My Dad During World War II
Following basic training in Georgia, my Dad was transferred to Fort Meade, Maryland and on to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. It was at Camp Kilmer he met another GI that turned out to be quite a character by the name of Simaytis. He continued to get into trouble throughout the war and indirectly got my Dad involved due to the fact that on two different occasions he had to guard Simaytis after he had been arrested. He was from New Jersey and while he was at Camp Kilmer he decided he wanted to visit some nearby relatives. He simply went AWOL (absent without leave) and left camp for several days without telling anyone. It was not that he did not want to go overseas because he was a fighter by nature, anyway. He just had a mind of his own and had a tendency not to follow the rules. He had been a golden gloves boxing champion for a three state area. My Dad said he had fought in Maryland, New Jersey, and New York.
Inadvertently, my Dad was almost charged with being AWOL himself. He was limited in what he could do because he had some minor surgery for a cyst on his back. He could only drive and on this particular occasion, he drove off the base and didn't realize he had done so until he tried to come back from the outside. He did not get into serious trouble, but he did have some explaining to do. He later had the stitches removed from his back while he was onboard ship to North Africa.
Later in the war while in Sicily, Simaytis got into trouble and again my Dad had to guard him while he was in detention. He was caught trading military rations for "vino" (wine). He was placed in a tent that was used in blackout situations in that a light could be used and it could not be seen from the outside. My Dad told him to sit across from him at the table that had the light and they were looking at some life magazines with their feet propped up. My dad had placed his rifle against the side of the tent away from Simaytis and himself and when the lieutenent came in, my Dad got in trouble as well for the way he was guarding the prisoner. Simaytis got himself a Bible and placed it in his shirt pocket. He would carry this everywhere including the mess tent. He would pretend to be praying and convinced some of the other GIs that he had changed his ways. They decided to take him off his restrictions which was all he was trying to accomplish. He then returned to his drinking and conniving ways looking after his interests only. My Dad never heard from him again after they left Sicily or through the rest of the war.
When his unit got to North Africa one incident occurred that could have gotten them in trouble, but they never heard from it. Several GIs saw a cow get hit and killed by an incoming shell. They decided to butcher the cow and proceeded to have some steaks that proved to be much better than the rations they were accustomed to. This was so good that later they came upon some cows, picked out a young yearling bull, and shot it on the spot. They had the bull hoisted up on my Dad's wrecker and was dressing it out when the apparent owner showed up. He could not speak English, but he was hollering Papier! Papier! meaning he wanted money for the animal.
My Dad did think he had gotten into trouble on several occasions for various violations of rules. Once he was in Sicily returning to his bivouac area and was not wearing a helmet when he was stopped by MPs. He had a helmet liner, but had lost his helmet at some point. Before he could return to his area, he was stopped and given two tickets at two different locations. When he returned he gave the tickets to the Lieutenent who just tore them up; therefore, he did not get into trouble. He did, however get another helmet. Also, later when he was in Paris he was arrested for having an improper pass. When he came before the judge they found that my Dad's CO had been issuing improper passes. Again he did not get into trouble, but he did have a few rule violations in his constant maneuvers across three continents.
In October 1999, my Dad gave me a book that was very beneficial in understanding when events occurred in relation to where he was at the time. The book was entitled "A Pictorial History of the World War II Years" by Edward Jablonski. It was mentioned earlier that my Dad arrived at Oran, North Africa on February 21, 1943. According to the book, it was at this exact time (February 23, 1943) that Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, "the Desert Fox", was making a major move westward through Gafsa and Faid toward Algiers. They were able to push the Allies (beginning February 14) back 50 miles until the Allies were able to re-group, send reinforcements of American, British, and French units, and then push Rommel back to his original location in Tunisia. This attack had included the famous battle at Kasserine Pass in which the Allies experienced extensive casualties at the hands of the German tanks (also referred to in the movie, Patton, with George C. Scott). Appparently, my Dad was in route aboard the Florence Nightengale and arrived for orientation in Oran while this German push was happening. It was only a few weeks later that my Dad was stationed in Gafsa and therefore it was apparent that had he arrived earlier he would have been either over-run by the Germans, forced to retreat, or been captured (maybe even killed). By the time my Dad reached Gafsa, the Allies were having a major impact on the ability of Rommel to wage war by cutting supply lines from the sea and the air as well as successes in the battlefield. It was just a matter of time before the joint effort of the Allies would be able to wrap up the German agression in this part of the world and concentrate on moving on to Sicily. Rommel was ailing, finally leaving for Germany, and transferring his command to another German officer who then surrendered on May 13, 1943.
