Making a Memory: The war letters of William Chase, 1943-1945

Transcribed and edited by March Chase, class of 1997

This work was submitted to fulfill partially the requirements for the Dickinson College senior seminar in history entitled "War and Remembrance" during spring 1997.

Preface
American culture seems to be fascinated with war.  There is almost an obsession with fighting war, with protesting war, with the perpetuation of myths about war and obsessed with tearing down those myths. Time has created a cultural mythology.  Many regard the Revolutionary War or Civil War as an American substitute for the Iliad, with people like Lincoln, Grant, Lee, and Jackson taking on the heroic qualities of Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector and Odysseus. This attitude was held throughout most of the twentieth century, alternating between solemnity and respect --- when thinking about the Great War, for example --- and excitement and triumphalism, as seem in the case of the Second World War. But in the 1960's attitudes began to change, and with the "draw" at Korea and the stalemate which became Vietnam, many Americans turned against their war-venerating past. An era of "progressive" history emerged, which tried to re-examine the foundations of  American myths.

"Progressive" historians have often been accused of being "unpatriotic," or of "rewriting history" to maintain political correctness. The historians, on the other hand, admit to only to being historians. They feel that it is their task to provide all viewpoints of an event, not just the American one. The controversy around the 1995 exhibition of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum is testament to this difference of perspective.  The museum's curators wanted to display the famous bomber in an educational manner, not taking sides and presenting the results of the attack from a Japanese point of view, as well as an American one. But World War II veterans and the Air Force association had other ideas. They felt that this particular aircraft so vital  to American cultural myth that the only way one could think of displaying it was as a memorial to the pilots, President Truman's brave decision, World War II veterans, and America itself.

One of the results of the arguments over the Enola Gay was the general "reawakening" of opinion among the veterans of  the Second World War about their place in history.  The most numerous veterans of any American war, they have always enjoyed influence and popular support, but, now as their numbers begin to be thinned by time, they seek to remind a very different nation of "their" war's place in history. This war was America's war, "the best war ever." The conflict pulled the country out of the Depression, and was, many feel, very good for the country. Our enemies were an evil movement headed by a megalomaniac madman bent on world domination, in concert with a country which had launched an "unprovoked" attack on American soil.  Hate was a simple matter and the job to be done was easy to understand and to justify with all the emotional power of patriotism.  So believed my grandfather, William Chase [figure 1], who served in the European Theater from August 1944 to November 1945.

Bill Chase kept in as constant a touch with his wife as the mail service would allow while he was overseas, and there exist in the family over two hundred, very long and detailed letters.  I have chosen about a hundred or so of these letters and present them, along with photos, newspaper articles and biographical information, as his posthumous (he died in March, 1968) "war diary." This project is important to me in two ways.  First, as an historian, it provides a valuable way to examine the thoughts and feelings of a typical soldier in the great crusade to make the "world safe for democracy." The letters, which have lain unread since they were sealed in an artillery box fifty years ago, are informative, amusing, thoughtful, and reflective. They offer a glimpse at the way Bill's feelings about the war, the army and the people he encountered evolved and changed as the Allied forces went on to victory over Germany. Further, they are of the moment.  Unlike a memoir composed years after years of reflection, Bill's letters were written months, days, even hours after events occurred, thus avoiding the distortion or mutation that time or later developing motives produce on one's memory. Second, it has allowed me to get to know my grandfather who died years before I was born. This also changed the basic tone of this work, as I was not able to talk to Bill and see how his feelings might have changed in the past fifty years.  For me, his letters are his memory.

I have edited the letters quoted below for clarity and syntax. At times, I have even re-written small sections to make them more readable, as often he was just writing down what came to mind without bothering to edit, as is usual in most letters. Where I have done this I have not changed the emphasis of Bill's feeling, just a word or phrase he used to express those feelings. This is not a piece which seeks to judge, rather, as I stated earlier, it is a window into a man's thoughts and an example of how my grandfather's experiences influenced his perception of the war he was fighting. His own words tell most of his story.  And most importantly, his story is his memorial.


Early Life and Military Training

William Gundry Chase was born on June 5th, 1912 in Depue Illinois. His father, March Chase, was the Superintendent of the Depue plant of the New Jersey Zinc Company. His mother, Margery Lambertson, was a member of the prominent Gundry family in the Wisconsin mining town of Mineral Point. The Chase family lived in Chicago and St. Louis for a short time, and, in 1920, moved to Ardsly-on-Hudson in New York. Ardsly was where Bill spent the rest of his childhood, attending two local private elementary schools, Repton and Briar Cliff Manor. In 1926, when Bill was fourteen years old, his mother died, and Mr. Chase moved his family into New York City. That fall, "a very unhappy, young teenager" was sent off to Connecticut to attend the Hotchkiss School. Bill graduated from Hotchkiss in 1930 and went on to earn a Political Science degree from Harvard in 1934.

Bill first became interested in railroads as an elementary student (he had to commute to Repton and Briar Cliff by train), but it was at Harvard where he realized that his big interest was transportation. The summer after graduation, Bill went to work for the Commercial Solvents Corporation. His father was now the Vice-President in charge of Research at CSC. Bill began as a laborer, rolling whisky barrels at the Newark, New Jersey warehouse. In the spring of 1935, Bill joined the CSC executive training program, possibly to get started on a career, or to please his father. The course sent him to Terre Haute, Indiana, which is where he would meet his future wife.

Bill only stayed with CSC for about a year.  During Christmas of 1935, Bill and his new fiancee, Frances Ross, returned to Ardsly to visit his sister Sally. While there, he had an interview with the President of the New York Central Railroad. "I remember [after the interview]" says Frances, "his telling me, brash young man that he was, that he said to the president, 'Sir, I would like to sit at your desk some day!'"(1)

This was obviously the job for Bill Chase. The president suggested that, if Bill really did want to work for the railroad, that he get in touch with the Vice-President in charge of the Big Four Division, in Cincinnati, and ask for a job. Bill did just that, and, by the time he and Fran were married in April of 1936, he was the "Inspector of Transportation," and lived in Terre Haute.

In 1937 Bill joined the 53rd Engineer Railway Operating Battalion Reserve, later redesignated the 718th Railway Operating Battalion in 1941.(2)  Frances believes that Bill decided to join the Battalion, more as a social adventure than out of any real desire to be a fighting soldier.  In 1937, after all, few in the United States were thinking about a second World War. But when the 718th was activated in 1943, two years after Pearl Harbor, Bill was as patriotic as most Americans. The railroad could have obtained him a deferment from any service, but Bill felt that "if his unit was called up, it was up to him to go." Taking part in the war probably seemed like an honorable thing, as his father was head of the Explosive Division of the War Industries Board during World War I, and two of his great-grandfathers had served the Union in the American Civil War. Even though he had two young children, his wife supported his decision.  Recently, she remembered that
He was healthy [and] we were financially independent, so he didn't have to worry about his family. I know he hated to miss seeing the children change and grow-up, but he really wanted the adventure, and didn't blame him--excitement was in the air. We both felt it was important that America get into [the war] and help get rid of Hitler. When it became apparent that Britain and France [did need] our help, we felt we had to get into it.(3)

Bill's brother-in-law, who worked for CSC, was not allowed to join the service. He remembers that "everybody was swept up in the affair. It was shameful to be a civilian. I remember this clearly. I was [one]."(4)

Upon activation, Bill reported to Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas, for basic training. Only days before his unit was activated, Bill had graduated from the Officers Training Camp at Fort Slocum, New Jersey, with the rank of Captain. His position for the duration of his service in Europe was Captain of Company C, the Operations Company of the 718th.  His letters below tell this part of the story in his own words.
 

19 December, 1943

Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio TX

Dearest Fran:

I have not heard from you now for about a week, so I hope that everything is still going all right. The last two letters I have written to Terre Haute as I did not know just when you planned to go over to your mother's. I hope that you are there now and I certainly wish I were with you. Every once in a while I get good and home-sick, and don't feel very happy about anything. Well, the Major [Lewis W. Moss] (5) has officially changed me over to Executive Officer of the Battalion, and I move into HQ tomorrow with a desk right across the hall from him. I will now be second in command, and if I can hold down the job for three months I will be eligible for promotion to Major, as Washington has told Lou that they are going to make him the Lieutenant Colonel. My biggest responsibility right now is to handle the training program, as I have the lovely job of being the Planning and Training Officer for the Battalion. It is a tremendous job, as I have to set up all the schedules for the training of all the men and have to arrange for the Training Films and all the paraphernalia that goes along with it. You will be interested to know that we are going to have our first Court Martial case next week. It is an AWOL case in my Company C. We had to send a guard to pick up the man up around Dallas where he has been apprehended.

Last night Lou and I got all dressed up in our good clothes and went into town to see a movie and try and get a drink. They have a particular law in Texas which says that they cannot sell Liquor over the counter, but that must bring your own in a bottle with you and then they will sell you the set-ups. So on Saturday night you see everybody lugging a bottle with him. We didn't know that so had to spend the evening drinking beer. We went to the best hotel in town and reserved a table and drank beer for about two hours. All we did was to sit and look at the beautiful ladies and wish that our wives were there to dance with us.

You have know idea how much I miss you and the children and I dread this coming Christmas. This is the first time in my life that I have not been home for the same.
 

21 December, 1943

Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio TX

This training job is quite something, as it is part of my job to criticize the method of presentation and to help the officers out in their work. I am supposed to keep them on their toes and to see that they have all of the necessary equipment to make their talks, and also to give them some suggestions on how to put on displays.

I had my first opportunity today to command the troops of Co. A, and I did not do very well as I was too self conscious. However, I guess that we will over-come that in due time. We all felt the same way and I had to give the Officers a talk on how to appear before their troops and, of course, it was sort of embarrassing for me as I was just as bad as they were!

Tomorrow morning I have to read the articles of war to the men and then we have several lectures and a morning on the drill field. When I came into the army I never thought I would end up as a school teacher.

 

 
26 December, 1943

Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio TX

I am sorry that I told you of my promotion so soon, and then turn around and have it rescinded. However, everything is turning out very well, and Co. C is leading the rest of the Co's by far. We had a Barracks inspection on Friday and we were rewarded by being advised by personal letter from the Commanding Officer that we had the best barracks. Also we had the CO for Christmas Dinner which was quite an honor for the men, and he got up and wished them all a Merry Christmas.

Friday afternoon I felt particularly low, what with Christmas coming on and nothing much to look forward to, except getting ready for a big lecture on Monday morning. I sent part of the afternoon pre-viewing a picture I have to show for the lecture on the U.S. Calibre Rifle 30, 1903A3. I have a two and a half hour talk to give with a practical demonstration of stripping it down, naming all of the parts, and then the care and cleaning of the same. Well, Friday evening I went to town feeling not very happy about anything. When I got down there the place was jammed; you had to salute twice every two steps and there was no place to get anything to eat or drink. Some young soldier bumped into me and I was feeling so nasty that I called him to attention, told him to fix his tie, button up his blouse and to present a military appearance. He looked sort of surprised, as if to say, "Well, after all, Captain, this is Christmas and where's your Christmas Spirit?" Anyway, as bad as it seems, I felt much better afterwards. If I ever see that soldier again I will shake him by the hand and tell him that he really fixed me up for Christmas Eve. Well I must stop. Thank you all again for making my Christmas as pleasant a one as could be expected. I hope that Santa Claus was generous to all of you and that Nan and Bill got everything that they wanted. Be sure and give them a Christmas kiss from Pop, and one for you , my sweet.

Affectionately,

Bill

In January, Bill brought Frances and their two children, Nancy and Bill, to live with him at Fort Sam Houston. The training period at Sam Houston, and the nearby Camp Bullis, continued through January and into February, 1944. "Basic training . . . was preparing [the men] for any eventuality, since modern warfare had made any zone a potential combat zone. . . . Outstanding in the memory of those days are the training in village fighting, night marching, infiltration, and qualification in rifle, carbine and, and machine gun."(6)

On February 22, the battalion was transferred to Camp Claiborne, in Louisiana, for technical training. The family followed, living at nearby Le Compte.  The technical training consisted of the unit operating the Claiborne & Polk Military Railroad, or, as it was more commonly referred to, "The Worlds Worst Railroad."(7)This training at Claiborne lasted until the 15th of July, when the order to move was given. The battalion departed that day, by train, for Camp Miles Standish in Massachusetts.(8) The battalion's stay at Camp Standish was very brief, and on the 23rd of July they were taken to Boston and there they boarded the Mount Vernon, bound for England.
 

21 July, 1944
Camp Miles Standish, MA

Darling Frances:

They have just blown taps and it is a beautiful call, but it does make one lonely and a little homesick. Today had been another busy day, with lots to do. We had an inspection yesterday and they told the Major that it was the best Transportation unit of the fourteen they had inspected. The Morale of the Battalion is high and the men are certainly in excellent spirits, which is most encouraging. They know they're in it now and they want to get the job over with.

This is the last letter Bill would write from the States. This section, excerpted from a longer letter, gives a good sense of his feelings. He knew that the call for Embarkation would come at any moment, and that, at last, he is about to begin his great adventure.  But, at the same time, the letter makes perfectly clear that he is worried. On the 21st he had only been away from his family for six days, and yet he still made to feel "homesick" by Taps. He knew that it would be a long time before he would see Frances and the children again. What were his thoughts? Did he think about the possibility that he might not return?  His next letter was written at sea.


European Theater of Operations


24-26 July, 1944
V-MAIL (At sea)

-We are now at sea, so you see we did not stay around very long. I had always hoped that when I made this trip again that you would be along, and someday maybe we can make it. Things in Europe seem to be coming to a climax and I wouldn't be surprised if it were all over soon--- I hope.

-Well we are now on our second day out and the trip is going very well. This morning we ran through a school of dolphins, who followed us for about two miles, jumping and leaping out of the water. There are a group of nurses on board, and they are having a grand time, what with the male population outnumbering them many times.

-Well, we are still at sea and everything seems to be going very smoothly. The men appear to be enjoying the trip, for most of them have never been to sea before and have never been on a large boat. Or life aboard ship is quite restful, and the general calm is broken only by the "abandon ship" drill we have every day. I have been assigned to a very exclusive life-boat, what with a General, a couple of Colonels and an abundance of Lt. Col's and Majors. There is added to this, all of the nurses on the boat. So, you see, I will be in very capable hands.

Well, my love, I was looking at the moon last night and was thinking of you. I miss you more than I can say, and again I say, "I love you,"

With all my love to you, I am affectionately,

Bill

The Atlantic crossing was made in nine, rather uneventful, days. The men crowded in fairly tight, and required "a coordination of breathing at times, so that everybody would expand their 'Mae West' at the same time." The "Mount Vernon" docked in Grenock, Scotland on August 1st, and the battalion took a long train ride to St. Mellons, on the Welsh-English border.(9)
 
2 August, 1944
Somewhere in England

My Dearest Francy:

Well here we are finally landed in England and the country is certainly beautiful. We had quite a train ride yesterday and saw a lot of the country. There is something about England that really gets into your blood and it is as charming as ever. All along the track you would see kids and women waving at the American Soldier boys and they would hold up the babies to get a better look. The kids would hold up their fingers giving you the "V" for Victory salute or the thumbs up sign. It was obvious that they had been in contact with the Yanks before, as they were all yelling for chewing gum which is a favorite with the children. As we all had "K" rations for lunch we had enough chewing gum and a little candy for them and it was well received.

There seems to be a most obvious lack of men in the streets and you see the women doing just about every kind of work imaginable, even to working in the round-house, on the milk wagons and on the buses. The stores look more or less full, but when you try and buy anything you soon find that just about everything must be purchased with a ration stamp.

We have a nice camp--all our own--and so far we have not done much more then recuperate from our trip. I imagine that they will put us to work before long.
 

The 718th did not stay in England for very long. On August 9th, the battalion was moved to Southampton where they stayed until the 13th. That evening they were taken by trucks to the port and began the Channel crossing (Bill gives a very detailed description of this trip later on). The first units of the 718th disembarked on the Normandy coast, at the famous Utah beach, on the 15th, and that evening had established headquarters at Folligny [Map1](10)

Folligny was the first place that Bill and his battalion got their first taste of combat conditions. As commanding officer, Bill was required to censor the Company's mail, as well as his own, thus many of his experiences are only hinted at, although he would end up describing some of them at a later time. But one can still sense the feeling of excitement in his writing. He seems to be a bit in awe of his situation, and has yet to encounter any real problems or difficulties with his men.
 

18 August, 1944
Somewhere in France

Well, as you can see, they didn't wait very long to put us over where there is lots of Action. There is a world of things I could tell you, but I guess I can't right now. However, keep this letter and when I get back we'll go over them and I'll tell you some of the details.

They split the Battalion all up when we came over, but now we are back together again. The trip over was tiresome and long, but no one got sea-sick. We arrived at our destination several days later and that very day started to work. The men were certainly delighted to think that they were, at last, railroading again. In a couple of days we are going to take over our division completely.

Yesterday Bob [Major Robert B. McGee(11)] and I drove over the R.R. and ended up at one of our own terminals. There is evidence of the war all along the war, some places worse than others. The people seem to be friendly, though there are plenty of pro-Nazis about. The children, again, have learned about "Chewing gum," and as usual the American soldier is giving away about half of his rations. My French has come back and I can get along beautifully.

21 August, 1944
Somewhere in France

I have been up and down the R.R. a couple of times and it is an all day jaunt and very tiresome because of heavy traffic. Things are rather complicated right now, but are slowly getting organized. Communication and transportation add to our difficulties, but given enough time I think that we will get things straightened out.

The one thing over here that everybody wants more than anything else is chocolate and you can trade it for just about anything. You can imagine how some of the towns look, and a lot of the people have moved out, but they seem to take everything in stride, and what they need most--I gather--is clothing. Everywhere we go you see the children standing alongside the road with the "V" sign, and, of course, they are all asking for "bon bons." As usual, the American soldier is giving them everything that he doesn't need. The only method of transportation for the French is their bicycle or their buggy. You see them all along the road and they always wave and give some sort of salute.

All the C Company officers are living in one building along with the ranking Non Com's. We are quite comfortable, cooking our own meals and taking baths out of our helmets.
 

 
29 August 1944
Somewhere in France

As I told you before, I have lost about 15 pounds and sleeping is a luxury. I really didn't know what long hours were until I cam into the army. As for food, we are eating mostly rations of one sort or another, consisting of many canned things of which canned bacon is by far the best. The dried foods have turned out quite well, but I cannot say much for the canned meats, with the exception of the boneless chicken which is really delicious. We drink a lot of this nescafé, and then too, they have dried lemon juice which when dissolved in water tastes just like the real article. Canned peaches and fruit cocktail are the favorites, but you would be surprised how even I can go for canned pineapple. Two meals a day a good average for most of us and eighteen hours a day is about average for our work day. I am getting to the point where I can sleep any time, anywhere.

Now as for taking a bath. As I have said before, you never know how useful a helmet is until you've run up against the bath problem. You take a helmet-full of hot water and, starting with your face, you work down until you have washed your feet and it really is quite wonderful how clean you can get with just so little water. As a matter of fact, I have just finished my bi-weekly bath and tri-weekly shave. What I wouldn't give for a tub of really hot water! I would just get into it and sit for hours. Nothing could be more wonderful. For sleeping I am using an abandoned German Officer's cot, which is about six inches too short for me. I have my rubber mattress all blown up,two blankets underneath the sheet and around the mattress, two blankets over me, and my little rubber pillow to sleep on. It really is quite comfortable, and I'm getting used to sleeping sort of doubled so I can fit on the German cot.

