Symphony in B-Flak
OUR convoy journey was long, 171 miles to be exact, and at the same time not uneventful. At the outset of the convoy one of the guns tipped over in a ditch. The roads were narrow with soft shoulders and traffic was heavy. With a winch and skillful manuevering, however, the driver managed to set it upright on the road, but the gun had been damaged already in falling. Only one Cat reached Lichtenfels with us for the others had run out of gas which was difficult to procure. Along the route we saw several interesting sights. We passed through Landshut and rode by a large transport airfield that was evacuating British POW's for home. Just a short time before, a plane had not succeeded in taking off and had crashed into a group of other transports which were left burning or damaged. We passed through Nurnberg for the second time and also through Bayreuth, the home of Wagner and of the annual Wagnerian Festivals. The larger part of the trip was along the Reichs-Autobahn which made smooth riding.
We arrived at Lichtenfels at about 1100 hours in the morning, and after a short delay billets were found. The gun crews lived in an office of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers' Party). The machine gunners and communication section were assigned some Luftwaffe quarters. The range section left for the town of Burgkundstadt about 16 kilometers from Lichtenfels.
The range boys took over a former private hospital which proved to have most comfortable living facilities. For the first time they had hot and cold running water, modern bathrooms, and in some cases steam heat as well. The kitchen had rather good conveniences, and laundry facilities were made available.
Our mission and primary purpose in these towns was to do occupational duty as security guards (S. G.'s). On the evening of the first day various factories and warehouses were assigned as posts to the men, and that night work began. There were about fifteen posts in all. This of course was the least desirable aspect of our duty, but it had to be done.
In time we learned that recreation was what we made of it. We found a place where we could go swimming, and we did frequently. Soft-ball became quite popular, and our team acquired quite a reputation among adjacent units. The symptoms of garrison life became evident as the boys began to crease their trousers and shine their shoes. Letter writing and souvenir collecting mounted in intensity. We did anything to keep ourselves occupied and our minds fastened on something useful.
The range detachment at Burgkundstadt, a small town of 3700 people with large leather factories and a meat cannery, had a couple of experiences, to break the orderly monotony of life. Upon information from "The English speaking German lady on a bicycle" that possibly four or five armed SS troopers were hiding in a house in another town, some volunteers went without delay to investigate. Without ado the suspected building was entered and after a thorough search two SS men were discovered hiding. One was an arrogant officer and the other an enlisted man; both were dispatched to the Army PW Camp at Kulmbach. The woman owning the house was also arrested, but she was merely reported and returned to her house to care for her large family of small children. On another occasion a German girl of 20 was overheard making insulting remarks about the American soldier. A night in the city jail cooled her passion and disciplined her tongue.
Already we were learning something about the German character which did not reveal it as appealling. All kinds of problems and bickerings were presented to us. Most Germans were obsequious, a few were arrogant, and a few were ingratiating. All loudly proclaimed that the Nazis were to blame for everything. Nevertheless all were treated with the same official severity of tone for the impression we wished to convey was that of business. We were courteous, but firm, and never friendly. While still on duty the 14th Tank Battalion of the 9th Armored division pulled in, and before long we were relieved. After a stay of twelve days March Order was given on the 21st. Our hearts were a bit heavy as we left, for we had enjoyed our assignment.
On May 22nd came a long convoy of 166 miles and after an arduous day's traveling we reached our destination near Abensberg. It was already late afternoon when we arrived, and to dampen our spirits further after the gruelling ride, it began to rain. A very wet and uncomfortable night inaugurated our stay in this position.
The next few days hummed with activity as we sought to install a few conveniences in our living quarters. We had expected to enjoy the simple comfort of buildings after a year in combat in the field, but to our chagrin we continued to live in tents. A path was constructed and our "wood butchers" built rifle racks, tables for the "mess hall", and latrine boxes. The volley-ball net was set up, clothes lines stretched out, and our equipment cleaned up.
