14 October, 2011

14 October 1944

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
14 October, 1944        1315

My dearest darling Wilma –

It is nice and quiet here now and perhaps I can get this letter written with a minimum of interruptions. I’m in the house that the Medics have for themselves, sitting in the kitchen, by the stove. I sent the boys off to get showers and I’m alone except for the CQ (charge of quarters). This little house, by the way dear, is quite cute and completely furnished. It was abandoned – as were so many others, when the Americans came. There’s enough room here to sleep my eight Hq. men upstairs – of course they don’t all have beds – and we run our dispensary and supply room downstairs. The kitchen serves as a general hang-out evenings and the stove is going constantly.

Last night we had a bit of a feed, songfest etc. When it gets dark here – around 1830 – we get off the streets because it isn’t safe. So the boys all hang around. We found some potatoes in the cellar and so one of the boys made French Fries somewhere around 2030. Another fellow produced some cans of sardines he had received in the mail, we had butter – given me by one of my ‘patients’ – and we had a good time. Later I dug out my clarinet which I hadn’t tried playing since Normandy, and as I squeaked, the boys sang. We covered every song from “I’m in love with you – Honey” – to “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah” – which may not impress you as being a very wide span – but we covered quite a few in between.

This a.m. – we had a B.C.’s meeting, the first in a long while – and took up a lot of little details. That lasted until 1120 and it was soon time for lunch. And now, sweetheart, it is Saturday p.m. – about a half-hour before game time. It’s a perfect day for the game – and here I am about 3000 miles away. I could never make it in time, dear, so I think I’ll pass this one up. But kidding aside, Saturdays and Sundays are still hard to take, particularly at this time of the year – and I just don’t know what to do about it, darling; Nothing right now, I guess, but think – and that’s what I’m doing.

There was no mail yesterday, just a bunch of old newspapers. I got 6 Boston Heralds from the last week in July. The latest letter I have of yours is dated 29 September – but there are several still missing. I do have the one written me from Irv and Verna’s house and boy – that was some news you gave out. How things can get all mixed up like that over such a little thing, is beyond me – but I’ve heard of similar incidents before, occurring in pre-wedding times. That’s why I think weddings are a nuisance; invariably someone’s toes get stepped on. In this case – if the facts are as you presented them – then this Wilcoff girl is apparently someone to be reckoned with – and I feel sorry for Stan already. Frankly, I don’t feel that he loves her – and I intimated that to you sometime ago. He practically admits it when he says he was lonely in Washington and she helped fill in his time. That’s a pretty negative reaction it seems to me. Anyway, as you described what happened, it’s a whole mess of misunderstanding letters – in short, a one act melodrama. The fact is I blame Stan for the whole thing. He’s turned out to be an opportunist; he made that clear to me a long time ago when he implied that security was the real goal he was after. I think the girl is very secondary in his life, at the moment, and it would have still worked out – had he been fortunate enough to get a decent girl along with the security. It looks like he missed the boat entirely in this case, because not only has he married a girl he can’t possibly love very much – but he’s lost some good friends in the bargain – and good friends takes years to acquire. Well – the chances are he’ll eventually settle down a long way from Boston, anyway, and our contacts won’t be frequent.

And you there in a man’s pajamas, dear! Think of your reputation! Boy, I’d like to have been there. I’m glad you didn’t let Irving peek. You are private, dear – all for me! And that goes for me, too, of course. Gee – it’s been a long time since I’ve worn pajamas. I have a pair with me – it’s been in my bedding-roll ever since I left the States – but I can’t seem to get into the spirit of putting them on. That’s another thing I’ll wait for, dear.

Well – enough rambling for today, I guess. I’ll jot a note to the folks and then do a little reading. I hope you’re well, sweetheart, taking care of yourself for me, finding your work interesting – and receiving through my letters and inkling of how much I love you and want you to be mine. Do you?

My love to the folks, dear – and

All my everlasting love


about the Suicide of the Desert Fox

Erwin Johannes Eugen Rommel

Most of what follows was excerpted from the Eyewitness to History web site.

Rommel was born in 1891 in Wurttenberg, Germany, the son of a teacher. Although not descended from military men, the newly unified German empire made it fashionable to choose a military career, which young Rommel did, becoming an officer cadet. During World War I, he showed himself to be a natural leader with unnatural courage, fighting in France, Romania, and Italy. Following the war, he pursued a teaching career in German military academies, writing a textbook, Infantry Attacks, that was well regarded.

