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Remembering "The Way it Was"
live within the shadow of the Almighty, sheltered by the God who is above all
Throughout the years many things have been forgotten, but there are some things
that will never be forgotten.
Medals Received: GOOD CONDUCT MEDAL, COMBAT INFANTRYMAN BADGE, EUROPEAN THEATER MEDAL WITH THREE BRONZE BATTLE STARS, WORLD WAR II MEDAL, POW MEDAL AND IN FEB. 1992 AWARDED THE BRONZE STAR MEDAL FOR MERITORIOUS ACTION IN COMBAT
years have gone by since I have returned home from Europe and WWII. Most of this
time I have kept silent about my experiences of the war and the prisoner of war
camps I was in, and would only talk about them when questioned and then only limited.
While in Licata, we experienced our first enemy air raid, which made us realize that war was real and not just something that was talked about in basic training. Even though we were not in any immediate danger it was a horrifying experience with the sirens blaring and enemy planes dropping bombs, and we had no idea what we were doing there. We could hear them exploding at a short distance from us as we were scrambling for cover. We had no inclination of what to expect at the time or what would be in store for us in the future, but we managed to get over it this time. From Licata we got aboard another ship and went around the island to Palermo, Sicily, arriving 31 July.
Here is where I was inducted into the 45th Infantry Division, 179th Regiment, Company D. Company D was a heavy weapons company with six squads of 30 caliber water-cooled machine guns and two squads of mortars. Two machine gun squads were assigned to each rifle company, in the Battalion. The 179th Infantry had already seen battle in Sicily before I arrived and they must have had several casualties, because as a replacement I was made assistant gunner.
About this time is when we heard the rumor that Italy may surrender, the actual surrender was on 9 Sept 1943; the day of the invasion of Salerno. The Germans were not to happy about the situation and were taking many Italian soldiers as prisoners and forcing some of them to fight with the German soldiers, but most of the Italians would defect and surrender. After a short stay we again boarded a boat, an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry), from the port of Termini, Sicily. This time we were headed for the invasion at the beach of Salerno, Italy. As we were approaching the beaches before daybreak we could see and hear all types of heavy bombardment on the shores ahead, from ships and airplanes.
On September 9, 1943, on a hot day in mid morning, the beach was partly secured when we went ashore in the second wave. I was carrying a back pack with supplies, a carbine and the 30 caliber water cooled machine gun, over 40 pounds, when we went into the waters of the Mediterranean up to our necks.
We were running out of supplies and ammunition and getting weaker with exhaustion, when it seemed that the enemy could have thrown the crushing blow and completely destroyed us. But for some unknown reason they let up on their fighting long enough for some of our tanks to bread through and open up a passageway, and we retreated to friendly territory. Evidently the Germans did not realize that our regiment was desperately short of everything a soldier needs to fight with, especially ammunition and in one or two more days they could have completely destroyed us.
After a few hours rest we started moving forward again despite the rains and German artillery barrages. Sometimes the ground was so muddy that even the jeeps would get stuck and walking was no easy matter. It was hard to find a dry spot to lay and sleep at night or even to sit and rest, even when we covered ourselves with raincoats at night they would sweat and we got up all wet.
About three or four weeks after the Salerno landing my gunner was wounded and I took over as gunner. It was said that the average life of a machine gunner was about three minutes of firing in actual combat, but thank the Lord for watching over me.
Almost two months had passed since we landed on the beach at Salerno, when we reached Piedimonte, and on Oct. 20th our regiment was finally withdrawn to reserve and rest for a few days. It was the first time we were withdrawn from the front lines since D-Day, except for the 1-day rest after being trapped at Salerno. It was so good to be able to get a change of clothes, a shower and shave, and some hot food for a change and just lay around. While on the front lines we could not shave so we would cut our beards with a scissors. When I took off my clothes they were so stiff from salt water and sweat that they could stand straight up by themselves. While in the rest area an Italian man and his wife came along with a large basket on her head full of vegetables. One of the soldiers wanted to help the lady take the basket down, but her husband said, "No, no we don't do that". We bought some potatoes and peppers and I cut them up and fried them over a wood fire, just like home!
