George Howard

Oral Historian: George Howard

Interview Date: 19 June 2007

Interviewer: Steven Knepper

Mr. Howard, when is your birthday?

December 3, 1922.

What branch of the service were you in?

I was in the infantry and then after the war I was transferred into an engineering regiment.

What was your rank?

I ended up a T/5 - Technican 5th grade. When I was in the infantry, I was a PFC. Actually I was a replacement in the infantry division when I first went in and so went in as a Private. So automatically they made me a PFC almost as soon as I got into the outfit. So that I was a T/5 and had two or three MOS's as they call 'military occupations.' One of them meant I was supposed to be an expert at making potable water. When I first got to T/5 at the end of the war, I was transferred into this engineering regiment, which was a general engineering services regiment. There they put me into an S3 role, which is a Supply Section, and I was the driver for the first Lieutenant who was head of S3 for the regiment. So I drove him around a lot and did other truck driving when they needed. Then I played baseball in 1946-- I stayed over in Europe until June 1946 and was on a baseball team for my regiment. That was my last MOS.

What countries did you serve in while you were in Europe?

Mostly in France and Germany. Actually I was in Germany the whole time after the war was over. When I first went over in the infantry, we were still in France, in the Alsace Lorraine part down around Nancy and Epinal…places like that. We were almost on the border between France and Germany.

Were you drafted or did you enlist?

I was drafted. I was supposed to go to the University of Virginia. I finished high school in 1940, which was before the war started. I had an option to either go to the University or the apprentice school down in Newport News. Because my family was having a pretty tough time with money, I would have had a pretty hard time getting the money I needed to go to the University. So I decided to go to the apprentice school, and I went down there to become an apprentice. Of course, they didn't start drafting soldiers at that time. At the apprentice school, you actually went to school one day a week and took math and English and stuff like that. Then you worked in different parts of the shipyard. So I actually wasn't subject to the draft at first, but then they lowered the age down to 19. When it got to 19, I was subject to the draft. The shipyard wanted us to get deferments, so I could work at the shipyard with a deferment for about a year. About 1943, my deferment was up and I was 1A. I tried to get into the Navy because I'd worked in the shipyard for 2 ˝ - 3 yrs. But the Navy didn't really need people then. And they had some kind of rule if you were subject to the draft, they wouldn't accept you. The thing about the draft is that they had so many people coming into Newport News, where I was registered because I was working there, that the draft board had so many apprentices subject to the draft and could fill their quota easily. So the shipyard decided that they would count some of that time against your four-year apprenticeship. I decided that I would just work until I got a certificate for kind of a journeyman machinist in the shipyard. So I continued to work until I finally got drafted. When I got that notice, I actually had enough time in to get my apprenticeship- this was in August 1944.

After I was drafted, I went down to Richmond to the induction center where I was sworn in. Then they shipped me up to Ft. Meade, MD, where we were issued our uniforms and everything. They made up groups of people to go to different places for basic training. For my basic training, I got to go to Texas to what is now Ft. Hood, Texas, but in those days was called Camp Hood. It was down in central Texas, not too far from Austin and about 125 miles to Waco which was the nearest big place. And it wasn't too far from San Antonio either. I was down there for basic training, which was supposed to be 17 weeks. We started in September. The Battle of the Bulge came along about December 16th, and from that we had about two more weeks to finish up basic training because they needed troops over in Europe so badly. We were actually in the 15th week just getting ready to go out on a bivouac for a week, but we didn't do that. They actually gave us an option to take either a 5-day delay in route - you had to leave Camp Hood and then show up in Ft. Meade, Maryland, five days later. Or you could pay your own way ---I guess we got reimbursed for it but you'd get a ticket to go home and then reported to Ft. Meade at the proper time. So I did that. I came home right after Christmas and was here for a couple of days before reporting to Ft. Meade.

Some interesting things happened in basic training. This one guy was from Chicago, and was the stupidest guy I ever met. I'd be scared to meet him out on the street. My squad was arranged in order of height - there were two guys who were taller than I. I was 3rd in height, and Hepman was 4th. So he was my 'buddy' in a lot of the training exercises. They had one that they called the close combat course where you were given live ammunition and a grenade. They'd pair you up, and one guy would take the grenade and you had a lot of ammunition, maybe two clips for the M1 rifle. The M1 would hold 8 rounds-so you had 16 rounds. You were supposed to take the hand grenade and attack this Japanese pillbox and throw the hand grenade in. You had to run a couple hundred yards to get there, and so you had to rush so far and hit the ground. One guy would cover you while you were rushing, and then you would cover for him while he rushed in. Every so often a target would pop up and you would shoot at it. Well, the first rush I made, Hepman fired at it and almost hit me. So I stopped and took his ammunition away from him. And the sergeant didn't say a thing! I had the grenade and everything, and so when he charged the thing, I was the only man in charge. I think that was the nearest I came to getting shot than in the whole time I was in the Army.

