I have been told that World War Two Veterans are dying at the rate of 170 per week. This mean there are many stories out there that will never be told. This is an attempt to tell my story, for what it is worth.
On August 30 1943, I was 18 years old. The war in Europe was going well for the Allies. My biggest worry was that the war would end before I got there. I had a friend whose father was a member of the Selective Service Board, and I asked him if they could call my number soon. He said it would be hard to interrupt the system. However, in about two weeks I received that important letter. I was to report to the Grand Trunk Railroad Station on October 31, at 0800 in the morning. I was close to my grandfather, Calvin Rose, and I asked him to come to the train station to see me off. My grandfather said yes, but my father said his job would have to come first. There were still six kids at home, and we were just coming out off the depression. My grandfather was at the station as the train pulled out, and I saw my father driving along side the tracks as we left Muskegon. I think that moment is one of my greatest memories.
An all day trip took us to Detroit, with many stops along the way to pick more new soldiers. We arrived in Detroit late at night, so we slept on the train. The next morning, in groups of about 20, we entered a large building with lots and lots of rooms. A corporal said take off all of your clothes except your shorts. Roll them up and carry them with you into the different rooms.
First came the ears check, then the nose, then the heart, and so on. At the last door, the corporal said, Stand in front of the doctor, turn your head, and cough. The doctor said : Put your clothes on son. You’re in the army now!
The corporal in charge gathered us all together and gave us each a coupon, and told us to go into the restaurant and take a seat, and turn in our coupon to the waitress. She will bring you your meal. Everyone got the same thing, and the corporal told us to make sure to drink our milk. After you eat, he said, return to the same train car and settle down for the night.
Some time during the night, the train moved, because when we awoke in the morning, we were at Camp Grant, Illinois. We unloaded, got in fine again, and marched to a building to receive our first complete GI Army wear. We had our first army meal, and were told we could mail our civilian clothes home, or donate them to charity. We spent the next two days waiting for our names to be called to be sent to our training camp. My name was called, and I was told I was being sent to Camp Blanding, Florida. The train ride there seemed to take forever. But we made it.
I soon learned that our training would be as replacements for divisions as they lost men in combat. I became an expert on the rifle, and then we went to our specialty, which was the M-1917 A-1 water cooled .30 caliber machine gun, and the 81-MM mortar. This took a six man crew, and it was necessary to learn each job.
A corporal, who was the boss, carried the machine gun. Another guy carried the tripod and the rest carried the ammunition.
Everything was very heavy, but we got used to it. It seemed like it took forever to get through our three month training to graduate. They took our squad miles and miles into the country, we were given a compass and told to find our way back to the camp. We were told that when we returned to the camp, we would have to pack up our clothes, because we were on our way to combat.
On my two week furlough home, I made sure every one in town saw me in my US Army uniform. The old people would smile and nod their heads. It was true that there is nothing like a man in a uniform. The girls were everywhere. That two weeks went fast, and I was soon in New York, waiting to board a ship for overseas, the Ile de France.
She was a big ship, and could outrun any subs that might be in the north Atlantic Ocean. That’s what they told us as we set sail. My bunk was four levels down, but we came up on deck once a day to exercise. I was assigned the job of postmaster for our trip over. I was to collect all the letters during the day and give them to our lieutenant, so he could read them to be sure we were not giving out any information about where we were going.
We arrived in England and were sent to a camp made up of hundreds of tents. We spent most of our days hiking and training. I don’t remember how long we were there. One evening about 1700, our sergeant came to our tents and said to pack all our things in our duffel bag, and be in line in an hour. We boarded trucks and rode for hours. Then we boarded a train. After a long wait, the train pulled out of the station. We would stop, back up, and start again. By that time it was dark outside. Rumors were fierce. Everybody knew where we were going, but nobody really knew.
Our ship had to wait for some time – the weather, I think. The longer we waited, the bigger the rumors grew. We left the port on June 9 1944 and soon we sat there facing the shoreline of France. The Army Engineers had sunk large boats to make a breakwater. They were building a port to unload small boats. I am amazed at how skilled they were, and how fast they worked. I wonder how many of them were killed building that port.
Our boat was able to get close to shore, and we had very little water to wade through. We then had to climb a thousand feet up a hill. On the way we passed many dead American soldiers waiting to be taken back to England. The beach was cluttered with burnt out jeeps and tanks and trucks. I believe our thoughts of what war was like changed as we saw the loss that was suffered on that hill. Somewhere there must be a better way! When we reached the top of the hill, a soldier met us and asked our names. We answered, and he said, Follow me.
