Treatment of the WWII Wounded

Having recently undergone knee replacement surgery, I got to thinking about what the soldiers, sailors and marines who were wounded during WWII went through. The latest technology and medical knowledge insured that my surgery was successful. The same was true of the wounded in WWII.

Thanks to the medical innovations, both in the organization of how the wounded were handled and the medical techniques utilized, survival rates during WWII were much better than in previous wars. Also the survivors enjoyed an improved quality of life.

Let’s walk through what happened to a soldier after being wounded.

Immediately after being wounded, a medic performed first aid. That might include bandages, a tourniquet, sulfa powder and morphine for the pain. Stretcher bearers or fellow soldiers took the wounded man to the nearest aid station just behind the lines. At the aid station patients were examined and separated by severity and type of injury. Seriously wounded were treated and prepared for evacuation to a field hospital. Minor wounds were treated at the aid station.

11th Field Hospital Europe

At the field hospital a team of doctors and nurses performed any necessary surgery. They splinted broken bones, treated burns, open wounds, etc. If called for, they performed amputations. Think of the TV show M.A.S.H. Although the TV show was set in Korea, the concept of a mobile field hospital originated during WWII.

From the field hospital the wounded soldier was transported by ambulance to an evacuation hospital or a general hospital even further back where he would recover or be sent home. If the patient could recover and return to the fight, he was kept in the Theatre of War. Very few wounds required that the soldier be sent back to the states. Depending on the time and place, the wounded soldier might be transported by airplane or by ship.

Wounded Sailors followed a different path. If wounded aboard ship, a corpsman (similar to a medic) would initially treat the wounds. Then the sailor went to sick bay which is the hospital aboard ship. The doctors in sick bay would perform surgery or provide whatever treatment was needed. If the sailor needed to be transported to a hospital, he had to wait until his ship made port. Sometimes, he would be transferred to a hospital ship, if one was nearby. In the Pacific, a hospital ships waited nearby during major battles or invasions such as Iwo Jima. The hospital ships would take the badly wounded back to Hawaii where the Navy had a large hospital complex. In the Atlantic, the more severely wounded went to a hospital on the U.S. eastern seaboard.

USS Hope Naval Hospital Ship

Marines fighting in the Pacific Theatre followed a similar path as the soldiers wounded on land and then were evacuated onto a ship.

These methods of moving the wounded from combat to medical facilities with increasing capabilities insured that the more severely wounded got the treatment they needed in a timely manner. This resulted in fewer deaths and better outcomes.

In my research I have read about some of the innovative medical techniques developed during WWII. One example was the use of plasma. Back in the states the Red Cross collected blood to be used in hospitals and overseas, but transporting it over long distances proved difficult. They developed a technique to extract the plasma from the whole blood and preserve it so that it could be transported overseas and given to the wounded in place of whole blood. This innovation saved many lives. Read about it here.

Surgical techniques, skin graphs, plastic surgery, improved artificial limbs, air transport and much more improved the lives of the surviving wounded.

When I look down at the scar on my knee, I can’t help but wonder how much I am benefiting from the medical lessons learned during WWII.

Life Magazine published a story in 1945 that followed a soldier from the time he was wounded until he reached a hospital in the United States. George Lott Casualty includes incredible photographs. Click this link to read more about this story.

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The Star Spangled Banner

Our National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, was inspired by the British attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor on September 13-14, 1814. Frances Scott Key, while onboard a British Frigate, penned the words after seeing the Flag of the United States still flying over Fort McHenry in the faint light of dawn. Despite 25 hours of shelling by British artillery on land, by British rockets, and by the British Navy, the American flag still flew above the fort. The Americans had won. The British had lost.

On July 4th we remember the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and the British Surrender at Yorktown in 1781 marking the end of the American Revolution. We also remember all the wars the United States and our military have fought in since the Revolution. These wars include the War of 1812 (1812-1814), the end of the Civil War in 1865, the First World War surrender 1918, World War II (1941-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), The Vietnam War (1955-1975), Desert Storm (1990-1991), Iraq War (2003-2011), and Afghanistan War (2001-2021). In all these wars, men and women gave their lives to preserve our freedoms spelled out in the Declaration of Independence.