The book also clarified some events that involved my Dad in Sicily as well. He had said that after Sicily was taken in such a short period of time (thirty-eight days), he was held in reserve instead of being sent on into Italy. According to Jablonski, a total of four American Divisions and three British Divisions were pulled out of Sicily and transferred to England to prepare for "Operation Overlord" which was the code name for the invasion of Europe. My Dad's division was one of these divisions. They had remained in Sicily for a short period of time, but ended up in England by Christmas of 1943. A large number of men and a tremendous amount of supplies and equipment were being assembled in England for the invasion of Europe. One source said there was such a large supply that the only thing keeping England from sinking into the sea were the barrage balloons. Eisenhower had arrived in England to be the commander of all Allied forces. Roosevelt had met with Churchill earlier in Casablanca during the North African campaign and the decision had been made to attack through the coast of France. This was desired by Stalin to relieve the pressure off the Russians on the Eastern Front.
My Dad did not have front line duty since he was part of an ordnance unit; however, many times he was closer than he thought. As related earlier he landed on D-Day at dusk and quickly moved into the hedgerow country of Normandy. They were located at a particular location against a hedgerow and had dug a trench to serve as a foxhole when they heard a loud explosion. They thought it was incoming rounds and later learned they were right next to an American howitzer that was firing at the Germans. One of the other drivers that drove the 10 ton Ward la France wrecker, named Drumheller, dove in the trench for cover when they heard the noise and my Dad was right behind him covering his face for the expected blast. My Dad finally looked up when nothing happened and much to his surprise, he was lying above ground with the other GI under him. He quickly learned his trenches had better be deeper or unoccupied at the time.
My Dad was not that busy during the next day after D-Day because the area had not been secured and they could not advance as rapidly as expected. He did have to go out and move a small howitzer from the frontline. Also, noticed was the presence of more snipers from all imaginable locations. The Germans had dug pits, covered them with wooden covers, and on the covers placed dirt and grass to camouflage their location. Occasionally, they would open the cover, fire at the Americans, and duck back under the ground. One GI was hit in the leg nearby and eventually they realized what was happening. A unit was sent into the fields to pin point the location of the snipers. Once located, a carefully placed grenade ended this particular problem.
I told my Dad I was surprised with their constant moving around, both day and night, that they did not drive over a land mine. He said they did not drive in areas that had not been cleared of mines and that most roads had been marked clearly by engineers before they were sent on missions. He did relate the time in Normandy when he was sent to pick up a vehicle and he was told to follow a certain paved road to the point where you came to a sharp curve. In the curve was a dirt road and they were to follow this road and could not miss the vehicle they were to get. He and Dietz left after dark for the vehicle and there was a light rain at the time. They found the dirt road, but could not see the the tracks clearly. Dietz even got out of the wrecker with a flashlight to spot the path to take. Finally, my Dad told Dietz to forget looking and they would come back the next morning. They backed up, turned around, and returned to the area. When they returned the next morning, they saw an eerie sight that gave them cold chills. At the spot where they had turned around was a large pile of German land mines and the tracks of their wrecker was right next to the stack. Apparently they had just missed backing over the mines. The mines supposedly had been de-fused; however, if the 4 ton wrecker had hit them squarely no one knew for sure if the mines could have been detonated by a hard impact from their wrecker.
Another incident occurred in Europe when they were out in the field. They had stopped for the night and parked their wreckers under a covered shelter that happened to be available at their particular location. Ordinarily, if they were stopped at their bivouac area and their vehicles were out in the open, they had to camouflage them in case of aerial attack. At this location that was not necessary. At some time during the night another GI arrived with a GMC and went immediately to sleep after parking next to their wreckers. The next morning my Dad and the other GIs with his unit were going through what he called "stable hour". This was more like 15 mins. and was the time they did things, such as check oil, water, air pressure, etc. in their vehicles before leaving for the day. The other GI that was in the GMC called my Dad over and said he wanted to show them something. In the back of the truck were four dead Germans that he had left in the back from the night before. They learned that the Germans were POWs that had been used by the Americans to lift and carry the killed or wounded. Also, they learned that in Europe many of the bridges were very low for the American trucks. It seems the Germans were not aware of this fact and they forgot to duck down when passing under. All four POWs had the top of their head removed by the low bridge. The GI seemed to be very callous about this incident and highlighted the fact that human life, no matter whether American or German, was handled in such a casual and noncaring way.