We walked a short distance to an officer. He said, My name is Captain Chandler. You are now in Mike Company, 120th Infantry Regiment of the 30th Infantry Division. You are to replace 5 of my men that have been wounded. Do any of you have any office experience? I told him that I was mail clerk on the ship to England. He said, Fine. You are my new company runner. You are to stay close to me at all times, and relay messages to my squads – information that cannot be sent over walkie-talkies. This was the morning of June 10.
The next morning my Captain told me to follow him. We were walking along the side of some hedgerows, (Hedgerows are mounds of dirt with scrub bushes planted on top) when a German shell hit the other side. I was sent flying, and knocked unconscious. I was taken to an aid station and they put a bandage on a small wound.
My ears were checked, and I was told my ear drums were busted. They told me I would get a Purple Heart. I rested for a while, and was sent back to my Captain. Captain Chandler smiled at me and said, Don’t do that again. We were able to move only a short distance each day, as the Germans were dug in very good. We stalled just outside a small town named St Lô.
Lt Ray Holmquist
2/120-IR, Assistant S-1
Then I got my orders to report to the second battalion of the 120-IR, 30-ID. I was to report to battalion headquarters. I was to be on the battalion staff as the assistant to the S-1. So I am reporting to the front line troops and this is the 2/120-IR. This is the hedgerow country. I get up to the front line on the very first day and report to my battalion commander.
Well this is an experience that’s beyond, really beyond explanation. The American forces in Normandy were at a great disadvantage because basically what a hedgerow is, it is a little field that’s maybe about an acre, maybe half acre. It’s in the orchard country, a farming agricultural area in France. But largely orchards and lots of apple trees and this little patch maybe one acre.
Its maybe only about a half acre, about half the size of our lake lot. Over the years they would build a hedge around their little plot of land to define the boundary. And then the hedge would catch blowing sand and debris and it would gradually build up into a mound. Then they would plant again on the mount another hedge or trees. Over the years these hedges would grow higher and higher and then they always keep a hedge on top. This was the boundary of their land. The hedgerows were usually at least six to eight to ten feet high. So we would be, maybe the ground would be here and the top of the hedgerow would be at about at that point up there, at the top of the door. It would be a big wide wedge because of the accumulation of debris and dirt and the tree or hedge on top.
This was a tremendous fortification for the Germans. What they would do, would dig right through the base of the hedgerow, you get the picture now. We have this hedge, maybe 20 feet wide, six to eight feet high, and they would dig tunnels right through to the other side. They would lay down and fire their machine guns across that open space.
Now you know what a field of fire is? A field of fire is, when a machine gun is sitting up maybe at that level or a little lower and they train them to point one machine gun this way and another machine gun that way.
So you would get cross fire and that’s what you call a field of fire. And if anyone came out into that open area, they would open up with their machine guns and create that crossfire, and you are a dead duck, absolutely a dead duck. Every open space the Germans would be set up their field of fire and it was murder.
I found out later that this was to be a major battle in the fight to reclaim France. The Germans were dug in at St Lô. The army sent in bomber planes to destroy the German lines just beyond our lines. Then the 30-ID would attack while the enemy was stunned. However, the bombs were dropped on the American lines. Many good American soldiers died in that battle by what we call friendly fire. That plan was halted, and we brought up replacements. The next day Gen Lesley J. McNair (Chief of the Army Ground Forces) came in to observe the operation from the front lines. Capt Chandler was to accompany the general, and I was still under orders to stay near my Captain. For some reason, I still do not know why, my Captain did not go with the general but later that day, Gen McNair was killed by American bombers.
For the next several weeks we moved rapidly through northern France. We turned north towards Holland and Belgium. We bypassed Paris to allow the French Army to enter Paris. They say it was a great day for Gen Charles De Gaulle.
We moved slowly across France, walking all the way. Every night we had to dig foxholes for safety, get fresh supplies, and rest. Each day there were new replacements for those soldiers we had lost that day. It was my job to take these men to their squads, and I knew that many of them would be dead very soon. This is something I shall always remember, and I knew in my heart how Capt Chandler must have felt.
On the road ahead of us was a town names Mortain, a place the Germans were planning to counter attack, and we had to take steps to be prepared. I know very little about how things work in the army. I just made it a point to move fast, and do as I was told – I was just a 19 year old kid.