The Lead Up To World War II – Is History Repeating Itself?

The events leading up to the Second World War is a timely topic. We can see similar patterns today. So I thought it would be a good time to remind all of us of past events to help us understand the present.

In January 1933 Adolf Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany. He soon suspended the Constitution of Germany and, therefore, became their Dictator.

Rhineland, demonbug, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

March 7, 1936, Germany re-militarized the Rhineland. According to the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, the Rhineland was to remain a demilitarized zone. The Rhineland, an area along the western border of Germany bordering on France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, remained a part of Germany after WWI but it was supposed to provide a buffer zone for their neighbors to the west. When Hitler marched his soldiers into the Rhineland, there were no significant objections from the former Allied countries. This was a small but important victory which embolden Hitler.

March 12, 1938, Germany annexed Austria. Hitler claimed that the German speaking people of Austria should be part of Germany. He had already made know his belief that all Germans should be within one nation or Reich. Also pro-Nazi groups had been trying to destabilize Austria by attempting to overthrow the Austrian Government in 1934. Hitler denied any involvement or desire to annex Austria in 1935. In February 1938 a new Austrian Chancellor was appointed after his predecessor was assassinated. Under pressure from Germany to do their bidding this new Chancellor resigned. Hitler demanded that the President appoint an Austrian Nazi as the new Chancellor. When he refused, Hitler ordered the invasion. Most Austrians welcomed the Germans thinking their life would be better as part of the Third Reich.

Sudetenland Occupation By Bundesarchiv, Bild 137-004055 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5418581

September 30, 1938, Germany, Britain, France and Italy signed the Munich Agreement. In it the Sudetenland, a large swath of Czechoslovakia, was ceded to Germany in return for a promise of peace from Hitler. Again Hitler’s explanation for taking the Sudetenland centered around Hitler’s belief that German Sudeten’s in the area should be part of Germany. He also wanted more “living space” for the growing German Reich. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Prime Minister Edouard Daladier believed Hitler’s promise of peace, but Hitler did not.

On September 1, 1939, Hitler’s forces invaded Poland, knowing that Britain and France had treaties with Poland stating that they would come to Poland’s defense if she were attacked. At that point, both countries were obligated to honor their treaties. On September 3, 1939, France, Britain, Canada and other British Commonwealth nations declared war on Germany. World War II had begun.

Invasion of Poland 1939 en:User:Listowy, CC BY-SA 3.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, via Wikimedia Commons

It soon became apparent to the world that Hitler’s ambitions went further that wanting Poland. After originally agreeing to split Poland with Russia (Soviet Union), Hitler had a change of heart and attacked Russia (Soviet Union) on June 22, 1941.

The United States stayed out of the “European” war until Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. A few days later, on December 11, 1941, Hitler declared war on the United States.

Does any of this step-by-step expansion make you think of what is going on today? Do you see the slow plotting, taking a little territory at a time, to unite people who speak the same language, share a culture and a history? Do these excuses justify one nation taking over another sovereign nation?

My Top Five WWII Navy Movies

Continuing with my WWII movie theme, here are my favorite Navy movies, (that is movies about the Navy on the water, not on land). Most of these are set in the Pacific Theatre because that’s where the larger naval battles took place fighting the Japanese. In the Atlantic, the U.S. Navy mostly fought the German U-boats attacking convoys headed for England.

5. The Enemy Below (1957)

Staring Robert Mitchum as Captain of an American destroyer escorting an Atlantic convoy and Curt Jurgens Captain of a German U-Boat. It’s a cat and mouse chase where the American Captain goes after the German Captain each gaining respect for the other. You’ll have to watch it to see how it ends. I’ll just say the end is exactly what you would expect – one sinks the other, but there’s more to it which makes the whole movie worthwhile.

4. Operation Pacific (1951)

John Wayne, Patricia Neal and Ward Bond star in the story of a submarine in the South Pacific dealing with torpedo’s that don’t explode when fired. After two encounters with the Japanese when their torpedo’s fail, the last ending in the death of the captain, Ward Bond, Executive Officer Wayne searches for a solution. My favorite aspect of this movie is the rekindled romance between Wayne and his ex-wife Patricia Neal, a Navy Nurse. There’s plenty of action to see in this movie, but the romance makes it one of my favorites.

