"That looking around helped a lot."

 In the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg we pushed the enemy beyond the Moselle and Sauer Rivers. And there was Germany, right across the water! There was the Siegfried Line! We used to watch the Volksgrenadier boys running to their latrines near the pillboxes. Sometimes, when they felt better, they'd come across to our side. But we knew how to handle them. For some of us it was a kind of a rest - after the long summer.

Hurtgen ForestWe remember going down to do a little inspecting of the Maginot Line near Thionville. That looking around helped a lot, later on. Others of us will always remember the Konz Karthaus Express. Konz was a little switchyard west of Trier. Trains used to go through there regularly, and just as regularly we used to shell and bomb the hell out of the place. Then at night the Germans repaired the damage - just so next day trains could operate. Just so next day we could knock them for another loop.

Some of those clear autumn days were marked sharply by brief white trails of V-2s. We saw them and wondered. From east of the river they went up straight out of sight. That was all. Then, just at dusk, or maybe a little later when some of us were ready to turn in, buzz bombs would pass overhead on their way west. And once, on a hellish night of rain, we had a paratroop scare back near Esch.

Thanksgiving in Luxembourg was a day to remember. The people opened their doors, begged us to eat with them. The Prince attended services in the cathedral, and the bishop stood at the door afterwards shaking hands with GIs. We recalled, then, how in September when we'd arrived the people had been a little aloof. It was as if they were afraid the Germans would be coming back. But we threw a few dances, drank lots of beer, played a little. And it wasn't long before they all loosened up. Well, that Thanksgiving Day made us feel good. As Frenchmen had so often during the summer, the Luxembourgers on that day demonstrated the depth of their appreciation for the thing we were doing in Europe.

In December we left luxembourg, eased north in Belgium through a peaceful place called Houffalize, and on up to Germany. We moved through the Siegfried Line without knowing it. Then we plunged into the Hurtgen Forest, into the thick of the deadly battle for the Roer.

"We had never seen such utter devastation."

 It was not for us to decide why the Germans fought so viciously before Duren. All we know is that those were bitter, bloody days. Those villages in the shattered forest and beyond - Strass and Gey and Rollsdorf and Gurzenich - when we reached them, we found stinking wrecks. We had never seen so many German dead. We had never seen such utter devastation. All muck and mines and enemy dead. An epithet to the German way of life.

At first there was rain and mud. Our feet were wet and cold. Then there was snow. The ground froze and our hands got blue. The smell of the pines that still stood made us think of Christmas. Of days when we were kids. When we hated no one. When war was a thing in books. When Christmas never failed to be white. When our hearts were warm, tender. But here we were in Germany! Some days the sky was brilliant blue. It was good then, for our planes would be up, making crazy patterns in the glacial sky. Blasting more enemy out of existence. And sometimes Jerry came over, dropped bombs, strafed. We ducked, and the moved forward. We pushed the enemy beyond the Roer. Some of us entered the roofless city of Duren.

We got our Christmas packages - somehow. We took them and wondered how much longer this fighting was going to last. How much longer? We cursed the Germans for their insane desire to fight. We cursed them long for the life they had forced us to lead.

"Our feet were frozen."  The battle in the Ardennes in December and January is history. While the world held its breath we lunged without rest against the panzer might of the German. We surprised him by our headlong dash through Holland and Belgium in a single night. We moved against him continuously - for he had aroused us. He was threatening to undo the work we had taken so long to accomplish.

We came of age in the Ardennes. We rose to our full stature. The enemy fought us in vain. Our thrusts were fatal to him.

But more than the mere German we fought the weather. Those winter days when snow fell like powder without pause, when the sweat of our dirty bodies froze our clothes to us! Our knuckles were raw and bleeding, and our lips were cracked. Our noses ran and our eyes were blinded by the whiteness that was everywhere. Our feet were wet and frozen and numbed with pain. The walking that had to be done was agony. When we could use our mess kits the once hot food was icy, the coffee useless. And in the howling wind of the afternoon or the cutting blast of the night, it was painful to use a latrine. For most of us sleep was a thing beyond our ken. There was a time for nothing but fighting the enemy.

The people of those Belgian towns and villages crowded into the remaining buildings and with wet eyes watched us go by. There was no waving, no throwing of kisses. There was only the cold. It could be seen in their hands, in their faces. It could be seen in the way they crowded around the little fires that were somehow produced.

The history of those weeks will be a story of suffering. And it will be a story of American endurance.

"A story of American endurance."

 Lucky ones got to Paris on pass. It was unlike anything in the rest of Europe. It was to hell away from the war. There wasn't any real blackout. We could see pretty good at night - except when we'd had too many.

Some of us remember the Metro and the crowds just before supper or just before closing time trying frantically to get on the trains. Usually when the trains were loaded beyond capacity there was a woman with a broad behind who'd back up to the open door and push her way in. We got lost sometimes in the Metro, sometimes up in the city itself. Map reading came in handy, then.


