It's always a pleasure and an honor to receive an email from WWII vet, especially a brigadier general with 45 years of service to his country. His medals include the Legion of Merit, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. He also served as an instructor with the ROTC and the Army War College. Russel, PhD, STD, B. Gen AUS-Retired, is vice-chairman of the Georgia Holocaust Commission.
He decided to write to me after being introduced to my site by Steve Dixon, webmaster of the 70th Division's website.
I'm thrilled that he is willing to share his memoirs from his experiences with the 45th Infantry Division and his continued service beyond 1945. The 45th shared some common ground with my dad, so it makes it even more special for me to be able to read his personal history.
You may also want to check out this website that displays Russel's artwork. He really is an inspiration! Mountain Miniatures
Steve Dixon of the 70th Division Trailblazers Site introduced me to your commendable efforts to honor the Combat Engineers of WWII. I am a 45 year veteran of the Army, having served in every grade from Private to Brig. General. All of my WWII service was as a grunt in the 45th 'Infantry, Thunderbird Division, I was there for Italy and Anzio and Southern France and the Vosges and Alsace and into Germany and I was among the very first American soldiers to enter and effect the liberation of the Dachau Death Camp on Apr 29th, 1945.
I have hundreds of photos, many souvenirs and artifacts, many memories and a lot of scrapbooks and material covering WWII. I fought side by side with the 36th Combat Engineers, I recall they were thrust onto the lines when the going got tough and they had rifles,some light machine guns but no heavy weapon support. They had to be engineers and infantry and did a damn fine job.
I am going to spend some time perusing your site, slowly and savoring every item.
I will be happy to share scanned pictures and my material if you are interested. Just let me know via my e mail. I will be 80 years of age on Jan 5,05 and I have been retired and residing here in North George since 1992. More later, happy new year. Russ Weiskircher, BG AUS Retired.
Literally hundreds, perhaps as many as a thousand books about World War II have been written. I doubt that there is little market left for yet another thriller. However there is no denying that true history comes from the eye-witness. I therefore join the long line of WWII vets in setting down this partial chronicle of my four decades of military service, concentrating on the "big one."
They tell me I first saw the light of day in 1925, arriving at a rural farmhouse in Wildcat Hollow near Elizabeth, a sleepy little burg in Southwestern Pennsylvania, ten miles from McKeesport, thirty miles from Pittsburgh. My parents were honest, God-fearing farm and mill folks. I was the product of devoted family, dedicated teachers and supportive community. From this background, immediately after Pearl Harbor, stems my military tale.
My older brother, ten years my senior, was off to the war and spent most of WWII in the Pacific theater working with radios and artillery communications. I wanted to go to college but realized that service came first. I tried to schedule it immediate after graduation from high school but fate delayed me while I dueled with the induction center doctors who kept rejecting me due to some kidney infection, which my old country doctor labeled hereditary, transient and meaningless. I was turned down four times but on the fifth try I slipped a janitor in the Old Federal Building a quick fin to produce the necessary urine specimen. It worked, and I qualified to join the fighting ranks.
My early introduction to the military included my first long time absence from home, my first long distance train ride and my first homesickness. Orientation was at Fort Meade, Maryland where I spent about ten days getting inoculations, orientations, uniforms and equipment. I was a veritable heap of wrinkled fatigues, khakis, duffel bag, leggings and footwear. Here I got my first taste of army routine, barracks life, discipline and a formal introduction to the power of even a lowly PFC. Here I met the dreaded KP, and sentry duty and extra duty and the certain knowledge that silence was golden and volunteer was an ugly word. Here I formed my first GI friendships, some of which have lasted a lifetime to date. One such instant friend was Charlie Z---------, a young farm lad who hailed from a small town about fifty miles from home. Since we were organized and housed and trained alphabetically, this W and Charlie’s Z was constantly together.
Wake up, fall in, and sound off! It was assignment day and despite days of testing and interviewing, the need for cannon fodder overrode any scientific or professional placement. I was to transfer immediately to the Infantry Replacement Training Center (IRTC) at Fort McClellan, Alabama. And so it was off for Alabama with by barracks bag on my knee. We traveled in old day coaches with wooden seats. They added latrine and kitchen cars and off we went from Fort Meade via the B&O right back through Pittsburgh and right past my hometown where I could see my house.
I remember wanting to spare my new khakis the soot and grime from the steam engine, so I changed into fatigues. Wrong! The transport Corporal came into our car, pointed to me and said four more of you get into your fatigues and join this man in the mess car. Because I was in the right uniform at the wrong time or maybe the wrong uniform at the right time, I peeled spuds from Maryland to Pennsylvania to Ohio and south to Atlanta. Along the way we had a collision with a big rig at a rural crossing. The rig was carrying a load of gingerbread mix and the scene was one of ginger dust and spicy smell.
Life in the IRTC is hardly worth describing. We put in long days; often busy nights, forced marches, and weapons training. We were taught to survive and to fight the infantry war. I struggled, but learned and grew lean and mean and determined to do my bit.
Seventeen long training weeks later, including Thanksgiving and the loneliest Christmas and New Years days, we graduated and headed home for a seven-day leave and then to our initial assignment. Before I leave the basic scene I need to comment upon the miserable but rewarding fifteen-mile, full-field hikes over Baines Gap. I need also to remember the beautiful and inspiring Silver Chapel on the main post. I recall some writing for our training cycle newspaper. I was named the training battalion volunteer reporter. Of course my training sergeant volunteered me because I could read and write something remotely akin to English.
I remember also my single trip off post and my one and only weekend in Anniston. I recall the generosity and hospitality of the ladies of St. Michael’s and All Angels Episcopal Church. They provided bed and shower and breakfast, all for fifty cents; free if you were broke. In Anniston I also encountered the deep, segregated south. This yank interfered when a local citizen attempted to cane a young black lad who committed the sin of treading on the sidewalk in front of a whites only theater. I nearly went to jail when I made the old man stop beating the young black. The military police rescued me. Hauled me back to camp and “wised me up” So end my basic memories.
Charlie and I traveled together to my home where his parents met him. When we went back, his parents asked me to look after him and keep him safe and bring him back. I said I would, and I meant it. This was to be one of the saddest lessons of my short life and my real introduction to the reality of war.
After a too brief leave, it was goodbye to family and the sweet young lady who became the love of my life and my soul mate for life. We went back to Fort Meade where we were matched up, fresh troops for the European front, and shipped out to Camp
Patrick Henry near Newport News, Virginia. I had been promoted to PFC after basic and now was selected to be a “salt water” non-com. That is an acting corporal for the transient journey overseas. My first taste of responsibility and leadership and the demands and privileges of rank, even the temporary kind. Charlie and I stayed together and were herded aboard the USS General Man, along with about 15,000 replacements. We shipped south along the east coast to just off Brazil and then we shot across the Atlantic to a point near Dakar, Africa. Salt water showers, bunks five high in sweaty, humid holds, Navy chow, seasickness everywhere, submarine drills, submarine alerts, sirens in the middle of the night, blackouts. I learned one thing; anything on land, anywhere, is preferable to being cooped up on a crowded ship on the ocean. It took us nine long days via slow convoy to traverse the Atlantic.
