Saturday, May 8, 2021

Epilogue

Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel¹ signs the German surrender terms in Berlin 8 May 1945.
This was Germany's second surrender.
US Army Photo

Sgt. Charlie Gammell sat on a bench just outside the small Czech inn's front entrance. All day long he had watched streams of refugees, both military and civilian, passing by on the road. He turned to Pvt. Ross Flowers and said, "I dunno Posey, it feels like the war's over, but it feels strange, do you know what I mean?"

"Sure Sarge, the Japs are still fighting, the war here is over, but it ain't really over. Not until the Japs quit. Do you think we'll get sent to the Pacific?" Flowers voice had an edge to it, there was fear in that voice, and not a little anger.

"I really don't know. But it feels like we did our bit, doesn't seem fair that we'd have to go fight the Japs after beating the Germans. Let someone else do that, I mean, what the Hell have those guys been doing out there anyway?" Gammell wanted nothing more than to go home, he'd seen enough death, he'd done enough killing. If and when he got back to Vermont, he swore he'd never leave again.


Cpt. Stephen Hernandez was sitting in his makeshift office, they'd set the Company CP up inside a barn and walled off one corner with blankets to give him a semi-private corner. As he sat there he heard someone clear his throat just outside.

"Enter."

It was his XO, 2nd Lt. Mitch Hornsby. "Sir, your platoon leaders request your presence next door in the farmhouse."

Hernandez grabbed his cap and nodded, "Paperwork is done for now, I'm sure the next batch is inbound as we speak."

"It's on my desk Sir, I looked it over, more Army bullshit which can wait until tomorrow. Some shoe clerk back in the States probably needs to know how many bullets we've fired since D-Day." Hornsby said with a grin.

Hernandez returned the grin with a smile, "If you say so Pebbles. Let's go."


1st Lt. Nathan Paddock, West Point, Class of 1944, was waiting with his fellow officers: 1st Lieutenants Nathaniel Gonzales and Herman Jacobsen, and 2nd Lieutenants Bob Poole and Brad Woodstock. Poole and Woodstock had been sergeants not that long ago, as had their company commander himself, Cpt. Hernandez, who entered the room wondering what was afoot.

On the kitchen table was a bottle, Paddock stood up and handed Hernandez a glass of liquid, the other officers already had a glass. Hornsby was handed a glass by Bob Poole. Paddock raised his glass, as did the others, and said, "To the fallen."

As each man drank from his glass, each tried to remember the men who had died, the men who had been wounded badly enough to be sent home, those they had served with but whose places were now filled by other men. Paddock shook his head, some of their faces were already hard to remember clearly.

Hernandez had been surprised when he took a sip and tasted Calvados. He wondered which of the men had managed to save a bottle of the famous, some said infamous, Norman apple brandy. It brought back memories, some good, some bad. He was even more surprised when he felt his eyes starting to well up with tears.

As he looked from man to man, he realized that he wasn't the only one having trouble controlling his emotions. The other men were tearing up as well. Hernandez took another sip, then said, "Thank you gentlemen, I've never had a better set of comrades."

"To you, and to the men who survived."


VE-Day and Afterwards

VE-Day was the day that the war in Europe officially ended.  Amongst U.S. soldiers serving in Czechoslovakia, the day was one of mixed emotions.  There was relief that the war in Europe had finally ended.  There was apprehension as many of these soldiers were scheduled to redeploy to the Pacific Theater for the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands.  There were concerns that some of the German soldiers would continue to fight; either from ignorance of the German surrender or outright defiance.  There was a somber remembrance of comrades killed in battle.

This mixture of emotions was typified in the reaction of Staff Sergeant William Laird of the 5th Field Artillery Battalion.  “We were in position east of Cheb and it felt like the best day in the world. I had survived,” Laird later recalled.  “The last few days before VE Day and after VE Day were high tension days because we had to break contact with the enemy and we were never sure that they had ‘got the word.’”

For Technical Corporal John Maney of the 17th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, VE-Day was a huge relief not only because the war in Europe ended but also because he, like many other long-serving veterans of the European Campaign, was not slated to redeploy to the Pacific Theater.  “On VE Day I was in Susice and we were looking forward to going home. By then we knew we weren’t going to Japan,” he later recalled. “We each had enough points to get to go home and not be occupational troops either.”

Many U.S. soldiers were too busy to celebrate the end of the war in Europe.  “1st Division Headquarters was in Cheb (Eger) on VE Day,” recalled the division’s G-5 (Civil Affairs) Officer Lt. Col Thomas Lancer.   “There was no celebration! We began to receive a great number of R.A.M.P.’s (Repatriated Allied Military Personnel), ie. freed p.o.w.’s.”

