I wrote my mother nearly a month ago that today, Mother’s Day, would be an especially happy one for all the mothers in America and for many of them the world over. Now they know their sons are safe, as least for a while. I also understand that today is a national day of thanksgiving back in the States in recognition of our victory. It’s good that this day of thanks should fall on the same day of Mother’s Day, since mothers have suffered the most in these hard times. I have a mother of heroic and noble ambition. It has always been her keenest desire that her sons be good and noble. To that account she has given her all.
Now we are in the suburbs of Karlstad, where our squad occupies the upper floor of an apartment building, and now we have met the Russians, who are on the other side of the Elbe. We also encounter the first instance of the other side of the Elbe. We also encounter the first instance of misbehavior on the part of the Russians when two women living just the other side of the bridge across the Elbe come up to us, hysterical, and state that there are two drunken Russians in their house. Hanson and I go over to the house, where the two young ladies live with their parents. The Russians are very drunk and do not understand when Hanson and I tell them to leave. They offer us drinks and it is potato whisky of the rawest kind. Again we ask them to leave, but the Russians only want to be friendly. Finally after we demonstrate our anger, the Russians leave, and the residents thank us. Here is the curious and inevitable drift if attitude on the part of Americans. Soon, I suppose, there will be hostility and antagonism toward the Russians and downright fraternization with the Germans. The next such incident occurs when two Germans come to our house to state that Russians have been coming across the river at night naked, holding their tommy guns over their heads as they cross the shallow water, then looting at will. The Germans think we should protect them from the Russian looters. Hanson and I ride with the Germans on their motorcycle for about three or four miles to an area that has not yet been occupied. It is a looter’s paradise. We check out several houses, looking for Russian looters, but find none and the people tell us they have left. It occurs to us to ask if there is a police station nearby and the local residents tell us, yes, there is one just up the street. We have the people guide us to the station and when we arrive, we find no police, but four rifles and four Luger pistols. These we naturally confiscate. So although we have found no Russian interlopers, we have located a valuable cache of weapons, which we quickly take back to our apartment house.
About now, it also occurs to us that we deserve to celebrate our victory. We ask the locals if there are any breweries about and they inform us that there is a large plant across the river. We ask if we can arrange for a wagon to get some beer and they oblige us, traveling over the brewery to get their wagon, which Hans, Fowler and I ride back to obtain our beer. When we arrive, we purchase two barrels at the regular price and take it back to our apartment house for a party. There are a number of German girls and others on hand and strangely enough I can drink only one glass of beer. Throughout this winter and spring campaign, whenever liquor has been available, I have been unable to drink. Although I have no doubt this is good beer, I cannot drink more than a glass of it.
Today we go to Marienbad and as we near the edge of a little village, we come upon a small Russian wagon and a Siberian pony. Alongside is a Russian officer on a horse. It’s my understanding that the Russian army largely depends on horses for transportation, even more so then the German army. Only the tip of the Russian army is armored and only that tip has trucks and other motor transport. This officer is directing his soldiers with a sword as they strip a German house of its furnishing. Thus far they have loaded the little wagon with a stove, sofa, chairs and other items. This officer is one of the fiercest looking characters I have ever seen. He is bearded and rough, with Mongolian features that make him look like he came straight out of the army of Genghis Khan.
Another duty we have during these days is to stand guard over the German 6th Army’s hospital train, which is stalled near us because of damage to the tracks further west. This train is jammed with a collection of the saddest and most derelict human beings we have yet seen. Every nook and cranny of the train is jammed with wounded soldiers bearing every sort of bodily trauma. The train has no water supply, and the only food is that which is brought in by the Americans. There are scant medical supplies and few doctors. Those few are at the point of exhaustion. The doctors’ and nurses’ uniforms are filthy and blood covered. Toilet facilities have long ago failed and human waste and dirty dressings are simply dumped alongside the tracks. The train stands in the rail yard here in Falkenau and the most urgent need is for it to simply move on. This is suffering the Germans must bear for the terrible afflictions they have imposed upon the world. They are now the final recipients of man’s inhumanity towards man. Many of the fellows who have stood guard have nothing but contempt for the Germans, and commonly say, “Let the SOBs rot.” After a couple of days, the train finally moves and I hope the wounded Germans reach some kind of order and a greater degree of mercy and cleanliness somewhere down the line.
Between May 13 and May 24, we were in the little village on the Elbe between the cities of Falkenau and Marienbad. I have already recounted some of our experiences there with the drunken Russians and the cache of weapons. The ride back to Falkenau from this little village was a hilarious one, despite the rain. It was a ride that featured wild shooting drunken officers. The captain and all the lieutenants were drunk and all the way down the road, tommy guns, BAR’s, pistols and M-1’s were going off in all directions. The shooting didn’t stop till we reached Falkenau. This was the first really wild victory celebration.