Capt Chandler had orders to be at a certain place at a certain time, and to do it without being noticed by the Germans. We started out, and soon came upon a German patrol.
They had not seen us, and we crouched down to let them pass. We watched as they went into a house. They did their business, also, and we waited while they had something to eat. It was about an hour before they finished. It was odd, laying there, listening to them talk and joke. And they had no idea we were there. They left, and we continued on to our destination.
The battle began soon, and the records show that this was one of the major battles of the war, and I can in no way explain how it all fits in. I said to myself again, there has to be a better way. We had more and more replacements every day. And every day the new recruits became seasoned soldiers in hours. Capt Chandler was a fine, southern gentleman, and I could watch the lines in his face get longer as he would welcome the new recruits, and know in his heart that many would not make it home after the battle.
In August, after the Normandy invasion of June and subsequent breakout at St Lô in July, the German High Command was prepared for a massive counter offensive in an attempt to throw the Allied Armies back into the sea. Hitler and his generals, moved massive amounts of armor and infantry to the area of Mortain, France, 150 miles west of Paris.
At H-Hour, August 7, the troops of the XLVII Panzer Corps rolled forward in Operation Lüttich with the 2.SS-Panzer-Division headed directly for Mortain and Hill 317, a key terrain feature in the central sector of the attack. Above are depicted part of the Anti Tank Co, 3/120-IR during the fighting on the second day. They had set up a roadblock adjacent to Hill 317, where the 2/120-IR was dug in directly north of Mortain. The crews, manning the 57-MM AT guns, and troops of the 2/120-IR with AT rockets, were responsible for destroying over 40 vehicles during the action and stopped the German onslaught in the area.
On August 7, the roadblock and Hill 317 were surrounded and bypassed by the main body of the German forces. The group surrounded on Hill 317, commanded by Capt Reynold Erichson (about 700 men) were protected by a ring of artillery fire from the 35-ID artillery and fighter-bomber sorties flown by the 2-TAC (RAF). This kept the Germans from taking Hill 317 and stopped the momentum of the counterattack in the area on the first day.
The 35-ID, attacking the German penetration from the southwest, relieved the besieged troops at noon on August 12. In one of the outstanding small-unit achievements of the war in Europe, the defenders held out for six days, sustained 300 casualties, but denied the enemy a key objective. For their valiant actions on Hill 317, the 120-IR (30-ID) was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation. This proud fighting tradition of the 30-ID is perpetuated by the 30th Infantry Brigade, North Carolina Army National Guard.
We made our way through Belgium (the first American troops to enter Belgium), and then on to Holland. The first to enter Holland, too. There was still a war, but it seemed to be less and less daily battles. We soon entered Germany. (The first to enter). The weather turned bad, and the snow began to pile up. We slept when we could, and where we could. Sometimes in foxholes, and sometimes in old buildings. Capt Chandler had been promoted, and our new company commander was Lt Snow. I never got close to him for he was wounded, and replaced by Capt Buzzard. He was a short man, and did not move as fast as Capt Chandler, but he was an able commander.
It was early December, and we were in the Aachen Forest. Things were rather quiet when we got orders to ready to move at a moment notice. Did that ever start the rumors. The Germans had broken through our lines in Belgium and were heading for Paris. It was the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. We loaded our trucks and were on our way to Malmedy in short time. When we got there, we learned that the Germans had captured 118 Americans and had marched them to a field and shot them all. We arrived just after the massacre. It was a sight we could hardly believe. We were able to find out who the German officer was that ordered the killing, and I heard later that he was captured, tried and shot.
The fighting was very heavy around Bastogne. We were stationed just north of that battle, at Malmedy. The Battle at Bastogne is one that all Americans can be proud of. We spent three weeks getting ready for our orders to move out. The snow was very deep, and I think that helped us resupply ourselves.
It was Christmas, and we made the best of what we had among us. Those that got mail read it out loud to the others. The end of 1944 came right there in Malmedy. The snow was even more deep now, but we knew it was just a matter of time before the sun would come out and we’d be on the attack again. We were primed and ready one morning, and we looked up and there were the American bombers, hundreds. The war had started again, but the bombs were dropped on us. It was St Lô all over again. We ran for cover, we lost some good American GIs that day. We got ourselves ready, and the next day the bombers returned and destroyed what was left of Malmedy.
It was January now, and the going was slow. Our objective was St Vith. We were in a wooded area, and were following a path when the Germans began shelling the woods. The trees would splinter and fall, and we had to fall back. We found a safe place and dug in. We received word that we had wounded up front. Another GI, I don’t remember his name, said, I know how to get them.