My African experience is fleeting and sketchy. We were loaded onto old French 40 and 8 railroad cars and hauled over the Atlas Mountains, three days in stinking cars that had been used to haul horses, horses that certainly didn’t suffer from kidney problems. We missed the animals but not the smells. We traveled so slowly up the hills and steep grades, often walking along side the cars. We hopped aboard as we headed downhill. Turban-headed brakemen sat on top of the cars and applied screw-down, manual brake shoes to the wheels to control our headlong downhill dashes. We passed many small mud and metal huts. Women and kids flocked out with oranges, begging for candy and cigarettes and chewing gum. The kids were dirty, the women a sad lot and the oranges looked diseased with a warty red skin. We ate C rations, cold.
After the train-ride we spent a few days in a staging area, Thousands of tents, sleeping, mess and latrine varieties. Then we were once again paired off and assigned. Charlie and I were destined for Italy, via British transport. We slept in hammocks suspended over wooden tables. We ate the lousiest possible food, drank the weakest tea and waited in line for a bottle of room temperature soda pop. Nine days again and we arrived in the Naples harbor, headed for a replacement depot. Our destination was secret, likewise our unit of assignment. But not for long because in three days we boarded LST’s and sailed north to the Anzio Beachhead and the 45th Infantry, Thunderbird, Division.
Right here we reach a benchmark in this old soldiers memory. Undoubtedly my two most meaningful military experiences are the Anzio Beachhead and the liberation of the Dachau death camp.
By the time we replacements arrived the beachhead routine was well established. We, the allies were sandwiched in between the mountains and the sea. The Germans were dug in on the high ground with all sorts of artillery and firepower was directed towards the seashore and us. The port of Anzio was as unsafe as any front line position. The area was barren, reclaimed swampland. Flat as a pancake, naked except for bushes and a few small trees, and crisscrossed by irrigation canals. Wild cattle, abandoned when the farmers were evacuated, roamed at will, often detonating German mines. Early on I learned that sheep dogs are among God’s most intelligent animals. Since we avoided the roads during daylight hours to avoid German shelling, the dogs moved the cattle and sheep to graze near the roads in the daylight and far away up in the hills after dark. Surprisingly few cattle suffered from combat action but a large number succumbed to the soldiers’ rifles. We like to think they had us surrounded so we shot and devoured them. Fresh meat at any price! The only major cover on the beachhead was the Pines, a rest area established in the imported pine groves along the sea on the Doris Duke estate. We were sure she wouldn’t mind and she wasn’t likely to be there during a war.
We camped there, we trained there, we relaxed there, we hid there and every night old Gerry’s “Bed Check Charlie” flew over and tucked us in with a load of anti-personnel bombs. He always seemed to know just where we were despite light and noise discipline precautions.
It was here also that we listened to Axis Sally, the Berlin Bitch as she broadcast her trashy music and stupid messages encouraging us to go home and kill the four f draft dodgers she alleged were dating our women. We listened but it was so corny it was entertaining and if anything contributed to our morale.
Life on the beachhead was simple survival while occupying a fish bowl positions. We had only about a third of the necessary troops and logistical support. The port was too unsafe to permit major unloading. Gradually we built up firepower but it took four winter months of sand and rain and hail and misery. Every day we hid underground in elaborate foxholes, every night we sallied out on patrols and harassed the enemy forward positions. We went up front, about ten miles, switched placed with our sister regiments, stayed a few days and rotated back to the rear. We ate k rations, c rations and a few hot meals. We were limited to what we could carry on our person. I recall taking up pipe smoking there because cigarettes were in short supply.
I was assigned as a rifleman to the third platoon to a squad commanded by someone called Corporal Touchhole Seymour. Seymour was loud, crude, profane, wild and loveable. My basic training buddy Charlie was assigned to the second platoon and on the very first night a concussion grenade killed him, while on his first patrol. I lived to regret my promise to protect Charlie and eventually I had not only to write his parents a letter but I had to make a trip to his home after the war. I owed his aging parents the details of his quick, painless death.
We saw movies when in the rest area. Here we also got hot meals and had church services. I recall erecting a wooden cross on the hill above the beach and helping the Chaplain conduct Easter services. He baptized dozens in the sea. I got to play the field organ. Here too, I sent my sweetheart a corsage, which she received two month late. We shaved our heads to avoid lice and sand mites. We washed our woolen clothes is a soapy-gasoline mixture. We took cold water showers as often as we could. I received dental work .The dentist had a foot powered drill. Amazingly, that particular filling lasted over ten years.
We skip ahead now to spring and May and the 23rd in 1944. It was breakout day on the beachhead. Artillery and air corps bombardments set the pace, tanks lead the way and off we went into the very jaws of the Boche guns. The casualties were legion and yours truly was among the earliest. I recall moving forward when artillery came down on us from all directions. I took a hit in the left shoulder. It was serious and required more than field medic attention. I was forced to turn back and to wade in the canal and try to find the aid station. I don’t know when, where or how, but evidently shock set in and I passed out. Someone lifted me out of the canal. The litter bearers found me and I awakened in the hot, stuffy but safe ward on a hospital ship bound for Naples. I had passed through the battalion aid station and the evacuation hospital. It was hell on earth. The area was alive with the smell of burned flesh. Soldiers screamed from all sides. I was taken to the 300th General Hospital were over three thousand casualties awaited treatment.
Oh how I learned to love the medical staff and the Red Cross people. It took over a month but I recovered. I recall a week of sheer pleasure as I was picked to escort Marlene Dietrich as she and her troop came to entertain us. The Dietrich was a legend. She had the greatest legs I have ever seen and she knew it. She lived on cigarettes and a martini, worked 16-hour days every day, and was a hell of a trooper. Speaking of nice legs, I was and remain a “leg man.” I must also record here the name of one Mary Breen Raterman, a lovely spinster from Alabama, the Red Cross director for the 300 th General Hospital. She was an angel on earth!
There is a long after sequel to this story about my first combat wound. At the age on 77 I attended a reunion of Anzio Beachhead veterans and met the evacuation hospital nurse that removed the shrapnel from my back. She helped prepare me for the hospital ship trip to Naples. We had a joyful, tearful reunion. And we remain in touch via e-mail messages. Ramona will be one of the first recipients of my completed CD.
One Purple Heart, one patched up shoulder and thousands of memories later, I was judged fit to return to my unit and this I did. Once again I had to process through a reception center or a repple depple as we dubbed them. I rejoined my unit, the Third Battalion of the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division. We were near Salerno. The unit had fought out of the beachhead, made it to the wheat fields outside of Rome, and then moved south to train for the invasion of Southern France. During training breaks I got to the Verdi Opera House in Salerno and saw an abbreviated version of Aida. Also toured the ruins of Pompeii. I tagged along with a group of Limey sailors and enjoyed their company and comments more than the scenery.