Now as to the uniform that I wear all the time [figure 2]: it consists of my high top boots, with woolen socks, regular underwear, woolen OD's with no neck-tie, field jacket, pistol belt with ammunition, a canteen full of water, first aid packet, loaded carbine, and of course a steel helmet. Then if it rains you just put your rain-coat over all of it and you can keep warm and dry.

This part of France that we are in certainly reminds me of home, that is all except for certain things, rather I should say, the lack of certain things. You are beginning to see the people moving back into their houses and some of them are sort of sad when they see what they see. It is surprising to see how much live-stock that the Germans did get away with or eat up. Also, the French hid their tools and are now digging them up. The French Railroad mechanics are some of the finest there are, according to Capt. Reider, and they really can do a fine job on these engines. The shake their heads at the way the Americans R.R., but after some trying times we are getting the business through, and in darn good shape.

Well, my love, I must close this very long letter and go to bed. Oh how I miss you and the children. Tell them that Daddy sends them a big huh and a kiss. And for you, dear, all my love. Good night, my darling. I love you and miss you,

Affectionately,

Bill


The 718th remained at Folligny until the 15th of September, when they moved to Bar-le-Duc. Unlike Folligny, where the GI's operated the railroad by themselves, in Bar-le-Duc they operated a "Phase II" railroad. This meant French operation under US Army supervision.(12)Several long letters describe this experience of cultural exchange, as well as providing word-pictures of wartime France.
 
19 September, 1944
Somewhere in France

Darling Mom:

Well, we have moved again and today I received a letter from you which was dated Sept. 6th, so you can see that my mail is sort of slow getting to me also. Our trip here was uneventful if it was a bit slow. We saw quite a good bit of France, and in spots it really is beautiful. Some towns look just the way you think they should, and just the way you have seen in paintings and pictures. In all of the towns there is a either a canal or slowly meandering river. Hanging over the streams are the inevitable willow trees and, usually, a kid sitting on the bridge fishing--that is when he isn't yelling for "bon bons" or a "Cigarette pour Papa" from the passing GI's. Today when I had to make a trip out on the road I passed an old man who was sitting on a stool alongside a canal, fishing. When I returned about five hours later, he was still there and I could see no fish for his efforts. The towns around here have not been touched, with the exception of a few bridges that the Germans blew up in their efforts to stop the on coming Americans.

I am picking up a lot of French R.R. terms and they can understand just about everything that I want to know about the R.R., but it is still difficult for me to understand them. The local Chef de Gare is a very pompous little Frenchman who, at present time, has a very harried look on his face as we try to keep things running. About twice every day he calls me into his office, sits me down on a plush chair in front of him, and explains, very slowly, with very clear diction, just what the score is and I do my best to enlighten him as to just what we want and expect.

There are all sorts of officials around a French R.R. station. There is the Chef de Depot, Roundhouse Foreman, Chef de Gare, a combination of super-duper yard master, dispatcher and general flunkey--who, evidently, has a lot of authority. Then there is the Sous Chef de Gare, who is the "yes man" for the Chef de Gare, and whenever you ask him a question he has to run to his boss to get an OK or an answer. He hangs around like glue and tries to understand all that we are doing and are talking about. Then there is sort of an extemporaneous job which they give to a flighty Frenchman who is all dressed up in a blue uniform and cap and runs around the station with a red flag and a whistle, which he keeps tooting at all the trains. Every time an engine or train passes, it stops at the Gare, and the Chef de Service (the man with the whistle and red flag) comes running out, waves his flag a couple of times and blows his whistle. At which time two things happen; the train or engine moves, and all the GI's in the vicinity yell, at the top of their lungs, "Fall Out!" which causes our flighty little Frenchman no end of embarrassment...and much amusement to all the rest of the Frenchmen who, I think, deep down in their hearts, think that he has a silly job. On top of all this there is a Sous Chef de Service, who runs around after the little man with the red flag and the whistle and acts very important. However, on top of all this, there are a lot of other Frenchmen wandering around all dressed up in blue uniforms, and, in a later letter, I will let you know just what they are supposed to do, so far I have not found out.

The food we are getting now is not as good as we had before as we are eating operational rations, which are mostly canned. When I get out of the Army, I don't think that I will eat another canned thing as long as I live!

 

26 September, 1944
Somewhere in France.

We are all very busy. I have been having a lot of interesting and amusing experiences. They woke me up this AM, all excited, and told me that a train had been blown up by a German mine. Well, that was pretty serious so we dashed out on the R.R. and could find out nothing. When we saw the French all shaking hands we knew it was a false alarm. We got back and found that the French engine had run over a couple of R.R. torpedoes and, not being used to them, they thought they were German mines. Then today, as I was heading back, two French women came rushing out on the road and were waving their hands and aprons very excitedly. We stopped and they kept telling me that there was a Boche [a German] down the road dressed in civilian clothes. Well, I was in very much of a hurry, even though the thought of catching a Boche was quite dramatic. I found an MP and sent him back to the scene of action.

The French are really wonderful. When I first got here, I thought all of this hand shaking was just for the benefit of the Americans, but soon found out that it is the regular custom over here. Oh, yes again, before I forget. I now have a French interpreter, A young boy of 17 years who has studied English for six years in school. Between the two of us we can get just about what we want. We fixed him all up with some GI clothes and he rides around in the weapons carrier everywhere we go and is proud as a peacock.

30 September, 1944
Somewhere in France

You can't imagine that we have to put up with all day long. Can you imagine the French trying to run the New York Central while the Americans were called upon to do the work? The language difficulty is terrific, even with interpreters, as they don't (or can't) put across the R.R. terms that we have to use. Some of the situations you get into really leave you holding your head, muttering idle curses to yourself. The trouble with it all is that somebody with a lot of authority gets a brainstorm and, without ever considering it from an operational point of view, starts putting out orders, which must be obeyed and all you can do is do your best. Then somebody comes along who knows something about the R.R. and takes a look at the situation and they want to know why everything is all messed up! However, on the whole, the French are very cooperative and, in my humble opinion, are doing a grand job. Well, my darling, I must close. All my love, sweetheart. I miss you, I love you.

Good night dear,

Affectionately,

Bill

6 October, 1944
Somewhere in France

Darling:

How are you? I have not heard from you for several days and I myself have not been too good about writing, as I have been very busy. I am just now finishing thirty-six hours straight without any rest and am whipping this off before I go to bed.

I think that you must know by now that we are a very important part of the army supply system, and when I tell you for whom we are directly carrying supplies you will get a big kick out of it. I am sure you will be interested to hear that our Co. received the bronze star for battle participation in Western Europe directly from Supreme Headquarters. It is a tough racket and if I can live through this I will be able to take anything. By the way, I picked up an Air Corps Captain in my weapons carrier today and he said to me, "Do you know where I'll be tomorrow?" and when I said "no," he told me that he would be in New York. He had completed his 150th mission as a P-47 pilot and they were sending him home. I looked at him with envy in my eyes and only wished that I too was going home, but, after all, he certainly has deserved it.

On October 12,  1944, the battalion left Bar-le-Duc, with battalion headquarters moving to Sezanne and A and C Companies moving to Revigny. While stationed at these locations, the 718th was required to supply General Patton's Third Army's long siege of Metz. The battalion operated under heavy fire, especially on the seventh of October. Despite a seven hour bombardment that day, the trains kept running.(13)
  

24 October, 1944
Somewhere in France

Well they have been keeping us all pretty busy. However, things seem to be going quite normal on the R.R., and, for a change, I haven't had too much unpleasantness of late. However, as you well know, when you have as many men as I under your command something is stirring all the time. So if things are going well on the R.R. you have your worries in the Co.

The country right now is really beautiful, with all the leaves turning and the feel of fall is the air. It reminds on of home, and you almost feel as if you might run into a football game some Saturday. What I wouldn't give to see one.

Our outfit is getting quite a write up in the local papers at home and in the R.R. Age, so you might look around and see if you can find the article. I believe that it will come out in the NYC Headlight.(14)

Here are some of the achievements that we have done: We were first into LeMans, twenty-four hours after the town had surrendered to the Allies. We were first into Paris, first over the Seine, have had one officer decorated, one of the first R.R. units to receive a battle participation star, and above all, have had an enviable record for car handling. That is certainly nothing to be sneezed at. Our enlisted men have done a wonderful job all the way along the line. Six hours after we reached Folligny we were operating trains and under pretty darn hazardous conditions, but with all the grief that we had, we did a good job.

I suppose that you know that we are all living on the cars at the present time, and when the time comes to move, we can take off without much worry about where we are going to sleep. We have electric lights--which we have hooked up to the local power, running water, and when we get an old, broken down steam Locomotive, we will have steam heat. We also built a shower car, and have an old wooden wine car next to it in which we carry the water. The boys have found an old generator which they are fixing up to supply electric power if the time comes when we don't have local power.

31 October, 1944
Somewhere in France

I have the cutest little French boy who wanders around the Co. He is 4 years old, had beautiful red rosy cheeks, and the blondest hair you ever saw. His French is of the type that he and I can have some grand conversations together. His name sounds like "Cookie," pronounced in the French manner. The other day I was censoring mail and he came in and was watching me and was intrigued with the censors stamp. Finally, he rolled up his sleeve and had me stamp it on his arm, then he rolled up his other sleeve and I had to stamp it on his other arm. He was just like any other kid his age, and when he walked out he had both sleeves rolled up and was proudly displaying the stamp, "Passed by U.S. Censor." After fighting the "paper war" this morning I rode a French train with a load of empties up the road for about 40 kilometers. It was one of their more modern engines and was one of the eleven out of 150 that they hid from the Germans. The only thing we passed of any interest was two German Ammo trains that had been blown to pieces. On the way home I saw something that really left me cold. We passed through a village which was leveled to the ground. There was one building left standing. The French had stacked all the bricks in neat piles, but it was desolate. We drove for about another mile and came onto another village which was completely destroyed, and then a second mile was passed and we found another town where everything was burned out. By this time my curiosity was aroused to the point that we stopped and asked a girl standing by the side of the road what had happened. She began to tell us, when her father walked up and told us the story. It seemed that when the Germans were retreating the S.S. troops had taken out their vengeance on these three little towns, the names of which you or I have never heard, and had burned every building to the ground and had shot every male that they could find between the ages of 6 and 60. This man had hidden in a hole in his garden and had three women lying on top of him and his sons. The germans had found the women, but had overlooked him and his "Fils". They shot fifty-six men in one town and sixty-three in another. He even showed us pictures of the shooting and we passed the cemetery which was a mass of flowers, with several women in black standing around. Really, you do not understand such bestial sentiments in any civilized people. After seeing what I did today, my feeling about the Germans had certainly taken a change.

Well, darling, I too would like to take a walk with you in the moonlight. I guess it would not be much of a walk, but I would still love to do it.

Affectionately,

Bill

This is the first time Bill encountered evidence of the German "atrocities." His comment at the end is very telling, ". . . my feelings about the Germans had certainly taken a change." What were his feelings before this? Most likely, he just considered them "the enemy." His statement implies that he held no particular hatred for them as a people. He was fighting against soldiers who were getting paid to do their job, same as he. But when they attacked civilians in aseemingly meaningless revenge, then the Germans became "bestial." Probably, his feelings were greatly enhance by the fact that the Germans chose to kill children in their retreat, since it is easily discerned from his letters that he held a particular fondness for the young.
 

5 November, 1944; Somewhere in France

Darling Angel:

Gosh, I will be glad when this damn thing is over and I can get home once again and lead a civilized life. Our living conditions are of the best, but it is the constant, and always present, regimentation and the total lack of privacy that means that you are always talking to and doing business with the same people that gets me down.

I was out with the Major and the Ex. last night, polishing off a few bottles of champagne and was expecting at least a peaceful Sunday. But when I got up this morning I had about three boys who had gotten in trouble. George was all for giving them the works and then I had to spend the morning getting the thing all straightened out. On top of that, in comes a boy with trouble at home, and those are really the tough ones to handle because there is not much that you can do for them. Imagine getting back on the R.R. and not having to worry about feeding, housing and clothing several hundred individuals. It certainly ought to make anything I do from now on quite simple. It is quite an experience, and you certainly will never forget it.

The battalion moved headquarters again, to Conflans-Jarney , on the 15th of November. This placed them within range of the German artillery fire from Metz.(15)
  

17 November, 1944
Somewhere in France

As I look over my desk tonight, you ought to see the amount of mail I have to censor. I am writing to you before I look at it, because if I don't Il never would have any inspiration to write. We have been seeing plenty of action of late and, even after three days of moving, we have out men spread all over creation and I will have to start to traipse around the country side. Our Battalion is really hot and at last they deem to tell us that we are the best R.R. Bn. on the continent. i always knew we were, but it is nice to be told.

I have visited Verdun. That, as you know, was the big battle ground in the last war where two million men, both German and French, lost their lives in a battle which was one of the greatest battles of all time. And it must have been sort of useless, as it really did not accomplish much and only when the Americans went through the Argonne and fought the battles of St. Michel did Verdun break up.

All of the men often sit around and get talking about what they are going to do when they get home and what the reaction of their children and their wives will be when they see them for the first time. Last night there was a group of us all talking about Indiana, Turkey Rum, Brown County, Terre Haute and Indianapolis, and we just sighed and decided that anywhere--including Jersey flats--would be heaven as compared with this place. Oh to get Home.

26 November, 1944
Somewhere in France

Last night we had a Battalion dance in our hotel recreation room and a lot of local belles were there. The French girls we learning how to do the Jitterbug, and if you remember those two kids we watched at the Company dances, well they were out strutting their stuff and were really hot. All the French Mademoiselles were watching breathlessly as they went through their gyrations.

I have hired an interpretess, named Suzette, who is very attractive and works up in the station. Sgt. Jones [figure 3] took her to the dance, with much expectation, but she showed up with her mother and a girl friend who was supposed to be for Dave Pugh [C Company Staff Sergeant]. She was so small that she did not even reach up to his belt, so Dave soon came back to the orderly room in disgust. Sgt. Jones thought that he could overlook the mother, but when he started to dance with his beautiful Suzette he gave up in disgust. He found out that she danced, as he puts it, "like an old piece of railroad". There is another interpretess that he took after, who is quite a stout gal, full of pep, who doesn't wear many clothes and everybody around here calls her "Elsie the Cow."


 
28 November, 1944
Somewhere in France

Today I had quite a trip and took Sgt. Hansen [figure 3a] along with me. We had to set some men up in billets and arrange for their meals and rations, and don't think that isn't a job, especially with the men that we now have out. We had to pull one Frenchman out of a ditch with our weapons carrier, and then we ran into a truck accident and had to administer first aid to one boy who had been cut pretty badly after being thrown through the windshield of the car.

Yesterday I had a similar day, but had to drive a little further and had to pick up some men and bring them back to the company. You have never seen the like of the American soldier for making friends. They are, without a doubt, the most friendly soldiers in the world, and you never saw a GI who didn't have a genuine love for children, and where ever there are Gi's you will, inevitably, find lot of kids. Yesterday, when I got back, I was sitting outside the car on the car steps and it was no time at all before there were six kids hanging around. Every time a new one comes up, you have to shake hands with them and when you "parti," again the customary handshake with the "Au revoir, Monsieur," from them all. The little girls start right in at the tender age of six learning all the feminine qualities of their older sisters. The other day I met one who was six years old and she was cute as a button and as flirtatious as could be. When I showed up again the next day, there she was, with a twinkle in her eye and greeted me with "Bonjour, Mon Capitaine." And I must admit that I had brought along a roll of life savers just in case I might see her again.

Good-night dear, sleep tight, dream of me and take care of yourself.

All my love, affectionately,

Bill


 
3 December, 1944

Somewhere in France

Dearest, Darling, Angel, Sweetheart, Pet, and dearest Frances:

Recently we have been out paying the men, and I have not had much time to write for the last two days, as we have gotten in late both days. Again, I had to cover a lot of territory, and saw a lot of things that had better go unsaid. As usual, the men were all glad to see their Captain on pay day, and as they got their PX ration, mail and eating rations all in the same day everybody was in good spirits and did not have very many complaints about anything.

Last night we had a Bn. dance and we called in the C Co, orchestra from all over the R.R. They played, as one of their tunes, "I've been working on the Railroad," and of course all the men joined in and sang it very loud and with much enthusiasm. The French gals were amazed and had to be told that it was a sort of Bn. song and that the translation into French was something like "J'ai ete travailler sur le Chemin de Fer," and then they understood, and were properly appreciative.

I certainly like this New Major of ours [Robert A. Wright(16)figure 4]. He is very definitely on the ball and he sticks up for his officers through thick and thin. There is not one of them that would not go through hell and high water for him. He is one of those Officers that believes in tell his staff everything that is going on in the world, what we can expect in future operations, and then he holds the meeting open for anybody to say anything they want to and he gets everything ironed out for us and settles a lot of petty arguments that are bound to arise. We all are for him 100%.

December 4th brought yet another move for the 718th. Their new headquarters were at Frouard, not far from the town of Nancy which the battalion would see later in their tour. This area of France was populated by a large amount of German speaking people and it was often suspected that they, at best, were unfriendly and at worst, spies. December would turn out to be one of the most difficult months that the 718th would face, as they became a vital part of the Allied victory at the Battle of the Bulge.(17)
  

4 December, 1944
Somewhere in France

Had quite a day today, as I had to make a reconnaissance of some new rail lines. Harry Gauntt [figure 5](18) went with me. We had quite a drive, and everything was going along swell until we made too sharp a turn and the first thing we knew we had the back end of the weapon's carrier over in a culvert. Well, we were really out in the sticks and there was no one around to help us and no army vehicles in the vicinity, so we were in a sorry plight, and especially with night coming on. We walked to the nearest village and i tried to get some horses to pull us out, but they were all in the fields. Finally Harry had to "parti" down the road, towards the next town, to look for help. At the last moment, just before the sun disappeared, he arrived with help and we finally got disengaged from the ditch, and made a dash for civilization.

This morning, on our way, we were traveling along, enjoying the scenery, when I thought I saw fire coming from the third story window of a house. Harry saw it too, so when we pulled up, I stopped the car and, in my very worst French, tried to explain to a lady standing in front of the house that there was some "feu coming out of a fenetre on the troisim etage," but she did not understand. Then I showed her my lighted cigarette and said "feu" again and then she caught on. Just about that time a couple of French Gendarmes came up and when she mentioned "feu, troisim etage," they dashed off and pretty soon one of the Gendarmes came out all excited and told me to follow him. I dashed into the building, bounding up three flights of stairs, and there, with very shamed looks on their faces, were two young french boys who had gotten a hold of some black powder and were lighting it, causing the flames to leap out of the window. The Gendarme gave him a swat, kicked him in the rear and told them off, in no uncertain terms. By this time quite a group of tenants had appeared on the spot and they all joined in the general hub-bub. I decided it was time to leave, and the last thing I saw was the two boys standing with their hands over their heads and the Gendarmes and the rest of the people all talking at once and waving their arms with great gusto.