Within a few days a program was inaugurated. The mornings were devoted to maintenance of equipment and routine training. There seemed to be an unending succession of reveilles, inspections, and retreats. The bugler was strident in his glory with bugle calls for every formation. It seemed as if the cycle beginning in Camp Davis had started again. Who knows? Perhaps it would end in the CBI (China-Burma-India Theater)!
In the afternoons a vigorous program of recreation and sports commenced in earnest. Soft-ball became very popular and inter-battery and inter-battalion games were the rages of the moment. The battalion team did rather well, taking second place in our Group tournament. In addition horseshoe and volleyball contests were numerous, and the swimming hole never suffered a lack of visitors. U.S.O. shows, movies, and other types of entertainment came our way in abundance. Marlene Dietrich, Grace Moore, Nino Martini, and Glenn Miller's AEF Band were some of the outstanding features we saw. Showers, laundry, and mail also as very necessary morale boosters. Special Service was making every possible effort to keep us contented, procuring athletic equipment, arranging entertainment, and finding more things to do. A battalion military band and also a swing band were formed from the large reservoir of talent available. The battalion paper "Newspoop" was issued weekly and latest rumors and celebrities were given full coverage. A track and swimming meet were organized, and this time "B" Battery won top honors in the track events, with fleet-footed Tec 4 John Chafey leading the field. Passes were granted to visit places of interest, such as Munich, Regensburg, Salzburg, Berchtesgaden, Moosburg, and the prison camp at Dachau. In so far as recreation was concerned the program was a success for one could always find something to do.
It was at this position that Capt. Beer was transferred to Military Government on temporary duty. Lt. Hoffpauir, who came to the Battery as Executive Officer at Luxembourg when Lt. Moore was transferred to "Dog" Battery, now assumed the duties of Battery Commander.
The policy of non-fraternization had been invoked for a long time. During
combat social policies were of no concern, for there was little time indeed
to visit civilians. After V-E Day, however, in places like Lichtenfels
and Abensberg, only stern discipline could restrain the natural inclination
to talk to the pretty frauleins, to walk with them and mingle with them
socially. "Eat your heart out" was the pungent phrase that sprang
into common usage.
All that we knew for certain were the provisions of the Readjustment Plan announced shortly after V-E Day. How it was to be applied to us was a matter of conjecture. The terms of this plan were stated by the War Department in the following words: "As a result of the War Department instructions to apply to new troop basis and Redeployment forecasts every element will fall into one of the following categories:
In addition to this a service rating was established to determine which troops were surplus and consequently eligible for return to civilian life. These ratings were based on four factors: (1) Length of service, (2) Length of service overseas, (3) Decorations, (4) Dependency.
The Critical score at present is 85 points. Under this system several of our Officers and Cadre are eligible for demobilization. The majority of the rest of us have 75 points, which are not enought for immediate discharge.
Now our eyes are naturally on the horizon. The peace must now be won in Europe, and many troops will be necessary for this purpose. The war in the Pacific must be pushed to its inevitable conclusion, and many troops will be dispatched to that theater. Thousands of troops will be employed in assembly areas and ports of embarkation to assist in the vast redeployment. And when V-J Day arrives, perhaps the biggest problem of all remains -- the problem of world peace.
Soon we will be placed in Category I or II or III or IV, and we shall proceed to discharge whatever military obligations remain for us. Ultimately we shall return to the United States where we shall be reunited with our relatives and friends. No matter what the future holds we will never forget the fight we have fought together, the life we have lived together. We have performed our Symphony in Europe, and the Symphony is finished. We are richer and wiser and more mature. Our life together in "B" Battery has left an indelible mark on our character.
We recall the feeling we had for our buddies when the "chips were down" in the early days in Normandy. We thank God for having steered us safely through those perilous days and through six campaigns of the war. We ask Him to bless us, our families and our country in the future.