What did you do in the war dad?
It was a question every boy my age asked his dad in the 1950’s and 1960’s when the baby boom kids were old enough to ask their fathers about WW2.
So, I asked my dad, “what did you do in the war?”
He said, “well son, I got lucky. I was too young to get into the fighting. I graduated from High School in May of 1945 and was inducted into the Army in June. While in basic training the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan and the war ended. It was a good thing because we were told we were being trained for the invasion of Japan and 1/3 of the first wave ashore was expected to be killed. We cheered when we heard the war was over.”
So did you get out of the Army then I asked.
“No, I completed basic training. It took eighteen weeks or so and I was an infantryman when I graduated. By November of 1945 when I graduated the combat soldiers were all coming home and the new recruits were being shipped to Europe or Japan for garrison or occupation duties. They sent my group to Europe because we were being trained to hate and fight the Japanese and they didn’t want that hatred transferred to the Japanese civilians.”
Dad went on…
“They (the Army) took 1/2 of our unit and sent us to [Ramilly?] France for MP (military police) training. When we finished training I was assigned to the 504th MP BN, first in the 7th Army and then in the 5th Army. I spent most of my time in the British Zone of Occupation in Cologne and Geissen.”
The British Zone I asked?
“My company was assigned to work with the British but our main job was to find American deserters involved in the black market. We got a long well with the British MPs.”
What did you do?
“We patrolled a lot, especially around the trains. We caught three “krauts” one night.”
What did you do?
“They had contraband, stolen supplies, and they gave up easily enough. We called the German police after we took them back to our HQ because we wanted to know what “allied” help they got stealing supplies. Deserters and soldiers who were not deserters were often very active in the black market and used Germans to help them.”
Did you have to learn German?
“Well, I knew a little German from the family and we didn’t really need to learn much. The MP armbands and helmets helped us communicate. We called the jail “the klinkelputz” I remember that. We didn’t get much trouble from the Germans. They were just trying to survive. Cologne was totally bombed out and rubble everywhere. We had enough room to get a jeep through but it was a mess. The Germans lived in the rubble. We gave the kids gum and chocolate bars and some of the adults worked for us doing various jobs, but mostly they were busy clearing away rubble. We usually had the German police around when it involved Germans so communication was not much of an issue. The German police were not armed except for the sergeant.”
What kind of weapons did the MP’s have?
“We each had a 45 and had access to M-1 carbines and Thompson sub-machine guns.”
Did you ever get shot at?
“Just once. We patrolled in a three-man jeep and the guy in the back who was me that day, rode shotgun with a Thompson. We pulled over for a smoke and I dropped my Zippo (a cigarette lighter). When I bent over to pick it up a bullet whizzed by my head.”
My dad laughed about this later in life with all the anti-smoking campaigns. He smoked most of his life. He said he learned it in the Army because they gave them cigarettes and laughed because he said a cigarette probably saved his life that night and now people were telling him that smoking was killing him. (It didn’t kill him per se, but it helped.)
Did you get the guy that shot at you?
“No, it was dark, rubble everywhere and you just couldn’t fire blindly for fear of hitting civilians. We figured it was a “werewolf” or a pissed off deserter.”
The Werewolf were Hitler Youth who were supposed to be a resistance to allied occupation forces. They were supposed to commit acts of sabotage and snipe at allied soldiers. Nothing ever came of it but at the time the MPs took the possibility seriously enough.
He shared a story of an Army truck that looked like it was ambushed and drivers killed. Werewolves got the initial blame but dad always said black marketeers were the likely killers.
When dad mentioned the werewolf he also mentioned that at the time the rumor was that the werewolves had killed Gen. Patton. He told me that when they drove their jeep around they always rode with the windshield up. This was because the werewolves would string wire across roads approximately neck high. A speeding jeep with the windshield down could mean two decapitated soldiers. My dad said that when they heard about Patton the rumor was that’s how he died. Evidence is Patton’s staff car hit an Army truck and he died from complications even though it was a minor accident.
Did you ever talk with German veterans or see knocked out tanks or stuff?
“There were not many German men around of military age and the ones that were usually had lost an arm or a leg. That’s about the only way you knew they were veterans. The did not wear uniforms unless it was an old coat or cap. The people were very subdued, no trouble really. We had more trouble with the deserters who could be quite violent.”
He went on…
“I remember one time though we came across this “kraut” wearing a naval uniform. There was something wrong with him, out of his head. He said he was from the “Prinz Eugen.”