At 1700 on the afternoon of VE-Day, the 26th Infantry Regiment held a church service in honor of the occasion.  At least two of the old soldiers from each company were present.   The regimental commander Col. Francis J. Murdoch, Jr. reviewed the regiment’s long combat history from Oran to Czechoslovakia.  Taps was played in honor of the regiment’s deceased members.

The 8th of May was also a day that many U.S. soldiers encountered the horrors of the Third Reich’s racial genocide.   Soldiers of CCA 9th Armored Division and the 1st Infantry Division liberated Zwodau and Falkenau an der Eger, two sub-camps of the notorious Flossenbürg Concentration Camp liberated earlier by the 90th Infantry Division.   Falkenau an der Eger held sixty prisoners.  Zwodau held between 900 and 1,000 women prisoners.  The latter had been set up by the German S.S. in March 1944 as a slave labor camp to produce air force equipment.  The U.S. soldiers provided desperately needed food and medical care for the starving prisoners.

CCA 9th Armored Division’s stay in north-western Czechoslovakia was brief.   For the next week, CCA processed tens of thousands of surrendering German soldiers and civilians, then rejoined its parent division back in Germany.

After the German surrender, the 1st Infantry Division was busily engaged in maintaining road blocks and control points, processing surrendering German soldiers and civilians, and guarding camps that held these German prisoners.  With the massive flood of Germans fleeing the Soviet Army, this was a huge task for the Big Red One soldiers.   A few days after VE-Day, the division set up a huge concentration area for surrendered German soldiers outside Cheb.  Late on 11 May, the soldiers of the 7th Field Artillery Battalion were assigned to provide security for a section of the concentration area.  Each day, one of the firing batteries augmented by personnel from Headquarters and Service Batteries guarded the battalion’s assigned sector.  Meanwhile the other firing batteries remained on alert in case needed.

The 745th Tank Battalion’s companies remained attached to the infantry regiments until 17 May.  During this time, they performed occupation and security duties alongside their infantry counter-parts.  On 17 May, the companies were relieved of their assignments to the infantry regiments and the battalion was re-assembled south-east of Cheb.  The battalion was assigned to guard a sector of the division’s concentration area for German prisoners.  The companies performed guard duties on a rotating basis for the remainder of their time in Czechoslovakia. (Source)
 
 
World War II in Europe was over.

(Source for the following...)

As part of II Corps, the division landed in Oran, Algeria on 8 November 1942 as part of Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa. Elements of the division then took part in combat at Maktar, Tebourba, Medjez el Bab, the Battle of Kasserine Pass (where American forces were pushed back), and Gafsa. It then led the Allied assault in brutal fighting at El Guettar, Béja, and Mateur. The 1st Infantry Division was in combat in the Tunisian Campaign from 21 January 1943 to 9 May 1943, helping secure Tunisia. The campaign ended just days later, with the surrender of almost 250,000 Axis soldiers. After months of nearly continuous fighting, the division had a short rest before training for the next operation.

In July 1943, the division took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, still under the command of Major General Allen. Lieutenant General George S. Patton, commanding the U.S. Seventh Army, specifically requested the division as part of his forces for the invasion of Sicily. It was still assigned to the II Corps. In Sicily the 1st Division saw heavy action when making amphibious landings opposed by Italian and German tanks at the Battle of Gela. The 1st Division then moved up through the center of Sicily, slogging it out through the mountains along with the 45th Infantry Division. In these mountains, the division saw some of the heaviest fighting in the entire Sicilian campaign at the Battle of Troina; some units losing more than half their strength in assaulting the mountain town. On 7 August 1943, Major General Allen was relieved of his command by Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, then commanding the II Corps. Allen was replaced by Major General Clarence R. Huebner who was, like Allen, a decorated veteran of World War I who had served with the 1st Infantry Division throughout the war.

When that campaign was over, the division returned to England, arriving there on 5 November 1943 to prepare for the eventual invasion of Normandy. The 1st Infantry Division and one regimental combat team from the 29th Infantry Division comprised the first wave of troops that assaulted German Army defenses on Omaha Beach on D-Day. The division had to run 300 yards to get to the bluffs, with some of the division's units suffering 30 percent casualties in the first hour of the assault, and secured Formigny and Caumont in the beachhead by the end of the day. The division followed up the Saint-Lô break-through with an attack on Marigny, 27 July 1944.

