Baltimore, Maryland, December 7, 1941. Three friends and I had been to a Sunday Matinee, and when we came out of the movies, we heard a newsboy yelling, “Sneak Attack by Japan means War." I called home to speak to my mother and ask if it was true, and she said “yes."
My father had fought and been gassed in the first World War, and I know my mother was probably more concerned about me going in service than the average mom. She had watched my father, her public accountant husband, struggle with the after affects of the chemicals on his health for years, until his untimely death in a traffic accident in 1929. She knew better than most what horrors of such an attack could be.
Never the less, on December 26, 1942. I was inducted into the U.S. Army, and reported on December 30, 1942 for my basic training at Fort Devon, Mass.. I was put into the 116thSquadron of the 101st Cavalry Group, and trained as a radio repairman. We were trained in jeeps, and were then assigned to motorcycles, searching for enemy submarines, which sometimes landed saboteurs on our shores. We have several alerts, but never actually witnessed any landings. This duty lasted from fall of 1943 until spring of 1944, when we were shipped to Kentucky and trained for combat for several weeks.
After our combat training was over, we were shipped to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, to await transport overseas. Several days later, we were taken to New York Harbor, along with all our equipment and loaded on (we discovered later), the ship “Uruguay”. It had been a passenger liner on South American cruises before the war, and we called it a “banana boat”. It was 2 o’clock in the morning as we went aboard, and a band was playing “East Side, West Side”. I remember wondering at the time, “how in the world did I ever got myself into such a mess?” Since there didn’t seem to be any practical way of getting out of it, I just gritted my teeth and continued on.
The “Uruguay” had been transformed into a troop carrier, and I, with the luck of the draw, got put on the bottom, or “D” deck. The hammocks were hung in layers clear up to the ceilings, and I was in a top hammock. Somebody had told me it was better to be up on top, in case somebody got sick. By morning, we started down the channel of New York Harbor, past the statue of Liberty. That was the last we were to see of the good old U.S. A. for some time. We were at sea for eleven days, as part of a large convoy, with lots of merchant ships, oil tankers and other troop ships, all guarded by a destroyer escort.
We had little to do but watch the other ships, and in a way it was like looking at old movies. Destroyers would dart in and out and all around, listening and looking for enemy subs. The Germans would have had a field if they had spotted our convoy. After a couple of days we had two good meals each day and entertained ourselves pretty well. We arrived somewhere near the south coast of England, ready to go into France.
For some reason, our orders were changed at the last minute, and we were diverted up through the Irish sea, and landed in Liverpool instead of France. We had to wait for the tides to change so we could get into the harbor, and it took quite some time. After we landed, I remember looking down on the dock and seeing this English fella who was playing spoons. He held multiple spoons in both hands and tapped them on his knees and thighs and arms to make different sounds. I had never seen anybody play spoons before.
We unloaded…about 10,000 of us…. Were put on buses, and taken to the train station. There were English children at the station begging for gum. “Any gum, chum?” they would ask..we had some fruit from our mess on the boat, and we shared it with the children, some of whom hadn’t seen oranges and apples before. It was late evening before all of us were on the train, and we got to set off. Nobody had told us where we were going, and we had to keep all the blinds on the train completely closed. In case of German air attacks.
About 2a.m., we arrived at out destination, unloaded, and began marching up a country lane, with stone walls on both sides of us. Nobody knew exactly where we were, or where we were going. Finally we arrived at our destination and were quartered in Quonset huts. We finally found that were about 100 miles north of Liverpool.
The huts had been built for refugees coming in from the South of London. To escape the air raids. There were wooden beds in them, with small mattresses, for very short people. Tall Americans their heads resting on the mattress, but their out on wood.
All in all, we had a happy time there. The Chaplain went into the town and arranged for some dances, the locals had us into their homes for tea, and they were lots of bups for anybody who liked the English beer, and darts tournaments.