Once back in Falkenau, we began to requisition housing in an orderly manner. A lieutenant and an interpreter would go from house to house and advise the occupants that their home had been selected for the troops and that they would have to make arrangements to move. My friend Lorenz Linder did the interpreting, although he did not relish the job of telling people they had to leave their homes. We got an excellent house, one that belonged to moderately wealthy Germans. Each member of the squad now has a private bedroom. The living room is huge, with a grand piano at one end. The house also has a children’s room full of toys and numerous books, pictures and other art objects in the Hummel motif. The house has a pretty picket fence out in front and a broad, sweeping back yard. In short, it is just the type of house I would like for my own. We are to be billeted here for some time.
The nearby cities of Marienbad and Karlsbad are twin cities, on either side of the Elbe. The are resorts, comparable for Hot Springs, Arkansas, and their forte is their medicinal springs. To these cities come people from around Europe who have lumbago or rheumatism. Among other things, I have obtained a ceramic cup that has a drinking pipe that goes down to the bottom of the cup. The hot spring water is put into the cup and then sipped through this pipe. I have sent this home.
The Russians are in possession of Karlsbad and we are across the river. We have our guard posted on our side; the Russians do likewise on theirs. During the daytime, we see the Russians swimming naked in the river, enjoying themselves. We do likewise, although I have not yet been in the water. The Russian soldiers do a lot of close-order drill on their side and we hear them marching up and down and singing – a tremendous amount of singing. Especially at night and late in the evening, we hear them singing, their high tenors and low basses reminiscent of the Don Cossacks. The Russian guards, and one fellow in particular who looks like any soldier in any army, come across the bridge from time to time to talk to us. We do the same. Among other things, we try out each others weapons. They fire all the ammo out of my M-1. This one soldier is a member of the First Ukrainian Front, roughly equivalent to an American army in size. This unit was one of those that had been pushed back by the Germans all the way to Stalingrad before fighting its way back. Our conversation is limited to what we can exchange in German. One evening, a group of four or five girls appears and we can tell from their speech that they are either Polish or Russian. We shout to them, “Kommen sie hier,” and they come up along the steep bank of the river to where we are standing guard. They understand German and one of the girls has a smattering of English, so they enable us to carry on a three-sided conversation with the Russians soldiers. The girls are not anxious to talk with the Russians, since they are deathly afraid of them. As they leave, we tell them to come and see us again.
As far as female companionship is concerned, some of our boys have set up separate housekeeping and established a more or less permanent arrangement. Some of these girls have been in slave labor camps and fellows from the second squad have picked them up. One of the girls has announced to one of the fellows from the second squad that she thinks she is pregnant.
One day, a fellow named Corny and I acquire a small German car, a Volkswagen, and steal some gas out of a jeep. We drive into the area where the Polish girls had come from, and sure enough, they are headed in our direction, so we pick them up. The bridge across the Elbe in this area is a substantial span and the Russians have their end guarded and have installed a drop-down barrier. The Russians are at first reluctant to let us cross, but through the girls we convince them that we are just going over for a short visit and will return soon. When we reach the other side, we drive down the main street of Karlsbad and notice very few civilians. Instead, the streets are filled with non-uniformed, but armed, men who apparently are members of the Czech resistance. On our side of the river, the only people with weapons are American soldiers, but here there are armed underground men in great numbers. It’s our conclusion that the Czech underground is definitely Communist-inspired and controlled and that the Russians, if they are forced to turn this country over to anyone, will certainly turn it over to a sympathetic host. As we drive up and down the streets, the Polish girls shout at the men and soldiers in the streets, and their comments are hardly complimentary. Corny says we better get the hell out of here before someone takes a shot at us, so we head back toward our side of the river. The girl with me was a pretty Polish girl with fluency in Polish, Russian and German. We took the girls back across the river and dropped them off at their farm.
A few days later, a huge man with a beret, accompanied by a woman, comes to our house in a state of hysteria. They are terribly excited and announce that three small boys in a nearby village have been seriously injured by a rifle grenade. The boys apparently had found the grenade in a ditch and were playing with it when it exploded. These people want help, so we radio back for medics. Only a few minutes later, a jeep drives up with stretchers and takes the Frenchman and his companion back to the village. A short time afterward, the jeep returns with three badly injured boys, plus the Frenchman, who thanks us for our help and tells us that he would bew glad to provide any service we might need. He also invites us to his village and tells us that while he is a Frenchman, he originally was a White Russian who had fled to Paris during the Russian Revolution. He is a man in his late 50’s, and although he has the aspects of a Frenchman, he could well be Russian, as he claims. The French girl with him is extremely good looking and we advise him that we would like to go to visit his home and that he should have his French girl with him, together with any of her companions, and that we should have a party. We also tell him we will try to find some cognac,, be he says, “No, no,” and advises us that we should simply come and he will take care of the liquor and other arrangements.
