But the day came when we were told we were going to the 409th Regiment of the 103rd Division -- and then followed more days of travel from here to there, sleeping in pup tents and taking orders from T/5s of the service company. Then one morning we were told to throw away everything but our equipment in our packs -- and did so -- extra shoes, socks, gas masks, mess kits, our new Red Cross kits, everything went into a huge pile. The French civilians helped themselves. And we, sick and disgusted at the Army's way of wasting equipment, climbed into trucks and took off again.
We were now traveling ahead of some of our larger field guns and going through country that only a few days ago had been the front lines. Roads, axle deep in mud, blasted by shells, trees uprooted, scores of water-filled foxholes and here and there the bodies of dead Germans along the road or in the fields. And then a town, I think it was Dambach, near Selestat anyway, and we unloaded again. Here, in the attic of an old school house, we became members of B company, 409th Infantry. Three days before all but about ten men of the company had been captured by the Germans. We were to replace them. It wasn't a cheerful thought.
With squad leaders from other companies we were put into squads, still very much under-strength. Crabtree, Carnes, Black, Craft and I, all from Missouri and Camp Roberts buddies, and two other Missouri boys, Damanti and Compton, were in one squad. Allen was our leader. I was made BAR man--which meant carrying a rifle 10 pounds heavier than the M1, and twice as much ammunition, to say nothing of the clumsy belt, 20-round magazines. I wasn't too pleased.
News clippings from THE BRUNSWICKER, Brunswick, Missouri:
The following notes on the trip on a troop transport from the United States to England was written by Pvt. Arthur J.
Clayton to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. A. J. Clayton. Art is now in France.
At Sea, November, 1944
This is an experience I shall never forget as long as I live!
Long lines of soldiers waiting for their train cars while the rain peppered down; the same men laughing a bit exaggerated as we got the first glimpse of our troop ship; walking up the gangplank in single file, inwardly excited (if like me) but a little lonesome and homesick, too; our crowded quarters below deck, but much cleaner and nicer than I had expected; our first visit to the upper decks and the massiveness of our ship; the moments we moved away from shore and crowded the rails to get our last glimpse of the good old U. S. A., quickly disappearing behind in the rain and mist; coming back to our bunks after dark and thinking what a long, tiresome trip is ahead of us--whether 5 days or 20.
We can feel the ship rolling now and we are all wondering if we will be among those who get seasick. One man has already "spilled" his supper.
We are all smoking, some reading, writing; a crap game has (one word deleted) started in one corner, of the compartment. One fellow is warming up on a harmonica, another toots on an ocarina.
It's smoky and stuffy, but the G. I.'s keep on laughing, cursing, talking and joking.
This is a day few of us will ever forget, yes, indeed.
* * * * * * * * * *
Just came back from a visit on deck; it's dark now and the sky is overcast. A single star peaks through the clouds at intervals. Salt spray blows in your face from the bow, stinging and refreshing after hours in our quarters.
Eight out of ten of us really know what seasickness is now. A gale has been blowing for hours and the ship is consistently nosing up and down, up and down. Vomiting buckets are everywhere and all used! So far l've been lucky; stomach too squeamish for our first meal at sea ---just a bite then back to my bunk. But after several trips to fresh air, supper went fairly well. Feel fine now; maybe I'll be one who 'keeps it down.'
Quarters are still hot and stuffy and the smell isn't pleasant.
* * * * * * *
This is a first-class ship, or so it looks to me, and with less congestion and better weather it would be a real pleasure cruise.
* * * * * * *
A sailor says this is the roughest day for some time. Rumors say the sick bay is full of sailors--so pity the poor land soldier!
Less wind now and the water is not so 'bumpy'; many have recovered from their sea sickness and all the decks are crowded
with men, some out of their bunks for the first time. Many are reading, some sleeping, others just looking at the water.
Nothing else to do.
The Red Cross has already made a hit with us. At the dock, while we waited to board ship, Red Cross girls (all over 50, I'm sure) distributed hot coffee--definitely not the G. I. brand, too--and doughnuts. Very welcome. Later, on ship Red Cross kits were given us--books, writing material, razor blades, cigarettes, cards, soap, lifesavers.
Cigarettes, incidentally, are 5 cents a pack aboard ship--when you can get them. Someone must make a profit on them back in the states. (Ed note: most of that "profit" is tax!)
I still can't believe we are to be sent into combat immediately. Less than 4 1/2 months of basic training isn't much background for combat-- but who knows. We're sure heading toward something.
Time passes here only as time. Daylight and dark make no difference 'down here' in our quarters. Without watches and a visit above once in a while days would mean nothing. As it is, it's hard to remember what day it is.
Conversation frequently turns to our 'next voyage'--home--but few of us hold hopes of making it soon.
Love to all and don't worry.
From Harold Schreckengost, May, 1991:
Ref: Page 4 MUD & GUTS
(At my request, Schreck wrote out this account of the Company B capture at Selestat and their subsequent time as POWs -- ajc)
Yes, I was taken prisoner at Selestat. The Army says December 1, 1944, but I am sure it was after midnight so I say December 2. We were rounded up but before they could get us out of town we were caught in our own artillery. As far as I know, no casualties. After a day or two along the Rhine we were taken by truck to Stalag 12-A at Limberg. Along the way we were bombed by our own planes. Arrived December 11. Left 12-A after interrogation and being split up as to officers, NCOs and Pvts on December 23 via side-door pullman (box car!). Arrived Stalag 3-B at Fuerstenbert on December 27. The train trip was bad news!! No services except for one pail in the car (for 40 men), very little food or water. We scraped frost from bolt heads and hinges on the doors for liquid. When there would be an air raid while we sat in the rail yards, the guards and crew would bail out and leave us locked in the cars which were not marked with a cross as they should have been.
We were at Stalag 3-B 'til January 31, 1945, when the Russians started a drive so we had to move back to the West. This move was the hard way -- on foot. There were 5,000 of us American Non-Coms in the group. We were on the road for eight days in the cold, snow and ice. At night we slept in barns, warehouses or wherever we were. We arrived at Stalag 3-A at Luckenwalde on February 8. Five hundred of us left the next day and walked to a small camp, 483-C. We stayed here 'til April 22 when the Russian army was again near. On the road again this time for four days when we arrived at Stalag 11-A at Altenbrabow. While we were at 483-C we were close to Berlin and Potsdam when the Allies were bombing them day and night. We could see the fires and feel the concussion of the bombs. The four-day walk to 11-A was something you would have to see to believe! We were on the highway along with thousands of German civilians all fleeing west to stay ahead of the Russians.
At 11-A they had connections with the American Red Cross and in seven or eight days a convoy of 70 GI trucks flying white flags came in 35 kilometers behind the lines and took all the English, French and Americans across the Elbe river and we were free at last!
After spending a week or so at different installations, we arrived at Camp Lucky Strike where they built us up a bit for the trip home. I sailed for home on June 2, 1945 and arrived at Camp Shanks, N.Y., June 12, went first to Jefferson Barracks, Mo., then home for a 60-day furlough. Reported back to Hot Springs, Ark., for 14 days R&R. Spent the last three months of my Army career at Ft. Lawton, Mass. Was discharged from Ft. Lewis, Wash., November 17, 1945. Arrived home just in time to celebrate my 26th birthday on November 30.
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