I can’t leave this area without a comment on the cornfields and the beans and the people. We were in a rural area. The people were simple, God fearing, mostly children and women and old men. The male population was off to war. Italy had surrendered and then declared war on Germany and was officially a co-belligerent. We were in pup tents, encamped on rich black lava type soil. Here they grew long green beans, flat and tasteless but nourishing. Our quartermaster bought these by the tons and fed them to us at least twice daily. We got so that we simply carried our mess kits over to the garbage pits were local kids waited with their gallon cans. They claimed every scrap we would have thrown away. We were also the local source for candy and treats, which we shared gladly. I met little Roberto, a five or six year old that came to camp to steal cigarettes from our tents. He had been shot in the foot and limped but he was quick and agile despite the handicap. I decided to put a stop to his stealing. Using sign language and candy as a bribe, I engaged him to guard my tent and I paid him daily with treats and lire and friendship. Roberto and the whole local population were there when our convoy pulled out headed for the ships that would take us to southern France.
I recall very little about the brief trip except the wonderful summer weather and the opportunity to swim daily in the warm waters. We had long briefings and daily drills and we worked forever on equipment maintenance. I was supposed to lead a rifle squad but just before the invasion the flamethrower operator attached to us, broke his foot. He stayed on the ship and I carried the 79-pound flamethrower ashore. That was an experience. We were in small landing craft that were supposed to run right up on the beach, but we got stuck on an off shore a sand bar and we had to go over the side and wade. It took two buddies pulling me, to get enough traction to make headway in the sand. That invasion, at that particular part of the beaches of St. Maxim was a cakewalk. German pillboxes were empty or quickly abandoned and after the final naval barrage we literally walked ashore. Our single casualty in our company that day was one man killed by the Bangalore torpedo he was trying to use to blow holes in the barbed wire.
The local citizens met us. We received a royal welcome from the mayor and all of the locals. I finally got a chance to try out my high school French. It worked but only when the French people spoke slowly. When they talked rapidly and used their local dialect, I was lost. For the rest of the war I would be struggling to communicate and become rather fluent in the language. Here, I recall we all emptied out our gas mask carriers and filled them with candy and cigarettes and chewing gum. Perfectly good gas masks were strewn everywhere and the frugal French gathered them up.
Thus we began a walking and riding trip due north from southern France. We rode for hours in what we called six byes, huge trucks. We took prisoners by the hundreds. We encountered pockets of fleeing Germans. The air corps gave us close in support by day and we lit haystacks and used the flames to light the roads, which we shelled constantly, night and day. Everywhere we went we were welcomed liked heroes. We were given fresh farm produce and when possible, we got local folks to cook us eggs and chicken and we traded canned and preserved rations in exchange.
I remember Epinal and Rambervillers and Moyen and suddenly it was fall and we were in the Vosges Mountains, which were to be our winter nemesis. Cold, snow, ice and determined German resistance .Our ranks were thin; we stopped several times for replacements. We retrained them, time permitting. I had been with L Company, later with K Company and now I was transferred to the operations section of our battalion where I remained for the rest of the war.
I used my French to help quarter our troops when we were fortunate to stay in a village. I remember two weeks in Rambervillers where I was quartered in the bakery operated by Momma Remy and her nephew Andre. I supplied the flour and ingredients and she baked up a storm of wonderful French bread and rolls and cakes. Momma Remy was a World War I widow and she mothered me and all of the soldiers.
I recall also staying in Moyen with the local butcher who was also the mayor. Papa Kim and his wife and niece and daughter lived in this small village. As usual the young men were gone to war. Here I met and fed little Marcial and his sister. They had never tasted chocolate. They lived mainly on local produce, chicken and rabbit. Imports were non-existent.
We moved into Alsace. Christmas was approaching and we dreamed of going home. We sang I’ll be home for Christmas but in our hearts we knew there was a long way to go before we defeated the Nazis. Christmas eve was spent in the Yodquellenoff Hotel in Neiderbron Les Bains or Bad Neiderbron depending upon your French or German preference. Everything in Alsace was bilingual. Here our three chaplains combined to conduct a wonderful Christmas Eve service with song and poem and prayer and lights and the holiday message. We converted the hotel porch into a church of sorts. Attendance was near one hundred percent. We had plenty of talent. Not a dry eye in the place. We started at eleven p.m. and finished at midnight when a convoy from the nearby engineer outfits arrived and we did it all over again. The cooks provided coffee and sheet cake.
Back to the war and the winter and the Battle of the Bulge. We were strung too thin when Hitler played his final attempt to stall our progress. We faced armor and artillery and were forced to give up over twenty kilometers in a single day. As the Germans reclaimed the towns they killed and terrorized the local people who had befriended us. In one case they hanged a Lutheran pastor because he let us hold services in his church.
It was here we saw our first jets, tiny, swift specks racing across the skies. We didn’t know what they were at first. We suffered many losses as we bore the brunt of the southern end of the bulge.
Ike himself toured the front and visited our troops. We had logistical foul ups galore and often were short of mortar and machine gun ammunition. We were forced to hold up and wait for supplies, stop and go, march and fight, from village to village. Passed the Maginot Line and finally crossed into Germany via the Siegfried Line. We were confident that now would be the final blow. We were in Germany and everyday we heard rumors of Hitler’s having to surrender. We crossed the Rhine and headed for Bavaria. Resistance varied from town to town. Aschaffensburg was brutal. Here we captured a Hitler youth camp where they were training young men to become SS troopers. They called it Wasserkruppe and I wonder what ever happened to the several hundred brainwashed I kids. They were blonde, blue eyed and Ready to die for der Fuehrer. Despite the growing rumors the war didn’t end when we reached Nuremberg. Our next goal was Munich and we were certain that the Third Reich would collapse right where it began.
This was the scene. Our battalion was headed for Munich, rounding up German troops along the way. April 29, 1944 brought about the absolute damnable experience of the entire war. We were ordered to proceed to Dachau and to liberate and secure the concentration camp located there. We didn’t know what to expect.
The liberation of Dachau is one of the mostly hotly contested tales of the war, For some reason unknown to me and others, many units that were not even near the place, claim to have been there on April 29, 1945. Let me say here and now that the 45 th Division and a small element from the 42nd Division were the only true liberators. LTC Felix Sparks, now Brigadier General retired, and his Third Battalion of the 157 th Infantry was the liberator. Our I Company penetrated the walls and entered the camp. I was there with the Bn Hqs element. We discovered the boxcars loaded with corpses, the crematory, the labs, the barracks, and the compound with over 30,000 prisoners. They were dead and near dead and diseased and in many cases out of their minds. I won’t attempt to recall the details but I will at the conclusion of this account, list several websites where you can read eyewitness accounts including the detailed, brilliant comments of General Sparks.
This single experience changed my life. I would never have believed that man could be so brutal and inhumane. We didn’t linger long in Dachau, it was a rehabilitation task for the medics and the experts and it took months to screen the inmates. The immediate concern was food and medicine and relocation. Repatriation would take months, even years. Our units moved out to continue the chase towards Munich. Relief came on 8 May 1945 when we got the word that Germany had surrendered. We were in a suburb of Munich. I recall taking my sleeping gear and retreating to the cellar to avoid the celebrating, drunken, emotional guys.
