In honor of Veterans Day, we wanted to share a letter our grandfather wrote home to his sister, brother-in-law, and little niece from France, during World War II. I love how he describes everything in such detail and how his unique sense of humor shows even in his battle stories.
This picture was published in the county paper along with the letter below.
Dear Mary, Mike, and Mevelyn:
Seeing so many kids around makes me thing of Mevelyn a lot. I don't think they have had any school here in quite a while because of transportation shortage. A lady who could speak English told me a few days ago that they would have one started soon. They sure have some cute children here, and they are very clever, too.
Mary, I'm sorry I never gave you all the details about the German who jumped in with me soon after I landed in France. After all the publicity you gave me, I think I should tell you the entire story. To tell the truth, it was much more exciting and a hundred times more dangerous than what I wrote. Just pull your toes up a little closer to the fire, relax, and you may smoke up until the time I start mentioning TNR and high explosives. There now, are you all set?
It is now high noon of a nice, sunshiny day - in a few short minutes we will move forward in the attack. During the preceding night the enemy's main force has withdrawn; we don't know exactly how far we will have to march before we meet organized resistance. A few short miles away is a strong position where we believe the enemy will be waiting and prepared for a battle to the death. I know it will be hours before I have a chance to eat again, so I reach into my radio dispatch case and what do I find? The dish of all dishes - the Army K ration. I finish my lovely meal just in time, because our patrol has returned from a small town which is in front of us, and we must move forward quickly to keep contact. Our planes had dropped leaflets on the town the evening before telling the civilians to take cover as we would soon bombard the place with artillery and planes. When the patrol entered the town it was like one of the Western ghost towns with not a person in sight. One by one the natives began to come out, perhaps a little scared and dazed, from their cellars and dugouts. They said the Germans had pulled out early in the morning, taking their horse-drawn artillery with them. We moved forward with columns on each side of the road and are soon entering the town. I stay with the Battalion commander, who is near the front of the column. The town hasn't been damaged too badly, and all the people are standing along the streets cheering and passing out cider and wine to the boys as they march along. The only evidence of the Nazis to be seen were a couple abandoned 88mm guns. At the other edge of the town several houses were still burning; it made you feel a little bad to see the places being destroyed, but it couldn't be helped. Two or three miles farther up the road we entered an area which was, without a doubt, one of the worst scenes of destruction I ever saw. Our Marauder bombers, dive bombers, and artillery had made a shambles of the place. Trees splintered and laying across the road like a bunch of matches, huge bomb and artillery craters in the road and on both sides an occasional artillery or aerial dud for you to step across. Communication and electric lines were laying everywhere. I had to stop for a few seconds to send a message, so when I finished I was about in the middle of the column. A few yards farther on and we came up to a crossroads. Almost in the center of the place was a knocked out German ammunition truck, and scattered over the road were its contents, some 40 or 50 heavy artillery shells. Among them was a 500-pound bomb from one of our planes which had failed to explode. On the other side of the road were a couple more trucks and some ack ack guns - knocked out by our planes, I suppose: the fallen timbers of a couple of houses were still glowing. In addition to the main intersection, there were two or three country lanes coming in between the improved roads. I heard the rumble of some tanks nearby, and I figured we were getting a little armored support.
About half the column was across the road and I was practically in the center of the intersection when the action started. I call it my battle of the crossroads because even though I might not have been the center of attraction, I was definitely in the center of everything. Suddenly one of our men yelled a word that sent chills up my spine - "Tanks!" Coming up a lane were two German tiger tanks - the muzzles of guns looked as big around as a flour barrel. I dived for the ground as the firing began. We opened up with all the riffles we had, and made the tanks button up. They pulled off the road and began to spray us with machine gun fire, Back across the road, our own machine guns got in position and began to return the fire - all the bullets, friendly and enemy, were passing dangerously close to Uncle Loren. But that wasn't my main concern - a dozen steps away were all those unexploded shells - if they should explode there wouldn't even be a greasy spot left of you know who. I decided I had better get out of there, and fast, so I did a very crazy thing: I got up and ran about 15 yards to a small hole under a fallen tree. I had a little more protection from the bullets, but the few steps didn't matter as far as the duds were concerned. Our anti-tank trucks and guns roared up to the center of the activity - not knowing what the situation was. They quickly scattered and took cover as the tanks resumed their firing. Suddenly I hear the roar of a motor, and looking up I see an enemy armored car coming up, and there is a man, or rather a soldier, with his head out the turret. I had to play mouse to keep my insides free of machine gun bullets just then. The armored car was aparently lost, or hadn't expected us to be there; he quickly wheeled around and right then is when I could have done of good if I had had a rifle grenade. In fact, I could have thrown my entire rifle and hit him. As he sped back down the road a half dozen shots rand out and the man's head in the turret disappeared. The German tanks were also pulling out, but suddenly another armored car roared into life a hundred feet away and raced out of the woods with machine guns blaring into the center of the road. A Mexican kid calmly stood up in a bomb crater and fired a rifle grenade, which hit a rear wheel - jamming another grenade on quickly he hit the gas tank and set the thing on fire. The thing began to burn and explode a few feet away and brother, it was right on top of all those Henie shells. A German in the turret, trapped and burning, died screaming; the door in the front opened, and leaping towards me was a Nazi. A dozen bullets cut him down before he was 10 feet away. The armored car's ammunition began popping just then, and I guess that is why the driver who came out the same door was unharmed. He came out plenty fast, hatless, and jumped almost on top of me. I'm sure he was scared as I was, and I know he thought he was lucky to get out in one piece. I don't know exactly what I did, but I guess I kept punching him to let him know I was still there. When the firing ceased, he was marched to the rear; the Nazi on the ground pointed to my rifle and to his head, but I wouldn't oblige him. He died in about 5 minutes anyway, and we moved forward again just as though nothing had happened.
Incidentally, I redeemed myself in the foxhole jumping art. I jump in on top of colonels on three occasions. I paid one a visit twice in the same night when we were strafed by Jerry planes, which were supporting a counter-attack. One night when we were making the break-through, a JU-88 roared in at tree-top level and I took a dive into the nearest hole, which was occupied by a new colonel. He was sure a swell officer, as I later found out.