Dave was given my name by Alice and Paul Knudsen, a fellow 39th'er. He emailed me immediately and asked how he could help, and gave me his phone number and the best times to contact him.
When I spoke to him he seemed quite eager to talk to me. He asked what I was specifically looking for and I told him anything he was willing to share since I had very little on the 39th. He told me that he had a history of the 39th and that he would be willing to copy the pages and mail them to me. I said I would be most grateful.
He said he didn't have much in the way of personal documentation, but said he had a humorous story about Anzio. Oh, that would be perfect I beamed. That's just the kind of thing I was searching for.
We wound up talking for quite a while and he promised to send the Anzio story, the history and several other documents. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and I'm looking forward to many more.
A few months ago David supplied me with a superbly done oral history on CD. It chronicles his entry into boot camp, all the trials, tribulations & memorable moments in the ETO and his return home to the states. I eagerly listened to every word and his efforts to record his memoirs will be a great source of information for my VI Corps book.
Note: October 2013
You can't dispute it, my nature we are drawn to some people more than others and this was no exception. It took me DAYS to post this, for doing so makes it SO final. Does anyone else feel this way too? It's as though if you don't talk about it and don't write about it, they are still alive...
I shall miss you TREMENDOUSLY, David Wagner. I am filling up with tears as I write this. I hate this, I really do. David and I (and his dear wife, Selma), became very, very close over the last eight years. David was one of my first contacts and we talked frequently via email and phone. I shall miss hearing his sweet voice and words. Hard to believe I won't hear from you again. But I have very good memories and will be able to hear his voice in my documentary. So glad I got his story.
Selma called me the very next day and left a message telling me of his passing. It took me two days to call her back because I just couldn't do it. She told me, "David thought the world of you.." Oh how my heart ached.
So to my wonderful friend. I love you and shall never, never forget you. Much love forever and ever, Marion
I am a veteran of the 39th combat engineers and was contacted by Alice Knudsen of Iowa. She told me that you are looking for information about the 39th. I'm really not sure of what you need and how I can help.
I am usually home between 5 and 6 PM (eastern time ) and would be very happy to talk with you. My phone number is (left off for privacy).
It was great speaking with you today and I'm sending you the Great Stake Race now before I get to copy the history which should be done in a couple of days.
The Great Stake Race at Anzio Downs
The Mare's Tale
About the fourth day after landing on the Anzio Beachhead we relieved the 179th infantry and took up their positions. After about five or six days we were relieved by the SSF ( First Special Service Force) and dug in a defensive line along the Mussolini Canal.
The Mussolini Canal was dug to drain the Pontine Marshes so that the land could be used for farming and small towns. The earth that was dug up was piled on one side of the canal and created a bank or a berm which was about 9 or 10 feet high and about 15 or so feet thick.
Two men would dig a dugout which was shored up by whatever fence posts or other wood that we could find and had a roof of about 5 feet of earth which protected us from anything but a direct hit. Tony and I dug ours and even lined it with burlap. We slit open sandbags and used the material like wallpaper.
Close to our dugout was one which held Fred Stuart and Danny Stiglitz. Now Stuart was a bit older than Tony and I and he liked Tony. One day he asked me if I would object if Tony and Danny traded places. I didn't mind so we swapped partners. Fred Stuart had two gold teeth in the front of his mouth and we jokingly took to calling him "Copper Tooth." He had a sense of humor and didn't seem to mind.
One of the guys in the company found this horse, a brown mare with only one eye. Old Coppertooth ( he must have been about 28) was a farmer and knew how to care for animals so he was given the horse.
As long as we were down behind the bank the Germans couldn't see us so he used to ride the horse when he had a spare moment. He told us that the horse could run like the wind. He used the
company's commander's jeep to measure off a 1/4 mile stretch and drove a fencepost to mark the end. He used to run the horse there and the horse knew just where to stop and turn around.
The SSF which was just off to our left had also found a horse. Their horse had a 50 caliber slug in him which some of the farm boys got out and nursed him back to health. Since we used to go out on patrol with the SSF the word got out that we had a racehorse. The SSF boys thought that their horse was much faster than ours.
So...........................one day one of them came over and challenged us to race our horse against theirs. Coppertooth conferred with Tony and they thought that with our horse we could win very easily and make some money ( We hadn't been paid for several months ). So Tony came over to me and said, "Wag, you're a darn good talker so you go around and collect the bets from all the men in "F" Company.
I did and collected over $500 that would be bet on the race. That was a lot of money.
When the race was all set to go off, the guy from the SSF insisted that a 1/4 mile run was not long enough and should be at least 1/2 mile long. So a jeep was used and 1/2 mile was measured off.
The two horses were at the starting line and one of the guys pulled his .45 and fired the starting shot. Our mare took off like greased lightning and left the other horse behind. We ( F Company ) were already counting our winnings and congratulating one another.
However......strange things happen and they surely did that morning. Our horse had a fantastic lead but when he got to the place where he stopped every day and turned around, he just
stopped and refused to go any further. The SSF horse just breezed on by and won the race.
With a heavy heart I had to turn the money over to the SSF. And when all the guys in F Company complained to me I told them to go talk to Coppertooth and Dickherber, I was just a bookkeeper.
This story has been told and retold at our annual reunions for many, many years. It was just one of the crazy things that Tony Dickherber and I got involved in.
David N. Wagner
39th Combat Engineer Regiment
I got a big kick out of your response to the horse race. Who knows it may awaken my memory of some of the other things that happened.
I am sending you a copy of the History tomorrow and I think you should have it by Monday. Included in the envelope is a placard that we hang at the Command Post when we have our reunions.
