Dear Johnny, 11-16-56
I will try to answer your questions about my war experiences as well as I can remember. I was in an infantry Division of the 106th and was in the 422nd regiment of that division. We landed in France the first part of December, 1944 coming from England. We made our way through France and Belgium and took up our positions in the Ardennes Forest on the frontier of Luxemburg. This was supposed to be a quiet sector given us because we were a new, inexperienced division.
We lived in cabins and had hot food, and the scenery was beautiful for a few days. Then in the early hours of December 16th the Germans attacked with a heavy barrage. This was the beginning of General Von Rundstedt’s winter offensive against the allies. The heaviest weight of the German army was directed at our division, so we were greatly outnumbered.
The battle lasted two hectic days and nights. We had no food or water and our ammunition was running low. Rather than be completely wiped out, the officers decided to surrender. We were ordered to destroy all our rifles and other equipment that could be of any use to the Germans.
After the surrender, the Germans marched us for three days without food. We were then herded into box cars, about sixty men in a car, and travelled for ten days. This is where I spent my Christmas in 1944, but we managed to sing a few choruses of “Silent Night”. We were taken to a prison camp called Stalog IV-B, but were soon moved to Stalog IV-D near Halle, Germany where we remained until liberation. On the whole we were well treated, though we didn’t get very much to eat, but the Germans themselves didn’t have much at this time. About sixty fellows were in one barracks, and we got along pretty good. They were mostly with some Frenchmen and a few English. We worked on the railroad mostly pick and shovel work. We got Sunday off.
We were paid in German money which was absolutely worthless, and we couldn’t buy a thing with it. We didn’t get anything to eat in the morning or all day. When we returned to the barracks after work, we were given a bowl of their potato soup and bread and something that resembled coffee. When you are hungry, anything tastes good. Across the road from the camp there was a field where carrots were growing. We took turns going over the wall when the hunger pains got too bad and helped ourselves to some carrots. Toward the end of February, the allied planes started coming over, and we had quite a few air raids. War prisoners and citizens alike made for the air-raid shelter. We got some pretty bad scares. The city of Halle was just about bombed off the map.
Since we were captured towards the end of the war, conditions were bad all over Germany. The railroads got bombed out, and the people didn’t have enough food to eat. We got about three Red Cross packages, but since we weren’t used to eating, we just got sick. We never did get any mail. I wrote some cards and letters to your mother which she didn’t receive until April and May. I was glad I had my Army overcoat because we weren’t issued any clothing.
About the end of March we could hear heavy guns in the distance. We didn’t know if they were allies or the Germans. We heard that President Roosevelt had died, but we didn’t believe it. Around the 23rd or 24th of April the Germans marched all the P.W.’s to a large wooded area and turned us over to the Allies. We were given over to the Fighting 69th Division. Those G.I.’s looked like angels from heaven. They treated us like kings and gave us cigarettes and good food. I felt like I was in a different world. I had lost quite a bit of weight, down to about 130, but by the time I got home on June 13th, I was in pretty good shape. I stayed at Naumburg, Germany for about three weeks, then was flown to Le Havre, France. Then I was shipped to Boston by boat.
“I guess your old Dad wasn’t any war hero, but I wouldn’t want to live through those months again.”
We were never really mistreated as P.W.’s. The Germans guarding us were mostly older soldiers since all the young soldiers we needed at the front. If they could have got food they probably would have shared it with us. We heard mass about twice. A French priest was allowed to come in and hear confessions a couple of times. Chaplains are officers and are put in different places from enlisted men. The Catholics gathered together and recited the rosary. I was one of the few men who had a prayer book and I passed it around. I had that prayer to the Sacred Heart which we say in the evening after the rosary.
So I guess your old Dad wasn’t any war hero, but I wouldn’t want to live through those months again. I didn’t see any heroics in our division. We fought the best way we knew how, and did what we were ordered to do. That’s war. I was attached to a company that fired heavy mortar guns. I also carried a rifle. One of the men on a mortar gun near me was killed. It might have been me except for the help of God.
7,001 men in our division were taken prisoner. The rest were killed, so I guess I am lucky to be here at all. I hope that answers some questions son.