3. PT-109 (1963)

The story of Pres. John Kennedy’s heroic actions during WWII. The film, made during Kennedy’s presidency, stars Cliff Robertson as Kennedy, Ty Hardin, Robert Culp, Robert Blake, and Norman Fell. After their small PT boat is rammed by a Japanese destroyer, Kennedy rescues a wounded crew member by swimming him ashore. He leads the crew on another dangerous swim before they are finally rescued after many days stranded on an island. Kennedy is a favorite of mine and this true story proves he was a real hero.

2. Midway (1976)

The 1942 Battle of Midway Island proves to be turning point in the Pacific. An impressive cast, including Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Hal Holbrook, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, and Robert Wagner, depicts this epic battle at sea. This excellent war movie is one you should not miss.

1. In Harms Way (1965)

This epic naval war movie stars John Wayne, Patricia Neal, Kirk Douglas, and many more. The action starts on Dec. 7, 1941, in Pearl Harbor where Wayne, a determined Naval officer escapes with a small group of ships. Relieved from duty and put on a desk, he wants to get back in the fight. Again, the romance between Wayne and Patricia Neal, Navy Nurse. Other complications include Wayne meeting his estranged son, now in the Navy; the son’s romance; and Douglas’ drunken violence. Wayne gets himself reassigned to lead an important operation and the naval battles begin. As you can guess, I like the romance angle in this movie. It’s plot is complicated by complex characters, each with their own baggage. The acting is superb, as is the action, weaving an excellent movie I could watch over and over.

My Top Five WWII Home-Front Movies

Some of my favorite WW II films are set in the United States or on the “home-front.” These helped inspire me to write stories set on the “home front” as well as overseas. On the “home-front” almost everyone contributed to the war effort so there are many, many stories to be told. Here are my top five favorites in reverse order.

5. Saboteur (1942)

This Alfred Hitchcock thriller is a wartime, “home-front” movie as well as a romance. In the film Robert Cummings tries to clear his name by chasing down an arsonist only to become entangled with a spy ring trying to blow up Hoover Dam. Priscilla Lane and her uncle help him, and she becomes caught up in the action. Cummings suspects Norman Lloyd as the German spy. In New York the German sympathizers attempt to destroy a new battleship and are foiled by Cummings and Lane. They chase the spies through Radio City Music Hall. The climactic scene at the top of the Statue of Liberty is incredible, especially considering the technology of the time. Of course, Cummings and Lane get together in the end.

4. The Clock (1945)

This movie is definitely a wartime love story. Judy Garland accidently trips over Robert Walker’s foot in Pennsylvania Station. He’s on 48 hours leave before he has to ship out. He asks her out that evening, and they agree to meet under the Clock at the Astor Hotel. After dinner they end up spending the night delivering milk then have breakfast with the milkman and his wife. Garland and Walker become separated in a crowded subway and desperately try to find each other without knowing last names. Back at the train station they reunite and Walker asks Garland to marry him. They spend his last day of leave fighting red tape to get married before he leaves. Then they must say good-bye until he returns from the war. (Tear-jerker time)

3. The Human Comedy (1943)

Mickey Rooney stars as a teenager in a small town who delivers telegrams for Western Union. The poignant drama depicts the human side of war as Mickey delivers the news of a loved one lost in battle, while his own brother is serving overseas. A romance between his boss and a local girl stalls when he joins the military and leaves for service. Over time the whole town feels the effects of the war. This is my favorite Mickey Rooney movie.

2. Since You Went Away (1944)

Claudette Colbert’s husband leaves wife and daughters (Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple) to fight the war. Life quickly changes – from taking in a boarder to losing their cook to war work to Jones working in a hospital full of wounded soldiers to Jones falling for a soldier to Colbert learning to weld. The family evolves and grows and learns to cope with all the changes brought on by the war. I love the depiction of strong women on the “home-front” not only keeping life going but also contributing to the war effort.

1. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

Absolutely my favorite WWII movie. Three men, a soldier (Frederic March) a sailor (Harold Russell) and an airman (Dana Andrews) return home together and try to adjust to civilian life. There’s awkwardness between March, his wife (Myrna Loy), daughter (Teresa Wright) and teenage son and trouble returning to his banking job. Russell must adapt to life without his hands and decide whether to marry his long-time girl friend. Andrews struggles to find work while his war-time bride (Virginia Mayo) wants to party all the time. The film won several Oscars including Best Picture.

Some other “home-front” movies I recommend are: Miracle in the Rain, Tender Comrade and A League of Their Own.

My Top “Five” Favorite Comedies Set In WWII

I love old movies! Black and White or Color, doesn’t matter to me. And there are some old but excellent comedies set during WWII that I love. The Second World War is usually a very serious time yet some crazy things happened. I am certain that the men and women of the time couldn’t have survived without a little comedy. Even after the war, some situations were just too funny to ignore so film makers went to work.

I had a hard time narrowing the list to five, so….here are my top five, with a couple of ties.

#5 – Buck Privates with Abbott and Costello. Actually made in 1941 before the war started, it’s about two men who accidently enlist in the Army. They think they are signing up for prizes. If you’ve ever seen Abbott and Costello you know that their slap-stick comedy is hilarious, even now. They bumble their way through basic training including a great routine with the drill instructor. The cast includes the Andrews Sisters who sing several numbers including “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” If you haven’t seen this one, it is an absolute must.

#4 (Tie) – The More The Merrier with Joel McCrea, Jean Arthur and Charles Coburn. Based on the shortage of hotel rooms and apartments in Washington, D.C., in 1943, Jean Arthur wants to rent out half of her apartment. Coburn, an older man, rents the room, then turns around and rents half of his room to a soldier waiting to ship out. Without telling Jean, of course. This is when the fun begins. At that time it was definitely improper for a young woman and a young man to share an apartment if they weren’t married so she tries to kick the soldier out. One thing leads to another hilarious situation. Definitely a Rom Com for those fans with a set up that could only have happened during the war.

#4 Tie) – To Be Or Not To Be with Jack Benny and Carol Lombard. 1942 dark comedy with Jack Benny impersonating Hitler. Can you imagine? Maybe you have to be a Jack Benny fan but his deadpan looks paired with Carol Lombard’s perfect comedic timing make this a truly funny movie. Not for everybody but I love it.

#3 – Operation Petticoat with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. As you can see from this list, I love Cary Grant comedies. Operation Petticoat (1959) is the story of a badly damaged WWII submarine that, after scrounging parts for repairs, rescues a group of nurses from a Pacific Island. Unable to get rid of the nurses and badly needing to put a primer coat of paint on the barely seaworthy vessel, they mix red and white primer and paint the submarine pink. Their intention was to cover it with gray but a Japanese air raid sends them to sea, still pink. Grant and Curtis play off each other perfectly. And the nurses add more comedy. You’ll love this colorful film as much as I do.

#2 (tie) – I was a Male War Bride with Cary Grant and Ann Sheridan. The title of this 1949 comedy explains it all. A French Army Captain marries an American female soldier (WAC) while both were stationed in Germany right after the war. Trying to comply with Army regulations for transporting War Brides to the U.S. proves almost impossible but love and comedy find a way. I love this movie. Even if you don’t like black and white you need to watch this one.

#2 (Tie) – Father Goose with Cary Grant and Leslie Caron. Still another Cary Grant comedy (1964). This time he is a coast watcher on a deserted Pacific island. A hermit with a radio until he rescues a French woman and seven young school girls. Stranded on the island together until the Navy can arrange to pick them up the situation turns hilarious. The fastidious French woman and the slovenly hermit have enough friction, then throw in curious and/or frightened young girls and the laughs multiply. Another for you who like color in your Rom Com’s.

#1Mister Roberts with Henry Fonda and Jack Lemmon with William Powell and James Cagney. My favorite of all. Made in 1955, this ensemble of characters are on a supply ship somewhere in the Pacific far from the actual fighting. Mister Roberts (Fonda) keeps requesting a transfer so he can get into the war, but the grouchy Captain (Cagney) refuses. The Captain takes out his frustration on Mister Roberts who tries his best to protect the bored and lonesome crew from their superior officer’s rants and quirks about his palm tree. Lemmon, who plays the Laundry and Morale Officer, avoids the captain at all costs while Powell the “Doc” provides solace to Roberts. After many antics Roberts gets his transfer from a grateful crew who forged the Captain’s signature. This movie has fun and drama. Bored men stuck on a ship in the pacific create their own brand of comedy.