The next day, Corny and I ride our little Volkswagen to the village where the man lives and indeed it is a pretty place. The transplanted Russian, who says his name is Pierre, has a second-floor apartment and it is rather elegant, full of fine furniture and fixtures. We ask him how he happened to acquire much wealth and he replies that he had been brought into this village by the Germans to work in the factories or fields, but had risen to become a sort of mayor-chief of police-general manager by virtue of his abilities. We notice that whenever he meets other citizens on the street, men tip their hats to him and women are very respectful. He says that when we arrived in the village, it was as a worker like everyone else, but that over time, he had convinced the Germans that he could operate and manage the factories better than their own people. Gradually, said Pierre, he had taken over not only the factories, but political control of the village. He sits us down in his apartment and then apologetically states that the two girls he had expected to show up have gone on a picnic with friends, and by this, we presume he means their boyfriends. We ask if we can go on the picnic and he answers, “No, no,” that would not be discreet. We advise him that we are still interested in female companionship and he responds, “That can easily be arranged.” In the meantime, we sit in his apartment and drink French cognac, which he mysteriously has produced. How he has managed to transport this cognac all the way from France is one of the great mysteries of the war, as far as we are concerned. He is firmly established in this village, the seeming dictator of all its affairs. He takes us to several places to visit some girls that neither Corny nor I have any interest in pursuing further. At one point, we ask him if the local populace has turned in their weapons and he says he doesn’t know, but he will call the chief of police and find out. In the meantime, we get into our jeep and head for the police station. The chief comes out and evidently he is German, since he clicks his heels and salutes. I don’t think he realizes our lowly rank, or otherwise he would not be so obsequious. In any event, he opens the doors of the station and inside we find a collection of pistols and guns that are literally worth thousands of dollars.
There are every conceivable type of rifle, pistol and sword within. No doubt, the entire village had turned in all its weaponry. We take our pick. There is a brace of Spanish pistols, which I take. There are Italian pistols, German Lugers, German P-38s, machine pistols and all kinds of swords. We select what we want and load our jeep down with them. Before we take our leave of Pierre, I ask him about his life and he tells me that he had been a member of nobility in Russia and had escaped as a young man, making his way to Paris. Where he had been in the restaurant business. Indeed, this occupation fit his demeanor, with his moustache, beret and suave personality. I ask him, “Aren’t you afraid of the Russians, who are just across the river and who will be occupying this part of Germany within a short time? He responds, “No, arrangements are being made and soon trucks will be coming and I will soon say my farewell to my German friends and go back to my beloved Paris.” This Russian Frenchman is the closest I have come to Paris and is probably more typical of the average Parisian than anyone I have known. He is very grateful for our help with the injured boys and I honestly believe that this character had captured the wills and minds of the German villagers in this part of Czechoslovakia by virtue of his ability and good will. He is one of those persons, who no matter where he goes, will triumph by virtue of ability.
After a very gratifying conversation and drink, Corny and I take our leave and drive back to our apartment. Corny and I have a lot of interesting trips in our Volkswagen and many of our comrades are jealous of us, but we keep our car hidden during the daytime and only take it out at night.
Few of the 25 million or so displaced persons in Europe can compare to Pierre. He is one in a million, at least. The rest of the refugees are persons who were torn from their families and homes and transplanted into some other part of Europe. Frenchmen, Italians, Russians, Poles – all have been hauled away from their homes to work in the factories and fields of Germany. We stood guard at a hospital operated by Americans and staffed by German doctors and nurses. The patients are mostly displaced persons, suffering from such afflictions are malnutrition, typhus, tuberculosis, and scabbies. The DPs push on with their baby buggies and meager belongings, hoping for German food and German transport. We also help and there are long columns of American trucks that go by filled with refugees. All the Poles and Russians are being moved east, including many people who do not want to leave. Many Polish families, in particular, don’t want to leave and the Germans who have employed them don’t want them to go.
But the rule has come down that all displaced persons must be returned to their won villages and there is no appeal. When these huge trains with their many cars stop at a siding, they are packed solid. There are old, young, male and female. When a train stops, these people head for the weeds and you must be very careful where you step.
The displaced persons tell us that men, women, sometimes whole families were forced to work on German farms. The French and Italians are almost all male, but there are a few French women, such as the two girls Corny and I tried to make contact with. From what we can observe here in eastern Germany and particularly in Czechoslovakia, the French have had it the best. For some reason or another, they were able to gain the confidence of the Germans and were given better jobs and a higher living standard. The Russians have had it the worst, with many of them suffering from malnutrition, and Poles are next. In many respects, these people lived lives worse than slaves, who at least have the attention of their owners.