The division then drove across France in a continuous offensive. It took large numbers of prisoners during the Battle of the Mons Pocket, and reached the German border at Aachen in September. The division laid siege to Aachen, taking the city after a direct assault on 21 October 1944. The 1st Division then attacked east of Aachen through the Hürtgen Forest, driving to the Ruhr, and was moved to a rear area 7 December 1944 for refitting and rest following 6 months of combat. When the German Wacht Am Rhein offensive (commonly called the Battle of the Bulge) was launched on 16 December 1944, the division was quickly moved to the Ardennes front. Fighting continuously from 17 December 1944 to 28 January 1945, the division helped to blunt and reverse the German offensive. Thereupon, the division, now commanded by Major General Clift Andrus, attacked and again breached the Siegfried Line, fought across the Ruhr, 23 February 1945, and drove on to the Rhine, crossing at the Remagen bridgehead, 15–16 March. The division broke out of the bridgehead, took part in the encirclement of the Ruhr Pocket, captured Paderborn, pushed through the Harz Mountains, and was in Czechoslovakia, fighting at Kynšperk nad Ohří, Prameny, and Mnichov (Domažlice District) when the war in Europe ended. Sixteen members of the division were awarded the Medal of Honor during World War II. 

Casualties
  • Total battle casualties: 20,659 (15,374 in Europe, 5,285 in North Africa and Sicily)
  • Killed in action: 3,616 (2,713 in Europe, 903 in North Africa and Sicily)
  • Wounded in action: 15,208 (11,527 in Europe, 3,681 in North Africa and Sicily)
  • Missing in action: 499 (329 in Europe, 170 in North Africa and Sicily)
  • Prisoner of war: 1,336 (805 in Europe, 531 in North Africa and Sicily)
  • Days of Combat: 443
Awards and Prisoners taken
 
Distinguished Unit Citations:
  • Company K, 18th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat on 23 March 1943 (War Department General Order No. 60, 1944)
  • 32nd Field Artillery Battalion, for action in combat from 21-24 March 1943 (War Department General Order No. 66, 1945)
  • 2nd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat on 23 April 1943 (War Department General Order No. 4, 1945)
  • 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 29-30 April 1943 (War Department General Order No. 60, 1944)
  • 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 10-13 July 1943 (War Department General Order No. 60, 1944)
  • 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 10-14 July 1943 (War Department General Order No. 60, 1944)
  • Cannon Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 11-13 July 1943 (War Department General Order No. 60, 1944)
  • 16th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat on 6 June 1944 (War Department General Order No. 73, 1944)
  • 18th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 6-16 June 1944 (War Department General Order No. 14, 1945)
  • 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 13-22 September 1944 (War Department General Order No. 42, 1945)
  • 18th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 8-10 October 1944 (War Department General Order No. 42, 1945)
  • 3rd Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 8-19 October 1944 (War Department General Order No. 30, 1945)
  • Companies G and L, 16th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 15-17 October 1944 (War Department General Order No. 14, 1945)
  • 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 16-19 November 1944 (War Department General Order No. 120, 1946)
  • 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 18-26 November 1944 (War Department General Order No. 120, 1946)
  • 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat from 16-26 November 1944 (War Department General Order No. 120, 1946)
  • Company F, 18th Infantry Regiment, for action in combat on 2 February 1945 (War Department General Order No. 29, 1946)

Individual Awards: 

  • Medal of Honor: 16
  • Distinguished Service Cross: 131
  • Legion of Merit: 16
  • Silver Star: 4,258
  • Soldiers Medal: 100
  • Bronze Star: 12,568
  • Air Medal: 65
Prisoners Taken:
 
188,382


May their glory never fade.




¹ Found guilty on multiple counts (war crimes, etc.) by the Nuremberg Tribunal, Wilhelm Keitel was hanged on 16 October 1946.

Link to all of the Chant's fiction.

56 comments:

  1. Pity Ollie didn't see the end. I would have liked to know how he became Ollie, rather than
    Ole.

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  2. Been a long slog, thanks for all the hard work Sarge and now to slightly change that GLF.........Take My Money!

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  3. The release of tension is real.

    Now I'm slowly taking deep breaths and calming down because Muses have a way of doing the unexpected at the very last moment.

    I'm tickled that you invited us along for the ride.

    Very well done indeed and thank you.

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    Replies
    1. It's not over till the nightmares end. Which, for some, will only come when they die, some from alcoholism, some from suicide, some from excessive risk taking, some from the effects of being in the army for a long time (wounds, bad food, potentially poisonous/cancerous chemicals) and some from old age.

      The dying still continued at a trickle from just stupid stuff, but it wasn't in huge wholesale lots.

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  4. Quite a ride. Very engaging!

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  5. I've enjoyed this story ever since I joined it. It has been a good ride. Thanks OldAFSarge!

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  6. Two of my long – deceased uncles were in the ETO during the war. They never, ever talked about it. Thank you so much for giving me some idea of what they might have experienced. .