My Dad's ordnance unit was part of the 1st Division and I learned they were under an ordnance battalion that served the entire division. As they moved inland their unit actually passed below Paris as it was being liberated on Aug. 25, 1944. Their unit as a whole did not go into Paris at the time; however, my Dad did enter at the same time it was being liberated with his Lieutenent. The Lieutenent did not want to go for any military reason, but asked my Dad to go with him while he simply looked for souvenirs. The Lieutenent had his own jeep, but by protocol he was not suppose to drive; therefore, many times he asked my Dad to drive him on these types of excursions. On this particular trip into Paris my Dad drove up the streets of the city looking down the alleys when he noticed American soldiers running between the buildings with rifles prepared for action. The Lieutenent then stated that they may have come too far. They realized they had inadvertently driven into an area of Paris that had not been secured and was still in the process of being liberated. My Dad quickly turned the jeep around and they returned to their area below the city.
After the Paris incident, my Dad's unit continued toward Belgium through the northwest part of France. They were stationed for a short time at the French city of Soissons which my Dad stated was the location for many of the battles during WWI. He also related an incident when he woke up near Soissons and heard a weird sound. He said that at one time, people in the states had gasoline powered washing machines and the sound was just like that sound. He looked up as he crawled from his tent and saw two V-1 rockets or as they were called, "Buzz bombs", chugging their way toward England. He stated that the bombs moved fairly slow and you were safe as long as you could hear the sound, but if the sound quit you had better look out below because the bomb was then falling. He said the bomb did not contain schrapnel, but it had a tremendous concussion. He also said that he heard about one bomb that fell prematurely in Belgium and when it exploded near a local man he was plastered up against a wall by the concussion.
According to the Time Life book, "Fortress Europe", the Germans launched thousands of V-1 rockets toward England with 2,419 sucessfully landing on London. The "Buzz Bombs" (range of 200 miles) were from 64 launching sites located near the position where my Dad was bivouacked in France Even though many did not make the trip to England successfully, it was enough to cause widespread panic followed by extensive death and destruction. This aerial assault on England ran from June 13, 1944 shortly after D-Day until Sept. 1, 1944 after the launching sites were knocked out.
Then, on September 8, the Germans started launching a more destructive rocket called the V-2 rocket that could not be detected until it was too late since it could travel at 3,500 mph and with a trajectory of 55 miles. It did not create the panic through air raids because the rocket would hit before you knew it was coming, but it did cause widespread destruction throughout England. According to the book, the Germans fired 4,000 rockets during the war with only 1,000 reaching the coast. My dad said he also saw one of these rockets launched across the river from where he was in Bonn, Germany. These aerial bombardments of England were finally silenced in late March 1945 after approximately 500 had sucessfully hit London, making the last winter of the war a frightful time for all British citizens.
Some more information was also learned from the book by Jablonski about the bridge crossing of the Rhine River that occurred in March of 1945. This Ludendorff Bridge or more commonly referred to as the Remagen Bridge was most beneficial in the Allied crossing. As stated earlier, the Germans attempted to blow the bridge by ground as well as the German air force (Luftwaffe) to prevent the crossing by the Allies; however, according to Jablonski it held for 10 days and allowed a large amount of vehicles to cross before it did fall. My Dad stated the bridge fell the day after he crossed, therefore he must have crossed the ninth day after the division reached Remagen. Also, the book illustrated through maps that the Rhine River appeared to flow North and South, therefore the crossing at Remagen appeared to be an advance eastward. Following the crossing of the Rhine in March, it was only a matter of two months until the German Army was surrounded and forced into an unconditional surrender in May 1945. My Dad was then transferred to Marseilles, France for his transport home and as he stated he had done enough global traveling to last a lifetime.