Okay, so I cheated a little. I could have included these: Don’t Go Near the Water with Glenn Ford; No Time for Sergeants with Andy Griffith; Catch 22 with Alan Arkin; or Kelly’s Heroes with Clint Eastwood. Watch some old movies and have some fun.

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Film posters are used under the “fair use” doctrine to review the films and encourage the public to view the films.

Yellow Fever Epidemic 1878

Amid the Coronavirus pandemic I thought of the epidemics we experienced in the past, particularly a story about an epidemic in my hometown back in the 1800’s.

To see where I first heard this story I pulled out my copy of “A History of Houston County, Tennessee” by Iris Hopkins McClain. For those of you who have this book, the account begins on page 45. I will transcribe it here for those who don’t have this book.

“On July 18, 1878, the steamer John Porter left New Orleans and came up the Mississippi. The outcome of that trip had far-reaching effects in Houston County. This ship brought the dread disease yellow fever to Memphis and in turn to Houston County when some hospital cars from Memphis were side-tracked in Erin. This was a fearful illness and caused panic. The local editor was to remark that “some of our people have not acted as they should.”

The skin of yellow fever victims turned yellow, there was a great deal of hiccuping, and eventually a black vomit that had an unbearable stench. Victims usually died in a little while. Yellow fever played no favorites. Of every three persons stricken,two died and the third mysteriously recovered.

Some people fled Erin, but the plague followed them to the country. Business came to a standstill as “nobody felt like doing any business.” Arlington had been quarantined from Erin to prevent the spread of the disease to that place. Armed me were said to have stood on the outskirts of Arlington ready to shoot anyone from Erin who tried to pass through the “picket” line. The quarantine was not effective as Ed Schroibor,  I. F. McMillan, Mike Kelly and Kelly’s young son became ill with the disease.

A local theory had been advanced that a limestone quarry was “sure protection” from yellow fever. The editor announced, almost with glee, that Fred Williamson, who had a lime kiln and quarry, had fallen to the disease and this disproved that theory.

The Howard Relief Train, under the direction of a Dr. Hunter, visited Erin early in October and left nurses and supplies to the stricken people.

The frosts came in mid-October and the plague soon ebbed away. By October 19 there had been seven people to die in the county of yellow fever including M. M. Stanfill, C. S. Humphreys, and Mrs. M. M. Stanfill. Mrs. G. W. Simpson was reportedly dying. Those on the convalescent list included Dick Rushing, Randal Hankins, and Walter Hagler. Those ill at the time of the first frost were Mrs. G. E. Rauscher, Ira Rauscher, Mrs. Klein, and M. F. Shelton.”

For a little background, it was not known that yellow fever was spread by mosquitoes until 1900. There were no antibiotics at that time and no effective treatment. If you contracted the disease, you either lived or died.

The Howard Relief Train was organized by the Howard Association of New Orleans to follow the Louisville & Nashville Railroad with doctors and nurses to aid the stricken communities. To read more see an article in the Clarksville Leaf Chronicle by Melissa Barker.

In reading this account I couldn’t help thinking of what we are going through today: the panic, the unknown, the attempts at quarantine, social distancing, fleeing the infected areas as some are doing now, closing of businesses.  Today we hear some wild theories about cures or ways to protect yourself that strangely mimic the past. So over a hundred years later, we as humans react in similar ways to what they did back then.

We also reach out to help those in need. The local doctors and citizens of Erin attempted to help those people left in train cars on a siding to die. A doctor from Erin died of yellow fever, much like those health care workers of today who have contracted COVID-19 and some have died.

For more articles about the Yellow Fever epidemic in Tennessee read the following: The Yellow Fever Epidemic on the Tennessee State Library and Archives blog, Yellow Fever Epidemics in the Tennessee Encyclopedia, Yellow Fever in Tennessee in the Tennessee Magazine.

