during the European campaign. On the first occasion, I ran into a short, and tough soldier who was walking south on a road in Anzio, with the 3rd Division and we were walking north. From my height and prominent nose, he recognized me as the "son of Sam," the neighborhood grocery store owner. We had a five-minute break, wherein we gave eachother a brief history of our combat experience. His name was John Stasko, also of Johnson City, NY.

We remained in Munich during May and June of 1945, during which time, we resumed our dance music assignments, traveling around the area, entertaining various units nearby. We knew this would shortly come to an end as the powers that be were starting to separate the recent replacements and the veterans who had the points to remain in Europe as "soldiers of occupation." I was assigned to the latter group, the occupation group.

Left to Right: George Courlas, Ed Skandera, Joe Boslego
2nd Bn HQ; Munich Germany May/June 1945

 

Both Ed Skandera and Mike Boslego were newcomers to the Division and they knew they would remain with the Division, which was scheduled for deployment to the Pacific. Efraim Vaz and I were, with our points scheduled, to remain in Europe.

Edward Skandera, Michael Boslego
Touring Bavaria; May/June 1945
George Courlas, Michael Boslego
Touring the Alps; May/June 1945
Left to Right:
Front: Edward Skandera, Michael Boslego ;Rear: Unknown , George Courlas , Unknown

2nd Hqtr Battalion, 157th Inf. Regiment
Location: Post Office Bldg. Arbes Street, Munich, Germany
May/June 1945


Unknown, George Courlas
Bavaria, May/June 1945


The separation began in earnest late June-early July. I and my violin (from Litchenburg) started the "merry-go-round" on July 1, 1945. I went to the 103rd Division in the Austrian Alps (Ober Gurgl, Austria), then to Phaffenhousen, Germany on July 8th. I was assigned to the 1st Division (the Big Red One) at Bergbenheim, Germany on July 11, 1945. I was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 18th Regiment at Offenheim, Germany where I remained until September 10th, at which time I was placed in the 41st Reinforcement Depot at Vilseck, Germany for processing to the States. I left Vilseck on September 18, 1945 for LeHarve, France by train. On September 28th, I among the thousands of other soldiers boarded the liner USS MARIPOSA arriving in Boston on October 4, 1945 at Camp Miles Standish.

USS Mariposa

The nearest Army camp to my hometown was Fort Dix, NJ. I arrived at Fort Dix on October 6, 1945, and was discharged from the Army on October 9,1945. My discharge papers reflected service with the 2nd Battalion, 18th Regiment. Another issue that has disturbed me all these years (since 1945) has been the fact that my discharge papers under the Category of Awards reflects the fact that I am the recipient of 3 (three) Silver Stars whereas it should read 3 (three) Purple Hearts.

In my haste to get out of the Army, I did not contest either of the two issues, after I was told that a correction to the records would entail a two or three day delay in discharge. And the big surprise was, who would process my discharge, secure signatures, etc., was none other than my high school teacher from Johnson City, NY, Mr. McCugh. It was a bright and sunny day, and the train ride home was most relaxing.

Another regret was the fact that I never was chosen for a 3 or 4-day pass to visit London. I had selected it, as a choice over Paris. In fact, I never was selected to visit either city. Yet, others were selected with fewer months in combat. This program commenced late 1944 and went on to the end of WWII. It appears to me, as I look back into those years, that this program was not administered nor controlled properly by the upper echelon. Perhaps, G Company and/or 2nd Battalion Headquarters couldn't afford my absence?


AN AFTERTHOUGHT


Early November, 1944, our Battalion was off the lines and in a rest area near Martiney-Les Bains. We were in this mode for almost three weeks. During this time, we ate better (better than K-rations). We showered and received a change of clothing. The weather was rather warm for fall days in the Algace region. Mail was delivered and a disturbing letter from my sister. I received the news that my dad, at the early age of 47, had passed away the month prior, with a massive heart attack. I read it and re-read the letter, to be sure but that was unnecessary, as in a package of letters was a Red Cross telegram with a red border from my mother confirming this fact. I virtually lost control. At the suggestion of my sergeant, I sought an appointment with the chaplain who happened to be Chaplain Leroy Raley. He "cooled" me down a bit and read all
correspondence on the issue. Included was a wire from our congressman who made an appeal for a 30-day leave for me. Chaplain Raley took the matter up to the Division Headquarters for consideration. Weeks went by, we were back on the line. A month or so later, after much prodding, I received a reply that I was needed in the war effort, (me, a PFC) and that the situation at home was not serious enough to warrant a 30-day leave. I didn't expect any different. The situation on the ground, admittedly, was serious.

After much thought to the situation at home, I recalled my dad's premonition that Christmas week, almost a year prior that it would be our final meeting as either he would pass away or I would return home in a "box." My dad was right, he could see into the future. This one event changed my goals, my aspirations, and my life.

Another Purple Heart was to follow at Aschaffengurg, Germany but I made it through the war and through combat. In May 1945, the war in Europe was winding down. I, and a few others in our squad were thankful we had survived such a long ordeal. Most agreed with me, that almost a year and a half of combat or constantly in a combat zone, where enemy artillery was the norm; the stress levels were high among front line troops. This stress level was to remain with me for quite a few years after the war. I would duck, hit the floor, or hit the ground whenever a jet overhead would "pop" (break the speed of sound).

POST WWII

Returned home to upstate New York (Johnson City, NY), on October 10, 1945, to some family problems. My dad was now gone-he had passed away a year earlier, at an early age of 47 from a heart attack, leaving a family of five children and a widow. It wasn't an ideal situation, but my brother, a few years my junior (Peter), took over the responsibilities for the family by working his brow off in the established grocery business with his uncle, our dad's brother. The uncle wasn't an angel, far from it. The situation was such that after much time and thought, I decided that I had to exit the situation and exit the area.

