After Action Narratives
by Bert Heinold
C Company, 81st Medical Battalion, 11th Armored Division
How I Became A Thunderbolt
7 December 1941- I was washing my 1938 Ford convertible in the driveway of my parents home listening to the car radio when I heard the announcement of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
20 January 1942 - Forty four days later I was inducted into the Army at Fort MacArthur California where I survived three days of indoctrination, a bad haircut, K.P, and finally wearing an ill fitting uniform I went by train to the Cavalry Replacement Training Center in Fort Riley Kansas for my basic training. I was taught the routine of Army life including how to care for and ride the horse that was issued to me. I soon mastered the bareback phase and when the McLellan saddles were issued the various gaits we rode, during training were very easy to learn. The Cavalry mission was to reconnoitered and if enemy contact was made we were to withdraw, dismount and fight like Infantry. After graduation I was assigned to the Medical Troop of the 2nd Cavalry Division as an Aid Man, A few months of detached service followed in Phoenix, Arizona unti1 we were ordered back to Fort Riley where the division was deactivated and reformed as the 9th Armored Division. Horses and cavalry gear were exchanged for tanks and trucks and we were then shipped to Camp Ibis near Needles California to participate in desert maneuvers.
While stationed at Fort Riley I had passed the tests and was placed on a waiting list to Attend Officer Candidate School. I was selected while in the desert and was given orders to report to the Medice1 Administrative Corps School in Camp Barkeley, Texas. After graduation on 1 December 1943 I was hoping for an assignment that would take me to the European Theatre, but no such luck. I went to Camp Claiborne, Louisiana on temporary duty and eventually returned to Camp Barkeley to attend the Battalion Surgeon's Assistant Medica1 School graduating in April 1944. I was given a choice of going to either the East or West coast, dumb me, I thought the Army still operated using reverse common sense. I wanted the East so requested West and was given orders to join an Infantry Division at Camp Beale California. Why did I think I would go East, because that’s the way it usually worked, but not this time. I soon learned the division was staging for shipment to the Pacific Theatre and in a short time we would move to the FOE at Camp Stoneman near Pittsburg, California and begin loading equipment aboard ship.
One night while having a beer in town I met an officer who had graduated from the same Officer Candidate School and class I was in and we soon became drinking buddies. While discussing assignments I discovered he worked in personnel on post and when I told him I was on a shipment order to the Pacific but preferred the European Theatre he replied maybe he could help and asked where would you really like to be. While ordering two more beers I jokingly said III Corps Headquarters Surgeons Office at Fort Ord, not really expecting such an assignment. Within a few days I had orders and reported to Fort Ord in Monterey. My new friend certainly had clout.
It was in Fort Ord that I finally got the orders I had been hoping for. One day the Surgeon announced, I hate to lose you but you’re to report to the 11th Armored Division at Camp Cooke, I was the only officer in the Sixth Army area with the MOS the 11th Armored had requested. It was just a short trip down the coast by bus and when I reported to Division Headquarters I was assigned to the 81st Medica1 Battalion where I was welcomed by Lt. Col. Sanford French, the Commanding Officer. There were only a few people in the office and the Colonel told me most of the unit had already gone to New Jersey for shipment to England and it would only be a couple of weeks before we would follow. At last I was headed to Europe. I just became a Thunderbolt.
Now hear this. It happened in September, 1944 on board the U.S.S. Hermitage while we were at sea on our way to England. I was on deck one day and bumped into an officer I recognized as a friend from MAC OCS. We were in the same platoon during our schooling at Camp Barkeley, Texas. He was assigned to the care of the troops on board if required. Before parting he invited me to dinner at the Navy Officers Mess, which I gladly accepted. When the time came I found my way to the officers wardroom and was about to enter when I was stopped by a Navy Petty Officer. I explained to him I was invited by my Army friend, who was assigned to the ship, to join him for dinner. That didn't work so I asked to see the Mess Officer. While waiting I admired the room set with white tablecloths and gleaming silverware. When the Mess Officer arrived he said he was sorry but tradition demanded Navy Officers be in their dress uniforms and the same was expected of military guests. I explained my class A uniform was in a footlocker in the hold of his ship and the field uniform I was wearing was all I had for the crossing. It did no good; I was denied entry so I made my way to the Officers Mess set up for the 11th AD and joined the others who were dressed the same as I was. The meal was very good.