In fact one of our men was wounded when someone got careless with a pistol. Right after VE day we moved into the rural cow- towns and started the process of leaving the theater. Europe was now an occupation mission and we were combat infantry. Home or Japan or both, was the next move. I transferred to the 9 th Division and worked training newly arrived soldiers until early fall when I got the word and headed for the US of A. Japan had surrendered and this cleared the way for my discharge. Finally!! Separation came in October 1945. I will never forget the cigarette camps, the staging areas where we awaited return ship orders. It was back to Newport News and a train ride to Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania where the separation was accomplished. Words can’t describe my bus trip home and my reunion. My older brother was returned from the Pacific Theater, I was home from the ETO. We were tired, traveled, wounded but alive and thankful that the war was history and we prayed that it be the last. Pause.
It is time for a pause and to shift gears. The big one was over. I got back to wait in line for cars, nylons, tires, white-shirts, and many more items. I journeyed to the little liberal arts school that held my scholarship open while I fought a war and I encountered and was unhappy with campus-wide clusters of trailers and clotheslines full of diapers. After a few short months respite I headed back to the military where I re-upped and became an Army recruiter. I entered into marriage. I was stationed in my hometown and lived the best of two worlds.
In 1947 I was given a direct commission in the inactive organized reserve. I continued to serve in enlisted status until July of 1950 when I was ordered to active commissioned status as a second lieutenant. Since I was a combat experienced infantryman I expected to head for Korea but uncle saw fit to send me to the Altoona, Pa recruiting station and later to Germany where I served with the 28 th Infantry Division in a NATO mission. Despite long hours of cold war duty and constant alert status training, I was able to revisit old haunts, old friends and even to tour Dachau. I decided to give it up in 1953, came home, separated and entered civilian life. But I joined the Army National Guard, became involved in then on site air defense program and within a few short months I was back in uniform full time, commanding an air defense battery in the Pittsburgh Air Defense.
I stayed with this program in various capacities from 90-millimeter guns to Ajax to Hercules missiles. In 1970 I transferred to the US Army Reserve and became the full time supervisor of a three state recruiting team for the 99 th ARCOM.
I rode this horse until 1978 when the reserve recruiting mission was given to the US Army Recruiting Service. My age prevented my staying with the program so I retired and went to work in civil service status for the Pittsburgh Recruiting District and later transferred to Fort McPherson, Ga. After my guard and reserve tours, I served in the Pennsylvania National Guard in state status and was promoted to brigadier general. My active commands were in the grades of lieutenant through colonel. In November of 1985 I hung it up permanently and became a civilian in fact. You know I have never given up my military outlook or deserted my long and productive career. I call it retirement here in north Georgia but really, one never retires from responsible citizenship. I live now to teach prejudice awareness to the next generation, work to prevent another holocaust, love my wife, love my God and Country. Thank and praise God from whom all blessings flow. God bless America!!!!
Russel R. Weiskircher.
You can try any reliable search engine. I recommend Google. Type in Dachau and you will get many, many pages of reference material. The same is true of Anzio.
Specifically, I recommend you check out the following web site, written and operated by a WWII soldier from the 45 th Division. Al Panebianco is a prince among men. Log onto his site and peruse every single word and link. Please pay particular attention to the link to Dachau and read the eyewitness account and testimony of then Lieutenant Colonel, now retired Brigadier General Felix Sparks, commander of the battalion that really liberated Dachau.
I was there, ask me.
If I learned anything in my 45 years in the Army, including active, reserve, national guard and civil service, it is a great respect for that simple quote: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” From initial training early in WWII to final discharge in 1985, military service was a challenging, dynamic experience.
I served with the 157 th Infantry Regiment of the 45 th Infantry Division in Italy, France and Germany, taking part in four invasions, five major campaigns and finally ending up in the heart of Bavaria when Germany surrendered. My two most memorable experiences have to be the battle of the Anzio Beachhead and the liberation of the Dachau Death Camp. In fact the April 1945 exposure to Dachau, so influenced my life that I still expend many hours fighting prejudice and using the Holocaust to teach the inhumanity of hatred and bigotry. I serve on the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and several related organizations; the public schools are our main targets. We teach history lest we forget.
After WWII I came home, married and reenlisted. I was commissioned in 1947 in a program designed to promote and use those with combat experience. I served in several theaters, on many posts, in other wars and brush fires. I commanded units from platoon to brigade and served in many diverse staff assignments. I graduated from the Army Command and General Staff College, the Industrial College of the Armed Forces and I attended and later taught at the Army War College. The Army also afforded me ample opportunity to pursue a civilian education while in uniform.
My terminal assignment was with the Army Forces Command at Fort McPherson, Ga. This accounts for our discovering White County and our retirement here among so many fine people. Praise God for a wonderful family, a wealth of experience, a faithful wife and a community of friends.
Dr. Russel R. Weiskircher, Ph.D., DST, Brigadier General, AUS-Retired.
WWII Recollections - Part One
With every new adventure, there comes a new language, a nomenclature to remember. Such is the case with the military and I want to list a few key words. Transient, casual, replacement, transport, temporary, rations, troop ship, troop train, troop list, roll call, tent city, clip board, latrine. Alone, these words mean little but put them altogether and if I recall correctly, it spells TRIP. Here are some trip recollections that cover the time span of January and February 1943.
After basic training and after a wonderful but all too brief home leave, it was back to duty and POM. That’s army talk for preparation for overseas movement. From home to Fort Meade, Md. was routine. Early one morning, right after roll call I was summoned to the orderly room and given an on the spot promotion to acting corporal. I learned that this was a dubious honor, more like a lot of temporary responsibility and a meaningless title for the duration of my overseas trip. Who picks and promotes is still a mystery to me but I am certain that it is an experience never to be forgotten. With my new stripes on my sleeve and surrounded by many fellow casuals, I began the replacement trip to combat in the European Theater. I recall the usual troop train to Camp Patrick Henry near Newport News, VA.
After they verified our shots and our training record, we were herded aboard the SS General Mann, 15000 troops to move in convoy down the Atlantic Coast to a spot opposite Natal, Brazil and then east towards Dakar, Africa.
Crowded, smelly. Sweaty, noisy, hot, uncomfortable; those are appropriate adjectives. We were jammed into holds with bunks as many as five high. Seasickness was the order of the day. We showered in salt water; we ate well when we were well enough to want to eat. We have endless abandon ship drills. We went topside for calisthenics daily. We observed strict light discipline at night. We moved at the speed of the slowest tankers that accompanied our convoy. Eventually, nine days later as I recall, we arrived at Casablanca and were temporarily housed in huge ten cities. I remember mess tents and pyramidal sleeping quarters and latrines. We had little to do but wait for the system to call our name out over the public address system. That was the signal to report to the troop train! Hello Forty and Eight boxcars. Narrow gauge railroad tracks, old wooden cars designed to carry 40 men or 8 horses. I believe our cars had transported horses and the lingering smells were lingering proof. We were about twenty-five troops to each car. We had steam engines to pull our cars. We had mechanical brakes attended to by a native who rode on the roof and worn a turban. He appeared to sleep on the level and uphill grades but at the sound of a whistle he sprang into action and manually operated a screw valve control that broke our screeching lurching downhill progress over the Atlas Mountains from Casablanca to Oran. It took a couple of days. We could get out and walk along on the uphill grades. We played cards. Tried to sleep and write mail. We were permitted to say that we were in Africa but we didn’t where we were or where we were headed. We ate C or K rations, cold. As we passed the mud hut villages we traded cigarettes and candy and gum and rations for native oranges. They were blood red and had skins that were covered with things that looked like warts. But we ate the fresh fruit. The native women and children that ran to greet us begged for the empty ration cans and boxes. They flattened the tins and waterproofed their miserable huts.
