I posted this once before as a series on Facebook, but it seems appropriate to offer it again in its entirety on Memorial Day.
A TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER
So, this is something that I promised myself after clearing out both my father and mother’s estates over the past ten years – when my mom passed away this past August I found a letter that my father had written to his parents in 1945 from his various positions as a US Army private immersed in WWII. It was so telling that I felt it was worth sharing with others. Even if you don’t agree, I felt it was important for me to pass it on. It is lengthy, so I will offer it in a couple of segments. If you like it, then share it. If not, that’s OK too. So here it is…..
From Earl Sorgule – September 7, 1945.
Not more than two hours ago we heard an announcement saying that censorship has been discontinued, so now that I have the opportunity and the urge to write, I shall give you a complete analysis of events from the time I left the states, over one year ago, until now.
Now it was way back in July of 1944 that we were alerted for shipment from Camp Reynolds. We had been completely outfitted with new clothes and equipment. We boarded the train at Reynolds and headed in a northerly direction toward New York State. That afternoon we passed through Erie, PA and that night before I realized it, we pulled into Buffalo.
The troop train stopped at a signal tower along Harlem Road someplace. I can remember seeing that cream-colored schoolhouse and little red fire station we passed so often when we visited the Larsen’s. It seemed to me that we passed over that railroad bridge on Stephenson Street where the Larsen’s live. We stayed here about 2 hours not being allowed to leave the train. It was mighty heart breaking being so near, yet so far.
Then we pulled out of there and took that old familiar route through upper New York State: Rochester, Albany, the Hudson River and New York and from there to Camp Shanks. We remained at Camp Shanks for about 4 days; long enough to be processed and issued new rifles and bayonets. It was the 22nd of July that we departed for the docks to board our transport for overseas. To our surprise we found the gigantic Queen Mary sitting there so proud – waiting for us.
We naturally thought that we were in luck having such a swell ship to take us overseas, but to our regret, we were stuck down in D-deck, just about water level. The Queen was plenty crowded-18,000 troops “like sardines, we were”. We pulled out of New York harbor and the last vanishing thing we saw was the Statue of Liberty.
Now after 4 1/2 days at sea, we pulled into Greenock, Scotland. We boarded a train there and headed straight for England. The Scottish countryside was very beautiful with all its rolling hills and thatch roof homes.
We weren’t on the train more than half a day when we pulled into Chester, England. Our reception committee consisted of a couple of stuffed shirt officers, who got us green horns on the ball, but quick. Out in the street we came upon a line of GI trucks. We climbed aboard and like a flash we were tearing through English streets. After an hours rough ride we came upon our home in England. It was a ground forces “Replacement Depot” – Repo-Depo, we call it. Here we stayed for 6 weeks taking more training. It was rough while we were there, but we all came out of it OK.
At the end of our sixth week of training we volunteered to ship out to an outfit. Three of us from our barracks were on the shipment; Shives, Sherrel and myself.
Well, at last we were to join an outfit. There were thirty of us in the group that left. We rode the train all that night and through the next day. By mistake, we got off in a small town called Brekan, in Wales. It was a nice, quiet little town where American troops hadn’t been seen very often.
We got off here and had over a half day to wait for our next train. So we roamed the streets of the town buying apples, pears and pastry. We had nice chats with the Welshmen. Then we finally hopped on a train and headed for 1308.
Almost continually we were troubled with rain. We had one spell of it for 53 days without any let up. When I tell you the mud was 3 feet deep in places, I am not kidding. We weren’t equipped for this weather; we had no boots, leaky raincoats and poor chow.
The Company had one bad accident while at Cherburg. That was when our big tarmac distributor, 10,000 gallon tank blew up and burned for 3 hours. We lost some time and equipment in that mishap.
My impression is that Cherbourg is a German loving wet hole where nothing but the poorest Frenchmen would live. They had a collaborationist camp with over 2,000 Frenchmen within it.
One night in December we were alerted and by the next day we had our camp completely dismantled and we were ready to pull out for someplace up front.
The weather at this time turned colder and instead of rain, things began to freeze and we had snow. We were on our way out of Normandy by that night, and it got colder by the hour. When we drew near to Paris we were just about froze. The temperature dropped to 7 above zero and believe me we felt every degree of it. All wrapped up in our blankets, too cold to talk, too tired to and hungry to even move. Everything was silent.”
“The convoy stopped just about 12 o’clock that evening in a suburb of Paris. We had time to get out and stretch and get our circulation back. We were so cold we would do anything to get warm.
One of the men in our platoon managed to buy a bottle of wine from a Frenchman, which sure helped to keep us warm for a while.