About this time the Germans also started using some of their new rockets. Because of the eerie screeching sound they made we called them the "Screaming Meemeies". They were a group of about 6 or 8-barreled mortar mounted on top of trucks and fired in series all at once. As they came screeching through the sky at us they made an awful kind of eerie like noises and were very scary at first causing some terror among the troops, I think the noise was scarier than the rockets themselves. But after awhile we got used to them and we could tell about where they were going to land by the sound they made while whizzing through the air. The same was true with mortar and artillery shells. We could tell by the sound they made if the shells would land short of us, or over our heads and sometimes very close.
On January 5, 1944 the 45th Division was pulled back form combat duty and we were trucked to Caserta where we camped in an old volcano just north of Naples. When Kings ruled Italy they used to use this area for their hunting grounds. Up to this time I had a small camera, and I had taken several pictures in and around the front lines, but when we left for Anzio I left the camera and film in my duffel bag. Evidently all my belongings have gotten lost or destroyed because I never saw them again.
made our landing about mid morning, this time on dry ground.There was little resistance
since the Germans were caught off guard, so our troops advanced to about 25 miles
and then were ordered to stop.
There were two American divisions, the 3rd and 45th, and one division of British troops. The British and American Generals put a halt to our advancement because they were afraid that the Germans were setting up a trap. But the information gathered later proved that there were very few enemy forces anywhere in the surrounding areas on the 22 to the 26 of January, between Anzio and Rome, only 37 miles away. Our troops could have advanced all the way to Rome with very few causalities before the Germans could never have gotten any sizable amount of troops and equipment in the area that soon, but I guess that after thought is always better than fore thought.
In about 3 to 4 days the German reinforcements began to arrive in great numbers. In just a few days the Germans had eight divisions on the hills sides surrounding the flat plains of Anzio, along with artillery and armored troops. The Anzio area was a very flat land with small hills in the distance surrounding it, with irrigation ditches and several straw huts, which were used by farmers during harvest time, scattered through out the area. Soon artillery shells began to reach virtually every corner of the beachhead while the enemy infantry began patrolling and attacking our positions day and night. To top it German planes were dropping personal bombs (commonly called Butterfly bombs) and fighter planes were strafing us every day. The personal bombs were designed to explode in the air before they hit the ground throwing shrapnel in every direction, which made our foxholes almost useless. We kept scattered apart to minimize the amount of injuries inflicted from the bombings. We would walk and hide in the irrigation ditches keeping down low and use anything else we could find to keep hidden from the Germans, there was a lot of sniper fire in this area.
Shortly after daybreak in the morning of the 18 February 1944, things were happening so fast and everything was in such a big turmoil that it was all we could do to keep our heads down low to prevent being hit from shrapnel and at the same time try to defend ourselves while looking for an escape route. While we were concentrating on the enemy in front of us, and with all the noise from artillery and mortars and gunfire, we never heard nor saw what was going on behind us. We were expecting and hoping that some of our own troops would be coming up from the rear to support us.
Who would expect that the enemy troops would come from the rear? We never knew that the Germans had broken through and were already behind us until it was too late. When all of a sudden out of nowhere 5 German soldiers took us by surprise, coming from the rear with bayonets on their rifles and inches from our backs shouting 'ROUST HANS IN DER LUFT'. As soon as I stood up a German soldier, like lighting, jumped in the foxhole and grabbed my 45 automatic, he wasn't taking any chances. Unbeknown to us the other machine gun squad had already been captured. There were enemy troops behind us and in front of us. Then what we saw a few minutes later was just like out of the history books of World War I. About 200 yards in front of us heavily armed German soldiers under cover of artillery and mortar barrage were coming in droves and I mean droves. About twelve to fifteen waves of German soldiers were charging forward across the open fields shouting and yelling and with bayonets drawn on their rifles ready for close combat.
There were German soldiers as far as we could see in front of us and to our right and left and behind us, there were thousands. When the German troops got closer we could see that they were all glassy eyed like they may have been drugged. They kept coming until they were hit, either wounded and knocked down or killed, never making any attempt or try to avoid the mortar or artillery fire. I honestly believe that if it wasn't for those five German soldiers that crept up on us from the rear (I think one was Polish) and got to us first, we would never have made it out alive. It has been known that Germans do not always take prisoners, especially when they are making a big charge forward.