Tonight, when I got back to the Company, I found that my dear friend Perkins [1st Lieutenant Edgar Perkins], in conjunction with a couple of other officers, had been raising a lot of hob with the First Sergeant and the rest of the Non-coms because they all had much too good a car to sleep in and "by God, Captain Chase, I'll be damned if we are going to sleep in a car that is not as good as the Non-Coms are sleeping in!" Well the pot is still stewing, and I will have to take some steps to see if I can't get them a lovely, streamlined car to rest their weary bones in. Such is life. The officers are harder to handle than the men, and are bigger babies if you should ask me. But I guess that's what I'm getting paid for.


 
8 and 13 December, 1944

Somewhere in France

-You can't imagine how shocked I was to hear about John Curtis [a friend from home], that is terrible. As you said in your letter, with all that's going on in the world today, it certainly is a tragedy and I know how you must have felt when you wrote it. But don't worry about me, darling, I will take care of myself and I have every expectation of coming home as strong as every and a better man all around.

We finally arrived safely in our new location. My, there was a lot of difference in this trip and our first one, when we had all the cheering and waving. Now they don't even pay any attention to any of us and, in a way, seem to resent us. Yesterday i took a trip with the Major and had quite a day, as we were gone over twenty-four hours, and had to attend to one of those thing on the way home which required a bit of clearing up.

-Today I had a real experience that has left me holding my breath all day. What do you think happened? You will never guess in a hundred years, but it really happened. I had a bath! Yes a real live bath with so much scalding hot water that I actually had to put some cold in before I could get myself all the way in. You know, we are all feeling pretty low in spirits as we see by the Stars and Stripes that the war in the Pacific is going to last until 1949. That leaves us all cold. My God, if it lasts that long I will be all of 37 and Nan and Bill wont know me from Adam and I wont even recognize them. I hope to hell that who ever made that prediction did not know where of they spoke, because it sounds terrible, and I don't want any part of that.

14 and 17 December, 1944
Somewhere in France

-I worked all last night and rode a train up and back over our stretch of track, and at the end of the line we could hear the guns firing way off in the distance and see the gun flashes. The only thing now that has me worried is just how long I am going to have to stay in this army. The way things are going in the Pacific it looks as if it is going to be a long time. Maybe they will give us some time at home if we have to stay in for over three years. That's a Hell of a long time to think about, but I think that the war over here will collapse all of a sudden. There is still a lot of heavy fighting to do, but I don't see how the Boche can keep it up.

-As I look around and see the army in action, you cannot help but be very impressed. Not only in its organization but in its versatility as well. There is nothing that the men in the Army can't do. My hat's off especially to the engineers, they really are on the ball. But you can't pick out branch of the service, as they are all doing a wonderful job. Though there is much rivalry between various outfits, I have never yet seen the time when you could not get help from any outfit that you asked of it.


  
Day before Christmas, 1944
Somewhere in France

Nan and Bill should consider themselves lucky to have all that they have, as over here the little French children don't have very much, and their Christmas is not much fun for them. There is not enough food, heat, clothing or presents. If they have one good meal tomorrow, they will consider it a blessing. I was talking to a little French girl yesterday, who was twelve years old. She showed me where she had been burned on the back of her leg. She said that she lived in the country with her "papa," and one day the "Boche" came and she was "dormis." the guns went dat-a-dat-a-dat at the house "bruler" and the burnt her leg as she ran out of the house to hide under the haystack. She was one of ten children. She was not much bigger than Bill was. The children are mostly poorly clothed, underfed, dirty and a lot of them have lice.

Christmas Day (Hope it's the last) in
France, 1944

I surely hope that you all got everything that you wanted, that you had fun on Christmas day and that the children were not disappointed. I know that I was not and received a lot of wonderful presents, which were not only a surprise, but just what I wanted. I received one present from you which had shaving cream, a box of real, honest to goodness, chocolates, some film, paper and envelopes, and some cheese. Well, they were all what I needed, and I was glad to get them. To top it all off, there was a little jar of Lemon powder, which everybody got a big kick out of, as there is one thing in the Army that they insist on giving us once a week and in our deserts and that is lemon powder, which in reality, is ascorbic acid. However I appreciated the thought. (I am listening to a German news cast, in English, but so far he hasn't said very much) Last night we had our little party and all seemed to enjoy themselves. After it was all over, the Major asked Sgt. Jones, Hansen and me to come over and have a drink with him, and we sat there for about an hour shooting the breeze. This morning, I got up and opened my Christmas presents, but before that I had breakfast and what do you think Good Old Uncle Sam had done for us? Well he gave us bacon and fresh eggs, fried. Some of the men ate as many as six of them and though that they were more of a treat than the turkey we had for dinner.

That German radio is playing some of the best dance music you ever heard. In fact, they have some of the best musical broadcasts that you ever heard. Their English broadcasts are something. It is the most insidious kind of propaganda, as they are continually trying to prove that the English, Americans and Russians are having a falling out with the other. Some of the things that they say mostly distorted facts or cut-outs from various people, just saying part of what they say and making it sound pretty bad. But it is too obvious to really influence any but the most ignorant.

One railroad historian, Carl Gray, notes of this Christmas that "the most noteworthy action was the Battle of the Bulge, when Von Rundstedt counterattacked the Third Army. In the thick of this action the troops of the 706th R.G.D. . . . Among those operating battalions directly involved in this action were the 718, 722 and 732 R.O.B."(19)The Yankee Boomer elaborated, saying "Assigned to the task of a railhead battalion in support of the Third Army, the 718th operated the advanced line in Patton's territory, moving as close to the front as possible."(20) Gray writes that "During the period of the [Battle] the 718 R.O.B. accomplished a rather remarkable feat in that they moved within forty-eight hours four divisions, including supply, of the Third Army laterally across the front into the south flank of the Bulge."(21) The Boomer agreed, asserting that "this movement was so successful that units withdrawing from the line in the south received their supplies at railheads and were returned to combat without delay. Third Army spokesmen consider this a primary factor in the repulse of the Bulge."(22)This was not all, for, as the unit's own historian indicates, there was the additional problem "of moving the Seventh Army, which was replacing the Third Army, and this was accomplished [by the 718th] also without halt."(23)
 

28 December, 1944
Somewhere in France

After I wrote you on Christmas night, we had some pretty rough going for a couple of nights, what with the moon the way it was. It was too good an opportunity to miss. However, things have quieted down a bit now, and everything seems to be back to normal.

It's a great war. Sometimes you wonder how anything ever gets done, and then at other times you can't help but admire the way they do things. Oh for the day when I get back to civilization. Last night I was talking to the Major and we were discussing what we all were going to do that first month when we got home. I can't tell you in a letter because it might make you blush, but it all sounded very pleasant.


  
31 December, 1944
Somewhere in France

This business of being a CO is quite an experience, and I have learned more about human nature that I though I ever could. You have things happen that you wouldn't think possible and when you look back on them they are very funny. I had one the other night. A boy got all involved with a French blonde, and before I could get into it, Tommy [1st Lieutenant Thomas Steinfield], who doesn't understand much about those things, and Perky, who doesn't like the boy, really had him on the spot for harboring a potential spy, consorting with suspicious civilians, etc.,etc. The girl had been turned over to the Gendarmes and the boy had been placed under arrest in quarters, and it was at that point that I got involved, after all he was my man and I will take care of them, in spite of Perky and Tommy. Well, the French, with their usual nonchalance about such things, had arrested the girl, and as they could not keep a woman in their jail, they had told her to go up the street to the nearest hotel, get a room and report back to the police in the morning. Of course, she, being a sensible girl, took out for the hotel, walked right by it, and went home. When I went up to interview her, she had "partied," and then I gave them Hell. I finally got back to the Co and questioned my man. it developed that all he had done was sleep with her, had never seen her before, and said that the experience was just what he needed and wanted, and that he did not think that Perky or Tommy should interfere with his private affairs. So I gave him company punishment for missing call and putting pleasure before business. Tom and Perk were very disappointed that they had not found a spy, and we all went round and round about the whole affair, and when it was all over, Bob, the Major, backed me up and we had a good laugh about it.

By the way, I have a silly request to make of you, just follow it and don't ask any questions and don't even raise your eye-brows. Will you, for a homesick husband, put a little perfume on your letters? I would appreciate it very much. After all, it would make your letters that much more romantic, and from you, that would be wonderful.

Well, my darling, I wish I were home tonight to crack that bottle of Champagne with you, and wish you a Happy New Year. Goodnight, darling, I miss you and love you,

Affectionately,

Bill

On the 5th of January, 1945, the battalion left Frouard and opened new headquarters at Longwy the next day. [figure6]  Longwy is one of the fortress cities located on the old Maginot Line and is situated at the borders of France, Belgium and Luxembourg.(24)
 
5 January, 1945
Somewhere in France

Darling:

Today, or rather, last night I had the best Christmas present of all. Namely, I received 8 letters from you, all in one batch, and they were more than wonderful. By the way, we are on the move again,so I guess that we will go a week or more without too much mail, which makes me very unhappy. However, we got called for by a certain person, so we are quite proud about it all. I know you will be interested that the Col. in charge of our Grand Division [the 706th] personally complimented Tommy and myself for our excellent operation during the last month. The boss told me himself and the whole Bn. got complimented from further up the line. When I'm able I will tell you about it. But I can say right here and now that the men and officers did a marvelous job. It was our best piece of operation to date.

For a long time I have been meaning to tell you about the them Capt. Reider and myself, with the help of Sgt. Jones got hold of a French engine, way back in the hectic days when we first came over here and were operating up on the Normandy peninsula. It happened one day when they were pouring trains so fast to us that we could hardly handle them and the cars were stacking up on us in a great rate. This was when we did not have very much motive power and thus we did not have enough engines to keep the stuff moving. I had heard, from a Frenchman, that there were some engines that were serviceable about twenty miles away. They were French engines and would have to be fired up to be moved. I got in tough with Major Bob McGee, who was in command at the time, and told him that Capt. Reider and myself thought we could find him an engine or two if he would let us go. He said "Go ahead and get them, we need them, and don't come back without them." So Tony, E.E., and myself plus a couple of Co. B men hopped into a weapons carrier and away we went. In about twenty minutes we arrived at our destination, and started to look around. We finally found a "machine" all steamed up which we could use, if we could get it out of the yard. The French were quite reluctant to let it go, and went on to say that they did not think that the road was good where we were heading and that they thought that there was a bridge out. We had heard, but not on a very good authority, that the bridge was ok and were willing to take the chance (we had never been over that part of the railroad before).

Well, we started to line the switches, and the first thing we ran into was the fact that the switches were all interlocked and, after trying to figure out how to operate them for about an hour, we pulled one lever and locked the whole plant so that we couldn't even throw one switch, Well I hunted up the Chef de Gar, but couldn't operate it. He found the Chef de Service, who said he couldn't operate it, and he found the Chef d'Aiguille who, in turn, had to hunt up the aiguillier (or some such term--it means switch tender). The Aiguillier was very unhappy as we had disturbed a tete a tete with his wife, but he came along anyway and finally got the switches lined up. Now we had to convince them that it was necessary to run "contre voie," against the current, because we had been told that there were some box cars stored on the main track in the vicinity of the bridge. The French didn't like that at all and only agreed to it if I would take all the responsibility. Tony got up on the engine--one of those French affairs with a multiple throttle, which if you don't know just how to operate it, takes off like the wild wind.

I climbed on the pilot [the extreme front end of the train] of the engine with a flash light, and E.E. had taken over the fireman's job. Tony gave a jerk on the throttle and we took off like the wild wind while all the Frenchmen stood about clasping their hair with anguish as we "partied" down the wrong main, with a multiple throttle, an inexperienced fireman, and a Captain with a flashlight for a headlight. Talk about the ride of Paul Revere--he had nothing on us that night! Jones got on the whistle, Reider was trying to see where he was going through a two inch slit in the cap and I was peering ahead, trying to find out whether or not the bridge was built. Finally, through the mist, I saw the bridge and gave Tony the washout sign, but he got all mixed up with the multiple throttle, and before we could stop, we were right in the middle of the bridge! Fortunately the bridge was ok. I left ten years of my life right there.

We got organized again and continued on. This time I was looking for box cars standing on the main line, and I knew not where they were. I kept looking ahead, and all at once, in the now very dim light of my flashlight, I saw something loom up ahead. I gave a violent washout sign, my hair stood on end, Tony this time had mastered the multiple throttle, shut her off, and when we stopped sliding, I had a very close acquaintance with a nice, big USA box car. I left another ten years of my life then, and could have used the latrine too! Well, needless to say, we got there safely, but that's one train ride I won't forget. We moved fifty cars with that engine.


 
17 January, 1945
Somewhere in France

I can't tell you much about my activities, except that for forty-two hours straight I was traveling about the R.R. on an engine carrying out some special mission. Tomorrow we are having an inspection, and I hope that we come out as well on this one as we did on the last one. But I am afraid that we wont. By the way, isn't it wonderful what McArthur is doing in the Philippines? I don't see hoe they are able to do so much. And the way that Admiral Halsey is sinking the Jap ships, how can they last much longer? Wait until they get up against some of the USA's vaunted armor. That will be a massacre. If they could ever meet the Japs on the field of battle where they could manoeuvre with tanks and all that goes with them, I think that it would be all over. Ask the Germans, they are beginning to find out! We are also hearing news of a Russian offensive, and it sounds like a power-house blow. With the Jerries being pounded on all sides, I can't, for the life of me, see how they can last much longer.


  
26 January, 1945
Somewhere in France

The war news sounds good, and maybe one of these fine days we will wake up and find that those rotten, no good, Nazis have had enough. Personally, I don't thing that we can treat them bad enough. Every one of their factories, cities, etc. should be torn right down to the ground. And let them spend the next fifty years trying to get back on their feet again, and every time they are halfway back, just set them right down again. There is nothing too bad for them.

I have been doing a lot of driving in the last few days, and it has been mighty cold work. Capt. Bean, Lt. Crouch [Vercil Crouch was at Camp Slocum with Bill, and their wives were friends] and Gauntt and myself, with the help of others, have been working hard at overcoming many operational difficulties. And the stuff has gone through, but at times you wondered if it ever would. You might be interested to know that for the last six months I got a superior rating, which is most encouraging and I appreciate is after all we went through up at Folligny, which was Hell and none of us will ever forget.

By the way, don't worry too much about what you have read, as we are getting along very well and have not had very much trouble with the Jerries. That shoulder patch that I sent you was not taken from a corpse, it was found in a R.R. Car in a yard that we had taken over from our Enemy.(Figure 8a)

A few minutes ago the most beautiful Red Cross girl in distress came into the office, looking for some heat and food. She had just made a long trip in a truck and it had broken down, so she came to us for help. You can't imagine how nice it sounded to hear an American girl talk, even though she was the show girl type, all made up and dressed up fit to kill. You should have seen all the boys gather around when she showed up.


 
29 January, 1945
Somewhere in France

Last night I went down to eat with the Officers and then sat around with the Doc having a wonderful bull session about the world in general and what should be done to the Germans after this is all over. Everybody over here is pretty bitter about the whole thing and there is no love lost for the Jerries. One very clever suggestion is that the Germans have all their electromagnet taken away from them and put into France and Russia. If the Jerries do not behave, just shut off the power. Not bad, eh!?

The scenery is still beautiful, with all the snow, but for purposes of fighting it is terrible. You can't help but have worlds of admiration for those men that have to spend their time in fox-holes these days, and then, have to fight on top of that! It takes lots of intestinal fortitude. Well, my darling, take good care of yourself, and think of me and know that I miss you with all my heart. All my love, angel,

Affectionately,

Bill

The letters of 26 and 29 January, 1945, begin to exhibit Bill's growing dislike for the Germans. Beginning with the atrocities he witnessed earlier, and most certainly impressed by the actions against them in the Bulge (which resulted in the death of some of the battalion's men--described later), Bill's feelings seem to have become an outright hatred. Although he mentions the Nazis as the culprits in the 26 January letter, it is obvious that he feels all of Germany is to blame, and should pay the price. These feelings would mellow, ironically, as the unit moved into Germany itself, as noted below.
 
 

5 February, 1945
Somewhere in France

Darling Mom:

You are right when you said that the only thing that the GI's lack is patience, and all you hear is "when are we going home," and that is the only thing we all thing of. I can see that the Americans are no great "stayers-away-from-home," and you know what really gets me is that I feel the same way. For a while I really felt that I would like to take you over all the territory, from Normandy to where we are now. But even that is losing its taste for me. I feel as if I never want to see this country again, as all you think of France and some of these other places is the trouble you have had, of the ignorance of some of these high and mighty officers who do not use the brains they were born with. On top of that, there is the terrible destruction, death, and general desolate feeling that there is in all of these towns that have been fought through.

We have seen a lot of that, and even us, a Service Battalion, knows what the smell of death is. And we know only too well the dreariness of a battle field with the empty shell cases, the dead animals and men that are left behind, the shattered houses with personal belongings scattered helter-skelter around among the rubble, desolate, lonely, dreary, water-soaked, cold and truly dismal. You wonder how people can stand it. How our men can keep on going, every day, in their fox-holes. Believe me, every time you see a member of the ground forces, take your hat off to him--he's got lots of what it takes. You know, it is a funny thing, but while you are over here, things really lose their true sense of proportion. What we thing of in normal times as beautiful scenery, or an interesting place is just something else that has to be overcome, or that's in your way, or else reminds you of something else at home which is three times better. You never honestly have a good time, because when you try to, all you are doing is trying to forget that you are not at home, which you never do, or else you are trying to forget something unpleasant that has happened. All in all it is not much fun, regardless or what you are doing.

The "numbness" of war is beginning to set in. Similar to the reactions of "war" authors like Robert Graves or Seigfried Sassoon, Bill has stated the aspect of war which is probably the most incomprehensible to those who have never been there. How can one get used to the sights and smells of death? One will notice that Bill's antipathy to the destruction will increase in the coming months. Another interesting point in this letter is how Bill has decided that he does not want to come back to Europe with his family. Up until this point he has been fairly positive about his experiences, and wished to share them with Frances.  Bill never went back to the Continent, but Frances said that they were planning to return, but "we just didn't have the time! . . . He was still working, and only had three weeks of vacation a year! He died in March of [1968]. We would certainly have visited all those places if he had lived into retirement."(25)Obviously time mellowed Bill's feelings about his experiences in Europe.
  

7 February, 1945 [figure 7]
Somewhere in France

Several months ago, Harry Gauntt and I had an amusing experience. We were out on some reconnaissance work and were driving down a road somewhere up near the front. We saw some men coming down the road with mine sweepers. I looked at Harry and he looked at me with sort of a dumb look, and he stopped and asked them what they were doing. They said that they were sweeping the road for mines. Well, you could have floored us, and we told them that we had come the whole length of the road and that we had not hit any mines and they thanked us very nicely. After it was all over we had a good laugh, but we still had a funny feeling to think that we had come down a road that had not yet been swept.

Remember that time when Harry and I managed to get the weapon's carrier turned over in a ditch? We that was on a trip on which we made it to Germany, and were the first of the Bn. to make it. As you recall, we had to get local help to pull us out, and then had to drive blackout all the way back, which was no fun. When we made the trip, we were attending to our business when a shell came over and landed in the town nearby. We decided that we had seen enough and pulled out.