When the 81st Medical Battalion was billeted in Trowbridge, England, before we crossed the Channel, a group of us officers were ordered to attend an aircraft identification class at a nearby RAF base. It was to be a one day event and our orders specified we were to eat the noon meal at the Officers Mess. The morning was very interesting with a photo display of all the aircraft used by the British, French, Russians, Americans, and Germans. Our instructor indicated in the afternoon session he would go into more detail pointing out similarities in many models and also impressing upon us the silhouettes, sounds and markings of the planes we would see in combat. When we broke for lunch we were given directions to the mess building and found it with no problem. The problem occurred when our group was stopped at the door. A very polite British non-com asked for identification and when shown our orders he replied yes, we were expected and proceeded to herd us around the building to the back door and into the kitchen where tables were set for us. I suppose that someone in command was aware from past exposure how Americans dressed and notified the Mess Officer. The RAF officers were a very formal group. When working where they might soil their uniform they wore a flight suit type coverall over their blue uniform. It was easy to remove the coveralls when required, straighten their ties and sit down for tea. My memory tells me the meal they served was spam, potatoes and Brussel sprouts supplied by the USA. Before I finished eating in the kitchen I peeked into the main room and sure enough all the officers were in our equivalent of class A uniforms -- a sea of blue. Maybe spam tastes better when dressed for it. I couldn't help but recall my experience aboard the Hermitage with the U.S. Navy Officers Mess. We were all fighting the same war but because of a tradition established years ago we couldn't sit down together and enjoy a convivial meal.
In December, 1944 when orders were finally received for the 11th AD to move to the coast to begin boarding an assortment of ships that would take us across the Channel, I, along with two or three medical battalion officers and small group of our enlisted personnel were directed to a U.S. Navy LST for the movement to Cherbourg. All of the many details involving the Division move escapes me but as we would soon discover in our baptism of fire, would only know what was happening in our own little area. The big picture was far too big to perceive. I think we were still in the harbor when mess call was sounded and I was really looking forward to a decent Navy meal instead of C rations as we had eaten while staging in the muddy outskirts of Weymouth prior to boarding. We made our way to the small wardroom and sure enough the tables were set with white tablecloths and shiny utensils -- no candles. The ship’s officers were at their tale and the Captain who was a Navy Lieutenant cordially greeted us. As the Mess Steward started serving his officers I saw and smelled roast beef, gravy, vegetables and best of all the aroma of fresh baked rolls wafted through the room. It was like an aphrodisiac to me as I quietly waited to be served. After taking care of his officers the steward turned his attention to us and brought trays of C rations to our table. I thought this can't be happening, our own Navy treating us like poor relatives. I immediately asked the Captain what our men were eating and he replied the same as you -- C rations that your quartermaster delivered to us three days ago. They are your rations, we only have enough food on board for the ship's crew. So it happened again. I was out of uniform twice and now our own Navy wouldn't share with us. Oh well, the Navy delivered us safely to Cherbourg and before disembarking I took a silver teaspoon from the galley and put it in my pocket. I used it every day of my tour in the ETO. Every time I opened C rations I thought of the small wardroom and the enticing aroma of the meal I didn't eat on board the LST that took me to France. I guess tradition has its place but I would prefer breaking the rules now and then when conditions demand it. C rations kept us alive -- I liked the beans and frankfurters best.
Paying Their Respects?
It happened in December, 1944 in the smal1 Belgium village of Neufchateau where elements or the 81st Medical Battalion were encamped awaiting orders to continue their march to relieve our troops in the beleagured city of Bastogne.
Members of C Company had settled in by setting up a combined Command Post and Aid Station. then scattered to find sleeping accommodations where space could be found within the few buildings that were unoccupied;. Facilities were in most cases either damaged or non-existent, so a detail was assigned to dig a field latrine to serve for the short time the unit expected to stay in place.
During the march across France from the landing at Cherbourg it had been the medics custom to treat civilians for simple medical problems during the few rest stops the unit had enjoyed. The villagers in Neufchateau were no exception and as they came to the Aid Station for help they were promptly treated whenever it was medically indicated.
After a couple of days of rest, cleaning and checking equipment and treating the civilians the call finally came . . .Prepare to move out. The word was quickly spread and all personnel immediately began the task of breaking down the Aid Station, packing and loading all vehicles and finally a detail was dispatched to close the latrine. True to the training still fresh in their minds, the slit trenches were filled, mounded over and stakes driven in inscribed with the date of closure.