Queen Mary leaving New York during WWII
               The Queen Mary was called the 'Gray Ghost' during WWII because of her drab gray color
               and the way she secretly traveled around the world.  Her capacity eventually increased
               to 16,000 soldiers by the end of WWII; she could move an entire division in one voyage. It
               was not comfortable - soldiers on board took turns at the bunks, sleeping in shifts as there
               were not enough bunks for all. (Source: National Archives, Washington, DC;
               www.archives.gov)

After Christmas 1944, I went back to Ft. Meade. From there they shipped me to Camp Shanks in New York, which was our port of embarkation. I shipped over from New York on the Queen Mary, which was a pretty nice passenger ship.I was on the Queen Mary during the wintertime, and the North Atlantic in the wintertime is pretty rough. This ship could do 33 knots and could outrun any submarine. We went out with this escort, and during the night, they all left. When we looked out the next morning, we were all alone. The ship would go so many minutes one direction and then change course. They did this all the way across to avoid any submarines waiting for them. The ship did this the whole war, and I don't think they ever even got shot at because it moved so fast. Another escort would come out from England to escort the Queen Mary into harbor. It was pretty safe. There were about 15,000 people on board not including the crew - 15,000 Army men.

It went up above Northern Ireland and came into Scotland - into the harbor at Grenoch, which is just outside Glasgow, Scotland. The Queen Mary would come into Grenoch and discharge its soldiers. It took only 6 days to cross the Atlantic. Then I got on a train from there in January 1945 and went south down to Southampton, England. They took us on a train down through Scotland and England.

WWII K-rations, Supper Unit. Contained canned meat product, biscuits, bouillon powder, candy, chewing gum, powered coffee, granulated sugar, cigarettes, can opener, toilet paper, wooden spoon. While the K rats were designed for only a few days' use under assault conditions, the demands of war meant that soldiers often ate them for days or weeks on end, and boredom and complaints naturally ensued. At the height of the war in 1944, over 105 million of these rations were produced. (Source: www.usarmymodels.com) At Southampton, I got on a Liberty ship, which was manned by Polish sailors. During the war, the U.S. ran a Lend Lease program and they would give these ships to Allied nations, who would man these Liberty ships. The ships were actually given to these nations after the war. We went over to Le Havre, France, on that Liberty ship. They loaded you up onto the ship - you had a great big barracks bag that was full with stuff. You didn't have any weapons as a replacement (soldier). When we got to Le Havre, the harbor was filled with sunken ships. We had to get off the ship by climbing over the side with a net. Each soldier had a barracks bag strapped on his back and went down the ship's side to a little raft. The raft would be going up at a different direction than the ship. So when you got right to the bottom, you had to jump about three feet. Then they took you into the shore. We spent one day in Le Havre - we had to walk up this real steep hill with your barracks bag that weighed over 100 lbs. And we had to stay in this camp made out of canvas, and then spent the night. The next morning we had to walk right back down to the railroad. We got on these French 40 & 8 railroad cars - they would hold either 40 men or 8 horses. They loaded up this whole train with troops. We had about 34 men on our car. These cars - some had been shot up pretty badly when they were strafed by the Allies. They had holes in the roof, and it was pretty cold. We were on those cars about 3 days going from Le Havre to Epinal, which was in southeast France. They gave us K-rations, which was all we had to eat. You'd go to sleep in one of those cars and wake up with someone's legs would be across your legs and you'd be numb. There were way too many people in that car to sleep. So some guys rigged up shelter halves to make hammocks. But that was an awful trip!

When we got down to Epinal, which was the 7th Army Replacement Depot. The 7th Army was part of the 6th Army Group - there was the French 1st Army and the U.S. 7th Army. It was the farthest army in the south. At that time, the Battle of the Bulge was over but all of the area that the Germans had pushed us out of still hadn't been recovered. The 7th Army had had to move and really stretch out to take over where the 3rd Army was. The 3rd Army during the Battle of the Bulge had pulled out to go up and close the Bulge. So the 7th Army was really stretched thin, so they put a lot of the replacements into the 7th Army. And I was one of them. When we went to Epinal, they gave us each a rifle - an M1 rifle. We each would go down to the range to sight in the rifle. I spent one night there, and then they put us on trucks and took us to different regiments. I was put in the 7th Infantry Division and the regiment was the 274th Regiment, L Company. (The 346th Regiment was the engineering regiment that I was in later after the war ended)

They took us to the 7th Army Hqs and divided us up and sent us to different divisions where we were divided up into regiments. It took about a day for me to work my way down from the Replacement Depot to my company. I was in L Company, which was a rifle company. A regiment was made up of 3 battalions, and each battalion had 3 rifle companies. And they had one company that had heavy weapons that were 80 mm mortars, which are a pretty good size - about 3 inch mortars. They had a heavy-duty machine gun that was a water-cooled machine gun from the World War I.