Luxembourg City was the next move the battalion made. They established headquarters there on the 14th of February, 1945.  The volume of traffic the 718th handled at this time was tremendous and many operating problems occurred. But, according to the unit historian, every situation was "handled in a manner befitting the reputation of the battalion."(26)
 
16 February, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

Lt. Perkins is in the orderly room popping off, and he just about drives me crazy. He has been sort of obnoxious of late, but I'll be damned if I know that to do with him. E.E. is sitting here and he says to be sure to say hello to you. He is doing a wonderful job and I don't know how I could get along without him. Yesterday we had a beautiful day, so we had a general house-cleaning. The men put their blankets all out to air and scrubbed out their cars. When I came in that evening, I found that they had taken my very fancy pajamas and draped them over a post alongside of a French street. They put a pillow in them and a silly hat on top making quite a ludicrous apparition out of the "Capitaine's" sleeping garments. And as all the French workers came back from work they all looked, stared and had a good chuckle. You see the "Capitaine" is the only one in the Co. who wears pajamas. You know, those yellow ones with the black stripes on, that you wouldn't even be seen in at your mother-in-law's funeral, and of course all the men had a good laugh, as it is well known in the Co. that the "Capitaine" is a strange duck who wears very loud night-clothes.


 
18 and 21 February, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

-As you most likely have noticed, I have moved again, and we have been going through the difficulties in getting settled down again. This country is pretty much on the ball and is very friendly to the Americans. They are altogether different from the French, seem to be more efficient, more up to date and more aggressive. The Major tells me that they are the most economically perfect country in the world. It is a small Duchy, but very prosperous, with lots of industries. They have evidently been treated well by the Germans who have been in here for four years. The people are very cooperative, look Germanic and speak a language that is a cross between Flemish and German, so they tell me. It sounds quite German to me, with the exception of one or two words that I have heard. They say "Yoh" for "Jah."

I have railroaded in three countries now, but I still feel that the French can show them the way. They can be most exasperating at times, and you feel as if you could hit them over the head, but they still put out the work. The Belgians are all right, but they don't seem to have their hearts in their work. The nice thing about Luxembourg is that a good many of them can speak English, and they so operate a good R.R., but they don't have the equipment. In the country of Luxembourg you see a lot of American products and they tell me that, in the last war a lot of American soldiers married here and their influence is still felt. It's the nearest feeling to home that we have had.

-Well I got back from my trip yesterday and saw quite a few boys. It was a beautiful drive, with winding roads, fir forests, little stone villages nestled down along the rushing river banks. Fleecy clouds are flying overhead, all most inspiring. Then, all of a sudden, you come out of all this beauty and see the man made ravages of war, with all its waste, destruction, and that ever-present smell of burned buildings, wet clothes, mud and dead animals. The contrast is terrific. I saw one house that was gutted; there was a dead horse lying in the barn, and the only moving thing around was the old farm dog, who sat outside the stable, not knowing just what to do with himself. The people are slowly moving back in, and are starting right out to rehabilitate.

25 February, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

I am sitting here in the orderly room, chewing on a delicious "Oh Henry," and it tastes very good. Yesterday I took a trip with Pat, and it was the most beautiful ride I have yet encountered, with some very fine R.R. Engineering feats connected with it. There was a rushing stream close by, and it is boundless with trout. The excepted method of catching them, is to use German grenades in the stream, and then fish the fish out which whatever is handy. Last night I just didn't get around to writing as I was tired, but I spent the evening reading from Time and Readers Digest. From all I can assimilate from the news at home, one and all have finally decided that we are going to have to share our responsibilities in the forthcoming world events. Power Politics we will have to play, so we may as well make up our minds to a large Navy, a rather large standing Army, and the complete domination of the Germans and the Japanese. From all we hear on the radio and read in the Stars and Stripes, a big push is on. I hope it will be the one in conjunction with the Russians that will break the camel's back in Germany. They are going to be hard to handle once this thing is over, and to molly-coddle them is certainly not the answer. We are going to have to be tough and let them know that never again are they going to stir up another devil's brew like this last one. All those atrocity stories that you hear about them are terribly true, and you just can't believe that it s so, but again and again you find out that the Nazis were low enough to do all that they have been accused of. What they ought to do with the Germans is to let the Belgians, Pollacks and French, along with the Russians, take over and run them. Everybody is sort of leery about the American tendency to be soft hearted, and even the men themselves are leery of it. To the USA, a kid is a kid, whoever he may be and where ever he may live. But in this case we've just got to forget it and, for once in our lives, be tough but Just. I read an article in the Reader's Digest about how we treat German prisoners in the US, and it was shocking to me that we could possibly get to the point that we would let the former German Non-coms dictate the policies of our prisoner camps. Boy, that ought to be stopped toute-suite.

Well, Mom, I must stop at this point as I am very tired. Well, keep praying for an early end to this holocaust, so that all us home-sick guys can get home once again. Goodnight, my darling, sleep tight,

Affectionately,

Bill


 
1 March, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

Darling:

I got a great, long letter from [your sister,] Mary, and was glad to hear from her. Still, I noticed the difference of those who are not really involved in this conflict. You know what I mean, even you and your friends feel a very definite part of the war, especially with your spouses over-seas and all the news that you receive from them. When you get letters from people that are not directly connected with it, you can notice a difference.

You know that all the dispatchers here are young operators off Civilian R.R. who have just about as much experience as I have. I stand pretty well with them, as, in a way, we are all in them same boat--that of doing the best we can with what experience we have had. You could take the best Superintendent off and R.R. in the US and he would be at a total loss at how to operate an Army R.R. in the combat area. There are just so many things that you can and cannot do. Ask any of them how they would like to operate trains with no communications, over a single track R.R. in both directions. Remember that we are still running trains with no lights at night under blackout conditions, and that is something. Any R.R. man would fall over and faint if he ever got an order telling him to run at restricted speed, looking out for main track switches being open. We do it every day.

On the 3rd of March, a detachment of the 718th commanded by Major Savage [figure 8](27)Captain Bean and Captain Chase, moved the first train into Germany [figure 9]. The track along the route was brand new, laid next to bomb craters and shell holes, and the train was derailed three times.(28)
 
  

4 March, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

This last trip I took I saw more destruction than I have seen for some time, of both civilian belongings and German equipment. It was all really torn to pieces. Equipment strewn all along the road, from command cars to Tiger tanks. [figure 10] They were all left just about where they were hit, and you could see just about the way the engagement was fought. It's too bad the people at home can't see what real destruction is. It is impressed upon your mind, more and more every day, the destructive force of modern war, and it is terrible.

Over two months ago we had an ammo wreck and one of our boys lost his life in it. It was really something and I hope that I will never have to live through another twelve hours like that. Everything you can imagine was flying through the air with plenty of wallop behind it. Then earlier than that, we had one man killed by enemy action while out on the job. That is another night I will never forget, as there is nothing comfortable about being strafed and bombed, and even the thickness of an 18 inch stone wall doesn't feel like much when those b------s swoop down on you, with their motor cut off, and let loose. I jumped over a six foot wall that night and I never could do it again.(29)

I heard him buzzing around; he had been over all night. All of a sudden I heard the plane come down in a dive, cut his motor. It was this time that this here gentleman started running, over the wall I went, skidded around into the station, slid around the wall and landed flat on my belly just as he started in.[figure 11] I don't mean maybe, I was scared! But we all have had experiences like that, and some of the men have really done some wonderful things and as proof of that, four men of Co. C are being awarded the bronze star tomorrow, for "conspicuous service," and we are all proud of them.(30)

5 and 8 March, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

-There is lots of hard fighting ahead, and don't get too optimistic about anything. Remember, that every gain that is registered on the front page of the Herald Tribune was hard fought, hard worked for and cost a lot of lives. So do your part by reminding everybody that you run into that it is tough going, and though I am not in the rough end of it, I have seen enough to know what it is all about, and we need all the support we can get from home. So endeth the lesson. Pat and I went on a long trip today. I can't really tell you that much about it except that we saw some lovely country and a lot of destruction.[figure 12] We were gone all day and just got back after a very hectic drive. We saw some of the "super race," but they looked like very bedraggled mortals who are finding out which side their bread is buttered on.

-The news today is wonderful, as it seems that the Third Army has reached the Rhine, Cologne has fallen, and the Russians are over the Oder. I guess the b------s still have a lot of fight left, but what for, I don't know. All it is going to mean to them is that so many more of their cities are going to be left in ruins. But, after all, they have it coming to them, and maybe it will do them good to get a taste of what they have been dishing out for the last four years. There certainly is no pity in the hearts of any of us do the Germans, and the worst that can happen to them is none too good. I happened to see a R.R. yard the other day that had been taken care of by American bombers, and they really did a job on it. It was really plastered, and there wasn't much left. If that has been going on all over, I don't see how the Germans have kept up their transportation system. I have always wondered how we would have gotten on if the shoe had been on the other foot.


 
10 March, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

The men found some way of getting ice cream frozen, so they made up the mix in the kitchen, and took it up to town to an ice cream freezer. So we had chocolate ice cream and cookies for desert, which was quite a treat. The war news sounds very good, but it is pretty hard to tell what those Germans plan to do, as they are just as apt to keep on fighting until the last one is down and out. Where Hitler and his gang hope to escape to is a mystery, but nobody will be satisfied until they are caught and brought to trial. I doubt if they will ever take them alive. The Germans must know by this time that their number is up, and the further we go the more damage we are going to do for them. Hitler and his Nazi gang must be crazy if they are going to sacrifice all of Germany for the vanity of a few vicious maniacs. Hope they fold up soon. How are people at home talking all the news? The papers must be full of it, but I am afraid that after this war is over here that there will be an awful let down at home and among the men here. I Hope not, as there are a lot of other Joe's in the Pacific that are having a mighty hard time of it, and we will all have to get behind them and help deliver the knock-out punch to Hirohito. Those Japs must be nasty little fighters, and on top of that, they never seem to know when they are licked, and never will give up. That Iwo battle is really tough, and it looks like it is going to be a rat exterminators job to finish them off.

The de-humanizing of the enemy is a very common phenomenon during war, and Bill was not immune to it. I do not know if he ever knew any Japanese growing up or through his work, but I highly doubt it. This probably made it easier to think of them as something less than human, and echoing the dominant wartime propoganda, he can easily compare them to rats. More than likely, Bill knew some people of German descent, and thus does not do this with them. He did refer to them as "beastly," but acting like a beast and actually being that beast are two different thing. Bill's feelings toward the Japanese were not permanent, however, as his family had a Japanese exchange student stay with them in the 1960's.(31)This may be attributed to to the fact that he never served in the Pacific Theater. While in Europe, Bill's anger at the Japanese was not one directed at them as a race or a society, rather just another factor which was keeping him from getting home.
 
 
14 March, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

We had a really bad day and night yesterday, but everything finally got back to normal this morning. Today I saw a lot of Polish, Bulgarian and Russian refugees who had been found in a German Forced Labor Camp. There, they had lived like animals for the last four years. There were women, children, old and young men included in the group. They were a sorry looking bunch, and such a hetrogenious group of people you have never seen. How ever they were the happiest persons you have ever seen. All the young men wanted to join the American Army and take on the Germans toute suite. They were carrying homemade flags, and every time that they would see any GI's they would salute them all, with a great deal of formality. Some of the boys who could speak Polish and had talked to them, made the remark that maybe fighting the war was alright if the results were typical of what they saw and heard today. They were the statements of the liberated and you could not have helped but feel what they must have felt in their hearts. Then to bring it home to me even more, I again saw some German prisoners, and though there was not much difference in their physical appearance--except for the dirty, grey German uniform--they had the spirit of the tired, the beaten and the completely whipped man. Though, I expect, relieved at being at the end of their miserable dream, which never came true. I firmly believe that the fight with the common German people is at an end, and all we are fighting now is the die-hard Nazis, but they certainly are tough.

George Bachert was telling us about a Luxembourg woman who was living in one of the small towns that was run over by the Germans in the Bulge. Her ten year old daughter, eight year old son, and husband were all killed. Her house and all their belongings were completely destroyed. She very calmly told George that she would have no compunction in killing German children, especially the little boys. "After all," she said, "If you kill a snake, and then find a nest of little snakes, you kill them too. It is the same with the Germans."


 

26 March, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

You have probably been wondering about how we came over here and I think that I can now tell you something about it. After a two week stay in Wales we took off for the port. There, we lay in tents for about two days, on alert all the time. Then one Sunday, over the loud speakers, came the news that we were to move out. We were loaded on an old British ship that used to be in the India trade. We had quite a few more on board than she was supposed to hold. We were supposed to sail that night and land the next day. Well, it was just our luck to hit a storm in the Channel and we were on the damn boat for five days. The rations began to run out and a lot of people got seasick. There we were out in the Channel for four long days with nothing to do and with very crowded quarters, and you can imagine what that must have been like. There were 400 nurses on board as well, and they created a problem in themselves, because of sleeping quarters and latrine facilities. At last, one afternoon, we made it ashore, and finally hit the beaches at night. Then we all lined up and they showed us, on a map, where we were to march, and our first night in France was to be spent marching in the dark on a very strange shore. We had quite a march a head of us, but we started off in the dark, with me at the head of the Co., hoping and praying that we would hit what we were looking for.

After an hour in the pitch black we finally found our way to the HQ of Camp. They sent us off, stumbling over each other and other troops in the area, to our camp site. We arrived at the general location of what we thought was the right spot, and pitched tents. In the middle of the night another outfit came stumbling in, and it turned out that we had taken the wrong area, and they pitched their tents all around us. The next morning we found ourselves, not only absorbed in to another outfit, but soon discovered that we were next to the only road that ran through the place, and as it was very, very dry, and the road was very, very, dusty, we spent the whole day swallowing more dust that I ever hope to see. All day we sat in the hot sun and dust and the men did nothing but go for water, which was a mile away. At about ten pm, the word came through that were going to move, and again in the blackout, and the pitch dark, we had to load the whole company in trucks, without showing a light. The next morning we arrived at our destination, which was Folligny, and it was there that we began railroading.

29 March, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

We have some Luxembourgers working as KP's for us, and there's this one ugly old guy who is referred to as Mister five by five, because that is about the extent of his size, and we call him Joe. Joe is a typical looking germanic individual and the extent of his English is "thank you ," no matter what you say to him. Every time he sees me, regardless of time of day, he comes out with "Gut Morgen Mon Capitaine," which just tickles me. He is quite a character and the boys are now teaching him some English, but, as usual, it is the unprintable kind.

I believe that the Battle of the Bulge was on of the hardest campaigns that the US Army has ever fought. The weather conditions were terrible and the terrain was very difficult, just like the region around the Smokey Mountains. The Germans were up in force, with armor and their best infantry. I have never seen such death and destruction that took place up there, and when we first started to operate we found dead Jerries all along the railroad track--not a very pretty sight.

Hope to hear from you today, but in the mean time, all my love, dear, I miss you and love you very much.

With my Love,

Bill


 
7 April, 1945
Somewhere in Luxembourg

Darling:

We have heard some sort of interesting news that the Russians have declared the neutrality pack with the Japs as finished. That must be a worse blow to the Japs than all the bombing we have been giving them. The Jerries over here are certainly getting a belly full, and why in God's name they don't give up I don't understand. The longer they fight the more destruction of their country, and the longer it is going to take them to recuperate. Also, there is the psychological disadvantage that perhaps they have not thought of, and that is the bitter feeling of the American troops as the Germans elongate the war for no particular reason to protect the top Nazi. The men are feeling stronger and stronger about it, and any sympathy that they had for the Germans has disappeared altogether. Last night we had a song fest with some liberated German Champagne, which is terrible, but has quite a kick. Somebody found a cellar with 100,000 bottles, so you can imagine what happened.

The 1st of April began a series of movements which, when completed on the 9th, located the 718th beyond the German border, in the city of Mainz. [Map2] This location ended the battalion's "quarters on wheels," and they were billeted in buildings in the city.(32)
  

10, 17 and 18 April, 1945
Somewhere in Germany

-I have missed the past three day writing to you, and I guess that you know the reason, as we have been moving. The German roads are good as are the railroads, the best we have as yet. One thing that I have noticed about the towns is the lack of slum districts, it seems that they took good care of their workers, and have built modern apartment buildings for the poorer type of people. I have seen the Rhine river, that famous river we have all been talking about, and the last barrier to the central part of Germany.

-The country side is beautiful, but the towns are a shambles. I have visited several, and if you don't think our bombers have done a job you ought to see them. Berlin, they say, is flat as a pancake and the bombers aims are certainly accurate. The refugees are pouring out of the country and they seem a bewildered group of people. That's all they are--people. I believe all they want is a place to sleep, a person to sleep with and three meals a day.

-These German R.R. are about the best that I have seen since I have been over here. I hope that we don't have any serious trouble. It is on the first three or four days of operating on a new railroad that you have to watch it very carefully, until the men get used to the type of operation, the R.R., the grades, and generally learn where everything is. You have to work night and day. Going over a strange R.R. at night is quite a thrill, and I have had that pleasure a number of times. These bicycle riding Frauleins are not at all particular about their skirts, and I do believe that they are worse than the French and you get quite a leg show, free of charge. The war news is wonderful and it looks as though the Germans are on their last legs. FDR's passing was pretty bad, I hope that Truman can make the grade. The reaction over here was much concern at first, and nobody would believe it. But then, in about a day, everybody got on with the war and you haven't heard much about it since. And as I think of it, it was nine years ago today that you and I were married. When I get back I think we will have to have another honeymoon. ---Happy Anniversary---


 
27 April, 1945
Somewhere in Germany

I don't know what you have been reading about the Germans. They seem to have a lot of respect for the Americans, but, at the same time, you still have the feeling that they hate us. They take orders well, and they are most respectful of all officers. Things have really seemed quite peaceful, except for a lot of small arms fire at night by trigger-happy GI's. We did have some visitors last night back the other night who where up to their old tricks of a few bombs and some strafing, but they were easily discouraged. Other than that,we have had the finest piece of R.R. that we have ever had the pleasure to operate over, and through some lovely country.

I have seen some of these Russian DP's (Displaced Persons), and their gals are built like Percheron mares, and in about the same proportion, with, of course, the added attraction of quite a bust development. After lunch today I got into it again with the Major [Savage], and had to rush around trying to figure out what we were going to do after a certain bridge had been removed, making our transportation problem rather difficult. Tomorrow I am going to take a trip down the R.R. to arrange some more details, and from now on my pioneering days are over. This is the second time in two months that I have had to pioneer a R.R. and set it up for operation, and then see it get going. But this is the toughest deal I have had yet, and there is a lot of smoothing to do around the edges before it really starts to function.

A German waltz has come on the radio, and I can just imagine dancing with a lot of love and pride in my heart for my pretty wife and partner, and as we whirl out on the balcony, I give you a goodnight kiss in the moonlight.

Affectionately,

Bill

As Bill was longer in Germany, his feelings about the Germans began to soften considerably. Looking at the common folk, he realized, as he said, that they were just tired and hungry people who are quite ready for this war to be over. He does not view these people as "Nazis," just "Germans." These feelings toward the German people will develop during the time the 718th has occupation duty, until, he (and many of the men) come to like and respect the Germans more than the French and the Russians, their former allies.
 