Moreover, I, as a returning veteran was suffering readjustment, that is the extended time in combat had taken its toll. Not only had I been under stress for over 17 months of combat in an infantry line company but had incurred three Purple Hearts in the Interim. To compound the problem, I suffered a couple of bouts of colds, pleurisy, and pneumonia. After a reoccurrence early 1946, it was suggested to me by the medical profession that I seek a warmer climate. It took a considerable amount of time for this idea to sink in, moving away from family, relatives, life-long friends and familiar territory.

During a cold, snowy December day in 1946, I made the decision to go south, south and west. I rode the trains to and through Arizona to California. It was a good decision on my part, but I felt the family was opposed to my departure, a let down for them.

At the time of entry into the Army, I only had a high school education…graduated June1943, drafted into military service July 1943. To move up the economic ladder, I felt a need for more schooling especially in the post-war era. The VA (Veterans Administration) had me undergo a series of aptitude tests, the results revealing strong emphasis towards mathematics, music, and customer relations. At the time (1947), VA counselors recommended teaching, business or music. Unfortunately, I discounted teaching because at the time, salary levels were unusually low. The upward movement in the music field was limited-much depended upon whom you knew rather what level of expertise one attained. Thus, I decided on a business major.

The next issue-a college selection, based on my high school record, I qualified for USC, UCLA, or any of the State of California Colleges. Counselors recommended USC. I, however reviewed the time element-in other words, after four years, I would be 27 years old, an "old" man by standards at that time, for graduation. Moreover, it would be 1951 before I would be earning my way through life.

After an exhausting three years in the Army Infantry, I could not visualize spending another four years in a non-earning capacity. I was looking for a shortcut. I found it at Woodbury College, Los Angeles; a four-year curriculum reduced to two years provided you attended straight through the calendar year. I selected Woodbury College and graduated in 1949, with a Bachelor of Business Administration. It was an expedited program, a real hectic schedule. As I look back, after approximately 60 years, I would say I was pleased with the school but there were subjects/classes where I could have benefited with more time and intensity.

Congress, at that time, implemented the GI Bill of Rights. One aspect of this legislature provided for educational benefits for veterans returning to civilian life. Moreover, the law provided tuition and housing expense reimbursement for specific Purple Heart veterans. I attended college under this program and for which I was a very thankful veteran. The results enabled me a successful career with a Blue Chip company. The same was replicated by many veterans of my generation.

The year 1949 was an exciting year…graduation and decision time again. I had a number of interviews for employment with blue chip companies, some out of town but most in the Southern California area. After giving much thought to the offers, I thought IBM would provide opportunities for individual growth and advancement and there I began a successful career, a month after graduation (June 1949), that would continue for 36 years. I had a variety of positions during this time, from Supervisor to Administration Manager, Staff Assistant, and eventually to Market Planning, the latter position was the most interesting and challenging. It was a two-man operation, whereby we developed quotas for branch offices, as well as develop monthly/yearly forecasts for sales, which were conveyed on to company headquarters in NY. After declining numerous offers for promotion to locations on East Coast, I continued to work at the same location (Los Angeles Regional Headquarters) where I accepted early retirement in 1985. During my tenure with IBM (1949 to 1985), the company grew at a phenomenal pace-an exciting time to serve with "Big Blue," as it was commonly known and referenced. This was a good decision----offsetting the two in the Military.

Over the past twenty plus years in retirement, I've spent my time and effort playing golf and traveling around the globe, with my wife and daughter. Health wise, we've had good fortune; one significant problem I've had was with hernias. The wife has enjoyed good health, in fact very good health except for an injury suffered recently, a slipped disc.

Back in Anzio, Italy (spring of 1944) during a stalemate in the fighting, I started to compile a diary not knowing whether I would survive to use it, ever. Fortunately, I survived the war and have through the years, especially in the retirement years, utilized it to contact soldiers who fought with me in our Infantry unit back then. We made contact with a number of them and have maintained correspondence, e-mail, and visits with some of them, especially helpful have been the annual reunions of our Regiment (157th Infantry); which have been held in various cities in the country. At the Philadelphia reunion in 2000, we had a reunion with some eight individuals from G Company alone. This was extraordinary, knowing the fatality rate of an infantry company.

In 1989, the Regimental Association under our Commander Felix Sparks of Lakewood, Colorado, undertook the mammoth task of revisiting many of the combat locations in Italy, France, and Germany. I elected to go in this 14-days sojourn together with a contingent of veterans and spouses. It was one of the most interesting and exciting trips I've ever taken. At every stop, and there were many, we were given the enlarged perspective (big picture) of the battles that transpired many years prior.

DEDICATION

Over the many years of retirement, life has been good; generally good health, free
from economic needs and soon, my wife, Georgia, and I will be celebrating 50 years of a
happy marriage…..an event that few of us are alive and well to enjoy.
Moreover, we have been blessed with a daughter, Elaine, who has given us much
joy over the years. As a family, she has provided us with many challenges and the love
that goes with it.
We pray and trust, she will, in her lifetime attains those goals as well.

GEORGE COURLAS

A Soldier in World War II
45th Infantry Division
157 Infantry Regiment, Company G/2nd HQ Battalion
1924---


Back To Top

All Contents of this website are under copyright by the World War II Recreation Association
or used with permission of original copyright holder

View My Web Statistics

last revision