We were taken off the train and into a shower room where we were deloused, (stripped bare then sprayed all over with some kind of dusty chemical), and had a shower and then taken to what looked more like a prison than a camp. We did not know at the time that the Germans used this same type of shower rooms to gas and murder thousands of Jews and other prisoners and civilians in concentration camps.
|It looked like any typical small town except that almost every home had a barn attached to the house, like eve have attached garages, and a large rear yard, about an acre. You come out of the house and step right into the barn area where the cows and pigs and oxen were housed, that way it helped keep the house warm in winter. Behind that was the storage for hay and straw in the loft and the wagons and other farm equipment below. It was typical of most farms in Germany; the only thing that separated the manure pile from the house was the driveway between them about 30 feet.||
In 1984 while we were traveling in Germany, after several attempts, we finally found the town of Unterthurheim. It looked just the same as it was 40 years earlier except that this time I was a tourist and not a POW. It was serviced by a railroad but does not have a Post Office, which made it difficult to find. I found the farm where I was working but the previous owners sold out and the new owners knew nothing about prisoners working there during the war. There was a farmer with his daughter across the street painting a fence; the girl spoke very good English. We talked for a while and the girl interpreted to her father. He remembered very well when we were working on the farms during the war, and surprisingly he was happy to see us.
Center Row: Hoffman, Lessard, Lundberg, Jeffery, Davis, Lisk.
Row:Kingdom, Keifer, Vojtash, McCullough, Longiotti, Krichten.
In Unterthurheim there were eighteen of us prisoners in one large house, near the railroad tracks, where we slept on bunk beds, took our showers, shaved and washed our clothes, etc. but no meals. Every morning we would go to the farmer's house for breakfast then out in the fields to work, we came back for lunch, then back to work till supper time which usually was close to sundown. Our food was much better than camp food, we ate whatever the farm family ate or had on hand, which was limited because of the shortage of food in Germany, but at least we got to eat more and better food than we ever had at the camps. However even with the shortage the farmers ate better than the people in the cities. Most of our meals were vegetarian, cabbage, sauerkraut, lots of potatoes, etc, and lot of soups. We always had a large stein of beer on the table, which the girl from the Ukraine picked up at the Local bar for every meal. Many times, except when it was soupy, we all ate from one bowl that was set in the centre of the table; you just reach over and grab your food with your fork, and drink from the same beer stein. But I did not mind that at all, it was food and it was edible. Meat was very scarce even at the farms, maybe once every two weeks or so and that was a very small portion, they even served blood sausage which I tried once, but just the thought of it was terrible.
|We worked every day
from sun up to sun down. We would plow the fields with oxen and single plow, the
potatoes we would plant by hand and harvest by hand, Every other morning before
breakfast we would go out with oxen and wagon to cut green grass and bring it
back to the barn to mix with straw and feed to the cows. I found out the hard
way that the oxen have only one pace-slow, while we were in the field cutting
grass I got the oxen to run but they got out of control and were running around
in a circle till the wagon rolled over. To say the least the farmer was mad as
a hornet but he got over it and we got the wagon turned upright and the grass
back to the barn. The cows never left the barn; they remained tiled up or in a
stanchion all year round.|
farm family consisted of an older man and his daughter with two small children.
The husband was off fighting in the war. The farm consisted of 8 or 10 milk cows,
two pigs, two oxen, and several chickens. There was also a girl in her middle
twenties from the Ukraine living at this farm. She was taken as a civilian prisoner
and placed there to work. She did all the housework and a lot of the farm work
such as milking the cows and helping in the fields, she told me that if she did
not get her work done she would not eat.
The food supply in Germany was so bad that the government would send inspectors to each farm once a month to measure the milk by weight to make sure that it was all turned in. They could keep only a very small amount of milk for small children, no adults. The farmer where I worked would hide several burlap bags full of wheat under the hay and straw in the barn loft and a full wagonload of potatoes in the cellar covered over with cow beets.The farmers were not stupid,
they knew that Hitler needed food to feed his army and the farmers were their only source of supply, but they also wanted to feed their families. That way they would always have bread and potatoes on the table, I am sure all the farmers did the same thing so they could have enough to feed their families.
While we were
in Unterthurheim we received some Red Cross packages for the first time, which
contained a chocolate bar, a couple packs of cigarettes and toilet articles etc.
We were to receive a package every month but I only received a total of four packages.