About the time we reached Reims, the cold became unbearable. When we stopped we quickly went about ripping a wooden fence down and with the aid of 5 gallons of gasoline and a match we got ourselves warm again. While in Reims, we refueled all of our trucks and drew ammunition.
As the convoy crept up the long cold road ahead we noticed the Frenchmen, old men and women, middle aged and children waving us farewell. There was something very warming in this that one felt way down deep inside of them.
Now, we were supposed to reach our destination that night after two full days and nights of riding in the back of a GI truck. Night drew near and still no sign of a stop. It was well into the morning when we found out we were lost. The roads were icy and rough; the snow lay deep in the fields and woods. We could see ourselves getting out and [itching pup tents in those woods, but luckily we never did stop. Off in the distance we could see and hear the artillery. The convoy crossed one river and then another. The second found to be the Meuse, so we knew we were pulling into the Battle of the Bulge. It seemed we were completely lost either in Belgium, France or Luxemburg. We suddenly stopped and our C.O. was seen walking up to a building. He went in and two other officers followed. We knew now that something was up. The company remained in the trucks. In the cold, clear air we kept hearing the roar of guns and the rolling of tanks.
Like a flash out of the sky came a whine and a roar and the heavy rat-tat of a Gerry machine gun. Before we even knew what had happened we had all jumped clear of the trucks and took cover. Our eyes saw the silhouette of a Gerry plane fading into the pitch-black sky. He circled and came back again. We were safe this time, but plenty scared. When things got under control again the captain said we had places to bunk for the night.
We had nothing but straw and the hard floor to sleep on but it was worth a million. After sleeping like logs that night we arose the next morning feeling fresh in the crisp winter air. What an appetite we had built up. C-rations sure tasted good.
It was two days before Christmas and we never realized it. The morale of the outfit was good, but everyone was sincere in what they were doing.
Now, Willie Lanz and I were chosen as Company runners. This was a day and night job that brought us plenty of exc
Our regiment was stretched out along the Meuse and we had quite a job patrolling and guarding the all important bridges. Every night from one-three, Gerry planes would harass us with bombing and strafing.
Christmas came upon us like a flash and we weren’t prepared for it. Christmas Eve Willie and I slept in a barn in a town outside of an American cemetery from the last war. Christmas Day we ate C-rations and liked it. After delivering a message to our Company we were hailed by a Frenchman who called us into his home. They offered us wine and roasted chicken. We were very thankful for the way they treated us. That man and woman were an example of the kind of people living in this region.”
“We had friends all along our routes – one could tell that these people were appreciative and understanding. The German loving people of Normandy had no such feelings.
Willie and I had several scrapes during our adventures in the Ardens. One night a Gerry plane almost had our number. We were putting along the road in the Jeep on that crisp moonlit night. The hills and surroundings had a weird glow and everything was quiet and still. You could hear for miles around. Down from the sky in back of us came this Gerry, spitting away with his machine guns. Luckily he missed the first time. We had pulled into a grove of trees, but we were leery of this spot and we decided to move to another place of safety. We pulled the Jeep around behind a barn and waited there in the darkness to see what would happen. Sure enough, back he came blazing away with all four guns, peppering that same grove of trees we had just left. We had butterflies in our stomachs after that incident. We raced back to our headquarters but fast, giving that old Jeep everything she had.
Another time, Willie and I had to take a message to Stenay, France and just as we pulled into the town it seemed to light up like the light of day. The Gerry’s were dropping firebombs and you could see and hear the explosions in the outskirts of this innocent French town. The Nazis must have known that part of the 17th Airborne Division was there and that the 28th Division was withdrawing through that sector to regroup. They wanted to smash the bridges, I suppose, but no soap.
They did manage to get a few hits on a P.O.W. stockade however and drop guns and explosives for the prisoners to use. Immediately, the P.O.W.s started swarming through the gaps in the barbed wire. They were mowed down by machine gun fire just as fast.
Now, we were attached to the Third and Fourth Armies while there. We did our job and when the Bulge was knocked out, we were on our way again. Now we headed west.
This time the Company went by rail. Dad knows what that means; we were packed into boxcars with no heat or light. The old 40-8’s, what a mess. Well, while the Company was speeding west in the bitter cold our equipment was in a convoy heading in the same direction. Willie and I rode in the open Jeep all the way. I nipped both feet pretty bad then. It was way below zero at that time.
Now we pulled into La-Harve and it was too cold to live, it seemed. Our job there was to operate a staging area for incoming troops. When the Company arrived they bore some important booty. It seems they stole overshoes, gloves, sleeping bags, socks, etc. That’s the only way we could get anything in France. There were over 1,300 sleeping bags stolen from that quartermaster depot in Reuon, France.