I was sent to L Company, which was a rifle company, and they put me in a machine gun squad. I'd had machine gun training and heavy weapons training in basic. So I was an ammo bearer first, and then I fired the machine gun some. The machine gun took two guys in those days - one guy had to feed the belt. The U.S. had really lousy infantry weapons. We had an excellent rifle, the M1 that was really the best rifle. But other than that, we had WWI weapons. Things have really changed since there, but during the Depression there were no new developments in this country's military. So the weapons they ended up with and the size of the Army to start with were really a sin - we were totally unprepared to begin WWII. The tanks were not up to the standards that they should have been. What the Germans and Russians had were nice big heavy tanks. The Sherman tank was a 32-ton tank, but was no match for the Germans' tiger tank. The German tank had a high velocity gun on it - the Sherman had a 75 mm gun on it at first, and it was a lousy gun. But the Infantry weapons were WWI-vintage: they had WWI machine guns and a WWI automatic rifle. The rifle was a pretty good rifle, but it was very, very sensitive, and it was heavy.

The rifle squad had a squad leader, a 12-man squad, and one machine gun-a Browning automatic rifle, which would fire 20 rounds automatic. It had 2 different rates of fire, but it was a WWI gun and very sensitive to dirt. You had to really keep it clean. And the same thing with the machine gun, which had a canvas belt. And if that belt got wet, you couldn't extract a cartridge from it because it would shrink around the cartridge. The ammunition cartridge was the same for the machine gun and the rifle…a .30-06 cartridge. The extractor was a little slot in the top of the case, and the extractor was used pull the cartridge out of the belt. But if that belt was wet, you couldn't extract a cartridge from it - you'd fire two or three times and that was it. So we really had to be careful. And the Browning was much, much heavier than the German machine gun, which had a high rate of fire, much higher than the Browning. Our machine gun had a rate of fire of about 450 shots per minute, while the German machine gun fired at a rate of 600. So you could hear the two guns fire, and you knew which was the American gun and which was the German gun. And the Germans had a neat way to replace the barrel on theirs. They'd pull a lever to pop the barrel and then put a new one in. It would take you just a few seconds. On the American machine gun, you had to take a cap off and then you had to unscrew the barrel to replace it. When you fire a machine gun, the barrel gets too hot. It gets so hot that it will automatically fire the cartridge. If you fire a burst and the barrel has gotten too hot, it will auto fire. It will fire and then 4 or 5 seconds later, it will fire again, bang-bang-bang. So you had to change that heavy barrel, and then you had to set the head space between the bolt and the top of it by screwing the barrel back a bit. So changing barrels was at least a minute and you might even burn your hand. And the Germans could change theirs in a few seconds. So we had a lot of weapons that were archaic.

We had really good artillery though. The U.S. artillery 105 was a really good gun. And the organization of the division itself - an infantry regiment would have a cannon company, which would have 105s. Then in another part of the division was the artillery. Our division had three artillery battalions - 882nd, 883rd, and 884th Field Artillery battalions. Those were 105s, and one may have had a 155. Then Division artillery had some 155 mm guns; some of them were self-propelled like the 105. So those were pretty good weapons. The artillery was really top-notch.

Most of the casualties in the infantry were from artillery. There were very little from rifle fire or machine gun fire. Those kinds of wounds might be fatal, but the artillery ones often were fatal, depending on where you were when you got hit. If you were in a forest and you got shelled or even a lot of tree bursts….when the shell hits in the tree 50 or 60 feet up in the air and you get great big cone-shaped pieces of shrapnel flying everywhere. So tree bursts are very bad - you wanted to stay out of the woods, if you could. Actually woods, once you dug a hole and put a cover over it, the woods were a nice place to be because the cover over the hole with some logs and dirt over it would stop the shrapnel from the tree burst. But if you were just out in the forest walking and didn't have any cover, it wasn't a safe place to be.