After a couple of days we reached Oran and another tent city where we awaited to be called for ship assignment. It finally happened and I was ordered aboard an English troop ship and nine days on the Mediterranean Sea. Here we slept in hammocks, strung over the tables we ate on. Bad seas and high waves threatened us and some men had nasty spills and sore backs from falling onto the tables. The food was lousy, the tea was weak, the soda was warm and tempers flared. But we survived and finally landed in the Naples Harbor.
We were almost there. We were replacements, cannon fodder in the local terminology, headed for infantry units at the front. This time the front was the Anzio Beachhead, which we reached my LST, some days later. We processed though a replacement center, a “repple depple” where we were assigned to our new units. I was assigned to the 45th division, welcomed to the Thunderbirds and hustled up front to the third battalion of the 157th regiment and eventually delivered to L Company. End of trip, end of acting corporal status, Welcome to the War!!
Write me a letter, send it by mail;
Send it in care of the Birmingham jail.
Only this time we paraphrase it a say send it via the former German prison at the Manching airstrip in Bavaria and send it on July 4th, 1945.
WWII Recollections - The Reluctant Prisoner
Now where do you suppose a patriotic young Army sergeant would spend Independence Day 1945, after the close of the European conflict? Definitely not at home with loved ones because I was in Germany and they were in the states.
After VE Day my division was relieved from combat assignment and most everyone was reassigned. Some homeward, some to the Pacific theater. I went to the 9th Infantry Division for a few weeks for reasons which I will disclose in future chapters.
I had a lot of free time and got involved, supervising the refurbishing of a former German prison on an abandoned airstrip. The 9th Division was in for a long stay on occupation duty and this project was to create a learning center and library. The 9th Division personnel were undergoing intensive Infantry training. Having just suffered through WWII in Europe, I was not inclined to play their game.
I chose to supervise a corps of German prisoners-artisans-craftsmen-journeyman builders; and they were put to work restoring and painting and wiring and plumbing. They were good. We were tolerant victors and fed and treated them well.
On July 3rd I went as usual to the prison site but I rode with a friend while the boys in the motor pool worked on my wheels. The day sped by. I spent most of it unpacking and stacking books. I got lost in reading and awakened to the fact that it was dusk, the place was deserted, locked up tight, I was alone inside without light, heat, phone or food. I had water and a latrine and the clothes on my back. I stayed there alone all night, all day on the 4th, all night again and wasn’t freed until the morning of the 5th. That’s when you know what hit what! In all fairness I must report that back in the barracks they assumed I had gone somewhere for the holiday. Little did they know.
Sixty years later the memories rate a laugh. Fight an infantry war all over Europe and live to spend Independence Day, alone and in an old German jail.
WWII Recollections - The Word is Music
I do not believe I can track my years without frequent and wonderful musical recollections.
In random order and subject to memory lapses I can recall the early songs my mother sang for me. I remember also the early tunes we sang in Sunday school, and the large part music played in Edith Hudson Hazlet’s fourth grade where she blended song and facts to shape our lives. Then there was the high school glee club, the senior chorus, the operettas; the inspiring lessons learned from Arla Wallace.
I must mention the sweet lady who came by weekly and shared a half hour of piano instruction. She set tone for many happy hours and miles and years. Music followed me into uniformed service and traveled the globe with me.
On the Anzio Beachhead on April 9th of 1944, I was privileged to play the portable field organ while Chaplain Loy preached and Cpl. Thumpser sang. We were seated on our helmets on a hillside overlooking the sea. We walked the shores and were baptized or reconfirmed on the very spot where the Apostle Paul had converted the early gentiles. At sunrise, several hundred G.I.’s sang and prayed and shed a homesick tear. Eight months later many of the same men, plus new replacements, would gather at an improvised chapel in Neiderbron in Alsace. It would be Christmas Eve 1944; we sang the seasonal carols, played the traditional music. Not once but twice to accommodate the overflow crowd; all of us missing home and expressing it in song.
In a French home in the town of Rambervillers, four of us visited and music was our common language. A daughter of the house played the piano and the song we all knew was The Isle of Capri. We didn’t know it then but that chance meeting and the friendships forged would regenerate when one of our men, now a middle aged widower, would return and court and marry the pianist. She was a gifted musician with a lovely soprano voice. We relived our memories in reunions over the years in Colorado, Missouri, Texas, Georgia and Virginia. But I get ahead of myself I forget to comment on the Lutheran Church in Alsace and the Sunday we soldiers joined with the locals to sing Eine Festeburg, A Mighty Fortress is Our God! Music was in order when we celebrated VE Day in May of 45. Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Give Me Five Minutes More and all the ballads of the forties.
Then there was the music at our wedding. The simple hymns as we said goodbye to parents. There was and is regularly the thrilling, majestic music of the church. From hymns to Handel, gospel-contemporary and traditional; God at his best when manifested in music.
I failed to mention the operas performed at the San Carlos or was it the Verdi opera house in Salerno, Italy? The cast lacked the usual lusty young tenors, missing because of the war. Older men and women filled in and performed as only Italians can.
There was the yearlong station at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas where I was able to join with over 100 French soldiers, international military students, as we performed Bizet’s Carmen.
On the wall in our upstairs den there is a hand made, needlepoint hanging which was given to me as a token thank you for producing and performing a program of music and prose, which traced our nation’s history. The audience was composed of members of the Georgia Chapters of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Music is love in search of a voice. Music is international. Music is timeless. I thank God for the gift of music, the opportunity to perform, to appreciate and experience.
To the hymn tune America, and the 1832 words of Samuel F. Smith; I close with these familiar lines:
“Let music swell the breeze, and ring from all the trees,
Sweet freedom’s song.
Let mortal tongues awake, let all that breathe partake:
Let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.”
WWII Recollections - Marlene Dietrich
The operative word was morale and from time to time throughout my military, particularly in the dark days of European combat, my morale was rather low. There were exceptions and late spring of 1944 was one of them.
I was recuperating after having been wounded in the break out from Anzio. My outfit was somewhere on the outskirts or Rome, thousands of Americans were storming the Normandy beaches, and I was well on the way to recovery, thanks to the marvelous support and medical attention of the300th General Hospital in Naples, Italy. I was among three thousand patients crowded into the 1000 bed facility. I had recovered to the point that I was mobile. Everyone was expected to pitch and help. I opted to help the Red Cross. Under the direction of Miss Mary Breen Ratterman from Alabama, the 300th General Red Cross detachment was a life saving miracle in action. Ms Ratterman was one of God’s special angels and she loved her soldiers. She assigned to escort a USO troop that was arriving to entertain the troops. Bright and early, about 7:30 a.m. one morning I stood at the main entrance and welcomed the troop. To my delight the headline was the one and only Marlene Dietrich! She arrived in a rush, she returned daily for an entire week, she remained and left in a rush. It was her style.