When all was ready the lead vehicles moved out to resume the route to Bastogne. A few miles up the road it was determined the column was one vehicle short so a jeep and driver was immediately dispatched to return to the village where it was discovered the last ambulance suffered engine trouble. While the ambulance personnel were trying to diagnose the problem, the jeep driver decided to return to the site of the Aid Station to be sure nothing had been left behind. As he passed the closed latrine area he noticed a small group of villagers placing bouquets of greenery at the head of the mounded trenches. When asked what they were doing, they replied in broken English, they were very grateful the American soldiers had helped them with medical treatment they had received and now wished to show their respect for our fallen comrades that had to be left behind.
Dusk and Jerries descended on the roads behind, cutting off the rear. The Heinies came out from the wooded hills where they had fled when the armored fingers sped over the roads beneath. So fast did the armored columns roll in those first days following the Third Army's Rhine crossing, that rear and Service elements, as well as the wood-flushing infantry, were miles behind and often when night came, units found themselves cut-off, rear and forward.
Company "C", 8lst Medical Battalion, Armored found itself just in such a situation when after an all day mounted road march, they were still unable to catch up to their supporting command. Stopping in one of the typical German villages to await the morn and further orders, they made themselves as comfortable as possible, setting up their clearing station, "just in case", as they were wont to say.
Radio contact with forward elements was all out lost at this moment and a medical jeep was discharged to reconnoiter the road ahead. There they found evidence of a recent battle, but no sign of their forward troops, save for friendly units bivouacked alongside the road. On the way back they sighted live wounded Jerries and double-timed back to dispatch an ambulance to pick them up.
Night was closing in fast. Behind, sniper fire had hit two of our boys from an ordnance outfit, while up ahead, two G.I.s from a Tank Destroyer group fell victim to the wooded sniper.
By seven o'clock the clearing station was a beehive of activity. Of the dozen patients, two of them, an American and a German, were suffering from serious belly wounds. As they had done many times before, the doctors and technician quickly administered to and dressed the wounds of all casualties and they were then carried to the waiting ambulances for evacuation to the rear and more definitive treatment. The Heinies were placed in one ambulance which had only to go some 15 miles to a German hospital that the outfit had passed earlier in the day, while the remaining 2 ambulances were to evacuate the Americans to a ARP, more than 50 miles back.
It was 2300 while the Medics were cleaning up the station preparatory to kitting the sack, when in rushed the Lieutenant commanding the Army Ambulance platoon and exclaimed, "my ambulances are come back with the patients"!.
After questioning the drivers it was learned that all three had run into road blocks and sniper fire and turned back. They had used precious time trying to get through using different routes, but to no avail. The Germans had closed in and for the time being at least had succeeded in sealing off the roads to the rear.
Coming out of a quick huddle it was decided that no more attempts at evacuation would be made that night, but instead the patients would have to be kept at the station. Friend and foe alike were made comfortable to await the next day, but for the American and the Kraut with the belly wounds things weren’t exactly looking up.
After a hasty but thorough examination, Captain James P. 0'Boyle, the clearing Platoon Leader and a native of Scranton, Pennsylvania, straightened up and shook his head as people sometimes do when life and hope are fading fast, "these boys can’t wait until morning", he said, “we'll have to operate tonight" During four months of combat an operation was never necessary, in fact, according to regulations, surgery was definitely not to be done in a clearing station; neither the proper instruments or equipment were provided in the T/E, but this was an emergency; two lives were at stake.
And now things began to shape up, a room had to be scrubbed, surgical lights installed, instruments had to be on , and, sterilized, technicians were assigned their duties, many details seemingly unimportant that could spell either success or failure had to be attended to.
In an hour’s time the Medical Section under T/3 Lawrence I. Ruble from Keyser West Virginia had prepared the room which was to serve as surgery. Technicians in white were gathered together, silently awaiting the first patient.
The Kraut was first, being the more serious of the two and as he was gently carried in and placed on the operating table the curtain went up on what was to be the first operation of its kind in the annals or Company C, 81st Medical Battalion Armored.
It was 0200 hours when Captain O’Boyle and Captain Samuel Werlin assisting him, laid down needle and suture and declared the first case "fini”, as the patient was being removed to the "post operative" room., and as face masks were removed from Surgeons and onlookers alike, Captain O'Boyle was heard to mutter, "First belly I've been in, in 3 years."
The American Sergeant was in a much more serious condition than was at first supposed and the men of the Medical Section wasted no time in re-sterilizing instruments and once again setting up for Surgery.