3 May, 1945
Somewhere in Germany

Darling Fran:

Everybody is expecting the war to end over here momentarily, and by the time you get this letter all ought to me over, as there is not much left of the Germans. We got the news yesterday that Hitler was dead, most likely he has been murdered, and them on top of that, Mussolini has gone, and Goering is supposed to have left Germany with five million pounds, so you see they are fleeing the ship like a lot of rats. Last night we heard, that in Italy, there were over a million surrendered, and there is no doubt that Germany is Kaput and it is just a question of days before the officially call it all off. I think that one trouble is that they don't know just who to deal with, as Admiral Donetz had taken over for Hitler, while somewhere else Himmler is supposed to be in charge, Thus there is pretty good evidence that there is a split in the Party and everybody is taking steps to save their respective hides.

The Germans hate Himmler, but they seem to have a lot of respect for Der Fuhrer. You can't really tell whether there are any real anti-Nazis or not. I have a German interpreter, which I use around the R.R., and I have asked him a few questions about the situation. He claims that he is a Social Democrat, which used to be the liberal government here. I asked him why they did not give up and he could not tell me, but he had two sons in the Army and one of them was a flier, who was disgusted because he could not fly anymore because there was no gas or oil. He said that the Germans should have given up last October, especially after they had lost, as he put it, the Rumanian oil fields, the Ukrainian wheat fields and the Norwegian ore mines.

In one town where I happened to be, there was a statue to Horst Wessel [the Nazi "hero" who wrote their rallying song and who died in street-fighting in 1930], which had been dedicated by Hitler, and the local people decided to tear it down. They made all the local Nazis get a hold of a rope and pull on the monument until it crumpled down in a pile of dust. There was much applause, and you should have seen them kick those "supermen" around. It would have done your heart good.I think that most of these people are sick and tired of war, and earnestly want it to end once and for all.


  

6 May, 1945

Somewhere in Germany

As of today the war is still going on down around Prague, but the way everybody is surrendering all over, is should not last much longer. From what I have heard, Berlin is a complete shell of its former self, and thousands of people were killed there. Can you imagine a city like St. Louis, with all the bridges across the Mississippi blow up, the railroad yards full go cars and every track blown, the river full of sunken boats, the park full of shell holes and bomb craters? Everybody living in the cellars and half the buildings gutted by fire. The main Station full of burnt out passenger cars, and trains lying on the main line full of 50 calibre bullet holes, burnt to a rusty red, just lying where they were hit. I have seen the railroad yards around Trier, where there were over a thousand cars plied one on top of the other, on their sides, burnt, broken apart, with engines lying all around. The havoc wrought by the Air Force is inconceivable until you have seen it. The city of Frankfort very well fits the description I gave you of St. Louis.

As we have lived here for almost a year now, and we are only impressed by the degree of damage. I still think that the carnage that I saw in the bleak of winter around Bastogne was the worst I encountered; that is something I will never forget. We really had to struggle not only with the elements but our other enemy as well. Some of the men went through a twelve hour intermittent bombing and they were wrecks when it was all over. One time I went with Merle Savage to make a reconnaissance of Saarguemines and we were walking through the R.R. yards when all Hell broke loose. It was our own artillery firing over our heads, but we pulled out and as we climbed the hill, we noticed that there were some dog-fights going on and looking further we could see where the artillery was landing. Suddenly we saw our planes roll over into a power dive and start strafing the enemy, and then the machine guns opened up and the tanks started to roll. Right before our eyes we could see a miniature battle take place.

8 May, 1945
Somewhere in Germany

Well, they tell us that the war is over, that England is going to have two peace holidays, that the shooting stops tonight at 0001 hours and the first round is over. It doesn't mean too much to us right now, as everything seems to be going along in its regular hectic manner. It has come as sort of an anti-climax, as we have all been expecting it at any moment. We still have a long row to hoe, and it will probably be at least a year before you see me again, and that does not help my spirits any at all. If we go to the Pacific, we will be gone longer than that, though I do feel that situation is going to end sooner than we are led to believe. They said that the Germans would keep on fighting until every last man, woman and child was lying dead in the streets, but they seem more than glad that it is all over. The same will hold true of the Japanese when they get more of a taste of that aerial warfare which did so much devastation over here.

This is an interesting and unexpected reaction to the end of the war in Europe. One would think that a soldier would be jubilant upon receiving such news, but, as Bill points out, it came as no surprise to anyone, and there was always the threat of the Pacific looming over their heads. Most of Bill's letters between 8 May and 15 August have some mention of his anxiety of not being able to come home. From as far back as 13 December, 1944 the news which the soldiers received regarding the Pacific was nothing but good. Bill, though upset back then when the rumor was that the fighting would last until 1949, did not really believe that prediction. And even though he is worried about serving in the Pacific, he is still supportive of his Army.
 
20 May, 1945
Somewhere in Germany

Today we received our second battle star for participation in the battle of Germany. The first one we got was for the battle of France. So now if I ever get back home to appear in public again, you will not be embarrassed by my just having an ETO [European Theater of Operations] ribbon. There will be two stars in the middle of it, which makes it look much more official and at least gives people the idea that you did see some of the rough stuff and weren't just another behind the scenes unit. If we get an ETO Victory ribbon, which I doubt, I will soon look like a veteran.

You probably have read about the non-fraternization rules that they have laid down over her, well they are causing lots of controversy, because you can't just get away from not dealing with these people at some time or another. There is the problem of the children. Under the present policy you are not even supposed to look at them ,and of course they gather around every time a GI shows up. They gather around your truck, or they come and walk around you when you are standing or sitting in a place where they can see you. It is my opinion that we are going to sell them more on this Democracy deal if we are at least kind to the children. A child forms an opinion about things that he never forgets, and if these German kids get the idea that we are great big silent men, who don't even deign to look at them, they will never forget it. After all, we are over her for two purposes, one of them is to let these people know that they can't go running around rampant over the world and get away with it. That has been pretty well proven right now, and they have all had a lot of suffering. This is the first time that a war has really hit them, not only by killing millions of their own kind, but destroying their cities and all their personal belongings. The second thing is to try and teach them the idea of freedom and democracy, which embodies, among other things, neighborliness, kindness and respect for other people and their ideas. These are certainly not hard things to sell anybody, as they are the things that everybody naturally wants, so for us to go around in pompous silence, with our good qualities locked up in our chest, seems a little silly to me.

The Bn. has gotten very little publicity, even though the Third Army thought we were very definitely on the ball, and we chased them all over the map to keep them supplied. Even Gen. Gray [Director-General of the Military Railway Service] had to admit that we were one of his best, and we can thank the Major for that, as he has been a tough task master on occasions; get it done, and quick, no excuses.


 

27 May, 1945
Mainz, Germany

Yesterday I had to take a drive up to Coblenz, and it was one of the most beautiful drives that I have ever taken, following the Rhine, through its so-called Gorges, all the way. The river was full of sunken boats, and Coblenz was in a shambles, with not much left standing. On the way back we came down the East bank of the river and came to a point where a bridge was out over a little river. We pulled up to the ferry, and immediately were surrounded by about fifteen kids. They made no bones about it, they just piled all over the weapons carrier and jabbered about the "Brüke ist Kerput." One blond kid, about five years old, just climbed onto the seat and, amidst the eating of a meat and bread sandwich, just talked a blue streak of German, blowing the crumbs all over me while everybody just sat back and roared. Well, you know how those things are, and before long we were all giggling. I had about the best good silly laugh that I have had since I have been over here. Three cute little girls were teasing Herman [his driver], who was trying desperately not to fraternize, and attempting to look stern and wondering just what had come over his Captain. Well, we finally pulled out of town, with them dropping off one by one.

Another time while we were around that neck of the woods, we had a bad rear end collision and derailed three engines, a double header and a pusher. The French came down and looked at it, shook their heads, and said that they would have to get the big hook and it would take fifteen hours to get it there and three hours for us to re-rail the engine. Believe it or not, but we had the first engine re-railed fifteen minutes after they had made their statement, and in another hour, we had the other back on, and in six hours had the whole wreck cleared. They just stood around, with their mouths open, and began to believe that great American Legend.


 
28 May, 1945
Mainz, Germany

We are still after that Meritorious Service Plaque, and if we get it, it will really be a feather in out cap, for we will be the only MRS [Military Railroad Service] unit to do so. It gives you a lot of prestige and, also, you get a gold wreath on an olive drab background which you wear on your right sleeve. So hope and prey that we get is, because we really do deserve it and the men have been, and are, doing a wonderful job.

I probably have not told you before, but the officers around here give me the most unmerciful kidding about my having gone to Harvard. Every time I do something on the screw-ball side, they make some remark about "the Harvard Way" of doing thinks. So I retaliate by correcting their English all the time, which drives them crazy, and you would be very surprised how it is improving their speech, and they are becoming very conscious of their "don'ts" and "done's."


  
30 May, 1945
Mainz, Germany

This morning we had a memorial service for our men who have been killed since we have been over here, and it went off very nicely. All the men in the Bn. were lined up, as were the officers, and Tommy made a little speech, as did the Major. The Chaplain said a prayer, Taps and Retreat were sounded and a six gun salute was fired while a beautiful wreath of red and white peonies and roses was placed at the foot of our flag pole [figure 13].

Did I ever tell you about the rough ride I had once when I was sent out to pilot an auto rail, loaded down with General Patton's staff, from Nancy to Luxembourg? We had a certain time to get there, and of course, got started late. I had a Frenchman running the train, and I was supposed to know the track, but frankly, I had only been over about half of it once. We started out and went along pretty well until, suddenly, we came around a corner where a French track laborer was waving his arms. We slid to a stop, and right up ahead of us were five Frenchmen pushing a pair of Railroad car trucks by hand to the next station. Well we crept along for a while and it was getting later and later, and finally we got the brilliant idea of getting a plank, putting it up against the nose of the auto- rail and against the center plate of the trucks and pushing them. If that board had ever slipped, the wheels would have slipped under the auto rail and we would have been on the ground. You can imagine the nervous state of your husband, but we finally made the next station. The French pilot took off like a mad man, and we went off like a bat out of Hell from Conflans to Lux., and slid into the station ten minutes ahead of the allotted time figure.

Everything was lovely until we started back, and then it was darker than dark. We came roaring out of the dark into Rodange, just over the Lux border, when I saw in the headlight the rear end of a train ahead. I let out a yell and the old French pilot grabbed the brake, but I could see that we weren't going to stop. At the last moment I saw that there was a switch lines over for us and we crossed over onto the other main, missing that damned rear end by the skin of our teeth. I guess that isn't too interesting a story, but, at the time, it was rather a hectic trip and, as you can imagine, there was a lot of important Brass riding that train, and not knowing the railroad too well, the whole thing left me limp as a rag. Well, my love, I must go down and eat, and then I hope to get to bed early tonight, for a change. So long, dear, I love you and miss you with all my heart,

Affectionately,

Bill


 
2 June, 1945
Mainz, Germany

Darling Mom:

The kids are learning fast in spite of the non-fraternization rules, and today one of them yelled out to us, in impeccable French, "Cigarette pour Papa." Also, everywhere you go you see them holding up their hands in the French manner with the "V" for victory sign. The famous cry over here is "Chocolate, chocolate," so you see that the young act the same just about everywhere. The other day I saw some German refugees with small children, and the kids had that undeniable sign of malnutrition--the bloated belly, and you can tell by their dirty, pale faces and red, runny eyes that they have not had too much to eat. German refugees are now filling the roads everywhere, and you see them riding bicycles with one kid on the handle bars and one riding the back seat, and, sometimes, even pulling a cart loaded down with their most valued possessions. I saw an old, dilapidated horse pulling a cart, full to the brim with a man, his wife and two children, flying a French flag on their way back to the "promised land." The trains are over-running with them, and we have given up trying to keep them off. It is really appalling to think of all these people trying to locate themselves all over again, but you cannot help but marvel at their sort of taking it all in stride. Not that I have any sympathy for them, but when you see people standing around in the rubble and apparently going about their business, you realize that human beings can adapt themselves to almost any situation. I have seen towns completely deserted, and yet, when the fighting is all over, and one or two of them stick their heads out and look around, the first thing you know, they start to operate again, start building again, start tending their gardens again, and generally just start right from the beginning.


 
6 June, 1945
Mainz, Germany

The non-fraternizing policy seems to be weakening, as you know, with these army boys you just can't keep them away from all these pretty, attractive girls in summer time. If you can't enforce a law, what's the use of having it?

Well, today I made a trip over the R.R. and had a chance to see Adolf Hitler's private train, through which I made a complete trip. [figure 14] It has its original crew still aboard, and it was only two short months ago that it took him for his last ride. It has two generator cars that furnish all the heat, electricity and air conditioning. Then there were two ordinary dining cars, an office car, sort of a conference room, of which you have seen the pictures of Musso and Adolf conferring in. There is a complete switch board with teletype machines which were hooked up every time the train made a stop. Besides that, there were two radio sending and receiving sets, with which he could keep in touch with the outside world. His own particular car had been destroyed, but the car of Dr. Dietrich--the press and propaganda guy, along with Goebels, was there and, believe it or not, he had a gadget in his room whereby he could tap the phone of every occupant in the train. The train had about seven sleeping cars, finished with inlaid wood and light interiors, individual rooms with beds, telephones, radios and all the upholstery was in light pastel shades and carpet to match. The army staff and aides would ride around in these. It certainly was something, and they told us that Hitler very seldom went by air, almost always by train, and that this train had traveled over 200,000 km.

 
12 June, 1945
Mainz, Germany

We are the leaders of all the Bn's in this German railroading, and they come to us for advice, and all my records and methods of operation have been used by all the rest of them. I don't mean that I personally take the credit, but the methods were originated by all of us, mostly in out Co., and Sgt. Jones did a great deal, as always.

We are now even helping German refugees back to their homes, and they seem particularly bitter about things. [figure 15] In most cases the people who stayed in their homes, and did not fight try and stop the Allies, have been relatively left alone. In most of the smaller towns there is very little, if any, damage, whereas in the larger towns, where shots were fired, the Allies just backed off and leveled them. You see whole families traveling in empty box cars, on top of loads, with bicycles, carts and small children. We were having a discussion on the Occupation the other day, and we feel quite definitely that it should have civil administrators to run the civil affairs and let the army just act as a police force. The army is no expert on the intricate economic affairs of a highly industrialized country. These were our conclusions: 1) Money must attain some sort of real value. Right now everything is barter, so therefore sufficient food must be raised, or shipped, so it can be bought in stores under a ration and price system. If this is done, money had value and people can go to work, get paid and spend it. 2) English must be taught in all schools. 3) Our occupation area should be thoroughly Americanized, as to customs, ideas, methods of business and they be should encouraged to read our papers, magazines, use our products and develop some sensible ideas on life in general. They have got to be made to rule themselves by some sort of representative government, and get off their rear ends and do some of their own governing.

Bill is showing something of his political philosophy, which will be elaborated upon later. He and his friends are talking about completely reorganizing German society, and, to a point, German culture. He is suggesting, in time-honored American style, the destruction of "the Old World" and the implementation of a "New World Society."
 
14 June, 1945
Mainz, Germany

You know, I don't remember V-Day of last year, and V Day of this year left very little impression on me other than I was mad at some Officer who had been raising a lot of unnecessary Hell all day. I do know that I very definitely feel that my usefulness to this army is about finished, and I would prefer to be doing something more vital. When the fighting was going on, you really felt that you were earning your money, but now, we all feel quite unessential.

You ought to see the way the refugees are piling on the trains, and I'm afraid a lot of them are getting killed and hurt (They just called and told me that one Russian was killed, five injured, by a swinging door...). One woman came in yesterday, crying her eyes out, as her little girl had been carried away on a train while she was out trying to find some food. What are you going to do? They don't seem to realize that they have brought this all on themselves. When you ask them about the war they will inevitably tell you that they did not want to fight, but that it was their leaders who did. Then you ask them if they were not responsible for the leaders, and they look sort of surprised, as if they had not thought of that before. Then they tell you that if they said anything about them they would be put in jail or a concentration camp, so what have you? They can't see any further than their noses. I try and point out to them that they should get up off their rears and take an interest in what is going on, forget about their uniforms, and start saying what they think and shout to the house tops for what they want. The average person in Germany really didn't want war, but they have been bamboozled by a lot of propaganda, and of course, right now they have no government, but they have certainly been led willingly astray. I think, though, by the looks of the towns, by the looks on the faces of their returning soldiers, that they have learned a lesson that they won't forget. I hope so.

Bill Chase's question to the Germans, about the responsibility of the "common person" for the war, is still debated today.  Bill's feelings, though clearly stated at this point, seem to swing somewhat, as in other letters he identifies the enemy as "The Nazis," or "Hitler and his Gang." In this letter he does say that he thinks "the average person in Germany really didn't want war," again echoing his earlier feeling, but follows that up with, "they have certainly been led willingly astray."
 

20 June, 1945
Mainz, Germany

We had quite a conference with the Germans, trying to get them lined up on the way we want things run, and if you could see us arguing and talking with them you would think it rather comical. If you have never had to do business with people that can't talk your language, you have no idea what you get into. The only whip that you have is when you tell them that such and such is a direct order, and that if it is not followed out, that somebody is going to be removed. We are disrupting their system of things in that we are making promotions out of the ranks, and that was something that they never did. In other words, on the German R.R., if you started out as a switchman, you remained one all your life. The other day when they told us that they were running short of yardmasters we told them to promote five conductors to handle the job, well it was like dropping a bombshell in their midst. As usual, they are amazed at the way we do things, but maybe they will learn something constructive from us, as all we are doing is braking down and old caste system that has grown up with the years. Their stock answer is that in Germany they don't do things that way. Well, we let them try it their way, and if it doesn't produce, then we make them use ours.


 
21 June, 1945
Mainz, Germany

One night over at Bastogne we had a dilly of a wreck. A train of rations out of control, double header diesel, ran through and open switch into a cut of cars with fused ammo, and mangled up about eleven of them. There were blocks of dynamite strewn all over, and the eleven cars were piled sky high in about two car lengths of room. Well, Pat came in there with his Cat and went to work, and in about three hours the wreck was clear, the rations went to the destination, and the ammo was spotted for unloading. All the time Jerry was floating around overhead trying to figure out what was going on. One night we had twenty-eight cars of ammo start down a grade without sufficient brakes. When the engineer put them on, he did not have any air, so away they went, merrily through the Belgian countryside. Finally they went up another hill that was steep enough to stop them. At one time they were going 120 km per hour, and the old Belgian conductor just about died. It's nice to look back on, but at the time is just sent cold chills up and down my back and I was a nervous wreck.


  
23 and 27 June, 1945
Mainz, Germany

-I will still be the same guy that I was when I went away, though maybe a little more cynical about a lot of things. I think that the thing that takes the worst beating of all is one's sense of value. You lose it , because nothing must stand in your way to accomplish what must be done. Destruction of human life and property means nothing to you after a while; here we are living in the ruins of a city of 115,000 people, and everywhere you go it is the same thing. You see humanity in its lowest form, where it gets to the point of begging for food, and fighting for scraps, and it gets difficult to get used to subservience on all sides. Getting back to civilization will mean, to me, that all these things will fit back into their normal channels, and human life again will become important and people will stand up for what they think. We are now like little dictators, and for some, it has gone to their heads--politeness and kindness sort of shift into the background and table pounding and loud noises seem to be the order of the day.