First order of business was a show, presented to the patients who were able to gather in the huge cafeteria/dining hall. Marlene sang, did magic tricks and told raunchy jokes. She was clad in a translucent, shimmering blue gown, slit to reveal those million dollar legs. Before she turned the show over to her supporting musicians and entertainers, she hiked up her dress and paraded across the stage. Then she started tossing autographed blue garters to the audience. There was pandemonium, bedlam. Wheel chairs collided; crutches and canes became weapons as the men fought to capture a prize. The authorities had to stop the show to keep from adding to the casualty list. Marlene then began a relentless, seven day, dawn to dusk tour of the entire hospital. She visited every room except the quarantine ward. She sang, she joked, she gave autographs, she flirted; she ran from bed to bed and room to room. I struggled to keep up with her. She never stopped. She lived on cigarettes, coffee and martinis. At one time she met up with Rita Hayworth’s kid brother. He was wounded and distraught because he couldn’t get a message home to tell his family that he was recovering. La Dietrich marched into the hospital commander’s office, commandeered a phone and put through a call from Naples to Hollywood. She was able to link mother and son, transoceanic.
She was middle aged, she was a mother, in fact she was a grandmother, but unlike any grandmother that I had ever met. She was kind, caring and fun to be with. She autographed a picture for me and even signed a cartoon-like drawing that my girlfriend then, later my wife of many years, had sent me. Unfortunately the cartoon disappeared from the letter I sent to Jane. I always suspected some dishonest censor. I even tried to trace it but to no avail.
Finally the week was up and Marlene and company moved on. It was a tearful good bye. Few entertainers matched the Blue Angel with her husky voice, her glamour, and her genuine dedication to the troops. When she finally left I had to go back to bed for two days to recover from the pace of trying to keep up with her.
You can be certain that I became and remain an avid fan, loyal to memory of Marlene Dietrich-the lady who laughed at Hitler, refused his command appearance order and poured body and soul into the WW II effort.
WWII Recollections - Ike Visits My Saga
After a study diet of presidential inauguration, I am reminded of two experiences wherein this young soldier met the Commander –in Chief.
First was sometime in January 1945 and somewhere inside Germany, right after the worst of the fighting that we now know was the southern sector of Hitler’s last hurrah, the Battle of the Bulge. I recall the ice and snow and the miserable cold.
I was serving as the operations non-com in our battalion headquarters. Our CP and living quarters or the time, was a vacant farmhouse. The boss, our battalion commander had just motored, jeeped off to regimental headquarters where he was to meet some big brass. Better he go there than have the brass visit us here.
I recall I was clad in my long johns, had my feet near a roaring fire and was enjoying the shelter when the night silence was broken by the noise of a vehicle and the unexpected shout of a sentry’s challenge. We thought the colonel had returned but when the door burst open we were amazed to be looking at whom else but IKE himself. He was cold, wet, shivering and definitely not smiling. In his jeep, with only a driver and an aide, he was lost. Somewhere as they toured the front, this most important man in the entire theater of operations, had become separated from his escort convoy. They were awaiting him at the regimental CP and he was here with us. After we snapped to attention and reported and stammered the news that the CO was at regiment; Ike grabbed a chair and said you can get on the horn and tell them where I am; but he said we were not to do it just yet. He wanted to thaw out-he was cold-he wanted to dry out and we offered the fireside. I had spanking new long johns just obtained from the portable laundry unit that had visited us…
Ike donned those while we dried his OD’s and he got on the outside of a sandwich and hot coffee laced with schnapps. He asked questions, checked out our situation map, encouraged us and predicted that Easter would find us all homeward bound.
An hour or so later, a now dry, warm and smiling CG made ready to go to our regimental CP. This time we sent an adequate escort. We never heard what happened to his original traveling companions but we all cherished this intimate encounter. Chalk one up for this small town lad who can forever after boast that General Eisenhower departed, wearing my long johns.
WWII Recollections - Yes Sir Mr. President My Saga Continues...
There among the roster of the military’s finest heroes, is the name Melvin Brown, awarded the Medal of Honor for service in Korea. Melvin, a teenager from Mahaffey, Pa. was an infantry grunt in Korea when he displayed uncommon courage that saved many of his buddies. Melvin was missing in action and finally declared killed in action. But I first heard of Melvin while I was serving as a new second lieutenant on recruiting duty in Altoona, Pa.
From headquarters at Fort Meade, came the morning mail along with orders for me to contact the family of Melvin Brown and issue them on behalf of the president, an invitation to be his guest in Washington, DC. Mr. Truman wanted to present the Medal of Honor, actually the first five of them from Korea, to the families. My orders were detailed, specific and time was of the essence. There was a very graphic, blue memo that said merely this: ” Tell this young shave tail to do a good job or dust off his combat boots” and it was signed Van Fleet, as in the Commanding General of Second US Army.
I got a sedan and driver and drove to Mahaffey where I met Mr. And Mrs. Brown. They were proud and sad and confused. Mr. Brown was a retied coal miner. Mrs. Brown was the proud mother of five, Melvin was their youngest. They didn’t want a medal; they wanted Melvin alive and home. Neither one had ever traveled very far. But reluctantly, they agreed to go to D.C. and accept the medal for Melvin. Two of their daughters were included in the invitation. Some way it all came together and via sedan and Pullman, we were off to D.C and the Willard Hotel. Here I reported to a colonel who briefed me and then gave me a wad of twenty-dollar bills and told me to see that the Browns were comfortable. This spelled out a new dress and a visit to the beauty parlor for momma and a bottle of scotch and a new tie for papa.
The next day we arrived via sedan at the old State Department building and awaited the entrance of President Truman. I recall they searched every nook and cranny of the building and they chalked off a spot where we could wait. The secret service marked an aisle on the tile floor and told us not to cross the line, not to reach for the president. Respond when he spoke, but keep our distance. It was quite a scene. Five recipient families, plus the Chief of Staff of the Army, The Adjutant General of the Army, the president and his military advisor Major General Vaughn, and a host of dignitaries. Secret service everywhere. The big moment came when “Harry” stopped and met the Browns. He stared directly at me in my shade 33 Ike jacket, noted my butter bar and combat infantry badge and calmly asked me if the Army had screwed up and promoted someone with experience. I stammered that I hope so sir. A little later the ceremony was finished and they were ready to whisk the president away but he was seated along with Mr. Brown and he looked up and said: “You all can wait. There’s a black lung compensation bill on my desk and here’s a black lung victim. I am doing some personal research.”
After we got back to the hotel I was called to see the colonel who asked me what I had done to get into trouble. I was unable to answer. He then told me to stand by in duty uniform at 1900 hrs and be prepared to meet the president. The sedan came and I was taken to the rear of the presidential quarters and ushered upstairs into Harry’s presence.