Photos of WWII in the South Pacific from Chipsofftheoldblock

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of my father’s passing, and also, of far less significance, the 6th anniversary of this blog. I started it with him in mind, knowing how much family history meant to him. It’s a shame he has not been here to help me fill in pieces I can’t quite pull together […]

via The Greatest Generation — Dad’s photos with ‘A’ Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines — Pacific Theater — Chips Off the Old Block

Eleanor Roosevelt and a WWII Moment

Women’s History Month could not pass without honoring Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady and so much more. There is little I can add to the volumes that have been written about her life, her contributions to the career of her husband, Franklin Roosevelt, and her later contributions to the United Nations. Instead I will tell you about some of what I admire about her.

Although her family was wealthy, she was a shy child from an unhappy home. Her mother died when she was young and her father was an alcoholic so Eleanor was raised by her grandmother. As she grew to adulthood she overcame her shyness and ventured out into society. When she married her handsome, distant cousin, Franklin, she would have been content to be a wife and mother, but her husband’s political ambitions threw her into the public arena. This public role would not have been her choice but she rose to the challenge. Even as First Lady she went beyond the expected role of managing social events and became her husband’s eyes, ears and legs. She traveled the country making speeches, listening to people in all walks of life and reporting back to the White House. It took a lot of inner strength to overcome her early life and become a force in Washington.

The quiet little girl became a savvy political figure who promoted women’s causes whenever she could. She encouraged her husband to appoint women to various positions in his administration. In a time when women reporters were not allowed in the White House news conferences, Eleanor began holding her own news conferences for women only. After Franklin’s death, President Truman appointed Eleanor as delegate to the newly formed United Nations. There she led the fight for resettlement of refugees and she is considered largely responsible for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is still protecting human rights around the globe.

Another thing that garners my admiration is that Eleanor was a writer. Beginning during her tenure in the White House, she wrote a daily newspaper column “My Day” that was syndicated in newspapers across the country. This would have been the equivalent of writing a daily blog today. She also wrote regular columns for several magazines and had a weekly radio broadcast. After leaving Washington Eleanor wrote four autobiographies and several other books. These books are still available. I treasure my copy of the combined autobiographies.

The money she earned from this column and from her books she donated to charity. That brings me to another thing I admire about Eleanor Roosevelt. Her charity and compassion for the people. She gave her money and she gave of herself to better the lives of others.

Something that many people don’t know about Eleanor is that at the beginning of World War II when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Eleanor spoke to the American people about the attack before her husband’s famous speech to Congress. It was Sunday, December 7, 1941, and her weekly radio broadcast was scheduled to go on the air that evening. While Franklin consulted with the country’s leaders, Eleanor went on the air and talked to the people in her kind and compassionate style. She could relate to the feelings of fear families had because she too was a mother who had four sons of the age for military service.  Two of her sons were already in the military. She knew what was coming and she knew the people needed to hear a message of hope and courage so that is what she gave them.  Listen to her words in the attached You Tube recording.  How could you not admire a woman like that.

 

 

The 30th Division’s Final Push to the End of the War

With this post I will finish my series of posts on the exploits of the 30th Infantry Division during World War II. I have been distracted by other events in my life (like selling my first novel). Nevertheless, I need to bring their story to a conclusion and, in doing so, tell of some interesting occurrences during the last days of the war.

After crossing the Rhine River on March 24, 1945, the 30th pushed into the heart of Germany. By the 28th, the 8th Armored Division passed through their lines and the mission of the 30th was to follow behind and mop up. After Dorsten fell on March 29, XIX Corps took command of the 30th. By April 1, Old Hickory was reassigned to following the 2nd Armored Division on a long road march eastward towards Berlin. Before them lay the Teutoberger Wald, the place where the Germanic tribal chief, Hermann, defeated the Roman legions of Varus in 9 AD. The 2nd Armored Division left the Autobahn, which veered north at this point, and crossed the long ridge of the Teutoberger Wald with the assistance of the 30th. A German Officers Training School aided regular troops to resist the Americans in the rough, steep, heavily forested terrain. They tried to take a stand on Monument Hill, the site of the Hermannsdenkmal (the statue commemorating famous battle), but Old Hickory defeated them.