So I got in this machine gun squad, and they had had quite a few casualties. This 70th division had their infantry regiments arrive in December. They came in through Marseille, which was a port in southern France. The 7th Army and the French 1st Army came in southern France and came up that way. They arrived soon after the Battle of the Bulge started. They moved in a lot of the 7th Army and then had to move up the 3rd Army so that the Battle of the Bulge could be taken care of. That made room for the 7th Army to fit. So they took the infantry regiments from the 70th division as soon as they arrived in France and attached them to different divisions. This regiment that I was finally attached to had been attached to the 45th Division in December 1944. Then in January 1945, they pulled them out and started straightening up the 70th division again just about the time I arrived. So I got there as they started moving our division up towards the 3rd Army. The 70th division finally had all of their troops integrated into the division. From then on until the end of the war, we were on the line for 40 some days.

The Ruhr pocket was full of Germans up in the Ruhr, a heavy industrial area of Germany. They had been surrounded but had not surrendered. So they pulled us off the line, and we crossed the Rhine River in March 1945. That's actually when Patton's Army had gone over on March 22nd. A couple of weeks before that, some of the 1st Army went across the Remagen Bridge. Just before the 3rd Army went across, the 7th Army was pushed to the south a bit, and we were pinched off. We were on the left flank of the 7th Army, and then they pulled us out and sent us up to the Ruhr. By the time we arrived, the Germans were already surrounded, and there was no need for us to be there. So they sent us back, and we ended up around Frankfurt. The war had already moved east of us, and we were left guarding prisoners and making sure no one blew up any of the bridges. So that's where we ended up.

I'll never forget May 8th (1945), the day the war ended. We were outside Frankfurt in a place called Eisenheim. It was a little place whose main industry was leather goods. The guys got briefcases and all kinds of things you could buy there. The last night of the war, we went into one of the beer halls. They had shutters that they closed for blackouts - they were wooden doors on hinges. So we went into this place, and they had the shutters closed. So we started opening the shutters. One of the waitresses hollered, "Oh, you'd better close them. Please close them!" They thought the Russians were going to attack. They expected that the war wasn't over.

Well, that was my combat experience. I was very lucky! One time I got a case of the 'runs'. One of the hard things is trying to keep your mess kit clean. In combat, you're lucky to get any kind of hot food. You lived off K-rations most of the time. In this company I was in, they'd try to get food to you. Sometimes it would come up at 3 o'clock in the morning. Sometimes you'd get pork, and the lard would be caked on it because it was cold. You'd rather eat K-rations than some of that 'hot' food.

The Battle for the Ridges, 16 Feb - 2 Mar 1945. The 70th Infantry Division spearheaded the 7th Army's drive into Germany, south of Saarbrucken. In the center, between the two other regiments (275th and 276th), was the 274th who pushed steadily toward the town of Spicheren and Spicheren Heights. The Heights overlooded the first belt of the Siegfried Line forts and dragon's teeth. (Source: www.files.trailblazersww2.org)

I recall one time we were in a place called Spicheren Heights, which was the first bit of ground the Germans had taken from the French in WWII. They had a cemetery there with lots of monuments, and there was a very rough battle there. In late February or early March 1945, we had been on the line for two or three weeks. We needed to shave and everything. So they pulled you off and put another company in there. So you'd go back to shower and take all of your clothes off and throw them in the thing. After you finished your shower on the other end there were clothes, and you had to find something that fit you - somebody else's underwear not yours. You had three pairs of pants to keep you warm - it was cold as the dickens. I remember that if you had water in your canteen, it would freeze. It was that cold at times!

I/274 troops in German trenches on outskirts of Spicheren, France, 22 Feb 1945.
Troops from the 274th Regiment in German trenches outskirts of Spicheren, France, 22 Feb 1945. The lofty ridge at Spicheren faced Sauerbrucken and was defended by the Germans with ferocious counter-attacks against the Americans on 22 February. Known as "Hitler's Holy Ground," the heights had sentimental as well as military value. German soldiers were buried there where they fought the French in 1870. And on Christmas Day, 1939, Hitler had timidly walked a few hundred yards across the frontier as the Nazi propaganda machine trumpeted the incident as a triumphal march into France. After that date, the soil became a Nazi shrine, and small urns of the earth were sold to devout followers as revered souvenirs. The Germans had contrived every device to defend Spichern Heights. Rotating and elevating pillboxes, mortars and artillery cascaded fire in every direction. Counter battery fire was ineffective, and a persistent low ceiling prevented air support. This was a job for infantry, and the 274th finally wrested Spicheren Heights from the Germans after savage fighting. (Photo: Signal Corps; Current repository: National Archives, Washington, DC.; www.archives.gov)