-I am enclosing some pictures of Mainz, [figures 16-21] and I want to give you a little information about the bombing. It happened of Feb. 26th at 4:00 in the afternoon, when everybody was shopping. The day before, Goering had told the people of Mainz that their city would never be bombed. The American planes came in from four directions in groups and bombed for twenty-seven minutes, almost completely destroying the city. There are between 10-20,000 people still buried under the debris. They dug up 60 of them today. Strangely enough, even with the hot weather, they don't smell.

In the 23 June letter, Bill's observations sound more like a person who has been away from war for a long time rather than a few weeks. He has realized that his experience has changed him in some way, "more cynical" perhaps or numb to human suffering. He perhaps feels ashamed that his thoughts have been altered so much, and truly hopes that his return home will "change" him back to the person he was before. Bill also is not hesitant to describe how being the "invaders" has turned many of the Americans into the very force they were fighting.
 
29 June, 1945
Mainz, Germany

I went out to dinner with a group of men whose job it is to keep a close lookout for all the Nazis. They have to screen all the important people before they are allowed to take any important job. They run into all sorts of characters, especially these SS men, who surprisingly enough, get quite upset when interviewed, and usually break down and weep when they are confronted with the facts of their actions. They usually say that they were ordered to do the things that were so reprehensible. In looks and physique, they are all that they are supposed to be, strong, healthy, tall, blonde, and Nazi through and through. However, as meek as they pretend to be, they are being very nicely taken care of. Just about everybody of any consequence over here, in any position of importance, was a Nazi. Either by choice or by else by necessity. There were some who were big enough to stay away from it all, but you can rest assured that the deserving Nazis got their just deserts in nice, fat, cushy, mismanaged jobs. Now with the Americans here they are again getting their just deserts by getting absolutely nothing.

Over here the general philosophy is that the people are the servants of the State, and they have been taught that for years. It is going to be a hard job to break them away from those beliefs. Another thing that strikes you, is that they place so much emphasis on Seniority. If so-and-so is the older man, he gets the better job, regardless of the fact that he is incapable to handle the same. Civil courts are being opened up, using the Code of Laws in affect in 1933, but throwing out all punishments for political crimes and their divorce laws. You see, under the Nazi regime, you could divorce your spouse if he or she were not a good Nazi. Something else I ran into today was the medal they give to mothers who have more than five children, and I am trying to get one of them for you, not, my dear, as a gentle hint, by any means, but merely as a souvenir.

All my love, darling, I love you very much, and miss you more everyday. A very pleasant goodnight kiss with lots of affection.

Affectionately,

Bill


 
1 and 14 July, 1945
Mainz, Germany

Darling Frances:

-I find now that our category 4 rating doesn't mean too much, looks to me like another good six months over here, and then home, maybe to the Pacific. I still feel that we will get a furlough before we head for the Pacific, if and when we go. There is still a lot of work to do over here, however, all our 85 pointers are leaving tomorrow, and they are a happy bunch. Too bad we didn't have another baby before I came over seas, as that would give me just 85 points, as I now have 73.(33)

-Well, the first piece of news that I want to tell you about is that we got awarded the Meritorious Service Plaque [figure 22], and now we are entitled to wear the golden wreath on our right arm, just above the cuff. We received it for our service during the Bulge and during the winter months in the Ardennes. It has been a great morale booster all around, and we certainly have done everything in our power to get it. We are the only Railroad Operating Battalion in the whole US Army to have it, so you see we feel quite honored. Three other MRS units have been awarded it, but we are the only R.O.B. to get it. What it will mean to our future, time alone will tell.(34)

I think that the Germans are more afraid of the French than they are of the Russians, though there are plenty of them who don't like the Russians. I hear that they will get more food under them than under us, but that this winter our part will feed them more. You can't believe anything you hear, but I do know that they French and the Germans hate each other, and the French are very good at taking over a town and taking over everything in it for themselves.


  
15 July, 1945
Mainz, Germany

Another milestone is passed in my Army career, for if you look at the date you can't help but remember what happened just a year ago today. Yes, we left Claiborne for the port. And after three hot days we arrived at Camp Miles Standish, where we went through five hectic days, before we got on the boat. We spent a day on the boat before we sailed, and then at about 11:00 am on a Monday, we took off and after seven days, unescorted, we landed in Glasgow. Boy this year has gone fast, and now I wear two overseas stripes on my left sleeve, while on my right I wear the Meritorious award, and what with my four battle stars [figures 23-24], I look like a veteran, almost. I never told you, I guess, but I was recommended for the Bronze Star, for service beyond the call of duty at the Messancy wreck, when all that ammo blew up, but I doubt if I'll get it. It would be nice to get, and would be something to tell my grandchildren about. The award was based on the fact that I helped to couple up the remaining cars and pulled them away from the ones that were still blowing up, and the men with me got the award, but as of yet, Pop has not. I don't think that I will.

Just go the news that all of my men over 40 years old are leaving for the States tomorrow, and are they excited. They have been sweating it out for over two months, and, as always happens in the Army, they just called me up and told me to have them ready in the AM. Sort of a nice way to go at that, and they ought to be home within a month. Lucky Joe's! The big news of today is that the fraternization regulations have almost been abolished, and now we can be seen on the streets, in public places, or in offices with "good" Germans, and I guess there are "good" Frauleins. I see, by the paper, that the people of the USA do not think that their boys should go out with the Frauleins, but Ma, as awful as it may sound to the people back home, you can't change human nature. Surely it isn't going to do any harm, in fact, it will help a difficult situation.


 
17 July, 1945
Mainz, Germany

The car that I am at present driving is a Mercedes-Benz, convertible cabriolet, with leather upholstery , and is very snappy. The Col. has about three cars, one is a Bugatti, which he races around the block whenever he can find anybody with enough courage to get into it, as it is only about six inches off the ground.

Today we had a conference with the Germans on their block rules, and when we got through we asked them if they could line us up some wine. Last night, at 6:30, they took us out to a little town along the Rhine to get some wine. It is quite a process that one goes through. We met the local wine merchant, and he took us down into his cellar, where he had huge kegs and barrels of wine. The cellar is about fifty feet underground, is very cool and keeps a constant temperature the year round. Nothing would do, but we had to sample the vintage of 1944. "Very good, very good." "Perhaps the gentlemen would like to try my '43, which came from Bodenheim?" "Yes, indeed! Such a nice bouquet, delicious!" "This, my '42, is a good vintage, and a little aged. You like it? Well now, my prize Riesling is 'gemutlich.'" "Mmm--have another taste..." "This is a blend of Spanish and my own." "A little heavy, a little sweet. Very good, nice flavor, a little more plish....I mean please." "Now, which one will you have?" "The Riesling is fine, we will take twenty bottles." "Well now, I agree that it is the best, however, you have not time to wait while I fill the bottles. So, perhaps, you take the '44, and next time the Riesling?" "That ish-is-fine."


 
21 July, 1945
Mainz Germany

Now about demobilization, I guess that perhaps I was a little over-enthusiastic, as we have been put into class two twice, and then been returned to class four twice (where we are now), but we have a very low priority. This means that if we stay in the present class, we will be some of the last troops to return. We are not slated for occupation, that I know, but they can ship us off to the Pacific at a moments notice. At the present time, however, they are taking men from our Bn. to fill units slated for that direction. Thus it appears that we will probably spend some time in our present area, until somebody takes over from us, and then we may get an assignment in the French territory, and stay there until they decide to send us home. Right now we do not have too much work to do, it is mostly supervising. I am trying to get an SS knife, dagger [figures 25-27] in fact, for little Bill, but, by the way you write me, I wonder if it would be wise to give it to him, as he probably would go around sticking it into people.

Friday, I gave a class in orientation on Fascism--what it meant and how it worked, and then that afternoon I drove with Dave Pugh to Darmstadt to talk over some things with one of our Sgts. who is running the show down there. After a good meal, got on the Autobahn and drove to Frankfort Sportsfeld, where they have the Olympic Stadium, and there we played our arch rivals, the 712th R.O.B. (the outfit that we relieved at Claiborne, ran around them in England, and have been ahead of them ever since. They have always been the Bn. just to the rear of us, and we have one more Battle Star then they, and then of course, we have the Meritorious Service Plaque). It was a wild and woolly game, with lots of insults flying thick and fast, and finally, as the moon came up, we beat them in the ninth inning, 9-7. We played in the big track stadium, and sat in Hitler's box, with out feet cocked up on the railing, and yelled our heads off.

Yesterday, I found Hansen, and a group of interested Germans, standing around one of our German automobiles that is used by German R.R. personnel, and there were three Russians standing there arguing. They insisted that they were going to take the car, and that they could have anything that belonged to the Germans. I tried to tell them that the car belonged to the American Government, but they said "no," and that they were going to take it. I told the Russian Major that he was not, and that we would go see the Col. about it. But no, he wouldn't budge, so I immediately put a guard on the automobile and told the Russian that if he got into, or touched it that I would throw him into the guard house. He then informed me, through his interpreter, that he was a direct representative of Marshal Zukoff, and I told him back that I was a personal representative of General Eisenhower, and that was that. Well, we finally persuaded this thick-headed, Russian Major to talk to the Col., and he insisted that the car was being operated by the Germans and therefore he had a right to take it. The Col. told home, no that he could not have it, and then this Russian made the mistake of insinuating that we were doddling the Germans and that the Col. was a liar, and boy, you should have heard the roof fly off! That was all she wrote! He kicked that Russian out of the office, and told him if he was not out of the area in ten minutes he would have him thrown in jail. Then the Russian, thinking to pull a fast one, headed for the garage where the cars are kept, but we were one step ahead of him, and had a guard sent down there on the double. When he showed up he was confronted by an armed guard and told to get out. The last we saw of him, he had left town in his Opel. They were certainly a stubborn, surly bunch, and I can see a lot of things in my mind if this is an example of how they operate.


 
24 July, 1945
Mainz, Germany

Whether or not you realize it, our present station is in French territory, and we are the only troops USA in town. You can imagine the difficulty we have trying to coordinate our respective efforts in running things. You see, at Bad Kreuznach west into France, the French are operating the R.R., with German personnel. We take over from the French from Bad Kreuznach and operate the R.R. over the Rhine, through Mainz, to Darmstadt and on to Aschaffenburg. We also have another branch over the Rhine, through Frankfort, and south to Hanau. Mainz has French troops for security and also has French R.R. personnel keeping tabs on us and the Germans, and we are continually having diplomatic problems.

The other day, the French Red Cross got all excited and came over to see me. He told me that the Germans were unloading some of the French Red Cross' ration cars for German workers, and said that he was going to take it up with the International Red Cross at Geneva if I didn't get the food back. It seems that there was a mixup somewhere and Hansen had authorized the Germans to unload the cars, so we were involved in it up to our ears. I told the Germans that if they didn't have all the food back in about two hours that I would line them all up and have them shot. The food was back, in good shape, on time and minus only about 200 packages. That is a pretty good average for all concerned, as the French, of course, would exaggerate the amount taken, and the Germans could be expected to steal a few of the boxes.

The French have a very nice policy of whatever you want, take. So they are picking up just about everything that they can lay their hands on including food. They are going to have a problem this winter, which they will solve, quite logically, by telling the americans that they are running out of food, and so would we please feed the Germans for them. Then, when we do, they will steal about half of that. I don't dislike the French. At times I have gotten where I think that they are pretty good Joe's, but all these people over here are just about alike--lie, steal and shoot, over and over again. The Germans complain bitterly that the French are talking everything, and so, the other day, when I heard what one of them had to say, I suggested to him that he remember that for four years, the Germans had done the same thing to the French, and therefore what did they expect?


 
29 and 31 July, 1945
Mainz, Germany

-We were talking to a foot-soldier the other day, and in his unaffected way, his story was really something. When we left, we realized all too well how much courage and guts our infantry had, and that the success of our armies is made up of the heroic things that little, unheard of guys did everyday without any recognition whatsoever. The peculiar thing about it all is that terrible hate for the Germans they all had, but which now, with the war at an end, has diminished almost to the vanishing point.

-Yesterday, I took quite a trip, as I was making a survey of a new railroad line that we are going to take over for the time being. It runs from Frankfort to Mannheim. When we make a survey like that we have to visit all the little stations along the way, and you really get to see the country that way--better than you ever could if you were a tourist. On the way back from Mannheim, we came up the Autobahn and I saw the strangest sight I have yet seen in Europe, namely a covered wagon being pulled by two camels. As you can imagine, it almost cause a traffic jam as everybody had to stop and take pictures of it.

All my love, my dear. Hope and pray with me that it wont be too long before I get home.

Affectionately,

Bill


  
4 August, 1945
Mainz, Germany

Darling Frances:

This AM Pierre, the French Liaison Captain, brought a cute, little, blonde, French Wac in while I was eating breakfast, and wondered if it would be alright if she ate with us. Of course, to have a pretty girl eat breakfast with is was very much OK. So, it developed that she was on a leave on her way to see her GI boyfriend who had written her to come and see him if she could get away, and she took off and rode the trains to Mainz, and still had another 100 miles to go. We called up his organization, and it seems that they had left for England. Then, almost in tears, she told us that she was AWOL, had forged her papers to get into Germany, her pass was forged and generally she was in a bad way as her father was a French Officer in the MP's and she didn't know what to do. Well, we didn't tell the French here as they would put her in jail, and she's too cute to go to jail, so the Col. has arranged for her to return by our truck, which is going to Paris. So I guess that she is going to be the Bn.'s guest for the weekend.

Before long, we are going to be relieved of our assignment in Germany, and therefore we are not going to be Army troops of Occupation. That is one thing that is good, very good. Secondly, we are going to move back into France, whether to work, or whether to wait for shipping space, I don't know. Thirdly, if we go to the Pacific, we will go by the States. And finally, all TC officers will probably remain in the Army until the war with Japan is over with.

8 August, 1945
Mainz, Germany

Of course, everybody is all agog about the new Atomic Bomb that was dropped on Japan, and all and sundry are talking about it and our ideas are most fantastic. Then the bombshell hit tonight when it was announced that Russia had declared war on Japan. We are all very happy about the whole thing and there is the feeling running around the Bn. that everything is over except the shouting, and that the Nips will soon throw in the sponge as they must know that with the Bomb and the Russian they are Kaput with a capital "K."

You can't imagine that changes that have taken place in Mainz since we first hit the place. For your information, the street cars are running, and how they did it, I will never know, as they were in a terrible mess. Then to that, there are more people on the streets that ever before, and they are even setting up a market place. Of course the lifting of the fraternization rules has been a boon for the German girls and it has helped the morale of our men considerably, and we have even had a couple of dances for the men, which have been most popular.


 
12 August, 1945

Mainz, Germany

Well, as you can imagine, we are all waiting with abated breath to see what the Nips are going to do, and feel that they will probably accept the terms that have been offered. Most of us feel that they should be offered nothing more than just a plain, unconditional surrender, with no strings attached and without the Emperor in the deal at all. If peace comes with Japan, I don't know what it will do to our home-coming. It may take a longer time, or it may not change the situation at all. However, there are a lot of high point men still to be sent home, as they have been favoring the men that are to go to the Pacific, so time alone will tell.

Right now, I am about as fed up with life in general as I have been since coming into the army. When the fighting was going on, you really felt that you were doing some good, but now, when you know that the Germans can take over and run things themselves, that's the time for me to leave. I really feel that these people will come back with a bang, but the housing situation in their large cities is going to be one that will take a good many years to get fixed up. The regular Army, of course, is having a field day, what with the Generals having their private trains, hotels, houses, clubs, etc., and anything they want they can take. They are in their glory, and are leading the lives of kings. In my humble opinion, I have seen enough of that sort of thing to last me a lifetime, and more than ever want to get back to civilization and to being a civilian. With the war in the Pacific coming to a close, things back home are going to be a mess, and the reconversion period will be fraught with many difficulties. I firmly believe that we are going to see a wild and wooly America for the next five years. There will be lots of strikes, and with all the returning veterans demanding all sorts of favors, when a great majority had no more discomfort than just being away from home for a year or more, and a great many were better fed, looked after and clothed than ever before in their lives.

Here, Bill shows some feelings towards his superiors which have been absent from earlier letters. One receives the impression, while the fighting was going on, that Bill Chase respected the Generals who where making the pivotal decisions. But, now that the war is over, he begins to see that some of them are no better than petty dictators. He noticed this earlier with some of his men (23 June), but he seems a bit dismayed that the officers are acting the same way.

This letter also shows some very intuitive thinking about the fate of returning veterans. Bill was alive during the First War, but very young, and might have based this comment on personal experience. More likely, he simply considers himself a good judge of human nature. He implies that he is not one of these people who are going to demand all sorts of things, and blatantly scoffs at those who will.
 
 
13 August, 1945
Mainz, Germany

We are all waiting for the final news about the war in the Pacific, and I feel sure that they are going to accept peace, and will be foolish if they want to go along and have some more of those horrible atomic bombs dropped on them. Those boys in the Pacific have certainly done a wonderful job under the most adverse conditions. My hat is off to all of them, especially General MacArthur, over which there is a great deal of argument as to his merits in comparison with Eisenhower.

The Germans are all upset about our leaving, and are deathly afraid of the French, and don't in any way like the idea of working for them. There really is a lot of hate between those two peoples, and I can't, for the life of me, see what they are going to do about it. They just can't get along together! The only horrible solution that I can think of is to kill off all the German women and all the French men, and then let them inter-marry to their hearts content. The Germans are convinced that they are going to have to fight the French again--isn't that a hell of a feeling to have right now? I read somewhere that the Americans feel that the French should be more grateful for what we have done, and the French think that we should show them more respect for what fine soldiers they are. Rather an impossible situation all around. We are going to have to leave some men back here for the time being, and they are not too happy about it, but they would rather stay here than go back to France. Everybody likes the Germans and Germany better than they do the French and France.


 

14 August, 1945
Mainz, Germany

Well, tonight, at 0001 hours, we turn the R.R. over to the French and to another Bn., and then in a very few days we will be on our way to France. What we will do, and exactly where we go I do not know, but I think that it will be somewhere around Toul or Neufchateau, and I only hope we do not remain stagnant for too long. Lt. Aldrich is back, and it will be a job to keep him sober and to try and keep him on the job. There are quite a few people in this man's army that I never want to see again, or have much to do with. They have no sense of responsibility.

Harry Gauntt stopped into the office tonight and was telling me about an interesting conversation he had with one of our German yard-masters. It seems that the man they all liked under Hitler was Hess, and it was a terrible shock to them when he flew to England, but they did not believe Hitler when he said that he he'd gone crazy. Another Nazi that they all went for was Goering, as they felt that he was for the people. Living conditions in Germany, up to the time that Hitler came into power, were very bad. After he was the head man, things improved immensely, and I guess that he did do a lot for the working people, and that meant a great deal to them. Goebels was regarded as a great, big noise. The Germans have found out, since the ending of the war, that there were a great many things going on in Germany that they did not know anything about--of course, even if they did, I don't think that they would have done very much about it. They all felt that the war was over in November of last year, and they would have fought on a lot longer if the big Nazis had not turned tail and run. They claim that they would have fought to the last man if the big boys had stayed behind and fought with them.