I am being informal because he was in a flannel robe and worn slippers, was seated in a recliner, and was sipping a tall glass of shaved ice and wild turkey. He had a list of questions, scrawled on a yellow pad. He explained that Bess was relaxing elsewhere and Margaret was somewhere playing the piano. He wanted some straight answers, not from the chain of command, but from the ranks. Was his integration program working? How was the morale? What was most needed to improve the soldier’s lot? Why did I stay in after the war? How did I get my commission? One rapid-fire question after the other and then a handshake and a thank you and a dismissal. He explained that he had to get up early in the morning as he was teaching the secret service how to jog.
It would seem that President Harry S. Truman never missed an opportunity to do some personal research. One brief encounter was enough to enlist me in his fan club.
WWII Recollections - POW
Two references come to mind, first the Bible bit about casting your bread upon the waters, and second the Army doctrine on early escape attempts when captured. I assure you both doctrines are sound and I speak from personal experience. Official records do not confirm my brief capture by the Germans because it happened that I was captured, transported, strafed, escaped and back with my unit all in the course of a few hours.
It was 1944 and we had chased the Boche up the Rhone Valley and were headed towards the Vosges Mountains. German resistance was weak and scattered, with a few exceptions when they tried to stop and defend. The lines were fluid and indistinct. Dumb me, I wandered away from my squad only a few yards and came upon a farmhouse. I scouted out the place, went cautiously inside alone and without backup. Sure enough there were two German soldiers inside. They were armed and I was taken prisoner and marched away to join three or four more hapless yanks. We were loaded into a canvass-covered truck, watched over by a very young and nervous guard, and transported away, on our way to some prisoner enclosure. The only thing they did was quiz us for identification and organization and they did check our dogtags to see if we might be Jewish.
We hadn’t gone more than a mile or two when I noticed that our young guard was nursing a sore left arm and showing signs of bleeding. I don’t think the lad was more than 16, if that. I convinced him to let me see his arm. He had a flesh wound that needed attention, which I offered. I broke all the rules when I emptied my own first aid pouch and dosed him with sulfa powder and cleaned and bound the wound and made a sling with some canvass and adhesive tape. My guard was suspicious but needed the help. My fellow prisoners were critical and said I was crazy; let him bleed. Minutes later we were strafed by two American aircraft. Our truck was hit but we were ok. But we stopped and leaped out and I for one found a culvert and dived into it.
Others followed, including the guard. When the planes were gone, they rounded us up but my guard pushed me in the other direction and pointed and said “snell, snell” which I took to mean quick, go! And I did. I ran and hid and he must not have reported my actions because the trucks left without me. I hid out for the rest of the daylight and just after dark along the road comes a convoy, trucks from my own battalion and I made quick contact and got back to my company. I had been missed but not reported missing in action. I told the company commander what happened and got a lecture about my carelessness. After food and water and some rest, I went in search of new supplies for my first aid kit. Our field medic was a Quaker from eastern Pennsylvania and he alone seemed to appreciate the correlation of my helping the guard and then the guard’s aiding my escape. No official record was made because theater policy was to reassign ex prisoners of war. I didn’t want to leave my buddies while there was still work to be done.
WWII Recollections - The Army had a slang term: CHICKEN!
I plead guilty as charged and here’s how I turned chicken. It's May 1945 and the war in Europe was about to end. We had just undergone the Dachau liberation ordeal and were temporarily housed in some Munich apartments. I had secured the promise of a class A pass for ten days in London, effective May 12th. I was counting the days until relaxation time. Late on the 7th of May we got the word, first a rumor and then officially confirmed; Germany had surrendered. The war in Europe was over.
Consider the jubilation, the spontaneous explosion of months of pent up agony, frustration, fear and homesickness. We were going home! Wine, whiskey, cognac, beer, whatever passed for a celebration drink flowed like Niagara Falls. Add to that live ammunition and plenty of small arms-ingredients for a dangerous situation.
I was immediately alarmed about the lethal combination so I vowed not to get killed in a post war riot. I had a cot from which I stripped my mattress and sleeping bag and headed for the safety of the root cellar, Chicken, coward, spoilsport, fraidy cat-all of those names and more. But sometime in the middle of the night a drunken reveler on the second floor accidentally fired his rifle and the bullet tore through the floor, the first floor ceiling and lodged in my cot. Had I been there it would have meant serious injury or death. But I was safe and sound, if not very comfortable in my root cellar.
When I awakened in the morning I was surrounded by the rest of the gang, all of who had joined me when the lead began to fly. Chicken was no longer the operative word. Keep safe and head for home was our common goal.
Incidentally I never did get the London trip, instead I was alerted that my group would visit the states on furlough and then be sent to the Pacific Theater. It didn’t happen just that way but that’s another story.
WWII Recollections - Saga Sandlot Scene
It’s been called many things and expressed in many ways, things like the quick, the core, the meat, the bottom line, the reason, the rationale, the purpose-or simply put: What’s it all about?
You can be sure that this was not the main consideration on the day I came to fully realize what World War II, what America was and is all about. And sixty years later nothing has really changed.
I recall that it was the fall of 1945 and several thousand of us returning soldiers, fresh from the trans-Atlantic journey and the landing at Hampton Roads, Virginia were jammed into old wooden passenger cars on a train headed for Indiantown Gap, Pa. and final discharge from our duration and six war mobilization. We were jubilant, loud, elated. We were anticipating and bragging and planning our homecoming when suddenly, like a lightning bolt, like a flash of electricity, something shushed the crowd. I looked up to find out what happened and saw that everyone was crowded to one side of the car, straining to see the passing landscape. Me too! And there it was, the graphic answer to the question we were not even asking--- Like a Norman Rockwell cover for the Saturday Evening Post, like Americana on canvass, was a sandlot softball game. Kids teamed against kids. Kids playing and running and batting and hooting and hollering. There was the ump, the stray dog; there were the doting parents, the water bucket and the collection hat. It struck us simultaneously!! We had not seen kids play in months, even years. Europe’s children had been frightened, some starved and scared and hidden from the Italians, the Germans, the Russians, and yes the English and the Americans and soldiers and war in general. Here in America our kids could and were playing! There were homes and schools and churches and clubs and scouts and life was good; the future bright! Remember this was long before 9-11 and the World Trade Center trauma. We went overseas to keep the war from our shores. We went there so it wouldn’t happen here.
History has since repeated itself. Troops have crossed oceans and waged war in Asia and again in Europe and in Afghanistan and the Middle East. At this writing we are at war against terrorists. Battle lines aren’t clearly defined today. Goals and missions are less distinct. But when someone thanks me for World War II service or questions what it was like and what it was worth, my thoughts immediately fly to that sandlot softball scene along the railroad tracks. Men and women mobilize for war so that kids can play, that’s the American way!
The following photos are from Russel's collection from Dachau. Be forewarned that some of the photos are rather gruesome. Imagine finding this yourself! It's unthinkable.
I thought that everyone here would like to know about a great Anne Frank Exhibit here in the states. The Exhibit is called:
Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945
Lessons for Humanity
An International Photographic Exhibit
It can be found at Kennesaw State University, in Acworth, Georgia (the Atlanta area).