There was a coal mine there, and the place where the miners took showers was taken over by the U.S. Army. So we'd go in and take a shower and put these clothes back on. Then they shipped you back to the front. We went and got out of the trucks. We had to walk several miles before we reached this little village called Spicheren. There had been a pretty tough battle up on Spicheren Heights, which was up above the village. They put us in Spicheren - we got shelled a little bit. The Germans fired shells in that hit the roofs of the buildings. They told us that they wanted a machine gun squad and a rifle squad to go up to Spicheren with this bunch of combat engineers who were going to put some mines down. We would guard them and then come on back. We went out there and went up this long hill and there were a couple of tanks knocked out along the road. We got to the top of this hill and found out that there were quite a few dead Germans and a couple of Americans up there from a battle earlier in the day. There was a German up there sitting with his back against a tree and he held an ammunition clip in his hand and his Mauser in the other hand - he was just sitting there…dead.

We were up there some time, and there was a house a couple of 100 yards over the forward slope of the hill. We had occupied that house, and the houses in that part of the country had a stable on one end and the house on the other side of a kind of courtyard. And there was a road went alongside that house. One of our guys would go down there every morning. He found out that there was a chicken that had a nest down there in the barn, and he'd go down there every morning and come back with an egg. On the last day we were there, he came back with the chicken, and he cooked the chicken in his helmet.

Another thing I saw there that was peculiar. I don't know whether he was an engineer who had been laying the mines or who this guy was - he wasn't part of our company. We were laying a communication trench and were getting shelled. A shell hit in a tree, and this guy got hit in the leg with a piece of shrapnel that left a hole about the size of a quarter. I could see all the way through his thigh - it hadn't hit any bone and you could actually see through that hole before it closed up. The shrapnel was hot, too, at the time, and luckily it didn't hit an artery. So he got what they called a million dollar wound...he got shipped back with that wound.

We had sulfur, which was very good for preventing infections. You had a little thing on your cartridge belt, which was a first aid kid; it had a tourniquet and a little packet of sulfur. You'd sprinkle some sulfur powder on the wound. Another thing we used, and I guess the Germans did, too, was white phosphorous. That was in shells that exploded, and the white sulfur would come in. If that stuff ever got on you, the only thing you could do was keep it wet. You had to keep the air off of the white phosphorous. That stuff would burn as soon as it hit the air. So you had to keep a bandage over it, soak it and keep it wet or otherwise it would burn right into the skin. That was probably the worst besides shrapnel. Of course, there was no gas used in WWII.

In Spicheren, we had taken this house down the road earlier in the day. And they sent us down there that night, and we set up a machine gun out in the yard. The house had a stonewall around it, and we had to sit and wait on the stonewall. This machine gun we had - we called it an 86 - it had a metal stock on it and on the other end it had a bipod. We had a squad that was inside that house. They were down in the basement that night, and they had some people upstairs in different places so they could look out. You could hear this German tank coming up the street, and I had come in from the machine gun and was down in the basement. It was something to hear that tank coming up the road - you could hear that track. So I decided I'd get out in the street. When I got to the top of the steps, I heard 'Halt! Halt'. And I thought they were talking to me. Then I heard, "Shoot that son of a bitch!" About that time, a hand grenade exploded in the room I'd just left. I was just outside the door. It was a 'potato masher' as we called them- it doesn't have any shrapnel in it but they had a charge. In a big room, unless you were close to it, it really wasn't lethal. So I went on out in the yard - it was dark. There was another guy, this sergeant, and I. We were out there in the yard and didn't hear anything more. So the sergeant said, "I'm going to go back in the house and see what's going on." So he went in, and then came back out and said, "All of our guys have left and I heard a German talking." So we picked up the gun and started back up in the hills where the rest of the company had actually come from. This tank fired a couple of rounds at this stone house. They must have been armor piercing because they went in one wall and out the other. They didn't explode because they were armor-piercing shells. I guess we were lucky they were. I guess that was why our rifle squad left us - they didn't tell us they were leaving. Anyway we got back to where our company was, and the next day, a couple of tank destroyers came up and actually knocked the German tank out -- they had a good shot and hit him in the side.