As strange as it may seem, there will be a lot of sad Germans when we pull up stakes and take off. After all, you work with these people day in and day out, and you can't help but get to admire their ability. They would always come to us when they had difficulties, so there is built up sort of a professional bond between us, whether or not they were our enemies.

 
16 August, 1945
Mainz, Germany

All of us have been talking about the Atomic bomb, and it certainly ended the Jap war in a blaze of glory. As a keeper of the peace, it is the most potent weapon I know of, and is better than a thousand treaties, that can be torn up in one motion.

On the evening of the 14th, I started out for home, and found two of the Dispatchers playing twenty-one, so I joined them in the Chief Dispatchers office. We ordered some beer and decided to stay around until the French officially took over. At 11:58 they all trooped in, and at exactly midnight, we opened up four bottles of Champaign and drank to everybody's health, wishing them all good luck. At about that time, somebody announced the fact that the war with Japan was officially over, and top it all off, when we began to check back, we realized that exactly a year ago to the day we had set up shop in Folligny and had started on our career as GI railroaders. Well that was too much for all of us, so out came a bottle of Cognac, and I am afraid that we all had a little too much to drink. But, truly, isn't that amazing? Exactly a year to the day, we shut up shop, the French took over and the war with Japan was brought to an end. That's a day to remember, August 15th.(35)


 
20 August, 1945
Mainz, Germany

Well, today I got in my little auto, to take a look around the circuit, to see how the boys we have left on the R.R. to break in the other Bn. were getting along. We drove down through Oppenheim, up to Bischofsheim, then by the Opel plant at Russelsheim [figures 28-29], and then on to Offenbach. From there, through some lovely woods, down to Darmstadt. I found out that after the bombings at Darmstadt there were more than 45,000 civilians killed. Isn't that appalling? No one has any idea of how destructive these bombings are and how terrible they are. I have been bombed only once, and only by a two hundred pound, anti-personnel bomb, but that was enough for me. To think of having to endure a whole raid, I don't see how they ever came out of them alive. I talked to a boy today that just got back from Berlin, and they say that it is really something. Nobody seems to have anything to eat, and they black market is flourishing with a vengeance. A package of life-savers brings $25.00, and I guess for a chocolate bar, you can get a wife, a home and five kids! Our mess hall right here in Mainz is always surrounded by a hundred kids who collect all the garbage, and even fight over it; it's revolting, we don't have a speck of garbage that isn't scavenged. Then there is always a bunch of kids that make a dive for that cigarette butt that you throw away, and put them in their little tin boxes. Can you blame us if we are all a little cynical and hard boiled about things?


 
25 August, 1945
Mainz, Germany

When the last war was over, I was just 6 years old, and I can remember riding around the streets of Cleveland banging a big, old, Chinese gong. It must have been quite thrilling for the children to go through another celebration of that sort, and I can imagine that the people at home were thoroughly relieved to hear the grand news. I hope that we will never have to go through it again in out lifetime. And then too, this Atomic bomb is something to ponder over. War in the future will last about three days and the guy that gets their "fustest" with the "mostest" Atomic bombs will win. It's not very pleasant to think about, but maybe with all the new inventions, and air travel what it is, the world can be drawn so close together that a world state is highly probable. That is about the only way we will ever stop having wars. We are certainly living through a dramatic age, and we will most likely live to see the day when Atomic power is harnessed and the world will be run by this terrific energy.

Last night we knocked the town of Mainz on its ear, as we held a formal retreat, with all the men in their ETO Jackets, overseas hats, and music. We paraded around the block twice, and then stood retreat, with the Col. conducting. It was magnificent, and the men did beautifully. They stuck out their chests and marched better than I have ever seen them march before.

The boys are getting very frisky of late, and we have had to crack down on them somewhat with Garrison Restrictions--it was not too popular. Our VD rate is none to good either, and it is hard as hell to control. You can preach until you are speechless, but there are still some that will not listen to reason.

This letter and the 16 August letter shows an interesting evolution of thought about the Atomic bomb. In letters before this one, especially the 16th, Bill is very enthusiastic about this new weapon. He feels "as a keeper of the peace, [the bomb] is the most potent weapon I know of, and is better than a thousand treaties, that can be torn up in one motion." This is a feeling very much in common with World War II veterans, and was one reason why they were so upset over the National Air and Space Museum's 1975 Enola Gay exhibit.  But by the 25th, Bill has realized that this weapon is not the copmplete blessing  he had once believed it to be. Even so, he is optimistic about the future. His political philosophy, hinted at earlier, is fully stated here.  He feels that there should be an elimination of all boundaries, and the planet should become a "World State."
 

29 August, 1945
Mainz, Germany

We had a dance yesterday, but everything started off in a bad vein. Some damned, old, German cur wandered into the middle of it, and when they played "To the Colors" he just sat back on his haunches and howled. Later, we discovered that two Frenchmen had been picked up in the area drunk, covered with blood, and cut from head to toe. It developed that they were merely fighting among themselves; however, we had to administer first-aid, and the lobby of the building was swimming in blood. Well, about that time I went down to close up the dance and found the place in an uproar, as one of my men had been accosted by six Frenchmen and was very nicely beat up, with a big cut on his head and blood streaming all over. There was a crowd of about 150 men, all milling around, getting madder and madder, and it looked to me as if they were going to make a march around the town and take on every Frenchman in sight. So, with the Sgt. of the Guard, I calmed down the men--as far as possible, and the ones sounding off the loudest about how tough they were going to be, I put in charge of the rest and told them that if they let the situation get out of hand I would bust every last one of them.

I went over to the French Military Police where some suspects had been picked up, and after getting rid of Capt. Bean, who personally was going to shoot every Frenchman on sight, and silly Lt. Maust, who was insulting all Frenchmen in view, I sat down with a French Captain and held a regular investigation with the suspects--who were innocently coming from a whore-house when they ran amuck of the angry mob. I examined them for blood, searched them for weapons and asked them a lot of questions, and then let them go.

This morning, at 6:00, I was awakened by several loud explosions going off. I thought Oh, Oh!, The battle of France is now on, so I climbed out of bed, struggled in to my clothes, down stairs I went, and found, much to my relief, that some young French soldiers were putting German railroad torpedoes on the trolley tracks. Every time a street-car came along it scared all the riders into near hysteria. So we stopped that.

All my love, dear, and a most loving and affectionate Fran-Bill special, deluxe kiss. I certainly miss you.

Affectionately,

Bill


 
3 September, 1945
Nancy, France

Darling Frances:

Here we are back in France, and it looks awfully good to get back to a civilized country. The people look quite free and independent, and in good spirits. The cafes are all opened, with everybody having their glass of wine, and the women look pretty, with their up-sweep hair-do, and there is a great deal of activity in the streets. There is a definite difference between this country and Germany, I can't explain it, other than France is once again getting back into the swing of things and is doing what it likes to do. As far as reconstruction is concerned, they have not progressed as fast as the Germans, and things look about the same as they did when I was here last.

We finally got off from Mainz, and the way the station looked, they were sorry to see us go [figure 30]. Slowly, but steadily, as the time came for us to leave, the friction between us and the French mounted, and I guess it was a good thing that we got out when we did, as I am afraid that if we had stayed much longer, that we would have had some really serious trouble. As it was, we only beat up five Frenchman in the last two days of our stay. The French troops are sort of irresponsible, and their officers do not seem to have as much control over them as they should. Their worst problem seems to be their promiscuous firing of their weapons when and where they please.

As the train was ready to leave, all the women in town came down to see their men off. As you must remember, we were there for over five months, and the boys made quite a few connections. There was much weeping and wailing, but we finally pulled out. We made many stops on the way, and all the German R.R. personnel were out to bid us good-bye. For breakfast, we stopped in Thionville. It was eight months earlier that we came into Thionville with the first train, after the Third Army had blasted the Germans off the right bank of the Moselle. It was while making a reconnaissance down this same R.R. that I heard my first 88 land in front of us, and where I saw my first dead Germans. On our way again, down along the Moselle until we came to Metz. It looks like a fascinating old town, what little of it we could see from the train. Out of Metz, we could see those strong forts which Patton had blasted and where he lost so many men taking the city.

We wont be doing very much while we are here, and it will merely mean attempting to keep the men occupied until that great day when we go home. Now, when are we going to leave? Well, it will be between eight and ten weeks before we take off, so we might make it before Christmas. I will keep you informed of all the latest dope, and it will change day to day.


 
6 September, 1945
Nancy, France

We took off for Luxembourg at about 9:30 this morning, following the Moselle up to Pontamusson, where we crossed the river and started up the right bank towards Metz. Well, you could see all the remains of the fighting that had taken place back in November when Patton had taken the town. The American soldiers had come up the valley with the Germans holding the heights on both sides of the river. The slaughter must have been terrible, and the towns gave mute evidence of the hard fighting that had taken place. From there we followed the Moselle back up to Thionville, which likewise had been badly mangled, as it was here that the Americans had stayed on one side of the river and the Germans were on the other, and they banged away at each other for about a month. From Thionville we drove through the old Maginot line, which, as you know, was a farce, as there was a lot of politics played in the constructing of the same, with the result that there was a lot of faulty material used, and then too, the Germans came around by the sea and took it from behind.

Well, with our trip finished at Luxembourg, we decided to go come on back. We retraced our steps only to find, when we got to Pontamusson, that the bridge had collapsed since we had come over it in the morning, so we had to continue, by back-roads, to Dieulard, where, just before we crossed the river, we got a flat tire. Upon looking around, we discovered that we did not have the right tools to jack up the car, so we found a Frenchman who gave us some help. When we got it done, we asked him if he would like a drink of Cognac. He then told us how that Americans, with his son as a guide, had crossed the canal and the Moselle, back in September, while the artillery had laid down a barrage with 600 guns. The men had to wade through water up to their knees, as the Moselle was in flood, across about 2000 yards of bottom lands, with the Germans staring down their throats. It took them two days to make that 2000 yards. When they got over, the tanks crashed through and routed the Germans out of their positions. The battle for Metz and the crossing of the Moselle in flood was a bloody affair.


  
10 September, 1945
Nancy, France

I received your August 29th letter today, and it sounds to me as if you are more than fed up with little boys, and I guess I can't blame you. My officers are causing me more trouble now than then men! I got George Bachert in yesterday and gave him a Royal Bawling Out, as he is drinking too much, and had been for the last month. Lt. Aldrich goes AWOL for 24 hours, and I was fit to be tied! I had him in the office this morning and told him that the only reason I wasn't Court Martialing him was because of his family. He has developed a serious inferiority complex, and is almost a psychopathic case, believing that everybody hates him. Emotionally, he is still a baby, has never grown up. If his feelings get hurt, he goes off and pouts for a week, gets drunk and is quite impossible.

I realize that this sitting around, waiting to go home and doing nothing is nerve wracking, but we just have to sweat it out the best possible way. The real trouble is that the officers have not enough imagination to keep themselves occupied. Naturally they turn to drink, cards and other things. I am afraid they all have it in for me...well not really, George, for all his faults, is very loyal, as is Crouch. But Perkins, he wants to get into the Army of the Occupation, and so far had not been able to make it and is taking his wrath out on me.

As their stay begins to lengthen the nerves of the men begin to wear thin.  Bill has already stated, now that both wars are over, that he feels very useless to the army, and would much rather be sent home. He shows a great deal of strength and self control by not acting the way his officers are. His anger at his officers is understandable, for enlisted men cannot be expected to act correctly if their officers do not.
 
11 September, 1945
Nancy, France

Today we had four boys with eighty-four points leave for the Zone of Interior, i.e: USA and Home. They were all pretty thrilled, and I don't blame them. I am getting up in the point line myself now, what with eighty points, and one of these days I will be there and just about the same as I was when I went away, but changed in one very important way, namely that I love my wife and family more than ever and I feel sure that I will never more want to leave the fireside for any reason whatsoever.

I took a trip up into the Saar, and was gone most of the day. Back over the same old roads that I had traveled back in December, when things were really rough. The roads were very poor, and still there remains the charred hulks of German tanks, the rubble of blown up block houses, and the weed covered, water filled tank traps.

To give you an idea of some of the problems I am faced with, let me give you a case history. I have a boy who, before he came in the army, was sent to reform school. After he got out he got drunk one night and, on a bet, married the girl he was with.  After a year of married life they have a baby, the pride and joy of this man's life. At the last moment he goes AWOL to see her, but is picked up and goes overseas with the outfit. Everything is fine for about five months, and then his wife's letters get few and far between. Then , for a period of eight months, there are only twelve letters, and then comes letters from his mother, telling him that his wife is not getting in until all hours of the morning. The man is crazy about the child, but decides that his wife is being unfaithful and tells her if she wants, to get a divorce, but she is sort of hanging on. The man hits Germany and there he gets involved with a German girl, who regards him as the salt of the earth, and of course, with his pride hurt and his needing of affection, he falls hot and heavy for the Fraulein. Yes, you have guessed it, she is pregnant, and he wants to marry her, but he hasn't got a divorce, and does not know what to do. That's a tough nut, is it not? And this poor guy is one of those Joe's that is not smart enough to stay out of trouble, and the German girl was smart enough to hang this one on him. As a matter of fact, there is nothing that she can do. Believe it or not, I have three men in my Co. that are volunteering for the Army of the Occupation because they have fallen for the wiles of those German girls. The awful truth of the matter is that the Americans like the Germans better that any of the foreigners they have come in contact with, and worse than that, they even tell the Germans! That really burns me up, and I express myself in no uncertain terms.


 
26 and 29 September, 1945
Nancy, France

-Well, we received a real blow yesterday. The MRS had been its usual inefficient self and had planned to ship men home according to its own plan, but then along comes somebody from higher HQs and lays the law down: the men in the MRS will go home by points, and not by units. Thus, we are getting 300 men shipped into us, and are shipping out over 200. Of the 200 going out, I am losing 108, some of my best men. Among them is Sgt. Gauntt, and I had the Col. call all the way to Paris to get him held as an essential man in the unit, but so far they have said "no soap." I recommended E.E. Jones for the Bronze Star, but through the grape vine, I find that they have turned it down, which to my mind is just another bit of the Army's short-sighted policy. As long as the higher Hqs get their's, to hell with the lower echelons. Boy, if somebody wanted to startle the complacent public about their wonderful army, they ought to write a little brochure on the behavior and the manner of living of the army's Brass, which to my way of thinking, is disgraceful.

-The great thing of interest over here now is a letter that some nurse wrote into the "B Bag" of the Stars and Stripes, saying that the average American's technique in making love was very poor, and that they had been spoiled by the foreign girls, and were operating purely on a chocolate bar system. Give them a candy bar, and ten minutes later, sleep with them. She went on to say that there should be more preliminaries, and that she preferred Englishmen and Frenchmen. Well, the papers and radio are making a great to-do about it, all sorts of people are having their say, and it really is quite funny. Some officers that I know are quite irate about the statement: "To think that an American girl could say such a thing!"

Well, my love, that is about all for today. We can almost count the days when we will be home, but I firmly believe that sixty days from right now, I will be back in your arms again, and that's where I intend to stay for one hell of a long time. All my love, dear, miss you like the devil, and have only 59 more days to wait.

Affectionately,

Bill


  
1 October, 1945
Nancy, France

Dearest Darling:

The most important thing for me to do is to try and keep my officers busy. Now, with Perkins gone, I have put Aldrich in his job, and it keeps him going most of the day. Your remark about Perkins is just about right, he always expected more than he was capable of, and as a representative of the US Army, he is certainly no credit to the Army of the US! Whether or not you knew it, he was constantly drinking, usually about a quart a day, and if he could get more, he would drink two quarts. The best job that he ever had before coming in the army, was that of Bank messenger, so you can imagine what calibre of man he was. He was always going against me in everything, and it burnt him up to think that I was his boss, and he did about everything in his power to get me removed. Once he got talking to me about the Inspector General, and what he was going to tell him, and I told him that I would be glad to talk to the IG also, and that when I got through, I knew of one officer that would probably be reclassified. That was the end of that sort of talk. The boy with the pregnant German girl is being transferred to the Army of Occupation, even though I advised him to go home and face the music. Believe it or not, we have an officer in the same boat.


 
5 October, 1945
Nancy, France

Today I received a letter from you dated September 18th, all about your experience with the German painter, and how exasperating he had been. Well, there is no getting around it, they are very meticulous workers, but they are very stubborn. Regardless of what rumors you hear, there is still a lot of truth in the fact that our coming home gets farther and farther away. They seem to change it every day, and I really don't know what the score is. As I told you, two of our officers are leaving for a Repel Depel (Replacement Depot--army slang), where they are being sent home as casuals, because of their high points. There are now three of us left with points over 80, and supposedly we should be shipped out before the end of October, though I seriously doubt it.

Tonight, I have been spending my time saying good by to the men that are leaving tomorrow, and I must admit that I hate to see them go, as we have been together for almost two years now. As Major Savage is serving on a General Court Martial Board, as the Col. is leaving for three or four days, without me, I will be in charge of, not only Co. C, but of the Bn. as well.

Right now there is a lot of interest in the World Series, and much comment on the removal of General Patton, whom a lot of us feel has been very over-rated. When History gets around to writing about this war, it will be pretty well proven that there was no sense in his taking of Metz, and that he sacrificed a lot of men for his own ambition of taking a fortified city, that for over a thousand years, had never fallen to the Enemy. He was a ruthless sort of guy, and it is a well known saying among his men, that it was Patton's guts and Their blood that won his many battles. However, in the political sphere of thing, he is very definitely over his head, and the head of a paper army is just about what he is worth at the present time.
 

 

Bill Chase's feeling about General Patton never seemed to change. His son remembers his father telling him of "being pushed all the time, of the many resulting wrecks, derailments, etc., and maybe if they had gone a bit slower the railroads would have performed as well if not better. However, note that if you were attached to Patton's Third Army everything was always 'On the Double!'"(36)This statement, especially taken with the one above and from 15 October--"As soon as General Ike left the country, old Georgie Patton steps in, and throws out all of Ike's good deeds"--shows Bill's definite dislike for the General, and also blames him, indirectly, for many of the problems and deaths that occurred within the Third Army.
 

8 October, 1945
Nancy, France

Lt. Bachert came back from Strasbourg very unhappy that he had to leave, and a little worse for wear because of too much cognac. He is about the biggest baby I have ever seen, and when he does not get his own way he pouts as says that "by God I will do so and so!" He is not a very smart character to my way of thinking, and when he gets back home his is going to have a hard time adjusting himself to the rigors of civilian life. When he goes home and is not greeted as a conquering hero, he will be disappointed, because this is the first time he has ever had a supervisory job, and he suffers with it, and can't understand that it literally means twenty-four hours of work a day when needed and that nobody is going to pat you on he back for it.

From what Bill writes here and in the 1 October letter (about Perkins), it appears that not fighting has a worse effect on the men than actual battle.  As, mentioned earlier, Bill associates the lack of real work to do and being in a strange country as the cause of his men's actions. But another reason might be that he just decided not to write about it until now. Under combat situations, one would assume life would be very stressful. Even though the 718th was not a unit on the front lines, they saw their share of action, and were the targets of constant strafing attacks. Maybe, Bill overlooked his officers problems during their combat time as understandable. Once things got back to "normal," the officers actions were unacceptable.
 