On April 7th the 117th Regiment cleared Hamelin minus K Company who had been left behind to guard an Allied Prisoner of War camp. During the advance the 30th took over an assortment of installations, including airports, hospitals, training camps and German research facilities. All had to be guarded in addition to the thousands of German prisoners. Feeding the prisoners, freed POWs and slave laborers fell to the military which was unprepared to care for such numbers.

IMG_20151020_140627
Frank Towers talking about his experiences with the 30th Infantry Division

The 30th’s next objective was Brunswick. The German commander, General Veith, called for a truce to negotiate a surrender of the city, but after a meeting with General Hobbs, Commander of the 30th, the Germans refused the terms of “unconditional surrender.” The conference was only a delaying tactic to allow the German Army to escape. Fighting resumed almost immediately with the 117th Regiment attacking and the 120th moving into position to block escape from the city. By April 12 the 3rd Battalion of the 117th remained to mop up Brunswick while the remainder of the 117th along with the 120th pushed eastward toward the Elbe River. (The 119th was attached to the 2nd Armored Division at this time.)

After Brunswick fell, the 743rd Tank Battalion and infantry from the 119th Regiment were proceeding toward Magdeburg when they passed through the town of Farsleben. Lead elements found a long freight train stopped on the track. The Nazi guards attempted to flee from the Americans but were captured. The train had a full head of steam and was awaiting orders when the Americans showed up. It didn’t take long to determine that the old freight cars contained 2,500 Jewish prisoners who were being moved from Bergen-Belsen prison camp to some unknown location in the east. Problem was that the Russians were advancing from the east. The bridge over the Elbe had been destroyed and at one point the Nazis ordered the crew to drive the train into the river which would have killed all aboard. Shocked by their discovery the Americans could scarcely believe the condition of the prisoners. Frank Towers tells the story of the liberation of the train and the following events in a section of the book “The Fighting 30th Division – They Called Them Roosevelt’s SS” by Martin King, David Hilborn and Michael Collins. You can also watch and listen to Frank Tower’s account of the incident in an interview by University of Florida oral history program on YouTube.

Although the 30th Infantry Division had been issued maps through to Berlin, the order came down that they were to take Magdeburg and stop on the banks of the Elbe River. The Russians would proceed from the east and the two allies would meet at the Elbe. Many in the 30th were disappointed at not getting to push on into Berlin.

Magdeburg appeared an easy task. There were hopes of a surrender but when men went in to discuss it with the German commander they found him either unwilling or unable to surrender the city. Before the attack by both the 30th Infantry Division and the 2nd Armored Division, bombers unloaded on the already damaged city. Within twenty-four hours Magdeburg was cleared. It was April 18, 1945.

With orders to hold at the Elbe, Old Hickory’s fighting in Europe came to an end.  While they waited for the Red Army and the German surrender, which finally came on May 8, 1945, the 30th occupied the area and took 7,468 prisoners.  Some crossed the river to escape being captured by the Russians. All along the line the large numbers of surrendering German soldiers became a burden on the Allies to feed and house. In addition, there were thousands of freed slave laborers and liberated prisoner of war camps to deal with. Contact with the Russians came on May 4th.

Old Hickory moved south from Magdeburg to Thuringia and assumed occupation duty after the surrender. Near the end of June, the 30th learned they had been chosen for redeployment to the Pacific Theater. Their orders would carry them home, to the United States, to prepare for the invasion of Japan. Those individuals with enough points to be discharged were transferred primarily to the 76th Infantry Division with lower point individuals from the 76th moving into the 30th to replenish its ranks. These transfers due to points often explain why a veteran’s discharge papers show him in a different division from the one he fought with.

In July, the 30th moved across Europe to Camp Lucky Strike near Le Havre, France. The bulk of the division crossed the channel to England to await shipment to the U.S. That’s where they got the news that Japan had surrendered August 15, 1945. The 119th Regiment had sailed from France on August 12 so they were at sea when word came. All the men of Old Hickory let out a sigh of relief.  Their fight was over. On Aug. 16th the division boarded the Queen Mary and sailed for home where the 30th Infantry Division was deactivated on November 25, 1945. The 30th Infantry Division left a glorious record of bravery, hard fighting and sacrifice in which we can all take pride.