Today’s guest post was written by Charles Fletcher.
Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
We had a welcoming committee: a couple of tough looking sergeants and two corporals. After a cool welcome, we were lined up and marched to the post barbershop. The barbers would ask how you would like your hair to be cut. But regardless of what you told them, they gave everyone the same style – clipped down to the skin. You weren’t in the chair more than two minutes.
Next, we marched to the Supply Room. We got underwear, sheets, blankets, socks, handkerchiefs, a razor, shaving soap, a shaving brush, a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand soap, washcloths, towels, a helmet, a rifle, a web belt, a first aid kit, a gas mask, boots (that were too large), and a duffel bag. We were issued two of almost everything. I had never had this many worldly goods in my whole life. I felt sort of proud to have all of them. But I could barely carry such a load.
The next three months were hectic. We went through KP, guard duty, forced marches, the obstacle course, the rifle range, aircraft shooting, bayonet drill, hand-to-hand combat, and lots of other things to make sure we stayed busy. Then it was time to move out and make room for the next group of soon-to-be soldiers.
They shipped us in different directions. I ended up at Fort Dix in New Jersey. I was assigned as a Supply Clerk with the 90th General Hospital. I was at Fort Dix for about six months before leaving for an overseas assignment. We packed up and boarded a train for New York City and the boat docks. In time we boarded the Queen Elisabeth, the English tourist ship. Back then it was the largest such ship in the world. Over 15,000 troops were on on board. We crossed the Atlantic by way of Iceland where German submarines couldn’t travel because of the ice.
We stayed at Malvern Hills, England for about two months, and then we went again to a town in Wales. We were in Wales for only three weeks.Toward the end of our stay, we began to downsize, getting rid of everything we could do without.
A few days after D-Day we were awakened at midnight, loaded into trucks, and taken straight to the docks where ships were waiting for us. We were loaded onto ships until there was standing room only. We were finally on our way. The English Channel was very rough that morning. The ship was a small one and was rising and falling with every wave. An announcement came over the ship intercom telling us that we were on our way to France. The Germans had been pushed back, and we would land at Omaha Beach.
It was near daylight and you could see the outline of land in the far-off distance. We went in as far as the ship could go. Then we had to climb down rope webs to the landing craft that were waiting below. They were small: each would carry about fifty soldiers with their equipment. They were bobbing up and down more than the ship.
The landing craft rammed into the sand quite a ways from land. We had gone in at low tide. The front end of the boat was a big gate. It was let down until the end of the landing craft was wide open, and we hit the water. The surf was deep enough to be above our waist. There was nothing to do but keep moving toward dry land. We were lucky: The Germans had been pushed back to St. Lo, and we didn’t have to dodge bullets. We only had the cold water and the debris floating around everywhere to put up with. On the beach, the ground was covered with abandoned and damaged equipment, both German and American.
We finally got together as a group and started inland. We stopped in a field at Carentan about five miles from St. Lowe where General Patton’s Third Army was trying to take the town. We were not assigned to any outfit at this time. We budded up with someone, and between the two of us we pitched a pup tent. We were given “K rations” for our meals. Some of the meals were OK. You never knew what was in the package until you opened it. The cheese, eggs, potted ham, and beans were all right. I never liked the stew — it was too greasy to eat cold. Sometimes this was better than going hungry.
The next morning when I was looking around, I saw a very large field that was turned into a graveyard. It was estimated that there were twenty thousand soldiers buried there. There were white crosses as far as you could see. Also, there were huge piles of shoes and clothing nearby. I’m sure these belonged to those who were buried there. I found a pair of trooper boots my size, took off my old stiff boots, threw them into the pile, and put on the softer boots. I wore these for the next year or so.
My unassigned status didn’t last long. On the third day I was assigned to a twenty-five-man crew who were to drive in the “Red Ball Express.” These were vehicles carrying supplies to the front lines. We didn’t know what we were hauling. There was only room for one person, a driver, in each vehicle. I was on this assignment until we reached Metz France. I then was assigned to a Military Police unit. Our duty was to take prisoners back to stockades in France. One cold winter day I had about fifteen prisoners holding them for a pick up crew to come and get them and take them to a stockade farther south. The day went by, and no one came to get the prisoners until nearly dark that evening. I became so cold I was numb, and my feet were frostbitten. I came down with pneumonia and was put in the hospital at Verdun. I was given penicillin shots every four hours for two days and then sent back to my unit.
I was assigned as a guard to a stockade near a little town named Bar le Duc. Things were going pretty well until the Germans made their last counter-attack, known as the “Battle of the Bulge”. Everyone who could be spared was sent to the “Bulge”. I was put on duty at the stockade twenty-four hours a day. The weather was miserable, with snow, fog, and cold, so air support couldn’t help. These conditions lasted for over a week, and then the sun came out. There were clear skies, and the Allied air attack began. The sky was black with airplanes – bombers, fighters, and everything. They flew continuously all day long. The Germans were pushed back, killed, or captured.
The war was near an end in Europe, and it wasn’t long afterwards that the Germans gave up and called it quits. We began to let the prisoners go back home. I was ready to go home too.
Those going back to the United States were prioritized based on how many dependents we had, how long we had been in service, how long we had been overseas, and other factors. My priority points put me in about the middle of the list. My group was loaded on a train and sent to a port in Belgium. We stayed there another six to eight weeks, and then we boarded a “Liberty Ship”. It had been over twenty-eight months since I had any milk. I volunteered for KP duty on the ship so I could have all the milk I wanted. I think I drank ten pint cartons on my first day at KP.
We docked in New York, and from there we were sent to a camp in Virginia then back to Fort Bragg, the same place I had started from about four years ago. There I was to be processed for separation from the Army. Finally, I was a civilian again and was on my way home.
My service in WW 2 was an experience that I will never forget. There were all types of people in this war. Many were praised as heroes and were awarded medals. I received medals and ribbons. Many others were never mentioned or received any medal. But my way of thinking, all that served in this war were heroes.True, some captured many enemies, some none. But without everyone the war would have been lost. We all had a job and we did our part.
Today we celebrate the 4th of July as a day for picnics, swimming and dozens of other events. Stop for a moment and think of the real reason that July 4th is a holiday.