Kennesaw State University - Anne Frank Exhibit
I plan on visiting the exhibit this year when I fly down to visit my daughter. I also plan on meeting Russel in person and will give you my impressions of the exhibit, etc.
02-25-2005 Marion's note: The following letter was written to Russ in regards to the photo that was displayed above and reprinted here. The photo was taken at Dachau and all the men were from the 257th Combat Engineers.
Here's more information that I just got from Sandy's uncle Warren. First, the photo. From left to right Pvt Swartz; T4 Warren Henninger; Pvt Rothemal; Pvt Morgan; and Pvt Anthony Russo. The photo was taken near the main gate. Warren and his group were assigned to guard the main gate, as there was no one there when they arrived. He said that he never went inside the camp, as he had no reason to. He has dates that he got from another member of his company who had kept a diary. Their date of arrival at Dachau was 29 April and they departed
9 May. He was a member of Company C, 257th Combat Engineer Battalion. When they first arrived on the continent, they were assigned to the 1101st Engr Gp, 7th Army. They were also assigned to Patton's Third Army for a while. He believes that later on they were assigned to 7th Army Security Command. I never heard of that one, but it could have had something to do with the occupation. He doesn't remember what his higher command was at the time of Dachau. He said, "We were a bastard unit. They moved us around wherever they needed engineers." One thing he specifically remembers while at Dachau was that he personally deloused Margaret Burke-White, the correspondent. He remembers her pulling up in a staff car flying fender flags. Doesn't remember who else was with her. I thought that he had written a lot of his recollections down, but I was mistaken. I told him to start making notes as he thinks of things, and when we get back in early April, we'll make a trip to Allentown and I'll do an oral history. He has a lot of dates of such things as when he first went into the Army, when they arrived in England, when they arrived on the continent, etc. If it's not too late for your project, I'll get a copy to you. You can also tell your correspondent who's doing the Engineer project that I'll be in touch with her after we get back to PA...
Elsewhere in this random collection of memories and experiences to accompany my military saga, I have related my meetings with two presidents; Eisenhower during World War II and Truman in 1951. My saga would be incomplete if I failed record my brief meeting with former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
It was during the winter of 1947 or 48, I am uncertain as to the exact date. Harry Truman was in the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt was representing the United States at the United Nations and this small town Western Pennsylvanian turned soldier, was serving on Army Recruiting duty. Periodically I was required to work an evening, escort and dispatcher for the weekly shipment of draftees and enlisted off to their first duty base.
I recall that I had my group at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station in downtown Pittsburgh, assembled and awaiting departure. It was a cold, snowy and miserable night. Nothing was on time! While we were waiting there was a stir and some excitement as a group approached us. Our first contact was a couple of secret service men who informed us that Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt was approaching. We were told to remain in our group and not to try and contact her. Here they came, leading the group was this tall, fast-striding lady accompanied by bodyguards, Mayor David Lawrence, other local politicians and a few reporters. They were in a hurry to get Mrs. Roosevelt on the train for an engagement in Ohio. Her plane had been forced to land at the Greater Pittsburgh airport and she had decided to continue on by train.
Just as they passed, Mrs. Roosevelt spied our group of young men and their uniformed escort. She stopped, changed direction and charged over to question who we were etc. She shook hands with every single member of the group, commended them for their service to the country and wished them well. She was impressive, sincere and delightful. Off she sped followed by her entourage while we stood their open-mouthed appreciative. This great lady took the time to express concern for my tyro soldiers and in doing so, gained my respect and admiration. The Army always taught us that leadership takes many forms; Mrs. Roosevelt lingers in my memory as a lady and a leader.
My Military Saga -The Warehouse Incident
Today as I heard the news about four servicewomen killed in a terrorist attack in Iraq, I had to pause and consider the current practice of imbedding journalists right with the front line troops. I sometimes wonder if we would have won WWII if the press had been as involved as they now are! Thinking about incidents I would not have wanted covered and sent to the home folks, I recalled our great warehouse raid.
It was the spring of ’45 and we were winding down towards the final days of WWII. We were in Bavaria, chasing fleeing German Army remnants. We were very mobile, part of a task force that included armor and some transportation (truck) company support. Our lead rifle company came upon a five-story warehouse, which was loaded with gourmet delicacies. We later learned that it was there to supply luxuries to the SS officers. Man, did we loot! To the victor belongs the spoils and we were the victors.
We sampled buckets of preserved strawberries, tinned meats, fish, caviar, sardines, peanut butter, jams, canned butter, chocolate, candies, cakes, and wine and cognac, three and five star quality. We stuffed our pockets and field packs, sent for the kitchen trucks and loaded them and stuffed our bedrolls.
I recall helping toss the paper work out of the company field desk so that we had room for more cognac. And we wonder why the statistics and the official records were so full of errors. I recall the company first sergeant and the company clerk, days later, trying to recreate those tossed files. Accuracy was nowhere near as important as our taste buds after months of combat rations.
It took four of us to load a Swiss cheese wheel onto a jeep trailer. Two hundred pounds of Swiss cheese wrapped in canvas shelter halves. When we drove away we were all eating huge slabs of cheese, with mustard and sardines. We attack the cheese’s thick rind with our bayonets. It may have been unsanitary but there were darn few self-respecting germs that with associate with our unwashed crowd in those days. Bathing in a helmet liner of cold water was not too inviting. Indelicate as it is to mention body odor I must also admit that so many delicacies, so much cheese resulted in stomachs that rebelled. Symptoms ranged from constipation to diarrhea. We called it the g.i.’s.
After we had everything we could possibly transport, we called the other line companies and then battalion. Everyone repeated the exercise and then called regiment, and before long the warehouse was five floors of empty building, and we were the best-fed convoy in the theater.
We messed up the records, we messed up our stomachs, but we sampled the best Germany had to offer its military elite. We were glad there were no reporters on hand to describe this bizarre experience. For that matter, faced with the question, I might even deny it ever happened.
Marion's Note: This was an email that Russ forwarded to me.
Jim: I address this to you for possible use on the net and also to Marion
Chard for consideration for my contribution to her website. All this talk
about POW's causes me to remember when I was for a brief period, assigned to
the 60th Infantry of the 9th Division.
It was just after the end of the war
in Europe and for reasons which I will not address here, I was detained in
Europe when most of my buddies headed home. In the 60th Infantry I was
assigned to a rifle company and then detailed to battalion to supervise the
conversion of an old prison type building, located on an abandoned airstrip.
We were building a library and education center for use by our occupational
forces. We were also building a service club with three lounges-one for the
lower ranks, one for Cpl and Sgt and one for top three graders.
I had first pick of a great labor pool consisting of several hundred German
soldiers. There were master craftsmen of all kinds, including plumbers and
electricians and carpenters and artists-you name it. We fed them and they
worked willingly. I recall that we had an artist paint a 60 foot long
mural, Varga- type nudes, female of course, on the backbar wall of the senior
At dedication, our regimental commander,then Colonel Bill
Westmoreland, refused to permit us to open until we put pasties and g-strings on the nudes.
I went back to Manching in the fifties and the center and the service club
were both in use.
Happy recollections after a nasty war. Russ Weiskircher