Being I did not smoke, the cigarettes could be used for bargaining. I was able
to trade my cigarettes for a camera, and a pocket watch with chain and for a small
hand made metal jewellery box.
|In the winter, when
the snow was on the ground, we would go to the woods about three miles away to
cut firewood for the next winter. In January 1945, I got too sick to work and
one of the guards took me to a civilian hospital by train, since that was the
only means of transportation available to them. It must have been a Catholic hospital
at one time because there were nuns working there as nurses. While in the hospital
I found out that I had Diphtheria, and there I was in a strange hospital and in
an enemy country, and what comes to mind, but the memories of my childhood when
I was 7 years old and my brother died of Diphtheria. It was a horrible feeling,
with thoughts going through my head, what if I should die here in the hospital
and no one would know about it. 8ut than that in about two weeks I was able to
This farm town had two Catholic churches but its doors were boarded up by the Gestapo (Hitler's henchmen), evidently since Hitler was an atheist I guess the people sort of expected it, but I don't think that it deterred their faith in any way. After the invasion at Normandy and the allies were approaching the German borders the doors to the churches were opened again. I think the residents took it on themselves to tear off the boards and reopen the door and the people soon started going back to church again mostly the women.
POW's at Unterthurheim, Germany, December 1944
We would see our planes flying over several times and they would drop tinsel like strips of aluminum foil to evade the enemy radar. At Christmas 1944 we picked up some of the tinsel and one of the fellows found a small evergreen tree, which we decorated. The guards had someone go to the local bar to buy some beer and we celebrated Christmas our way. I think we were all feeling pretty good that night except for one person, I cannot remember his name, but I guess he had too much to drink and by mistake drank a half bottle of kerosene or lamp oil, I can't remember which, that we used for our lamps. Not to say the least he was a very sick soldier all night. Next morning every thing was back to normal so to speak and we all went back to work as usual. Sometimes we could get hold of the local news paper from one of the farms, even though we could not read German, we had some idea of what was going on in the war. As the war was drawing closer to the German borders the people seemed to get more excited and were waiting for an end to the fighting and of Hitler with his Gestapo. No one would talk against Hitler, but I got the impression that the people did not like him and were anxiously waiting for the end of the war.
As the war lines drew closer and we could hear the shooting and artillery in the distance and we started to get excited knowing that the day of liberation was near. Two days before the American troops arrived in our area another group of 12 prisoners with their guards from an adjoining work farm area joined our group with orders to march us all back to the base camp in Memmingen, which was several miles away. But we all
objected very strongly and refused to go. The German Sergeant (guard) in charge of our group was not to anxious to go either, so we finally convinced him and he convinced the other guards that we should remain where we were.
At this point they all knew that the end was near and I think they were glad to see it come. We all doubled up and went to the farmer's houses to wait for the big day. We waited for two days and then it happened. It was the most beautiful sight we have ever seen, the American troops arriving in town with no resistance from the enemy. It was a day that I will never forget. The German Sergeant and another prisoner stayed at the same farm that I was at, so I asked him to give me his revolver and ammo when the Americans arrived, which he consented to do hoping that he could evade being taken prisoner.
I spent my 60 days in Greenville area getting readjusted to a normal life and visiting with family, relatives and friends. On September 4, I returned to Asheville, N. C. where I spent the next three weeks in a hotel doing nothing but resting. On Sept. 27, I received orders to go to Fort Sill, Ok. With a ten day delay in route. So I went via Greenville, Pa. and on Oct. 2nd 1945, I married my fiancé Loretta Sanitate. After a very short honeymoon on Oct. 10, I reported in at Fort Sill, Ok. Shortly after arriving, the point system for discharge was dropped to 73 points, which made me qualify for discharge and return to civilian life.
I was discharged from the service on October 1945 from Fort Sill Oklahoma. At the time of discharge I was awarded the Good Conduct Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the European Theatre Medal, the World War II Medal, and three Bronze Battle Stars for major battles. I received the P, 0, W. Med; in the Fall of 1970, and in October 1991 I received letter from the Secretary of Defence of the U.S.A. that I was being awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Meritorious actions in Combat, which I received in February 1992. A little late but appreciated.
October 1995 my lovely wife Loretta and I celebrated our 50th anniversary. We have two children, Karen Jean and William Alan, and seven grandchildren.
Message to Future Generations:
.... It does not determine who is right or who is wrong....