I wrote to you that I have been in communication with a WWII soldier and have corresponded with him frequently. I have grown much attached to him and look forward to perhaps meeting him someday. I have gone through his correspondences once again, and have chosen a couple to share that I thought you might find quite interesting. I think that we, in this century, tend to forget the incredible sacrifices and battles that were fought so that we might have the freedom we enjoy. I also am cognizant of the fact that these heroes will not be with us forever. So, whatever I can share from my dear friend, I shall.
Continuing with a soldier’s story, an account of his infantry unit headed for Berlin:
Our infantry replacement unit had been traveling for many days trying to reach the front, hell-bent for Berlin. The bloated dead animals and stench of death, and burnt vehicles meant we were very close. One evening a vehicle found me and offered to transfer me back to a regiment needing a filed radio-operator which I had been trained for back in the States. It was my choice, which seemed positive, considering where I was headed, but I denied the offer. I had been with my fellow comrades for many weeks. Most had come across on the troop carrier with me and many were back from the Searchlight Battalion where I trained for two years back in Georgia and Long Island, N.Y. Once we reached the front, I regretted my decision but it was too late.
We were held up waiting for a pontoon bridge to be built to enable crossing the Elbe River. This consisted of many inflated flat-bottomed boats tied together with a planked roadbed on top, which would support our vehicles.
Finally, one morning, we were allowed to cross. That afternoon my buddy and I were assigned to a foxhole on the very point of the last battle against the German enemy. It was not a good life… no hot meals, no showers, and no dry clothes. It was just plain misery with danger all around.
A couple of nights after arriving I was assigned guard duty. Guard duty meant moving to another foxhole equipped with grenades, flares, binoculars, a (Browning Automatic Rifle) BAR which you could shoot like a machine gun by holding the trigger down. Plus, I had a private firearm. In my case, I had a carbine rifle. I was surprised to learn how much the binoculars helped night vision. The soldier I replaced told me something was causing mortars, flares and small arms firing and I needed to be very alert.
About an hour later I heard a new sound across the road from my foxhole and with help from the binoculars I could see tall weeds going down and then back up. This indicated someone was crawling along the ditch parallel to me. I reached for a flare and discovered they were all gone. So I trained the BAR on the movement and was about to challenge the intruder when I reasoned this was not a good idea because I would have to walk him down this dark road for his confinement and we would probably both get shot. So, I let him pass by and about ½ hour later I heard another guard challenge him. Now they were much closer to a place of confinement and were smart enough to make a lot of noise for protection. I have reason to believe they made it okay.
In reflection, I questioned myself as to whether I would have just shot the fellow who was trying to sneak home, knowing the war was about to end. Sometimes I think about things like that.
(In my own contemplation of this decision on Mitch’s part, I can’t help but wonder what the other guy’s life was like, once Mitch spared him. How many lives were spared or taken in the decision of a split second. M.J.)
In this correspondence he writes: How could this happen to me?
After the Battle of the Bulge our searchlight battalion, protecting New York Harbor, was deactivated and I was on a troop carrier headed for Europe as an infantry replacement. I was fortunate the ship took almost three weeks to reach La Harve, France. We were disembarked and put in boxcars called Forty and Eights because they could hold 40 men or 8 horses. Soon we were headed for Rommel, Holland. We were grateful that our train was not strafed by enemy planes. The roof was all covered with bullet holes previously sustained.
By now, our troops were moving so fast towards Berlin, it took almost two weeks to reach the front lines. I found myself in a foxhole 50 miles from Berlin.
Luckily, my companion was one of my former searchlight buddies, and one day we decided to go across a field to search for some fresh hay to line our hole in the ground. We had gotten half way when our platoon commander yelled at us to stop. “Don’t you know that whole field is mined?” We very carefully returned, thankful to be alive.
A few days later a Jeep pulled up and asked if anyone wanted to be considered for Regimental Headquarters M.P. duty. The next morning all the volunteers were lined up in a long tent and the officer started down the line picking out men he wanted. I noticed the ones he selected were all big tall fellows, so I had little hope he’d pick me. However, I had located an olive drab dress uniform in my duffle bag, and even had my tie on. The officer walked right by me and then returned and asked me where I got my uniform. I told him I’d carried it all the way from the Stages and he told me to step out.
Wow! How wonderful getting out of that stinking foxhole and back where I could shower, eat well, and stay clean?
In just a few weeks the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan and the war was over for everyone.
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