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    Replies
    1. Talking with veterans of the war in my youth helped me to understand them.

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  7. Nice way to end things, Sarge. I gotta admit I also got a bit damp eyed reading this last installment, your writing always invokes the 'appropriate' emotion. Im gonna miss these guys!

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  8. Hey Old AFSarge;

    THank you for the writeup on my division, It made me feel 10 feet tall to see that patch on my uniform and the movie "The Big Red One" was a favorite one in the Division(I wonder why, LOL). You ended that chapter well, your muse did an excellent job on this one. Kudo's to you and your muse.

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  9. Well done sir.

    My father was attached to the 5th (84th CMB) in Italy. He got there
    by way of north african like many. There were very few stories told
    and most were not about war. I know very little of what he did or
    saw but reading the 84th battalion combat history gave me clues of
    what might have been.


    Eck!

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  10. A wonderful emotional and historical trip OAFS. I started your journey during my normal blog reading time but quickly got to the point of opening Chant du Depart first thing in the a.m., with coffee and before looking at news or e-mails. What that means, I guess, is that you and your Muse produced a "can't put down" tome. Thanks! regards, Alemaster

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  11. Nicely done. But is it? ;)

    That whole points system, what a cluster as the PTO maneuvered to get more and more ETO combat vets assigned. Handled well in Band of Brothers episode titled... "Points." Thank God for the Manhattan Project!

    You have done a wonderful job, as usual, of being both entertaining and educational. Can't wait to see what next you do.

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    Replies
    1. Very few ETO vets went to the Pacific in time for Okinawa. If the bombs hadn't have been dropped...

      Different story, I might not be here.

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  12. Thank you.
    Thank your Muse too.
    Thank your wife also, who has undoubtedly granted you great leeway to pursue this project in your "spare time."
    Thank your employer whom you can now tell to buzz off because you have found anew occupation you like a lot more, even if it might not pay as well.

    And, thank Lex for inspiring you to enter the blogosphere, and setting a very high standard.

    Finally, thank the teachers and all who encouraged you to read, and write, and to write exceptionally well.

    Your style reminds me of Shaara's THe Killer Angels. You are very bit as good at that. EVERY bit!

    Well done, and THANK YOU!

    Let us know when the next project starts.
    John Blackshoe

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    Replies
    1. Begin compared to Shaara is quite humbling. Thanks JB.

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  13. I joined what is now the California State Guard in 1983 as a brand new mustang 2Lt. Our Bn CSM was a Vietnam vet who had lost two fingers on his hand from (almost) throwing back an enemy grenade. He wore the Big Red One on his right shoulder. I learned more about how to be a soldier from him than anyone else I ever knew in uniform.

    Rip CSM Jerry Houston.

    Have not commented much of late, partly because I am about three weeks out after cataract surgery. I do stop by to read though. Thank God for "Contol, +". Well done, Sarge.

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  14. Thank you Sarge. A very fitting ending to what has been quite a saga.

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  15. I'll be answering comments tomorrow. I'm on the road and typing on the cell phone is NOT something I'm good at. Thanks to all! 😁

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  16. Thanks- a great story. My FIL was 97th Div, ended the war in Cheb. He was a latecomer and sent to Japan after VE day, fortunately the Japanese surrendered prior to invasion. Many years after the war his immediate unit, I do not recall it right now, organized a reunion and trip to Cheb. They were feted by the city- the occupation was still very much in their minds.
    Word is he was a changed man after the war, I have wondered if he was one of the ones who found Flossenburg. Never met him to ask.

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  17. As ever, a fitting and heartfelt passage, Sarge.
    You have achieved something I think few writers have. Bless and keep you and yours.
    V/R
    Boat Guy

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  18. Great story, OAFS, and a fitting end to your saga. Keep writing, we'll keep reading...

    D.

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  19. That was one of the best "books" I have ever read. Rarely does a story grab me like that and hold me. Maybe it was the way you serialized it, maybe it was the depths you dove into the characters, maybe it was because we followed these characters through the entire ordeal.

    You sir, have talent and aside from "Killer Angels" this has been my favorite read.

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  20. Wow, I'm taking a few deep breaths myself. And it's really dusty in here tonight.
    Well done Sarge! I still think this needs to be shared in every high school and college.

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  21. Sarge,
    When the book is ready, please add me to the list of those who want two. My daughter the history/Civics teacher will I"m certain want the second to read and place near her"wall of honor" of the students she has had who went into the service (two (2) to service academies).
    Thank you
    Dennis the librarian shusher

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    Replies
    1. I shall do that Dennis.

      I shall also endeavor not to make too much noise in the library. 😉

      Delete

Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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