After coffee and cigarettes, Captain O'Boyle and Captain Werlin moved in again for the second operation of the night. As Captain O’Boyle held the scalpel poised and ready for the initial incision, a church like silence fell upon the little room. All that was heard for the next hour were such comments as “forceps", "retractors", “sponges", etc.; the slow, but steady breathing of the patient was accentuated through a mask; of ether, it was reminiscent of a metronome, as sure and experienced hands explored for damage to the bowel. After repairing a bullet hole in the small intestine, it was once again needle and suture and case #2 was quickly removed to the adjoining room where he could be administered fluids and watched over for the remainder of the night.
After Captain O’Boyle held a short critique for the benefit of red-eyed and yawning technicians, he complimented them on a job well done and with a feeling that this night; indeed, they had contributed something extra to the war effort; they disassembled the operating room and packed up the surgical truck for the next move.
As dawn broke, the Company radio finally made contact with the Combat Command. "Prepare to move" was the order, as the Company vehicles lined up and the ambulances with the night's patients reloaded and moved defiantly toward the rear; the sound of approaching troops could be heard through the still morning air. The coarse voice of tired foot-sloggers, good old Yankee slang - the Infantry had arrived, the road back was clear and the ambulances would get through!
Acquiring Medical Supplies
On VE Day, May 9, 1945 elements of the 81st Medical Battalion, 11th Armored Division were in the small town of Urfahr, directly across the Danube River from the city of Linz Austria. It took a few days for the realization to sink in . . . the war WAS over...now what. A squad from the 41st Cavalry had crossed the river on a reconnaissance discovering the German concentration Camp Mauthausen, which they promptly liberated. Doctors and technicians from the 81st Medics were called upon to assist with medical care for the prisoners which were in critical condition.
After a few days passed our Commanding Officer Lt. Col. Sanford French presented me with a challenge. He had received information that in a small Czechoslovakian town. whose name I have forgotten, there was a warehouse full of German medical supplies that we could use to supplement our efforts at Mauthausen and the small hospital in Urfahr. I immediately started to plan a movement and decided I would need ten 2-1/2 ton trucks with driver and assistants, but who would load and unload. Our unit did not have 10 trucks available or additional manpower, so with the Colonel's help we borrowed trucks from an adjacent outfit and German prisoners of war from a nearby POW camp. I went to the camp with one of our sergeants who spoke fluent German explaining our mission than asking for volunteers, neglecting to tell them we would be going into a Russian occupied town. We selected about a dozen and informed the American guards we would pick them up in the morning.
I decided al1 of us, except the POW group, would wear our Red Cross armbands and we would take along a 30 caliber carbine for the sergeant who would ride in the jeep with me and my driver. From the map I was given, I prepared a trip plan then ordered C and K rations for 3 days be loaded into the first truck. The next morning we formed the convoy and I instructed all the POWs be placed in the next to last truck with the canvas top secured to hide them from view. The driver of the last truck was instructed to keep his eyes open for problems.
The roads to our destination were in fairly good condition and after one rest stop along the way, we arrived late in the afternoon. A wooded area on the outskirts of town was selected to serve as our camp and before driving into the populated section with my sergeant I allowed the Germans to get out of the trucks, gather under a tree in a designated spot and stay quiet. Now we informed them we were in a Russian held zone and capture was likely if they tried to escape. The search through town finally resulted in what appeared to be our warehouse. Just as darkness fell so we returned to the woods to spend the night. Rations were distributed, guards posted and the night passed with no problems. In the morning the POW count was correct and after passing out more rations my sergeant and I went back into town to verify our warehouse contained the supplies for which we searched.
It took most of the day to load the trucks with the Germans doing all the lifting and my troops supervising. It was late afternoon when we finished and because I did want to travel after dark, we returned to the woods to bivouac for another night.
After breakfast the next day I studied my map and determined an alternate return route looked shorter and would get us back to Urfahr earlier in the day.