(In the sixties my dad always referred to the Germans as “krauts” remembering his Army lingo. By the 80’s though he had stopped. I think it was weird for him because of our German-American roots. His grand-father, my great-grandfather had immigrated from Prussia in 1875 and dad was proud of German ancestry. He told me that his dad’s brother’s didn’t want to fight in WW1 because they knew they had cousins on the other side. Had not dad’s grand-father immigrated dad could have easily been one of those one-armed veterans and dad knew it.)
I later researched this odd detail about the Prinz Eugen that dad remembered. The Prinz Eugen was a Heavy Cruiser, one of the few German capital ships to survive the war. The ship did great service in the German evacuation of civilians and soldiers when the Soviets over ran East Prussia in 1945. My dad remembering the name of the ship the sailor was on was one of the most interesting tidbits I had heard from him. The Prinz Eugen was later sunk in the Bikini Atoll atomic tests.
Dad went on…
“The “krauts” never gave us any trouble. They were glad they were in the British Zone and terrified of the Russians. They saw us as their protectors. We didn’t think much of the Russians either. One night a Russian tank and a bunch of Russian soldiers crossed the line, drunk as skunks and started shooting things up. British and American MPs went to block them. They had this big tank and all we had were police M-8’s.”
An M-8 was a scout car nicknamed a Greyhound. It had a 37mm gun as its main armament. It would have been no match for a Russian tank. I do not remember if my dad was part of this confrontation. Probably not or I’d remember something like that! I do think parts of his battalion were involved but not necessarily his company. Being in the British Zone the Brits probably handled the confrontation for the most part.
“The officers got some Russian officers on the phone and the Russian MPs showed up to take them back to their own sector.”
I am not sure where my dad was when this occurred. Most of the time he was in the Cologne area but there are a number of pictures that show he was in Giessen as well.
My dad never had anything nice to say about the Russians. I think that at the time there was great distrust (with good reason). The border between East and West Germany was not as fixed as it would later become and the incident with the drunken Russian soldiers has the ring of truth to it. It didn’t take long after WW2 for the Cold War to take shape.
When I was older my dad told me other stories. He said there were race problems between black soldiers and the white soldiers. It was still a segregated Army. He also said a lot of the deserters were black for some reason which struck me as odd since you’d think it would be hard to hide. Some of the stories indicated at least some time was spent in the American Zone. I have a number of pictures that indicate he spent some time in Liege, Belgium so maybe that’s where some stories came from.
He told me about a story where a black soldier (deserter) was shacked up with a German girl and his platoon nabbed him but only after the soldier pulled a knife and was nearly shot by the MP’s.
Dad also hinted at the many houses of prostitution. It seems that the MP’s job was not to close them down but to make sure there wasn’t violence. His comments on this were along the lines of Germans sometimes stealing and what would you expect them to do to get by. This story struck me as something that would have happened in the American Zone since the Brits would be more concerned about their guys than American MPs would. I’m remembering much of this years after he told me and wish I had the presence of mind to write these stories down when he first told me them.
He told me that he and some buddies went hunting in Bavaria on a short leave. They went to the Black Forest. He said they saw areas in the forest where the Germans tried to hide airplanes and wrecked airplanes were still lying about.
He also said he scrounged a couple of fancy daggers which he tried to send home in a box. He later found out that GI’s that worked in the postal service could tell what was valuable and would steal suspicious packages and his package never reached Milwaukee. I have at least one picture of dad holding a war relic. The caption reads 25mm Mauser, a hand-gun. I have to research this because I never heard of a 25mm Mauser hand-gun. The picture is of poor quality.
Other stories were more mundane. He had a German Shepherd dog while in Geissen. It was actually the platoon’s mascot and not just his. The dog’s name was “boy” and apparently got run over by an Army deuce and a half. In the fifties my dad raised German Shepherd dogs. I have memories of being a small boy surrounded by these large dogs who were very protective of me.
Dad liked being an MP but not enough to stay in the Army. After a year of occupation duty they cycled dad out but asked him if he’d stay in the Army if they made him a corporal. I guess he said “hell no” and that was the end of it.
Dad was fortunate. He was drafted just as the war in Europe ended and in basic training when the war with Japan ended. He never complained about being drafted or serving. He told me that when the Korean War broke out in 1950 he and others that had served post WW2 had a good chance of being recalled. He was not. He married my mom in 1952 and I was born in 1953.