Tuesday, August 16, 2005

JOSEPH FRANCIS LEE'S WAR MEMOIRS, part 2

The Grubstake Snack Bar in The Union, University of Wisconsin, circa 1940s

(continued from yesterday)

The train ride was great as we were on the way to a new and more exciting adventure.

We got off the train in Chicago and stayed overnight in an hotel. I remember for the first time feeling like a privileged person as a member of the army. The hotel had people queing to register and get in. We were taken to the head of the “que” and given special rates.

Arriving in Madison the next day we, the soldiers, were assigned to fraternity house along the lake. This was really living. We had meals at the “Union” where pitchers of fresh milk were on the table at every meal. Mom and the other wives found rooms close to the university. In a university town during the off-season that is never difficult.

The months in Madison were very enjoyable. We had classes five days a week, morning and afternoon with very little of the usual military discipline. The teachers were capable and good. Many were Germans who had fled Nazi Germany. We studied German as a language, German history and geography. Too, we had many lectures on the characteristics of Germans in the various areas of that country. We were able to enjoy many of the activities of Madison as a university town. There were the football games in the Fall and many concerts and lectures throughout the year.

From Madison I was assigned to the Military Intelligence Training Center at Camp Ritchie in Maryland . The camp is beautifully located in pleasant surroundings. My training was in Photo and the Terrain Intelligence. In Terrain Intelligence I scored very high because I have no sense of direction and consequently learned to use a compass as few others did. Thus, relying on the compass and not my own faulty sense of directions I hit the target on each one of our map problems. I suppose the one Canadien Indian ancestor also may have had an influence as I always felt at home in the forest.

From Camp Ritchie after three months I was assigned to a Counter Intelligence Corps group in an armored division at Camp Hood in Texas. After only a few days there I was sent to C.I.C., 8th Armored Division at Camp Polk in Louisiana. They were on their may overseas and were short one agent. In short order we were moved to Camp Kilmer in New Jersey and were shortly on our way overseas landing after ten days at Southampton in England.

We went quickly to an army base, Tidworth, in Hampshire. There we were outfitted with jeeps, tents, trailers and similar things. Before leaving Camp Kilmer we had been taken into New Brunswick in New Jersey and outfitted with civilian clothes. We were in Tidworth long enough to visit London. While in London we were alerted and we rushed back to Tidworth. Gathering our equipment we moved on to the port at Southampton where we embarked on a landing craft and set off for the continent. Five landing craft set out at that time and we were on one of the two that made it. It was not because of enemy action but because of storms and high seas. On the ten days of the trip by sea from the States I was sick the whole time. On this very, very rough crossing on a small craft I felt no sickness at all. While others who had crossed the Atlantic without a problem turned green I felt fine, had a good appetite and enjoyed the American food especially the apple pie.

We sailed up the river Seine and landed at Rouen. Our instructions were to go to a wooded area, set up camp and wait for further orders. Incidentally, this was the only time we used the tents and other camp equipment. It was November and very damp. We had been instructed not to cut down any trees for fuel but before long we disobeyed this rule and kept a blazing fire in an oil drum we had found. Our outfit consisted of the leader, Captain Stanchik, his assistant, Lt Oliphant and special agents Joe Gray, Gene Kemp, Ray Opp, Bob McDonald, and myself. Stancik was from Pennsylvania, Oliphant from Oklahoma, Gray from New Mexico, Kemp from Illinois, Opp from Ohio, McDonald from California and I from New Hampshire. We represented a cross section of the States and except for a bit of difference in accents were all pretty much the same. At thirty-one I was perhaps the oldest in the group which except for a younger McDonald were in their late twenties.

There was an American headquarters at the city of Rouen and it was there we got food and other supplies. Also, the Captain went there each day to get instructions on our next move. We knew that we were going to Paris and had been told to await instructions before proceeding. While there we visited the city and I made the acquaintance of a very kind French family who lived close to where we were camping. After the war I corresponded with them for some time. Finally Capt Stanchik decided to move on to our headquarters in Paris, orders or no orders. We got our gear together and set off.

Arriving at CIC headquarters in Paris we found that they had lost our location and it was well that we had taken it upon ourselves to go on. In Paris we were quartered in afine hotel, the St Honoré . While there we had one of our jeeps repaired. Apparently new as it was it had been given to us without a transmission plug. While it became a bit noisy toward the end it made the trip from Rouen to Paris hauling a loaded trailer as well

Finally we were ready for our mission which was to get battle experience in a relatively quiet area of the front. Our assignment was to drive to Bastogne, Belgium and to report to the 8th Corps CIC located there. Our trip was relatively quiet until after dark we reached the outskirts of Bastogne. There was considerable shelling and small arms fire as well as moving army vehicles. I remember thinking if this is supposed to be quiet what would it be like if it was active. We found 8th Corps headquarters and found the members hurriedly getting everything ready to evacuate. It seemed the Germans had made an unexpected major attack and Bastogne was in the process of being surrounded by them. There was one road known to be open and we were instructed to take it and proceed to Esch Alzette in Luxemburg. Arriving there we found a CIC contingent and shared quarters with them. Meanwhile the activity known as The Battle Of The Bulge had commenced and we were in the middle of it.

(to be continued tomorrow)



To provide a measure of authenticity to these posts, here's a scan of an excerpt from my grandfather's notebook. This passage would be from both the end of part one and the beginning of part two. If you click the scan itself you get a closer look

4 comments:

Buffalo said...

I am reading.

shandi said...

Great idea to scan his actual journal.
What a place to end part 2. Cliff hanger.

brisen said...

what a marvelous tribute. anxiously awaiting the next installment

Heidi said...

how wonderful of you to post your grandfather's memoirs, JL! what a touching gesture on your part, and a fascinating read for the blogosphere.

thanks for sharing! I am anxious to read more...