We took a jeep and drove it up the creek bed and found the two soldiers. We loaded them on the jeep and started back. They didn’t fit so well, so I walked behind the jeep, in the water, holding the stretchers to keep them from falling.
The next morning I could not stand up. The medics came and cut my boat off. My feet were black. I was loaded on a jeep and sent back to the nearest airport, and I was flown back to England. When I arrived at the hospital I still didn’t fully understand what had happened. The nurses would spend hours rubbing my feet. The doctors decided that it might help if they removed my toenails, after which the nurses continued rubbing my feet. It soon began to work and the color came back to my feet.
I had been there for about a week, when an officer came in and gave me my second purple heart. I was surprised, but he said I received it for combat. I asked one of the nurses to send it to my mother in the states. When my mother died, my sister returned it to me.
My stay in the hospital was two and a half months. By then the war in France was nearly over. Rather than send me back to my division, the army transferred me to the quartermaster corps.
I was with a group that guarded German war prisoners that were doing the laundry for American troops. I returned to the United States in November of 1945. The army gave me a furlough and I went home and got married. I served the army until February of 1947.
Reflecting on my company commanders : When I became Capt Chandler’s company runner, I think my life was saved, because the 5 other soldiers that were with me were soon killed in battle. Capt Chandler went home to Georgia after the war and ran for the Georgia House, and won. I visited with him in 1959. I didn’t get to know Lt Snow very well. He was a good officer, and was wounded and replaced. I visited Lt Snow once in Florida. He died several years ago. Capt Buzzard was a short man who did not get friendly with any of his troops. When I returned home, my grandfather told me to call him anytime I wanted to talk. When I thought of the waste of thousands of good American soldiers, and of the good they might have done, I wondered what was there to talk about. And then I read about the veterans that are dying every day, and I thought telling my story might help some other vet to tell his story.
Letter : Colonel S.L.A. Marshall, GSC Historian of the ETO
16 March 1946
Dear General Hobbs :
Now that I am leaving the service, I thought it might be well to give you the following information for whatever satisfaction you might derive therefrom. I was historian of the ETO.
Toward the end of last fall, for the purpose of breaking the log-jam of paper concerning division presidential unit citations, Gen Eisenhower instructed me to draw up a rating sheet on the divisions. This entailed in the actual processing that we had to go over the total work of all the more experienced divisions, infantry and armor, and report back to him which divisions we considered had performed the most efficient and consistent battle services.
We so did, and we named certain infantry divisions in the first category and same with armor, and we placed others in a second category and yet others in a third. The 30th Infantry Division was among five divisions in the first category.
However, we picked the 30th Infantry Division #1 on the list of first category divisions. It was the combined judgment of the approximately 35 historical officers who had worked on the records and in the field that the 30th had merited this distinction. It was our finding that the 30th had been outstanding in three operations and that we could consistently recommend it for citation on any one of these three occasions.
It was further found that it had in no single instance performed discreditably or weakly when considered against the averages of the Theater and that in no single operation had it carried less than its share of the burden or looked bad when compared with the forces on its flanks. We were especially impressed with the fact that it had consistently achieved results without undue wastage of its men. I do not know whether further honors will come to the 30th. I hope they do. For we had to keep looking at the balance of things always and we felt that the 30th was the outstanding infantry division in the ETO.
Colonel S.L.A. Marshall
GSC Historian of the ETO
Pfc Jack D. Rose
US Army #36887538
Company M, 3rd Bn, 120th Infantry Regiment
30th Infantry Division (Old Hickory)
Note : I would like to thanks Jack Dee Rose for this story. Of course I have reworked the original layout to add wartime photos and information relevant to the relating period. I am not conducting a survey on how to be the best and have the most biggest collection of War Stories. To say the true I just don’t care about how much histories I have online. I just care about the facts. So again, thanks to Jack, thanks to Warren for the photos.
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One last word, if you find my English a little strange, this is entirely normal. I speak French, German, and Dutch but I learned English with World War Two Veterans during the last 35 years while touring our Belgian Battlefields (Bulge). The way these old men used to talk is not always the same as the one they use in a Bank or some Official Office. It’s even some kind of SNAFU.
Anyway, thanks for your visit. I hope you enjoyed the trip and you will come again to read another archive.
For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Email : gunter [at] eucmh.be
(NB : Published for Good – October 2019)