We had a guy named Baker, who had just come into the company. He was a replacement and had just gotten in. He and another guy went on down in front of our lines -- right over the forward slope of our hill where we had our defense set up. We had some flares and trip wires. This new guy went down there and got killed - he got shot right in the head. It must have been a German sniper. When nighttime came, the guy, who was down there with him, wanted to go down and pick his body up. So I volunteered to go with him. He and 3 or 4 of us went down there. We didn't have to go too far before we found the guy's body. We didn't have to go too far, and we were really careful. It was quite steep, and this guy must have weighed about 200 lbs. I was going on the back end of the stretcher he was on, and I had a hard time getting up the hill. I don't know if the Germans heard us, but they started firing. They didn't know where we were, and about the fifth round was a tracer. The tracer hit this tree not too far from me and was still burning. I didn't think it would ever stop burning-it must have gone out in a few seconds. But it seemed like forever, and we just stopped dead still and didn't move. And they still didn't see us. We finally got up the hill O.K., but then I got to thinking about that afterwards. Now that's stupid really to take a chance with three other guys just to get a dead body. It was a dumb thing really!

I think that it's really true that there aren't any atheists in a foxhole. When you get in a really tight spot, about all you can do is pray.

U.S. Army veterans heading home from Le Havre, France, May 1945
Happy veterans head for harbor of Le Havre, France, the first to be sent home and discharged under the Army's new point system. May 25, 1945. (Source: National Archives, Washington, DC; www.archives.gov)

After the war ended, I was over there and had a pretty good time. Since I didn't have enough points to be shipped home, I was put in the 346th Engineering Services Unit which was building camps to house the SS troops. This engineering outfit had all kinds of supplies that they needed. So they handed me and another guy a whole bunch of our requisitions that had been returned to our unit saying to reapply because the items weren't in stock at the time. So two of us were given about 15 requisitions to go to different depots in France and Germany to see about picking up those things. So I got to drive us from Stuttgart and all over France for about 3 weeks. We got a leak in the radiator in the jeep. We had to get it fixed because we couldn't go very far before the water leaked out and the radiator needed to be refilled. So on the way to Versailles, we needed to get water when the radiator started to boil over. We pulled into this French chateau, and I got out in front of the place and knocked on the door. This lady came to the door, and I couldn't speak any French and she didn't understand English. I told her I wanted water and then I tried making gestures to show her that. So she went back and returned with a bottle of wine. She thought I wanted water to drink. Finally I got her to understand that I wanted water for my radiator. Then we went on to Versailles and got it fixed. Later we spent two nights in Paris. The guy that I was with was named 'Hoolihan' and he was a pretty good artist. After the war, he sent me a little card that showed pictures of us going down the Champs Elysees in a personnel carrier.

Heilbronn, Germany, ca. April 1945
Heilbronn, Germany, in a panorama, dated ca. April 1945. It was one of the three or four most devastated cities in all Europe. Starting in 1942, the salt mines in and around Heilbronn were used to store art and artifacts from Germany, France and Italy. Similarly, important producers of the war industry were moved into the mine shafts. (Source: Harold W. Clover Collection of WWII Photographs, National Archives, Washington, DC.; www.archives.gov)

I also went to Heilbronn, Germany, where there was a salt mine. And down in the salt mine was a lot of machinery that the Germans had put down there to build superchargers for aircraft. We wanted something electrical, and they had a lot of electrical cables and other things that they were getting ready to put in the mine. They had machine tools down there and we could see some of the superchargers that they'd made. This mine was pretty deep. We went down in this car that they were still using to mine salt. Whenever they had a car loaded with salt and there was no one riding on it, they used a different speed. One time I went down there with another guy and we didn't signal the guy that we were on the elevator. Boy, when they pulled that car up, the acceleration was so great that it almost flattened me to the floor!

There was also a black market going on in Germany after the war. I went down to Austria to a town just inside the border to get some solvent. I took a bunch of Germans, who were driving our American trucks, to get 5 loads of solvent. It was in 55-gallon drums. We went to get the solvent for this outfit up in Frankfurt that was doing some work for the U.S. government. On the way down, I was driving the lead truck with the 5 German drivers behind me on the Autobahn, and we came upon an accident. There was a civilian car and a couple of American GIs who had coffee, cigarettes, and all kinds of black market stuff that had spilled all over the road. I stopped, and all of these German guys jumped out of their trucks and were picking stuff up. These GIs wanted them to pick it up because they were afraid that someone would come and arrest them. So they wanted to get rid of that black market stuff quickly. Each of these German guys was loading up the cab of his truck with cigarettes and coffee. The guy, who was with me, was a civilian and the owner of the chemical plan for whom we were getting the solvent, and even he picked up some of the stuff for himself. I guess I was an accessory to the fact and shouldn't have. But I would have had a hard time controlling those guys.