For a time, Erwin Rommel was Hitler's favorite general. Gaining prominence in 1940 as a commander of a panzer division that smashed the French defenses, Rommel went on to command the Afrika Korps where his tactical genius, ability to inspire his troops and make the best of limited resources, prompted Hitler to elevate him to the rank of Field Marshall. It was his leadership of German and Italian forces in the North African campaign that established the legend of the "Desert Fox." He is considered to have been one of the most skilled commanders of desert warfare in the war. As one of the few generals who consistently fought the Western Allies (he was never assigned to the Eastern Front), Rommel is regarded as having been a humane and professional officer. His Afrika Korps was never accused of war crimes. Soldiers captured during his Africa campaign were reported to have been treated humanely. Furthermore, he ignored orders to kill captured commandos, Jewish soldiers and civilians in all theaters of his command.

Rommel and staff in Africa
In 1943, Hitler placed Rommel in command of fortifying the "Atlantic Wall" along the coast of France - defenses intended to repel the inevitable invasion of Europe by the Allies.

Rommel in Normandy, June, 1944
Touring Germany, Rommel was appalled at the devastation of the Allied bombing raids and the erosion of the peoples' morale. He also learned for the first time of the death camps, slave labor, the extermination of the Jews and the other atrocities of the Nazi regime. Rommel became convinced that victory for Germany was a lost cause and that prolonging the war would lead only to his homeland's devastation. He came in contact with members of a growing conspiracy dedicated to ousting Hitler and establishing a separate peace with the western allies.

On July 17, 1944, British aircraft strafed Rommel's staff car, severely wounding the Field Marshall. He was taken to a hospital and then to his home in Germany to convalesce. Three days later, an assassin's bomb nearly killed Hitler during a strategy meeting at his headquarters in East Prussia. In the gory reprisals that followed, some suspects implicated Rommel in the plot. Although he may not have been aware of the attempt on Hitler's life, his "defeatist" attitude was enough to warrant Hitler's wrath. The problem for Hitler was how to eliminate Germany's most popular general without revealing to the German people that he had ordered his death. The solution was to force Rommel to commit suicide and announce that his death was due to his battle wounds.

Rommel's son, Manfred, was 15 years old and served as part of an antiaircraft crew near his home. On October 14th, 1944 Manfred was given leave to return to his home where his father continued to convalesce. The family was aware that Rommel was under suspicion and that his chief of staff and his commanding officer had both been executed. Manfred's account begins as he enters his home and finds his father at breakfast:
...I arrived at Herrlingen at 7:00 a.m. My father was at breakfast. A cup was quickly brought for me and we breakfasted together, afterwards taking a stroll in the garden.

"At twelve o'clock to-day two Generals are coming to discuss my future employment," my father started the conversation. "So today will decide what is planned for me; whether a People's Court or a new command in the East."

"Would you accept such a command," I asked.

He took me by the arm, and replied: "My dear boy, our enemy in the East is so terrible that every other consideration has to give way before it. If he succeeds in overrunning Europe, even only temporarily, it will be the end of everything which has made life appear worth living. Of course I would go."

Shortly before twelve o'clock, my father went to his room on the first floor and changed from the brown civilian jacket which he usually wore over riding-breeches, to his Africa tunic, which was his favorite uniform on account of its open collar.

At about twelve o'clock a dark-green car with a Berlin number stopped in front of our garden gate. The only men in the house apart from my father, were Captain Aldinger [Rommel's aide], a badly wounded war-veteran corporal and myself. Two generals - Burgdorf, a powerful florid man, and Maisel, small and slender - alighted from the car and entered the house. They were respectful and courteous and asked my father's permission to speak to him alone. Aldinger and I left the room. "So they are not going to arrest him," I thought with relief, as I went upstairs to find myself a book.

A few minutes later I heard my father come upstairs and go into my mother's room. Anxious to know what was afoot, I got up and followed him. He was standing in the middle of the room, his face pale. "Come outside with me," he said in a tight voice. We went into my room. "I have just had to tell your mother," he began slowly, "that I shall be dead in a quarter of an hour." He was calm as he continued: "To die by the hand of one's own people is hard. But the house is surrounded and Hitler is charging me with high treason. 'In view of my services in Africa,'" he quoted sarcastically, "I am to have the chance of dying by poison. The two generals have brought it with them. It's fatal in three seconds. If I accept, none of the usual steps will be taken against my family, that is against you. They will also leave my staff alone."