"We got lost sometimes."
"Lucky ones got to Paris"

For those of us who knew Parisian families there is the memory of warm hospitality. We saw how the war had hurt them. At a dinner party for ten a one pound slab of meat to be divided evenly - a little cheese sneaked up from the box of K rations - some fried potatoes - bread and wine. That was all. That was the dinner party. It's easy to remember the embarrassment in the Frenchman's face. And sometimes if we looked carefully at the kids we could see how some of them were getting cross eyed. Lack of food.

Oh, there were no shells or bombs in Paris. But there was the war. It was not at all like some visiting dignitaries said back home. "Paris has plenty." People did not have enough to eat. It was black market or starve.

"We hardly knew how to act."But there was another part of Paris we all remember. The wild life of the night. Place Pigalle! Bal Tabarin! Moulin Rouge, Folies Bergere! After months of living practically without women, we hardly knew how to act when those girls came out in front of our table and wiggled everything they could. We didn't worry about the terrific cost of the champagne or other things. The show over, we said yes when the doorman asked if there was anything else we wanted to see. For there was plenty.

Those GI night maneuvers around Place Blanche, Place Clichy - around the Madeleine and the Opera! The world knows those squares. We now them - now. In spite of the thousands of uniforms seen there, the war was totally forgotten. It simply didn't exist. Those other things the reckless life was all that mattered. A guy was crazy not to cut loose a little. Maybe when he got back to the front he'd be stoping an eighty-eight. Go hog wild in Paris! That was the thing. And let the parisians stare and point when we were drunk in the streets. Let them stare. They could never now why we were playing so hard. They could never know. No civilian anywhere could.

"The bridges collapsed." Crouched we waited for the word to get going. It came, finally. We poured across the Roer River, across the ground that had so long been flooded. We turned northeast toward the Rhine and a city they called Neuss. We found ourselves in a rat race. Command posts moved into the south end of towns before the racing Nazis could clear out of the north end. People hurried to get huge white flags strung from their windows and gates before we rounded the corner. It was curious to see how gentle, how docile, how sinless the people became when we appeared. They went out of their way to tell us they were not Nazis, that they could not conceivably be blamed for the thing their country had done.

Then, suddenly, on the 2nd of March, we were on the Rhine. Before anyone else. Again the world was looking at us, asking a million questions. Big people visited us, passed around compliments. Once, during the day, the Germans tried breaking through our flank. But it was a clear, clean day and we had friends in the air. Some one got on the phone. The trouble was straightened out soon enough.

Some of us were up in Neuss, slapping through the city to the bridges that led to Dusseldorf. During the night there were some loud explosions. The bridges collapsed into the river. We set up OPs along the west bank and watched and directed fire. And we saw the water flowing north over the half-sunken bridges. In time, we knew, we would be on the other side.

"There was no let up." Since the beginning of summer we had helped to drive the enemy from four Allied Nations. Now, during Easter Week, we swept him across Germany. From the Rhineland we moved across the Prussian Provinces of Westpahalia, Hannover and Saxony. Across the German States of Lippe, Brunswick and Anhalt. Through the Teutoburger Forest, over the Hills of Hess and the Harz Mountains. Across the Lippe, the Weser, the Leine, the Saale and the Elbe Rivers. The dash of some two hundred and eighty miles we made in thirteen days.

In those thirteen days the Thunderbolt Division threw away the books and improvised. We became a weird caravan. We picked up vehicles of any kind - and kept moving. Some of us drove deep into the Harz Mountains. Some of us dashed toward the Elbe. Our eyes ached, our backs were sore - but there was no let up. At times we were so tired we did not know what we were doing.

"We passed beyond the Elbe."The Germans could not stop us. Rivers and mountains could not stop us. We passed beyond the Elbe, threw back counterattacks, then waited. Suddenly it became very quiet. We had time, then, to recollect a few of the things we had done and seen.

The press acclaimed the fact that we had established and held the only American bridgehead over the Elbe. But we will remember other things. The beauty of the country - and the horror hidden beneath the beauty! For years we had read of the barbarisms practiced by the children of Hitler. For years we had tried not to believe. But now we saw with our own eyes. We were nauseated. There, beyond the stench and vermin of the concentration camp wire, was the gentle countryside, blossoming into spring. And there were the huge white flag, the docile, guiltless people. It made a fellow wonder.

When our drive was finished and the world had proclaimed our accomplishment for a moment, we could only remember the hate that had risen within us as we passed through those camps, saw those thousands of helpless people. If we had not know hatred of the German before, we knew it now. Its proportions frightened us. We saw the thing that had been done to mankind. We will never forget it.

Not will we forget in years to come the record we made across Europe. We went a long way - from the unnerving days of Normandy to the sure days east of the Elbe. We have grown a little older . . . learned to understand a bit more about men . . . grown a little wiser. It is conceivable that history will not ignore us.


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Hqt. Battery 352nd AAA Searchlight Battalion
Headquarters Battery 352nd AAA Searchlight Battalion of Long Beach, CA 1943

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