We were in the Mainz-Wiesbaden area along the Rhine River in Germany from May-July after the war, and they started sending soldiers back to the United States. The people, who had been in the Army the longest, went home first -- you had to have so many points to go home. I didn't have enough points, and it was almost August 1945. But we had a really nice place called Schlangenbaden, which means 'serpents' bath'. It had a hot springs and a nice swimming pool that was fed by this hot water that came out of the ground. They mixed the hot with cold water so that it wasn't too hot. In Germany, it never gets really hot in the summertime. If it gets up to 80, that was a really hot day. So we actually wore our winter uniforms all year around

So we were there, and they took a bunch of guys and get them ready to send them to Japan. I was in that group. The idea was that we were to come back to the United States for a 45-day furlough and then go onto Japan. So they started shipping us back in August and our group moved to a camp, which was nothing but tents outside of Paris. And that's where we were when they dropped the first atomic bond on August 6th (?), and the Japanese didn't surrender. So they dropped the second one three days later on August 9th. They told us that we were lucky because we were going back to the U.S. but that we were still going to go. Well, after the U.S. dropped the second bomb, they sent our group back to the Army of Occupation. And that's what happened to me - I got sent to this engineering regiment that was making camps to be used as prisoner of war camps for the German SS troops. They discharged the regular German army by October 1945. But they kept the SS troops longer, and they only kept the officers. They released the rest of the German soldiers by the end of the year.

This book is about 'Codename Downfall', which was the codename given to the plans for invading Japan. There were two invasions planned - one on Honshu which is the island Tokyo is on, and the other on Kyushu which is south. Kyushu was the first island they were going to invade in October of 1945. They lined up all of their troops. The Honshu assault was to be in October and they give the number of troops that would have attacked. This was sending people from Europe through the United States and across the Pacific - this was the group that I was in: 263,000 Army ground forces for Operation Cornet, which was the invasion of Honshu; Operation Olympic was the invasion of Kyushu. If it hadn't been for the atom bomb, I think, I might not be here today. The Japanese invasion casualties would have been pretty high, both for the U.S. soldiers and Japanese. I think the bomb actually saved lives.

Did you get much chance to interact with German civilians while you were in the Army of Occupation?

Not too much with the men, but more with the women. I was in this engineering outfit, and I got to drive around and pick up supplies for the engineers. I went up to one place called Heilbronn, which was a salt mine. Down in the salt mine, the salt had been mined, and there were great big caverns with ceilings 100 feet high. Great big rooms. They had set up a bunch of machine tools in the salt mine and manufactured superchargers for airplane engines. We went down in there because the place was in operation when the war had ended. We needed electrical supplies, lights and things like that for the camps we were building. So I went down with another guy. Some Germans took us down into this mine - I think it was a 1000 feet that we went down. We got a bunch of electrical supplies out of it. I know the U.S. Navy came and got some of the machine tools that were used to manufacture superchargers.

So I got a chance to go around quite a few things like that in Germany. I also took 5 trucks and went down to Austria and picked up some solvent and chemicals for this German chemical company. The owner of the chemical plant went with us. He was the one who shared us where to go to get the solvent in 55-gallon drums. After we got back, he invited me up to his house in Frankfurt. He lived in a building that had been damaged by bombs. His apartment wasn't so bad. I guess I was in his place several times and got to associate with some other Germans.

I took another German down to the Black Forest to get what they called 'hot plates'. They were heating elements for stoves and were made down in the Black Forest. This guy was making some stoves for the U.S. Army. So I took him down to the Black Forest.

So we didn't really associate with too many of the Germans after the war. When I first got into this engineering outfit, they were in Frankfurt. Regiment Hqs was in Frankfurt, and we had our office in the IG-Farben plant, which is just outside Frankfurt. It was primarily a depot for plumbing supplies for the Army. So we were gathering these plumbing supplies and cataloguing them. Other outfits would send in requisitions, and we'd fill them. We were using German Army prisoners. We'd take a truck or two over to get truckloads full of prisoners - and they'd unload freight cars with parts on them. The prisoners were really doing the cataloguing and physical work. We would get maybe 25 prisoners on a truck. At one day's end, as we were getting ready to take them back to the camp where they were living, we turned up a couple of prisoners short. So we took them back, and the next morning we went out to pick up the prisoners again. That night when we lined the prisoners up to board the trucks, the two prisoners had come back! The reason they came back was that they said there wasn't much food at home. The U.S. Army was feeding them and that was much better. But they were all finally discharged in October.