Erwin Rommel with his wife Lucie and son Manfred
"Do you believe it?" I interrupted. "Yes," he replied. "I believe it. It is very much in their interest to see that the affair does not come out into the open. By the way, I have been charged to put you under a promise of the strictest silence. If a single word of this comes out, they will no longer feel themselves bound by the agreement."

I tried again. "Can't we defend ourselves..." He cut me off short. "There's no point," he said. "It's better for one to die than for all of us to be killed in a shooting affray. Anyway, we've practically no ammunition." We briefly took leave of each other. "Call Aldinger, please," he said.

Aldinger had meanwhile been engaged in conversation by the General's escort to keep him away from my father. At my call, he came running upstairs. He, too, was struck cold when he heard what was happening. My father now spoke more quickly. He again said how useless it was to attempt to defend ourselves. "It's all been prepared to the last detail. I'm to be given a state funeral. I have asked that it should take place in Ulm [a town near Rommel's home]. In a quarter of an hour, you, Aldinger, will receive a telephone call from the Wagnerschule reserve hospital in Ulm to say that I've had a brain seizure on the way to a conference." He looked at his watch. "I must go, they've only given me ten minutes." He quickly took leave of us again. Then we went downstairs together.

We helped my father into his leather coat. Suddenly he pulled out his wallet. "There's still 150 marks in there," he said. "Shall I take the money with me?"

"That doesn't matter now, Herr Field Marshal," said Aldinger.

My father put his wallet carefully back in his pocket. As he went into the hall, his little dachshund which he had been given as a puppy a few months before in France, jumped up at him with a whine of joy. "Shut the dog in the study, Manfred," he said, and waited in the hall with Aldinger while I removed the excited dog and pushed it through the study door. Then we walked out of the house together. The two generals were standing at the garden gate. We walked slowly down the path, the crunch of the gravel sounding unusually loud.

As we approached the generals they raised their right hands in salute. "Herr Field Marshal," Burgdorf said shortly and stood aside for my father to pass through the gate. A knot of villagers stood outside the drive…

The car stood ready. The S.S. driver swung the door open and stood to attention. My father pushed his Marshal's baton under his left arm, and with his face calm, gave Aldinger and me his hand once more before getting in the car.

The two generals climbed quickly into their seats and the doors were slammed. My father did not turn again as the car drove quickly off up the hill and disappeared round a bend in the road. When it had gone Aldinger and I turned and walked silently back into the house…

Twenty minutes later the telephone rang. Aldinger lifted the receiver and my father's death was duly reported.

It was not then entirely clear, what had happened to him after he left us. Later we learned that the car had halted a few hundred yards up the hill from our house in an open space at the edge of the wood. Gestapo men, who had appeared in force from Berlin that morning, were watching the area with instructions to shoot my father down and storm the house if he offered resistance. Maisel and the driver got out of the car, leaving my father and Burgdorf inside. When the driver was permitted to return ten minutes or so later, he saw my father sunk forward with his cap off and the marshal's baton fallen from his hand.
Museum Copy of Rommel's Field Marshall's Baton.
The original which was given by Eisenhower
to Soviet Marshal Zhukov and is in the Russian Archives.
The German government gave Rommel a state funeral. His death was attributed to war wounds.

Funeral procession of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel
Ulm, Germany, 18 Oct 1944

Quotations from Erwin Rommel

For the Allies and Germany it will be the longest day. The longest day.

In the absence of orders, go find something and kill it.

In a man to man fight, the winner is he who has one more round in his magazine.

Courage which goes against military expediency is stupidity, or, if it is insisted upon by a commander, irresponsibility.

Mortal danger is an effective antidote for fixed ideas.

Men are basically smart or dumb and lazy or ambitious. The dumb and ambitious ones are dangerous and I get rid of them. The dumb and lazy ones I give mundane duties. The smart ambitious ones I put on my staff. The smart and lazy ones I make my commanders.

Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning.

Sweat saves blood, blood saves lives, and brains save both.

There are always times where the place of a commander isn’t back with his Major State, but onward with his troops.

For me, soldiers are all equal. Those black people wore your same uniform, fought on your side, and so you will be in the same jail.

Be an example to your men in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don’t in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered, and teach your subordinates to be the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide.

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