It seems to me that the Americans are doing a good job of handling the aftermath of war in this area. Wherever I have watched, I have seen evidence of efficiency and fair handling of property. We are moving the displaced persons back to their homes as swiftly as possible. Also moving back across the bridges over the Elbe are allied soldiers – Americans, British, Indians, Moroccans, Egyptians, Australians and Africans, all having been freed from POW camps. For some of these men, we are the first Americans they have seen and they cheer and holler when we come into their view. In my estimation, all these people, freed prisoners and displaced persons, will be back home within a month. One of the things that has surprised me is the number of Italians in Germany. Evidently, Mussolini had given Hitler large numbers of his people to help out in the war effort. These people should have been allies of the Germans, but they received no better treatment then the Russians or Poles.
The other day I say Cy, whom I had not seen since we were back in Belgium. He tells me that George Spevacek was killed, Ruskie was hit twice and Reuben Roberts and Prochask were hurt, too. He also says he believes Johnny Whalen was taken prisoner in the Harz Mountains. Cy says he thinks he will be sent back to France to sweat out the transport home. Well, this finishes my little book and takes me through the greater part of my war experiences. I have not written as I expected to, but the battle was much as I thought it would be. Now the war is over in Europe, and they say I will become a civilian again. If I do not do better for myself within the next five years than I did during the last five, I will have to say that I am a failure. But I think I am a man of peace. We shall see.
Before the pages of this book are finally filled, and fate being kind to me, I shall again return to civilian life. Our armed forces have won a great victory – the most dangerous enemy has been eliminated. I have done my job and now I must wait for the boat tha will take me home.
We are still in Czechoslovakia, and it is not warm. Although spring comes much earlier and the winter much later, central Europe has a very mild climate and I doubt if it will get hot like it does in Wisconsin. Some days are downright miserable.
The displaced persons continue to stream by and the men are fraternizing with the girls. As I have said, some of them have set up housekeeping together in broken down buildings and come back only on occasion. We are back in Falkenau and we do things like stand guard, see shows, play ball and have close-order drill. The Germans lean out of their windows to watch us as we drill and smile, apparently amazed that we could have beaten their finely disciplined army. We are so relaxed in comparison with the sharpness of the Germans.
Among other things, I have been looking for a swastika flag. We find all kinds of big flags, totally white. On some, we can see where the swastikahas been pulled off. I have made friends with a German, named Otto Pimpl, and his family. Otto is actually an Austrian and served in the war, but was injured and has been out of it for a couple of years. Among other things, Otto is an accomplished skier. He is Catholic and his wife Gudron, is Lutheran, but their marriage seems to work quite well. Other family members include Gudrun’s mother, whom everyone calls Mutti, and her sister, Karen, who is 16 or 17, and saucy and vivacious. Whenever I am not on duty, I go to the house and take German lessons from Gudrun. I repay them by trying to get rations for them. On a few occasions, we go off into the hills to try to obtin eggs and meat from the farmers. I go along to help persuade the farmer to give them food. Otto’s family was very hard up for food, since they are strangers in this area and have no friends to help them out. Once we got a dozen eggs and on another occasion, some pigeons. On one of our trips, we were walking back along the crest of the road when some damned fool cut loose with a tommy gun, and slugs whistling around our ears. On another occasion, we took some food and went into the hills for a picnic. The Germans are great people for picnics. The other night we had at least 30 bottles of cognac and five women at our house. Dugger and Simmons got drunk on this potato-based cognac and broke eight window in the throwing empty cognac bottles through them. They also spent a good deal of time running down the abilities of our captains. In fact, they ran down just about everyone. I drank no cognac, which was about as delectable as the women. There was one girl, however, from Silesia who was quite an accomplished pianist. She played and we sang several songs.
Through the balance of May and on into June, our duties were very casual, a little guard duty, a little KP, and a little close-order drill. But for the most part, we were on our own. I spent a considerable amount of time discussing the war with Otto and his family and learning German. One night we went to a movie together, but were turned away because the Pimpls were German. On another evening, the German girls from Silesia accompanied us to a dance being promoted by Serbian and Czech girls and directed by a French girl. There were many American soldiers there with German girls and obviously, this did not sit too well with the others. The Czech girls were armed and swaggered about with their pistols. Every one of them was as homely as a mud fence. They started a disturbance, going through the hall and telling the German girls to leave, but we told them that this was a dance for American soldiers and we could bring whomever we wished. In the end, the orchestra threatened to quit playing and Serbian, Czech and French girls left the hall in a huff. As I have said, a number of the squad members have taken on girlfriends on a full-time basis. One of the boys says that the Czech girl he has been living with is pregnant. Hanson has taken up quarters with a Czech girl, while Newman is playing the field, including a beautiful young Czech girl from the house next door.