Harry Marek’s World War II Memories
On May 8th, 1944, I was inducted into the United States Army, and sent to Fort Sheridan. There we were issued uniforms and shoes, and told to sit in a room until we were called. We were all naked, lined up and examined by a doctor.
I was sent to Camp Fannin, Texas for Basic Training, and placed in an Infantry Replacement Unit. I was in training there for seventeen weeks. The Army needed men to replace the men who were being wounded or killed. It was there I met and made friends with a number of young men my age. Megglen was from the South side of Chicago, and we would help each other when a buddy was needed.
I learned to use all the equipment issued by the Army; from a bayonet, to a 90mm mortar. The M-1 rifle was issued to everyone, and we had to carry it everywhere we went. We had to be able to take it apart, clean it blindfolded, and put it together again, by the time we left. We were then furloughed and sent home for ten days. Megglen and I traveled together to Chicago.
I spent my time at home, visiting family and friends. It was then I gave Marge a wristwatch. We had been going together about eleven months at this time.
After our furlough, we were sent to Baltimore, and from there, to Camp Shanks, New York, and to the Army docks. We boarded an Italian Ship that ha run away from the German Navy when it was in Naples, Italy. They somehow played a trick on the German Navy and slipped out of the port, which had been guarded by anti-submarine cable, and got away. The Captain and his family had been living on the ship and because of the trick the played on the German Navy arrived in New York, and turned the ship over to the United States to carry troops. The Captain and crew were considered Prisoners of War.
All the I.D. was removed from the ship, and when they finished, it could carry 10,000 men and 10 anti-aircraft stations. It was run by the Merchant Marines and the guns were manned by the Navy. There were three men to each gun.
Our destination was England. The ship was a passenger ship; the tenth fastest in the world, and diesel powered. We pulled out of the dock and joined a convoy of freighters. There were three other passenger ships like the one we were on that were converted to troop carriers. They were American Ships. Any place a cot would fit, four or five were installed. All of the deck furniture had been removed. The ballroom floor was covered with plywood, and banks of cots five high. The ship I was on did carry 10,000 men.
We were fed twice a day; a very good breakfast and dinner. As we boarded the ship we were issued a card, which was used as a meal card. When we entered the dining room, the card was punched. No card, no food! Also, no second helpings. The guys who got seasick wouldn’t eat, and if you could borrow their meal ticket and eat their mean that was due, that was legal as far as the checker was concerned. My buddy Megglen and I were lucky; we didn’t get seasick and miss any meals. Some of the guys didn’t eat all the way to England, except for candy bars and cookies from the PX (post exchange).
Traveling in the convoy was slow, but we were beginning to pick up speed and leave a wake behind. My buddies and I had a good time on our “cruise” to England. We spent most of the day walking on “A” deck, which was a covered deck. The top deck was a private area, because it was home for the ship’s captain and his family.
When we arrived in England we unladed from the Italian Liner onto an English troop carrier that just returned from North Africa. It was filthy, and we had to clean it up before we did anything else. Rumor had it that we would get off the ship using cargo nets because there were no docks; just cargo nets and landing craft. We used the cargo nets like a rope ladder, and when the craft was in the right place, we jumped, and if we were lucky, we landed into the landing craft. Two of the men missed the net and drowned. The landing craft held about 50 men. When it was full, they ran it up to the beach. That’s how we all landed on Omaha Beach.
The next day before breakfast, we were issued live ammunition and were kidding the cooks about serving us tire patches instead of pancakes.
We were in the 95th Division, Company C. Megglen and I were split up. He was in the first platoon, and I was in the second platoon. We were on our way to Berlin, but first we had a holiday to celebrate, with turkey, dressing and almost all of the trimmings. It was Thanksgiving, 1944.
We had nice warm barns to sleep in on the way to Berlin. The cooks tried to have pancakes or scrambled eggs and coffee for breakfasts. The eggs were powdered, but we ate them anyway. Two field stoves went with us wherever we went.
We took over a different house every night. We would check the house for snipers and the cabinets for wine and food, like potatoes and carrots, in the cellars. For our meals, we would warm the “C” rations that were issued, and if we had potatoes, or whatever we could find, we would add them to it. “C” rations were canned stew, bacon and eggs, corned beef hash, Spam and other foods like that. “K” rations were also issued. They were basically the same thing as “C” rations, but sort of in a condensed form. They could be heated or eaten cold. They also gave us lots of chocolate candy, cigarettes, and gum.