When we were in Stuttgart, we had an orchestra came in and played for our evening meal. They had their own version of 'In the Mood' and couldn't play it quite like an American swing band of that time. And German civilians, mostly German women, would come in and do your housekeeping. So you didn't have to make up your bunk. All of the civilian women had to submit to a test to be sure that they didn't have a venereal disease. This one girl, who was the secretary for our supply section, and she did not want to go through that - she kept saying that she was a 'jungfrau'. She meant she was a virgin. They said that it was a regulation and that the Army couldn't keep her as a secretary unless she took the test. Finally she took the test, but she did not want to do so.

We had a couple of translators. One guy was an older fellow, who hadn't been in combat. But the other guy was a young fellow who had grown up in the United States and could speak perfect English. His family had moved back to Germany when he was about 15 yrs. old - he'd been in the U.S. since he was about 5 or 6 yrs. old and so could speak English well. The older guy was not as good an interpreter.

It was interesting to see how the Germans were after the war ended. On each of the Army vehicles they had a thing that was welded on the front. They were afraid that the Germans would string a cable across the road or something like that. But nothing ever happened. I was in Frankfurt a lot, and we'd get on streetcars to go into Frankfurt to see a movie. There would be a pile of civilians on the streetcar. You'd go to a movie, and one thing the Germans liked was a cigarette. I didn't smoke, but could get a carton of cigarettes a week for 50 cents. But I'd always get a carton and resell them for the equivalent of $10 or about 100 marks. Well, the 100 marks was Occupation money, and the German government was supposed to make it good. I'm not sure how that worked. AT one time there was a lot of black marketing going on and the Army really clamped down. But you could only send money home equal to the amount that you got paid minus whatever you spent at the PX. They'd take that amount off your passport, and the most that you could take home was what was in your passport. If you had crap games or poker and won money, it made no difference because you couldn't use it.

In Stuttgart, there was a camera factory - they made really good German cameras. I was saving up my cigarettes so I could get a camera. But at the time that I left there, I still didn't have enough cigarettes to get one. I probably needed about 50 cartons because it was a really good camera. But I didn't have nearly enough, and so I gave my cigarettes to those two interpreters.

But the German people -- you had to be able to speak German to talk to most of them. Most of them were resigned to rebuilding. They weren't like the French. You'd go back through France, and they'd have these bridges that they called 'daily' bridges. In wars, bridges get blown up. So you have all of these 'daily' bridges put in by the U.S. Army that were temporary. Six months later, the French were still using them. In Germany, six months after the war ended, here the Germans were rebuilding and cleaning up the place. They were much better organized and more effective at getting things done than the French. The French always had their hands out and expected us to help them so much. But the Germans took on a huge rebuilding mess, especially in central Germany, which was really destroyed by the bombing. Of course, back in France the artillery had done a lot of damage in the villages because the actual fighting was there. By the time we got into Germany, the only damage had been limited to the cities we had been bombing because there was no resistance hardly by the time we got there. Well, there was resistance up to the Rhine River, but once we crossed the Rhine, the war was over.

And in about April 1946, I was on a baseball team - we had a regimental team that played other regimental teams. Our team was not very good, because we didn't have enough good pitching. We had only one guy that was a pitcher. I had done some pitching but hurt my arm and couldn't pitch. So I played the outfield. We played about two games a week and even got to travel to Munich to play one team. But then I left there towards the end of June 1946 and came home on a Victory ship that sailed from Le Havre. We did 17 knots and it took somewhere about 10 days to go from Le Havre to New York. One thing we really missed was whole milk. We had powdered milk that you mixed with a little water, but it didn't taste very good. When we got on this ship, the Victory ship, which probably carried about 500 soldiers, they had great big 5-gallon containers of frozen milk down in the mess hall. The food was also very good.

What did you do after WWII?

There was one thing about what happened after WWII: the best program that the government has ever had was the GI Bill. It was one of the few things that the government did right. Veterans got free college educations just about. Of course, money went a lot farther then than it does now. I got $75 a month on the GI Bill plus they paid my tuition and books up to $500 a year. At that time, tuition per semester was $120 in-state and $240 for the year. And out-of-state tuition was double or $480. What the University did was charge everybody on the GI Bill as if they were out-of-state. So they got $480, which only left me with $20 for the year - even though I was in-state. The government agreed to that, but if your books cost more than the remaining $20, then the University would pay for them up to what the GI Bill would allow. Anyway it all worked fine. I talked to several professors afterwards, and they said that the students on the GI Bill were the best bunch of hard-working students that they'd ever had. They'd seen more, and in those days you went to school six days a week, including Saturday until 12 o'clock. You had Monday-Wednesday-Friday and Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday classes. On Saturday you didn't have any labs in engineering - in engineering you had labs in almost every class in the afternoons except on Saturday. So the GI Bill was a really great thing.