Once again we moved out. I'm still in the lead with my carbine armed sergeant in the back seat. The column traveled through a wooded area with no vehicle traffic and I'm starting to feel very relaxed when suddenly a Russian soldier ran out of the woods in front of the jeep with a burp gun pointed directly at us, naturally we halted. I was hoping he didn't have a platoon of his friends hiding in the woods so when he approached me, gun aimed at my face, I smiled and said hello comrade, first in English then in German. He apparently did not understand the salutation, because he just kept his weapon on me while speaking in his native tongue, whatever it was, it sounded like gibberish to me. I had no idea what he wanted so I spoke in English telling him I was an American officer with a unit of medical personnel delivering supplies to a hospital. I decided I had to give him something so while reaching into my musette bag for candy bars with my left hand and offering him the chocolate my jacket sleeve slipped up exposing my wrist watch which he quickly grabbed. At this point I told the sergeant if this guy looks like he is going to shoot, you shoot first. I then pulled my arm back and still smiling said NO. After that he stepped back, fired a burst into the air over our heads, lowered his weapon, smiled at me and then moved back into the trees from whence he came. I gave the command to move out and we continued on our way. I'll never know what his motive was, but I was truly prepared to give the order to shoot it necessary to save our lives.
As we drove on it was soon evident there were many more Russians in the area. We moved through villages where Russian women in uniform were acting as road guides, just waving us through until we finally came to a roadblock manned by soldiers still carrying weapons although it was several days since VE day. Once again language was a barrier, so I got out of the Jeep, approached their guardhouse and using English, a little German, a lot of hand waving and a display of the bars on my collar I convinced them to raise the gate and let us proceed.
That happened to be the last of the territorial disputes of the day and by early afternoon we finally arrived in Urfahr. After unloading we returned the Germans to the POW camp. All had followed instructions, none had tried to escape and I'm sure just mentioning “Russian Zone” did the trick. It was an interesting adventure but it I had not decided to take an alternate route it would have been just an ordinary movement.
I congratulated my troops on a job well done and told them because we successfully completed our mission to acquire and deliver the medical supplies, pain and suffering would be relieved and lives would be saved.
Gott Sei Dank Der Krieg Ist Zu Ende
Headquarters 11th Armored Division was stationed in Gmunden, Austria and the 81st Medical Battalion was nearby at Lake Attersea.. We were on occupation duty to care for a displaced persons camp and to enjoy the beautiful Austrian countryside. Swimming, boating, fishing and relaxation was enjoyed by all. I had been appointed recreation officer by Battalion Commander Lt. Col. Sanford French and immediately commandeered a small marina on the lake and made sure all boats were available for the troops to use and enjoy. It couldn't have been a more ideal setting to unwind after the trauma of recent combat.
One day Col. French informed me an Air Corps unit located at a Luftwaffe base near Linz had requested the temporary loan of a medical officer to fly with them in support of their mission which was to relocate displaced persons from Austria to France and on return trips bring another group back to Austria.. It seems our military had been instructed to help the hordes of civilians that were trying to find their way beck to their home countries, towns, and villages. Most of these people were in very poor physical condition and the Air Corps wanted a medic on board to care of them if required. Somehow I knew the Colonel wasn't just making conversation. . . I was selected to go airborne.
A couple of days later I was notified the first flight was scheduled, so I drove to the airfield and reported to the Squadron Commander who directed me to a C-47 pilot who would fly the plane along with a co-pilot and a Sergeant crew chief. We took off heading for Orly Field in Paris and I couldn't help wondering if any of the pathetic looking group of people on board had ever been in an airplane before. No emergencies occurred but I did treat a couple of passengers for airsickness. Over the next several weeks we made more trips with no serious complications, and I'm sure the people we relocated were happy to be in their homeland so they could start to rebuild their lives.
I guess we were coming to the end of our mercy missions because one day after reporting to the field I was told we were flying empty to Paris to pick up a group for return to Austria. The take off was normal in bright, clear weather but about half way to our destination we hit a front that obscured the ground and the pilot had to rely on instruments to hold our course. The Air Corps C-47 like most WWII planes was not pressurized and our normal altitude had always been under 10,000 feet. we continued at our cruising speed of about 200 knots for awhile when the co-pilot came back into the cabin to inform the Sergeant and me they had lost the radio directional beam and we might be in trouble. More time passed and again the co-pilot came, back to tell us they still could not find the beam and we were running low on fuel. Using the compass the pilot knew our approximate position but wasn't sure we could reach Orly Field so instructed us to put on our parachutes and await further orders.
What a scenario, here I am a ground pounder in an airplane somewhere over Germany or France being told to jump if the beam could not be found or if we ran out of. fuel. We still could not see the ground and as I looked out of the window the Sergeant was giving me instructions on how to leave the plane. He said when I open the door I'll push you out then count to ten and pull the ripcord. All of this was useful information that could save my life, but it wasn't what I wanted to hear.