The camp we operated outside of Le-Harve was named Lucky-Strike. We sent the 65th Division through there together with many other small units. We remained there until around February. This time I rode in a 40 & 8 together with the Company. This trip took us 4 days and nights. We arrived in Marseilles and found it much warmer. We camped there for 2 days and finally moved out to a town called St. Chemois; we remained there for one month doing roadwork. Now we had to move again.
This time it was the French Riviera. The city was “Nice” and it was great. We were 6 miles from the front but safe as all get out. Here we worked on hotels and apartment houses to be used for the GI rest center. This is where I bought all my film and had them done up.
We stayed 7 weeks in Nice and then departed for Marseilles again. Here we got a job working construction on a staging area. Shortly after, the war came to an end. It meant nothing to us because we kept on working.
Then came the point system and they added up our scores. Mine was 33, so we kept on working. Later we received one more star, which gave me a 38. When we had completed our job we were the first ones to be placed in the camp. It wasn’t until later that we found out we were headed for the Pacific.”
It wasn’t until later that we found out we were headed for the Pacific. Now, one more Battle Star came through for us giving us a total of 3 and making my score-43.
At the end of six weeks doing nothing we were alerted so that meant but one thing, we were headed for a boat. Indeed we were, for shortly afterward we found ourselves climbing the gangplank of the General Mann. This was the 14th of July that we boarded the ship. Just a little less than a year from the time I left the States for Europe. The General Mann had some 6,000 troops aboard and she sure was crowded. The first week we ate better than we had since we left the States. Then it started to drop off and it got so warm we couldn’t sleep at night. Nothing to do but sit on deck and talk and dream.
All this time the officers were being taken care of, getting three meals a day, sleeping in air-conditioned compartments, loafing around in their lounge where ice cream and sodas could be bought.
Fifteen days on the Atlantic and all we saw was the Rock of Gibraltar and water and more water. Finally, we pulled into the Caribbean Sea and prepared to take the cut through the Panama Canal. We were allowed to go ashore at Christopa and here we were given free hot dogs, coffee, cokes and candy. Here is where I wrote that one letter!
Oh yes, we also received some mail. I received quite a batch of letters, two packages, and the two envelopes with T-shirts and briefs.
Shortly after we had pulled out of Panama we were put on K.P. There we remained for 3 weeks. We swung past the Marshal Islands and continued on our way. We pulled into the Carolina’s several days later and anchored. Then came the news of the Atomic Bomb and the Japanese surrender.
Now after 54 days at sea we sat anchored off of Mog-Mog Island waiting for God knows what.
To give you a little dope on what’s going on and how we were being treated, I’ll start like this: We’re being treated like cattle! The chow is miserable, the heat is unbearable. I have never sweat so much in my life. There isn’t an enlisted man aboard who hasn’t lost 10 pounds. The officers and crew get three meals of the cream of the chow, and we get two that even a starving dog would balk at. The cereal is wormy and moldy, the potatoes are rotten and nothing is ever attempted to be fixed right.
The war is over, they have no need for us, yet we sit here waiting while the officers get fat and the big shots argue about what they’re going to wear to Emperor Hirohito’s tea party. Day after day we get news about the poor boys in the States who shouldn’t go overseas and why continue the draft. There are enough troops there now to take care of the occupation. That’s all we hear: what McArthur wears to dinner, how he feels and how some general bought chickens from a Japanese farmer and one of them laid an egg.
I’m letting you know this Army organization stinks from the words “I Do”. If we don’t leave here soon I’m telling you something bad will happen, the men have been uneasy for weeks. It’s rotten the way things are run aboard this ship. If we ever do get off we shall never be the same hard working individuals we were before. We’re fed up with the Army and all this nonsense.
We hope and pray that we can return to the States again soon. We shall never leave again as long as we may live, that’s one country where you can fence me in.
Excuse me if you think I got a little harsh there but it’s the truth and I don’t see how anybody can hold it back.
Well mom, that was a long one. Maybe I’ll read it over when I get home.
Your loving son,
This is the tenth or so time that I have read this letter and it always chokes me up. The irony is that my dad NEVER talked about the war, and unfortunately, I never asked him about it while he was alive. I re-read this to stay in touch with him and to try and understand more of what made him the great man that he was.
If there is a lesson(s) it would be this: Make sure that you take the time to sit down with your parents and ask them about their life experiences, do it often. Secondly, think about those young boys and girls overseas who are representing our country on foreign soil. The job is never easy.