12, 17 and 23 October, 1945
Nancy, France

-Things around here have been quite hectic for the last twenty-four hours, as we are shipping out fifteen more men, and now I have only ninety-four of my original Co. left, and we got seventy more new men in. Right now I don't care what they do with me, and would be more than glad if they sent me home toute-suite with some other outfit, as there is nothing left of mine. It certainly is hard to take, when you see something that you have helped build up get torn apart, especially after you have lived with them for two years. Just think, it was two years ago this month, that I got that fateful telegram to report. Down deep in my heart I wouldn't have missed it, and am glad that I was a part of it, though at times it seemed pretty rough.

-Another day had passed in this waiting life of ours, and we are still here, wondering what the Gods have in store for us. The news now is that all units have been set back at least one month, but there is nothing more official on it that what we hear over the radio. Nothing definite concerning out unit. Our supply has all been turned in, and when I get this last box off for home, I will be down to the point where I will be able to carry just about all my belongings on my back.

-Last night I went to see "Golden Boy," a play by Clifford Odets, which was quite good, but was spoiled in parts by a very unsophisticated GI audience, which let out with wolf howls and cat-calls every time the heroine came on the stage, and during the love scenes would add a lot of very loud advice to the hero's speech, and in between the acts let loose with a veritable fleet of paper airplanes made out of the programs.


 

29 and 30 October, 1945
Nancy, France

-Sunday morning, Sgt. Gauntt woke me up and asked me to go back to Saarbourg for the day. So I took off with him about 11:00 AM and we made the fifty-two mile drive down there, through the rolling, barren hills of Loraine in about one hour and a half. The villages en route have been completely destroyed, as it was through this country that Patton's Third Army fought on its way to the Saar. Saarbourg is about 10,000 people strong, with a few GI's, about 5000 Moroccan troops, and German POW's (with Polish guards). The people are half French and half German, most of them not knowing to whom they owe their allegiance, and their land having been fought over in every war between France and Germany. These border line areas are a mess, as an example, take this case. We went to a cafe, just outside of town, where everybody was gathered. The proprietress of the place could talk a little English. In the first place, she was German and her husband was French. When the Germans had the place, they claimed that she was French, so she didn't get much out of the Germans. Then when the French came back, they claimed that she was German and they would give her very little help. Then to add to her troubles, along comes the Americans and her daughter has an American baby, and the Pop takes off for home and after a few months of supporting her baby, he stops. Of course, he is married and has his own family to look after. So she is having trouble getting food for her granddaughter. Boy, war sure makes a mess of things, doesn't it? Then there was another character out there, a Frenchman, who had been forced into the German army, had deserted, let his hair grow long, dressed as a girl, and had hid out in a cave for seventeen months, right under the Germans' noses!

-Now for some travel news. We are leaving Saturday, November 3rd, for Camp Philadelphia, twenty miles from Chalons and thirty-two miles from Reims. So when you get this letter I will be another fifty miles closer to the Port! What the score is from there, I do not know, but there will probably be another ling wait until we go to the Staging Area.

Well, dear, I must close. If you want to know what it is like to be missed, you should dwell in my soul for a day. All my love, darling,

Affectionately,

Bill


  
5 November, 1945
Camp Philadelphia, Mourmelon, France

Dearest Darling:

I have been hearing a lot about Oscar Wilde, and now want to read something by him to find out what sort of Joe he is. He sounds sort of peculiar. This morning, after breakfast, the whole battalion was marched to one of the local theaters to hear a lecture on Sex Hygiene, and they paraded out all the old time stuff that we have heard so many times before. Since the war has been over, the VD rate has been tremendous, and has risen from a normal rate of twenty-five per thousand men per year to 250 per thousand men per year. In other words, one out of every four is slated to get VD. However, I think it will fall off to almost nothing here, as a man who contacts it is restricted for twenty-one days and is automatically taken off the shipping list.

15 November, 1945
Camp Philadelphia, Mourmelon, France

Yesterday we shipped out all of our 65-69 point men, which left me with no Sgt. Jones, Sgt. Pugh and a few others that have really been carrying the mail for the last two years. However, good old E.E. has come back everyday to help out and get the Co. in shape for moving out, as they are not using him down below, and my new first Sgt. doesn't know very much about the work. They have put us on Alert, which means that we are to leave for the Port in about three days, which would make it Saturday, November 18th, headed now for Marseilles. Everybody is in a pretty disagreeable mood, and I can hardly blame them, as General Gray promised them that they would go home with the unit they were activated with, and of course he isn't here to back up the order; he went home with more than two-thirds of his troops still here. As soon as General Ike left the country, old Georgie Patton steps in, and throws out all of Ike's good deeds. That left our officers with low points behind the 8 ball.


 
16 November, 1945
Camp Philadelphia, Mourmelon, France

Well, here's the latest. We are not going to Marseilles, but to Camp Herbert Tareyton at Le Harve. We leave, not on Saturday, but on Sunday, November 18th, at 6:00 PM to arrive in Le Harve noon on Monday. They tell us now that we will be there about seven to ten days, in another mud hole, winterized with the proverbial coal stove, for which there is never any coal, only old, green wood. Now there are some more changes, namely that Major Savage sold somebody on the idea that he had five more points coming because he was an officer courier during July 9th to 31st on the Normandy Beachhead, and entitled to the battle star for Normandy. Col. Wright will probably make it on a phony Compassionate Leave, but he does not know yet and is still sweating it out. Steinfield is going crazy, and is going to get his mother sick so he can come home. Bachert has been transferred with Crouch to the 635th FA, and I truly feel sorry for them both. They only have 56 points each, and it really wouldn't be fair for them to come home before the others. But I maintain that they should not promise these men things and then change their minds.

It looks now as if my original figure of December 15th for getting home is going to be pretty close. But don't expect me until you see me, and I will try and get a letter off from the port with the name of the boat and probable arriving time. When you get this we ought to be waiting for the boat. If I can, I will send you a wire, but I don't want you o get a lot of erroneous information, and then have to break some bad news to you. So, lets say that if all goes well, I should be home for Christmas.


 
22 November, 1945 (Thanksgiving)
Camp Herbert Tareyton, Le Harve, France

At last we have reached the staging area, and are at this very minute all ready to go. They had us lined up to take off from Mourmelon at 3:00 PM, but then they put it back to 7:30. It was colder that all get out, and we stood around waiting for three hours. Then after the sun went down, and the night chill had settled over everything, we loaded into trucks and left for the station. On the way to the train, the side of one truck came off while it was going around a curve, and threw about thirty men out of the vehicle, putting three in the hospital, one of which returned to the outfit when we got here. We traveled in day coaches, with no heat, crowded in till we could hardly breathe, allowing us twenty-six inches of space per man. Col. Wright is still with us, and we have picked up another Lt. Col., a couple of new officers and an additional Chaplain. Six of us piled into one compartment, closed the doors, stuffed the cracks in the windows, lit some candles for heat and took off. After traveling about four hours, they stopped us for a hot meal--which was colder than Hell. After that meal, we piled back into our cars and all huddled together, covered with blankets. I was sleeping on the Doc, and the Col. cuddled against me, with out feet spread as comfortably as possible. Again in the early morning, the train stopped for another hot meal, and we piled out into the frosty morning, dirty, shivering and thoroughly cold. On out way again, through Amiens, starting, stopping, laying here for an hour, there for two hours, and after twenty-four hours, we rolled down into the harbor of le Harve after a cold and uncomfortable trip of 200 miles. Let's hope that is the last French train ride that I am going to have to take.

It was dark when we arrived, but the trucks were waiting for us, and they piled us in. Up the hill we went--where the Germans, about ten months before, had been camped--and into a tent city, where they set us up. As we poured off the trucks the men piled into any then that they would find handy, and we had a hell of a time trying to find them. Then began out processing of the men. For the last three days we have been holding one formation after another: collecting their money, giving them their last shake down, looking for ammunition, gathering up unauthorized GI equipment, doling out clothing, and making out custom's declarations and baggage tags. It has been a hectic time, but at last we are now ready. All we need to do, when they Alert us, is to have one last check-up for VD, issue them back their souvenir guns and knives, load on the boat and take off. It appears to me that we will probably leave Sunday or Monday, and I will try and let you know by letter what the name of the ship will be so you can keep track of us. However, keep your eyes peeled for the 718th R.O.B., as it should be listed in the paper as one of the units on the ship, and start looking sometime after the first of December. They told us that we should get out boat name tonight, and if so, I will get off an air mail so you will know.

So, my darling, expect one more letter from me, unless something unexpected happens. Now that we are getting down to the last two or three weeks, it hardly seems possible that all we have been waiting for is at last coming true. All my love, dear, and I will save my kisses until I see you. Happy Thanksgiving to you all,

I am affectionately,

Your Loving Bill (homeward bound)


 
 

[figure 31 - Homecoming telegram]

Thus ends Bill Chase's career as a soldier. Upon his return, he went back to his job with the New York Central Railroad, and had no real trouble readjusting to civilian life. But at the end of his time on the continent, one gets the feeling that he is fed up with military life and fed up with the army in general. The 718th did form a veterans group, and Bill Jr. can remember his father going once or twice. "I recall him saying that after going to one or two functions, where everyone stood around and drank and told stories, he decided that [it] wasn't for him."(37)

Frances Chase feels that, although Bill tried to keep in touch with some of his men (E.E. Jones, Harry Gauntt, Vergil Crouch), "we were bringing up a family, all our money went to education, and what little vacation we had, we wanted to spend doing things together, not with the veterans." (38)

Bill had gone to Europe, served his time, had his adventure, and now wanted to put it behind him. If he had come home right away, after the victory over the Germans, he might not have felt this way. His letters show that his negative feelings for the Army, in the way they operated (i.e., Patton's attack on Metz) and the way officers regarded duty, were shaped during this period.

Although his final regard for the Army was not the highest, Bill was fairly "up-beat" about his experiences in the war.  Bill Jr. was five when his father returned, and does not recall his father talking much about the war until he himself was 14 or 15 years of age. This is probably because that was the time when Bill Jr. began to become interested in the Second World War.(39)

Frances, on the other hand, recalls much:
Yes, we talked a lot about his experiences. Mostly he told me about the fun or [humorous] things that happened. Also about the people. It was always the people that he was interested in. I think that our family and friends were all interested in his stories. I was so interested in them myself that, perhaps, I wouldn't remember if some people were not. Anyway, I don't remember any negative aspects or results from his talking.(40)

It appears that Bill decided not to talk much further about the death, destruction and baseness of human existence that he often mentioned in his letters.

Someone once said that "truth is the first casualty of war." In the letters of my grandfather exists what could be thought of as one "truth which survived war." His letters may, in fact, be more accurate than the actual battalion history or official reports. He often wrote as if he were an objective observer, especially when describing the landscape or people of a certain area. Bill's experience in the Second World War was mostly a learning one. Observation was one of his strong points, and during his sixteen months in France and Germany, learned a lot about human nature. He saw how the people he worked with change, in regard to time and location, and he was able to see how his own feelings and beliefs changed. These letters are a glimpse at how a "war memory" is formed. They are what is lacking in a memoir, which is usually written years after the event. Using Bill's actions after the war as a model, if he had written a memoir about his own experiences, it would have been a different kind of writing.  But, by reading these letters, one can see, that Bill's war was not all enjoyable, and there was a certain amount of tragedy and suffering that he had to endure, enough that he was able to develop a numbness to it all.

But this story  will forever remain incomplete. I did not have the chance to sit down and talk with my grandfather about his experiences. I can not ask him, "How do you feel about the Germans now? What about the Atomic bomb, and the nuclear world we live in? What do you actually remember about such-and such an event? What really happened here?" I was not able to talk with other members of his battalion to see just how "true" his letters might have been, and what their "truth" would be.  Even so, these letters are to be regarded as an important and viable piece of history. They are a primary source for the story of the actions of the 718th R.O.B., and a useful tool in examining the formation of memory.
 
 


Notes and references


 

1.Conversation with Frances M.R. Chase Smith, February, 1997.

2..Williams, Floyd R., History of the 718th Railway Operating Battalion, Transportation Corps. Private publication, Mainz, Germany, 1945

The 718th began as the 53rd Engineer Railway Operating Battalion, organized at Camp Dix, new Jersey in 1918. Though the battalion served in Europe during the war, they did not participate in any combat. The 53rd was redesignated the 718th Railway Operating Battalion, transportation Corps on 1 December 1941 and was activated on 14 December, 1943. The New York Central Company was the "parent railroad" which sponsored this unit.

3 Conversation with Frances M.R. Chase Smith, February, 1997.

4 Conversation with Graham McMillan, 7 March, 1997.

5 Williams. Major Moss was the Commanding Officer of the 718th from its activation in December 1943 until August 24th, 1944.

6 Ibid.

7 Forrestal, Dan J. Jr., S t. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 13, 1944.

"Reporters Take a Ride on Worst Railroad on Earth,"

Camp Claiborne, LA., April 12.--Newsmen on the War department's tour of the Southeast stopped here . . . yesterday . . . to ride the "worst railroad on earth." . . . Visiting newspaper and radio men saw several typical portions of the 50 mile enterprise, highlight of the trip having been a simulated bombing and rapid repair of damaged tracks. . . . The commanding officer of train operation . . . is William G. Chase. . . . He serves as trainmaster here and is the commanding officer of Company C, the train operation unit of the battalion. . . . In Captain Chase's company 330 men are learning all the tricks of running a railroad Uncle Sam's way. Among these are engineers, firemen, conductors, brakemen, yardmasters, yard clerks and crew dispatchers. . . . These 330 men, under Captain Chase's supervision will ultimately be shipped abroad as a unit.

8 Williams.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid,

Using Folligny as a base of operations, the 718th operated territory from Folligny to Mayenne and Rennes. They also maintained a single track from Pontabault to Mayenne and from Ponterson to Fougeres, and a double track from Folligny to Dol.

11. Ibid,

Major Moss was succeeded by Robert McGee, his executive officer (XO) on 24 August, 1944. Captain Merle Savage, detached from the 708th Grand Division, became the new XO.

12. Ibid,

In Bar-le-Duc, the 718th operated the railroad from Sommesous to Commercy and from Revigny, via St. Menehould, to Verdun. It was territory that they came under the jurisdiction of the 706th Grand Division. 

13. Ibid,

The territory now operated was from Sezanne through Verdun and up to Stockem in Belgium. They also operated from Verdun to Conflans and beyond.

14. The New York Central Headlight, December, 1944.

. . .The [718th] moved into the wrecked yards at Faligny [sic.] in mid-August to take over it's first assignment. . . . Through sheet [sic.] grit and determination and amid hardships the soldiers cleared wreckage of mine and bomb-twisted rail from the yards, and repaired salvaged equipment and partially destroyed shop machinery as best they could with the meagre [sic.] tools at their command. . . . The Battalion has not remained in any one local for long. In its operation on both the Normandy and Brittany peninsulas it has many firsts on its records. After a main line track had been laid through the rubble in the yards of LeMans, the [718th] railroaders brought in the first American train. . . . In recent operations up to the front lines trains operated by Company C, the Operating Company, have been under almost constant strafing and bombing attack, which proved very hazardous, because much of the tonnage under movement was ammunition and gasoline, but it all was delivered on time.

15. Ibid.

The 718th now covered territory from Athus, Belgium to Chateau Salins, France.

16. Williams.

Major Wright, the XO of the 706th Grand Division, assumed command of the 718th on the 7th of October, 1944. Major Wright had the idea to divide the battalion into detachments, with each detachment commander having direct control over his territory. At this time, the battalion was projected to be in charge of about fifty miles of track, but in reality they were covering almost 400 miles. Major Wright's arrangement,along with the moveable living arrangements mentioned in the 24 October letter, made the operation of such a large territory much easier.

17. Ibid.

18. Conversation with Bill Chase Jr, 8 April, 1997.

"Sgt Jones [was] Dad's 1st Sergeant, top NCO. [Dad] relied on him a great deal and they thought a lot of each other. Henry Gauntt was a Technical Sgt, the number two NCO. Mother said that Dad also liked him a lot--if you have good NCO's they are the ones who make the Company run well. I believe that they were the two Sergeants who [requested] to go with Dad from Camp Claiborne, as Mother said, they thought Dad would be an easy officer to work for."

19. Gray, Carl R. Jr, Railroading in Eighteen Countries.

20. The Yankee Boomer, no date given--sometime in 1945.

21. Gray.

22. The Yankee Boomer.

23. Williams.

24. Ibid. The 718th now became an "international" railroad operating in France, Luxembourg and Belgium. The tracks they controlled extended from Longwy to Libramont and Bastogne, north to St. Vith and eastward to Luxembourg City.

25. Conversation with Frances M.R. Chase Smith, February, 1997.

26. Williams.The tracks operated from Luxembourg went north to Gouvy, Belgium and thus to Germany, and also to Trier in Germany. Twenty-seven bridges had to be replaced before the line could operate, and they found eighteen tunnels, amazingly still intact.

27. Ibid. Captain Savage received the rank of Major sometime while the battalion was stationed in Luxembourg.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid. On December 26th, the detachment at Benestroff was the victim of an aerial attack in the early hours of the morning. A sergeant, Howard Allen, from Company C was killed in the strafing, and another man was wounded.

30. Ibid. On the 10th of January, the 718th became the victim of sabotage. "A trainload of ammunition ran away down a four-mile 3% grade and piled into a train of rations" (Gray 191). In charge of the rations train was Sgt. Cushman of C Company, who was killed in his attempt to cushion the impact of the collision by backing up his train. He was warned of the approach of the runaway, but refused to leave his post. The resulting explosion was spectacular and devastated the country side. Captain Chase and five other men spent a great deal of time trying to control explosions and remove other trains from the path of destruction. Captain Chase recommended that the five men receive the Bronze Star for "action heroic and beyond the call of duty."

31. Conversation with Bill Chase Jr, 8 April, 1997.

32. .Ibid. The 718th covered track between the Rhine river and Hanau, and southward to Darmstadt. In April, the volume of traffic grew so large that it became necessary for the battalion to make use of German crews (with GI pilots) on some of the trains. The 718th territory had become a very important link in the Military Railway Service. The supplies of the Third, First and Fifteenth Armies, and of Adsec [Advanced Section] and Conad "passed over their rails."

33.The troops in Europe were sent home according to a point system. Different things added to your total points, i.e. How many children you had, your rank, time of service, etc.

34. Williams. An outstanding award to the battalion was the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque, announcement of which came on 6 July, for "noteworthy devotion to duty in the operation of military railways in a combat zone under dangerous conditions." This referred particularly to the service of the battalion in the Ardennes campaign. Each man in the battalion has been presented with a certificate embodying the Meritorious Service Unit Plaque Citation.

35. Ibid. 15 August 1945 will remain long in the memory of the 718th. At 0001 hours the battalion ceased operations in Germany and turned over its territory east of the Rhine to the 752nd; and west of the Rhine the operation went over to the French. An hour or so later the radio announced Japan had surrendered (it was still 14 August in the United States). And this day was the anniversary of the landing in Normandy and beginning operations in the ETO by the 718th.

36 Conversation with Bill Chase Jr., 28 February, 1997.

37 Ibid.

38 Conversation with Frances M.R. Chase Smith, February, 1997.

39. Conversation with Bill Chase Jr., 28 February, 1997.

40. Conversation with Frances M.R. Chase Smith, February, 1997.