I met a young lady who worked in a ship yard, at a place called Barrow in Furnace. I made plans to meet her one evening at a dance. During the course of the evening while we dancing with somebody else. I decided to ask another girl to dance. There were about 25 girls to every man, so I went through quite a crowd until I came to this young lady who really interested me. I ask her to dance and discovered she was the one for me. We danced several times, and I ask her for a date. She accepted.
I was late for our first date She thought I’d stood her up, but I saved myself by arriving in the nick of time and taking her to the movies. I walked her home and invited me to dinner and to meet her parents the next Wednesday. When her five and a half foot tall father met me at the door that evening, he said “come in lad,” asked me to sit down, then called out Eileen “looks like you caught a big one!” Over the next few months, he and I became very close, and remained so for all of his life. Tobacco was virtually impossible for him to obtain, so I made a point of getting cigars in my rations for him, along with other small items he had trouble getting, which he really appreciated.
Along about the first of 1945, we got word that were about to ship out. We moved out on January 4th to a place called Barton Stacy just north of Southampton, where we waited for our ship to be ready. About 500 advance troups had already gone over on LSTs. But the rest of us went by Liberty ship. We on loaded, crossed the channel, went up the Seine to a small town called Rouen. We were only there for a day or two, and then moved out across France to the front lines.
We moved down along the German lines, making feints trying to find a soft spot. Finally, we ended up against the Saar river. We dug in at a point somewhere along the wall of dragons teeth erected by the French as part of the Maginot line. After several days , we spotted the Germans pulling out of their positions, and called in our big guns, and really gave it to the Germans good.
After our first combat, we were pulled back, got into our vehicles, and from that point on, we never really stopped. It seemed like we drove all night and fought all day, with never enough sleep We went straight across Germany, sometimes doing 40 miles and hour. If the village church steeples didn’t have white flags prominently displayed on them, we’d blow the steeple off to keep it from being used as an observation tower, and move on the next town. One time we even got as far as 40 miles in front or our own troops.. We waited in one position 4 nights and 3 days, until the 4th infantry division came up and relieved us. One or our platoons was in the next town, and completely cut off. They held the town and make the Germans think there were a lot more of them than there really were and thus kept the Germans from counter attacking. They were up for a presidential citation, but since their officer had been killed, and the rules state that an officer must be present to verify the action, so no citation was allowed. At this point one of my good friends, Sgt. John Rothengast who had been acting as platoon Leader, was killed.
Form there we went steadily on down toward Austria, until the war ended.
On May 5th we were in a valley with a bunch of Germans who had several tanks with 88’s on the perimeter facing us. Their officer, a Colonel, refused to surrender to us because our commanding officer was also a Colonel and the German would only surrender to a superior officer. We had to wait to their surrender until General Taylor could get to us and accept it. After that we stood guard with the Germans, one of us and one of them, frequently exchanging helmets and chewing gum with them. We also took some of their high ranking officers into the hills with us, in order to inform their scattered smaller units that the war was over and they could surrender.
After that, we pulled back to Heidleburg, where we were quartered in a school house. I was told to hook up a phone line from the school into the German lines so we could turn the radios on. As I was hooking up the lines, I heard a colonel talking to “F” troops captain. He was saying that one man from “F” troop was going to go back to England on a furlough the next day. Every other outfit got two men on furlough, but “F” troop only got one because we were a smaller troop. When I got back to the school, my sergeant said to me that I was going back to England the next day on a 7-day pass. I couldn’t believe my luck!
Next morning I took off in a jeep for head quarters, where we gathered in one 10 ton truck to cross the German border. We caught a French train and rode to a port city, where we crossed the channel to Southampton. We were issued English train passes that we could ride anywhere in the U.K. I headed north for Askam. We pulled into the station about 6 o’clock on a Saturday night. As I walked through the village, I felt everybody was looking at me. Just as I was about to knock on Eileens door, it opened and she and her friend Dorothy came out, on their way to a dance. The girlfriend disappeared rather fast. It seemed as if the whole town knew by that time that the Yank had come back to marry the Windle girl. It didn’t happen just then, but it did happen later on, and we’ve been married 49 years.