It seemed like hours but it must have been only 20 or 30 minutes when we heard the pilot yell, I found it,. I found it. The co-pilot went back to the cockpit and in a short time they got oriented and announced we should be landing soon, which we did but before reaching the end of the runway the engines sputtered and died so we had to be towed to the hardstand.. Before getting out of the plane took off my chute and asked the pilot why he didn’t fill the tank in Austria before we left. He replied we could have made it easily if the weather had been clear and if he didn't have to fly around trying to find the beam. These were iffy answers at best but we did land safely so I accepted them.
After we took a short break and a long sigh of relief I watched as the plane was refueled and the Austria bound displaced persons were boarded. On the return flight the weather had cleared and we landed in Linz with no problems.
As it turned out this was my last mercy flight and I didn't fly in a C-47 again until 1946 when I returned to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey and was told because I lived in California I had to wait for air transportation instead of rail because of the distance. I waited about 2 weeks and finally the call came. There was now a planeload of west bound returnees and we were ready to go. I was given a packet of orders for all of the enlisted personnel, I was the only officer, and we took off heading west. We made fuel stops in Indianapolis, Kansas City and Albuquerque before landing in Long Beach California. We were then bussed to Fort MacArthur for processing.
I couldn't help but compare my previous experience in a C-47 in Europe to the C-47 trip from New Jersey to California. I liked the U.S,A. experience best.
Offshore British Currency
The 81st Medical Battalion moved from Urfahr to Lake Attersea, Austria soon after the war ended in May, 1945. The location was like a picture perfect post card, beautiful blue lake a small hotel in the lakeside village. Substantial homes and cottages dotted along the shore and a. boat marina with an assortment of pleasure craft just waiting to be enjoyed. All of this and more with a backdrop of majestic tree covered mountains which I hoped to explore on the horse I liberated from a nearby farmer. I gave him a carton of cigarettes in exchange.
The battalion was given the mission to supervise a displaced persons camp in the area. We were to see that they were given rations and medical treatment if needed. The second mission was Rest and Recreation and in such a wonderful location that was easy. I was: appointed Rest and Recreation Officer by Lt. Col. Sanford French, the Battalion Commander and was given a free? hand to provide whatever it took to please the troops. Swimming, boating and fishing were the main activities but I'm sure other forms of relaxation were also practiced.
The battalion enlisted men were billeted in the village hotel and the officers. in a large estate named Villa Faber along the shore a short distance away. Soon after the housekeeping routines were established a British Army Captain appeared and asked to spend some time with us. He was very friendly, sometime spending the day swimming and relaxing,. other days he would disappear in the morning and not return until nightfall. One day while we were sunning on the beach I asked where he went. during the day. His story was very interesting. he was assigned to British Intelligence looking for counterfeit currency plates. It seems the British had received information the Nazis had made plates and printed huge sums of British pound notes. The money had been used to purchase badly needed supplies from the international market to help their war effort. His mission was to search lakes and rivers in Austria where rumor had it the plates had been dumped when it looked like they were losing the war. The rational was when the Fourth Reich was born in the future the plates could be recovered and used again. It was estimated as much as $1 million a day was printed during peak times.
I had almost forgotten this story until I watched a 60 minutes TV program in 2001 that verified the Captain’s explanation to me of his assignment while we were in Attersea. The TV network heard about the story and decided to investigate and literally struck gold. They found a lady high in the Austrian mountains living near a very small deep, lake that remembered when the Nazi trucks appeared to dump wooden crates into the lake just before the war ended.. She was a young girl then and loaned a horse and wagon to the Germans because their trucks could not traverse the. rough road to the lake. At this point the: network received a thirty day permit from the Austrian Government to search the lake bringing in the same company that discovered the Titanic. Near the end of the search period some crates and money were recovered while one of the POWs that did the photo engraving watched and authenticated the currency as his work while being held in forced labor camps run by the Nazis. Most of the money was given to the British who plan to preserve and place in a World War II museum.
After I viewed the program I thought back to the Attersea period in 1945 and wondered if my British Captain had any intelligence that the counterfeit money might possibly be found in Lake Attersea. I personally did my share of fishing but never hooked anything larger than pan fish which we always ate. It sure would have been interesting to pull up a few hundred pounds of British currency, real or counterfeit. I also wonder if the Captain was still alive in 2OO1 and saw the same program I did.