The letter from Sonny Montgomery, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee to his boyhood friend Herman Shirley who was in the 39th is self- explanatory. We went right to the top but it didn't help.
(Marion's note: The letter referred to is the ongoing controversy that I've discussed on my forum; THE CIB. You will find the letter below.)
The title page is from a book from which most of the information was derived. I don't know how you can get it but if you have a problem you might ask your Congressman to help you.
(Marion's note: The book he is referring to is the book that I have, The Corps of Engineers: The War Against Germany. It's a great reference for anyone seriously interested in the history of WWII Engineers in the ETO.)
I'm sorry I didn't have book covers for the History but it is difficult for me to get around now since I don't drive anymore.
Hope you enjoy the stuff when you get it.
I'm so glad that you received all the info that I sent and that you are enjoying it. I got quite a kick out of your enthusiasm and feeling for the story of the Great Horserace. As a matter of fact because of your enthusiasm I have already sent a copy to my younger son and also to a nephew. As to the CIB I am of the opinion that your father had probably been assigned to an Infantry Unit before he joined the 540th. I tried for years to get the CIB for us but the War Department said, "No," and you have a copy of the letter. However, if you should come up with something that might help us in this regard, please let me know.
I'm glad you had a conversation with Alice Knudsen. She is such a nice lady. She also sent me the name of a lady in California who is the daughter of one of the guys who was in my company and whose father also didn't tell her or the family anything about where he was or what he did. Since her Dad was in my Company it was quite simple for me to give her a bunch of the details. We've been corresponding for 4 years.
I've asked Alice to send you an invitation to our reunion over the Labor Day Weekend which will be held in Jefferson City, Missouri. It would be wonderful if we could meet you there...
Marion's note: This email below is in response to one I sent last week. I was commenting on his great sense of humor and the quote "the impossible we do immediately, the miraculous takes a few minutes longer."
As for my sense of humor,"the impossible we do immediately, the miraculous takes a few minutes longer" was probably coined by my buddy Jack. However VI Corps Headquarters believed it and kept giving us assignments that were just about impossible. Jack was a coal miner from West Virginia but a sort of homespun philosopher. The best one he ever coined none of us can ever forget. Let me tell you how it came about.
We had sailed from the Port of Algiers on July 8, 1943 aboard the SS Cherokee bound to make a landing at Gela on Sicily's southern coast. On the morning of July 10th the Cherokee hove to and threw rope ladders over the sides and we clambered down the ladders into the
small assault landing craft to make the invasion. When we got under way we were squatting so that our heads didn't protrude above the gunwales of the ship. We had not seen any action in Africa. This was to be our baptism of fire so we were all scared to death. It didn't
take long when Jack said to me, "Waggie, we are like a boatload of June brides." I told him," that he had probably taken leave of his senses, what in heavens name did we have to do with June brides?" He answered, "We know what is going to happen, we just don't know how it is going to feel."
The Building of a Bailey Bridge
These photos were submitted to me by David Wagner, 39th Combat Engineer. These are pictures of his platoon ( 2nd platoon F company) building a Bailey Bridge circa October 1943. This was not built under fire and a photographer from Life Magazine, Margaret Bourke-White was allowed to visit them and photograph it. The pictures are from her book, "They Called it Purple Heart Valley."
The Fighting 39th Engineers - Emmett K. Wallace - R. R. 4 Cullman Alabama
We are the fighting 39th, that's right
We eat damn little, but still we fight
We work like hell and have little fun
We will be in the war until it's won
We sleep a few hours and then we start again
They say we'll get a rest, but don't know when
We had it all throwed at us, shells, but good chow and bed
They pass out C-rations with hard biscuits, no bread
We built enough bridges to cross the sea
The number of by passes we made, Oh me
We built the damns to flood the lands so low
To help stop ten divisions at Anzio
We've been in every battle and did our share
We get small bits of credit; but we're always there
Let all the Army be at a river wide
We are the Engineers who take the Infantry to the other side
It sounds like little jobs, easy to do
But there are bridges to build so that the supply comes thru
The Story of the 39th is hard for me to tell
When they die, they will go to heaven
For they have served their time in hell
Sitting on our halftrack "Bonecrusher II" on the Anzio Beachhead - Circa April 1944
Front row: David Wagner - Ronnie Welsch - Arie Breshears - Tony Dickherber
Back Row: Ira Cook - Larry Wade
...Thinking of your book I want to relate a little incident which
happened when we were dug in on the Mussolini Canal on the
beachhead. We were warned that the Germans were dressing
in American uniforms and to be very, very careful. To this end
they established a sign and countersign which we were
generally given about 5 P.M. every day. Generally, the sign
and countersign were words that we used together. Such as,
base ball, dish washer, rubber tire. When challenging anyone
you threw the sign at him and he had to return the countersign.
One evening, just about dark one of our men, Vernie, was on
outpost and he saw someone approaching him. Since it was
dark and he couldn't recognize him he threw the sign at him,
"horse." The countersign was "hide." However, the man
approaching him was one of our own, Raymond. What he was
doing out there by himself after dark, was beyond me. So he
hadn't received the new words for that day. So when Vernie hit
him with "horse" he was at a loss at what to answer. So a lot of
things ran threw his mind as to what would match "horse." He
yelled "shit." On hearing this Vernie yelled, "Come on in you
can't be a German."
I don't know if you could use this in your book but it's a good
example of how the Americans could adapt to any situation.
I generally don't tell this story except at reunions and of course
to Selma. If you can use it, please do.
Best regards from Selma.