Snipers were sometimes hiding in these houses. At times there would be three houses connected with tunnels. Then our Sergeant would tell us we had to get the sniper, so we would look all over the house until we found him. Sometimes we didn’t, and they just disappeared. Sometimes we would hand grenade each room in the house when we couldn’t find the snipers. We spent four days looking for them and killed four. It was hard to know which houses had the tunnels, and when we looked for the snipers many of our men were shot. This was in Metz, France. We were mopping up so it would be safe for the civilians. We were put in a 6 x 6 truck and driven about ten miles away, where our Operations were located.
We were in Metz four days, and on the morning of the fourth day, we were fired on by a sniper. He picked on me and came close. His bullet kicked dust on my right cheek and I heard the bullet snap. I realized I had been shot at and ran for cover. The guys called me “speedy” because I ran so fast. I overshot the doorway I wanted.
We were using armor piercing ammunition, which was one to a clip. A.P. penetrates doors and window frames and 8” of brick.
Every afternoon, the Germans, “Jerry” would send over three 88’s. If we were on the road, we would have to hit the ditch. Sometimes it made us late for the third shell to go off. Also, it made our company late, so the company commander would take over a house for us to sleep in for the night. We did a lot of crawling on our stomachs.
We were still in France, and the Germans were about two and a half miles ahead of us. That was within shelling distance for an 88. So as a result we didn’t get much sleep. Then we each had a two-hour guard duty and a four A.M. roll out with C rations and hot coffee for breakfast. Lunch would be about twelve with C rations and coffee.
Someone started to fire an M-1 and hit, but there was no German fire about this time. Our Sergeant hollered, “ambush”. We all ran for cover. The Germans had captured some M-1’s and it slowed us down. We had to use a plow furrow to get a hit at the Germans. A plow furrow is like a ditch where we took cover. In the process of running for cover, our plow furrow ran out and that was how I got hit in my left arm.
I was going back to an aid station, and I saw Megglen. The fighting was fierce. That was the last time I saw him alive. I got to an aid station, and don’t know how. The building had a red cross on it, but that made no difference to Tiger Royal (the German tank). He lowered his 88 and shot two shells into the basement window as we were leaving out the back door.
The company medic checked my arm and said I had to go to the field hospital to have the bullet removed. About twenty miles to the rear, the wounded were coming in faster than they could take care of them. On the way to being flown to England, we had a stop off at Paris, because of bad weather. We stayed in a hospital there for two nights, and then we were flown to England, where we were placed in a Military hospital in Nottingham. They operated on me and removed the bullet. I was there for almost a month.
I met an Italian kitchen worker at the hospital, who told me he had a cousin working at Amphenol, in Cicero, Illinois, where I had worked. Coincidentally, she had worked for me when I was a foreman there. After about three weeks, we got passes to go into Nottingham. We went out for fish and chips. We stayed overnight at a Red Cross building, read magazines and played pool. We had to be back to the hospital the next day. It was about a twenty-mile ride by train to get back to the hospital. Then I was released from the hospital.
It was time to start the trip back to the front lines. I was a “Casual”; someone not attached to a unit, and it was easier to go with a group. I had to do the cargo net thing again, since we went back by ship. But this time, we didn’t lose anybody.
Our regiment had been on R & R, (rest and relaxation), in Belgium, when it was cut short because of the Battle of the Bulge. They were sent back to France where I joined them. There were about forty of us from the hospital going back to our platoons or squadrons. Some of the men I knew, some I didn’t. One of the men told me that Megglen was dead, and had been killed on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1944. He was going to be my best man at my wedding when we returned home, so I really hurt.
There was about 8” of snow and the fighting was so fierce that the dead men were covered with snow. We had to poke sticks in the mounds of snow to find the G.I.’s. and when there was a dead man in the foxhole we would but a toilet paper streamer for Graves Registration, so they would be able to find them.
From France, our regiment was taken by trucks to Belgium, then to Germany and Holland; where we fought and then occupied when the Germans surrendered. Our regiment was then shipped home to Fort Sheridan, IL. Where we thought we would be stationed until we had enough “points” to be discharged. So, Marge and I were married. We had a two and a half room apartment in the rear of a bungalow, in Cicero, IL, and I was allowed to live there.
We went on our honeymoon, going by bus to Wisconsin. When we returned, I was given the news that we were to be shipped to the West Coast, then to Japan, where the war was still going on. There was a big uproar about this, since our regiment had been through so much. So the plans were changed. We were shipped to Tacoma, Washington, where Marge joined me. We were there about three months, and then I was shipped to Seattle, where I finished my service.
Megglen’s body was brought home to Chicago, where we attended his funeral. It was a military funeral with taps and rifle salute, and very sad.