I wrote a letter to CBS,. the network that produced the program. asking for more information regarding the name of the lake, date-of recovery etc. but unfortunately never received a reply. I guess my limited memory will have to suffice. This story turns out to be just another highlight with the Eleventh Armored Division during our World War II service in the
What Next And What Might Have Been
When the 11th Armored Division was deactivated in Austria in August, 1945 we all wondered what’s next. The main rumor was pretty reasonable, we would return to the states, reorganize and then head to the Pacific Theatre to prepare for the invasion of Japan. When orders were out and distributed many of us were surprised at our new assignments. Mine transferred me to the 1st Infantry Division, 26th Regiment, 2nd Battalion stationed in Nurnberg Germany with the mission of guarding an SS POW camp and to provide MP personnel for security at the Nazi War Crimes Trials.
The “Big Red One" had a storied history of combat starting in the North Africa Campaign and continuing in the ETO. Many of the original personnel had so many points they were returned to the states after the war ended, therefore I was a replacement like many others. My assignment was Assistant Battalion Surgeon helping the one doctor in the dispensary. In addition I was given the responsibility of caring for the SS prisoners when required. The camp was fenced with guard towers at the corners manned with machine guns and held a couple of hundred POWs who lived in primitive type structures. The only two usable buildings served as a kitchen and a dispensary, both with minimum facilities.
On my first entry to acquaint myself with my new responsibilities I used a medica1 jeep and wore a Red Cross arm brassard so there could be no mistake who I was. I drove to the make-shift dispensary and as I entered everyone inside snapped to attention and saluted (Nazi sty}e) even two patients lying on straw covered cots became rigid. I discovered there were two German doctors in attendance and after introducing myself using my elementary German, I put everyone at ease. I took a quick inventory of medical supplies on hand, found out what the most common ailments were then told the doctors I would return with additional supplies and a simple medical kit.
The Battalion Commander wasn't too supportive of my intentions, his orders to the guards were very clear, show no mercy, shoot if necessary. Living conditions for the POWs were marginal, and he told me he didn't need a “quack” (his nickname for me) to pamper anyone on the inside. After I explained Germany had been signatory to the Geneva Convention he reluctantly agreed and let me do whatever I thought best to honor our commitment. During combat I had treated German wounded, and I'm sure German medics had also treated our American wounded.
I continued to take in supplies as needed, helped the doctors where I could and on occasion went in with my aid men to pick up POWs that had been injured for breaking the rules. As time went by I became bored with my duty, although I was able to visit the court room once because the Battalion Chaplain was assigned to the trials to offer religious comfort to the top Nazi Generals and Admirals, and he arranged a pass for me. It was quite an experience.
One day I asked the Adjutant what new assignments might be available and he told me U.S. Public Health was offering one year contracts for certain medics to work with Military Government rebuilding the devastated infrastructure throughout Germany. It sounded very interesting, but in January, 1946 the Mother’s Club back home was writing to tell me how many of the boys had returned to their families and why was I still in Germany, Well the pressure became too great and so with more points than I needed I requested a return to the states and was relieved pending attachment to a nearby hospital unit that was in the process of staging for the trip to New York.
In retrospect I often wonder how staying in Germany another year would have changed my life and career but I'll never know for sure. If I had only. . . oh well I can still wonder.
We are stationed at Lake Attersee
Oh gee it has been fun,
I wish you could be here with us
Now the war is won.
The weather is terrific, sun shines all the time
Just like California, native state of mine.
The language we did hear was very very strange,
At first we nicht verstehe at all
Now jawohl we’re having a ball
Frauleins were forbidden when first we did arrive,
Now the ban has been lifted
Oh how they fraternize
The Samstag parties were a treat
The girls that came were very neat,
The answer was always ja, ja, ja,
All we want is a bite to eat.
Moonlight rides by boat we took
That is if they weren’t kaput.
We worked two months on a Ford V-8
Hope it runs when go to escape.
We wonder how long a good thing can last,
We wonder how long a man can live this fast.
I was assigned to C Company 81st Medical Battalion when the Division was in
Camp Cooke packing to ship out to the ETO. I stayed with C Company during
transport, training in England, crossing the channel and commitment to combat.
It didn't take very long before I was contacted through Battalion
Headquarters by the Division Surgeon, Colonel Bruce Balding. He wanted to use me
as an additional aid station helper when line units were receiving more
casualties than they could quickly handle. I would be notified when a situation
developed and told which unit needed help then given a map location to proceed
immediately. Col Sanford French, the 81st Battalion Commander approved of this
plan, so when the time arrived I took a jeep following instructions to find the
aid station in need of help,
Usually I would only stay a day or two until the battle waned, the wounded
treated, then evacuated by Army Ambulances to a collecting Company farther to
the rear. I would then follow the line of advance of our units to locate C
Company and resume my regular duties. Obviously the tempo of enemy contact and
casualty counts dictated the number of times I was called for these temporary
On one of my return trips to C Company, after spending a couple of days with
an Infantry Company aid station I stopped in a small village to check my map and
ask directions from some GI's in the area. They had not seen any medics and were
of no help so I tried calling on the big old walkie talkie I had in the jeep,
but could not make contact. If I remember correctly the range of these units
depended upon terrain and could be less than a mile. As I was wondering which
direction to take a German lady approached me with a request. Her daughter was
pregnant and going into labor. I guess because the jeep and my helmet both
displayed red crosses she identified me as a medic that could help. I agreed
although childbirth had not been a subject in the curriculum at the Army school
We drove to her home and upon entering I heard the girl and the voice of
another woman trying to comfort her. It seems the lady was known as a sort of
mid-wife in the local community and had assisted with childbirth before, which
eased my concern because of my lack of experience in obstetrics. The ladies
stayed with the girl while I went out to the jeep to get my medical kit which I
thought we would probably need. I sat with the expectant mother and the two
ladies for about two hours white the contractions became stronger and closer
until finally a little head started to appear and the mid-wife took charge and
delivered a baby girl with no apparent complications. My only contribution was
cutting the umbilical cord on the new infant. While the ladies cleaned up the
newborn I stayed with the girl and upon their return I went outside while they
attended to the mother. When I went back inside mother was holding her baby, the
ladies were smiling and it was a very touching scene. New life instead of death
just a few miles from a battleground where death was a constant threat.
It was now almost dark and the ladies asked me to spend the night with them
so I agreed because trying to find my unit under blackout conditions would not
be easy. The next morning I said goodbye and drove off listening to the sound of
outgoing artillery rounds while searching for C Company which I finally located
a few hours later. It was truly a night to remember.
Every time C Company 81st Medical Battalion was out of action it was
customary to find sufficient buildings in the area to provide sleeping
accommodations for the troops and to set up a small aid station to take care of
unexpected emergencies. We frequently treated civilians, usually children, women
and older men too old to be in uniform who were suffering from a variety of
ailments that could be treated with drugs carried in our medical chests. Minor
dermatology surgery removing warts and cysts was typical. My memory of the
following incident tells me we were in a small town, not too badly damaged but
my problem was as I've stated before, I followed orders and did not keep a diary
so the location remains just somewhere in Germany.
The day after we settled in I was in the aid station with Captain Sam Werlin
when a teen age girl entered and told us her mother had an accident and could
not walk, would we help her. Our response was ya wir vielleicht konnen helfen
and followed her to their home where we found the mother prone on her bed.
Between Sam's Yiddish and my elementary German we learned she had fallen two
days ago while searching for food in a damaged house. Neighbors carried her home
where she remained on her bed unable to walk. After an examination of the
injured leg, Sam decided there might be a fracture of the Tibia or Fibula but
without an x-ray, he couldn't be sure. It might possibly be a pulled muscle or
something that might heal itself with bed rest, but we decided to apply a splint
which would protect her if a bone was broken and would keep her off her feet so
she wouldn't aggravate the injury whatever it was. We had no idea where an x-ray
machine might be found with the ability to develop the film so we had no choice.
I walked back to the aid station and returned with a Thomas splint which we
applied making her immobile. The metal rods and stretching would keep the leg
straight. Sam then wrote an explanation of his examination and possible
diagnosis to leave with the girl so she could give to any other medical unit
that might follow us. We also told her she must continue to care for her mother
and should also ask the neighbors to assist her.
We were alerted to move out the next day but before leaving I returned to see
the patient and showed the daughter how to loosen tension and remove the splint
if it became necessary. I also left them a supply of C rations to tide them over
until more help arrived.
Senior citizen's memories seem to work overtime the older we get. I guess
it's because we have experienced so much in our long lives and I often wonder
what became of the lady we left on her bed. I hope. that somehow she was treated
and recovered satisfactorily, or there was no break and bed rest healed her. It
remains one of my vivid medical memories.
to "Our History")