30 January, 2012

30 January 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
30 January, 1945       1120

Dearest sweetheart –

Yes – you guessed it – sick call is just about over and it’s a little bit quieter now, but only a little bit quieter. It’s snowing today, as usual, but from what I hear on the radio – our weather isn’t as cold as what you’re getting in Boston. And Boston can get damned cold – as I remember it. We haven’t had it too bad here – all in all – and the past week has been particularly easy. For example, last night about 23 or 25 of the officers were able to get together at Battalion and we actually set up 5 tables of Bridge and played for a couple of hours. What a strange war! That’s the one thing I’ll always remember about it. You’re never miserable or content for any length of time. And if you can manage to stick out the tough episodes – without cracking up – there’s enough opportunity for relaxation. The odd part of it is where and how you relax. You do it usually in the same spot where a short while before – perhaps the night before – you were very tense. And it’s because of that fact that you relax all the harder. I suppose you can call it escape, but it does help.

You write me every now and then that you wonder how I don’t complain more and don’t often seem more discouraged. I’m glad you feel that way, dear, because sometimes I feel as if my letters must sound awfully depressing to you – although the Lord knows I try not to make them so. If I’m not always blue and morose as so many around me are – it’s because I insist in making everything connected with this war – a temporary phenomenon. I just can’t help getting a tremendous lift when I realize that someday this will be over and behind me – and I’ll be back with you – the sweetest girl a guy could wish to come home to. Your constancy and good spirit about all that has gone on has truly been an inspiration to me, sweetheart, and I’ll never be able to repay you adequately. Your letters to me have been steady, sweet, sincere – and appreciative of what we have had to put up with – and that’s almost more than a fellow can expect. My own letters to you have been steady, too, and that has been as much a surprise to me as perhaps to you – considering where we’ve been these past 7 months. But except under very unusual circumstances – you can most often find a time of the day in which to jot a note a least. What else my letters have been to you, darling, I don’t know. They’re not always what you’d like them to be, I know that – but sweetheart – writing is sometimes so very difficult; if it’s not cold, it may be wet; it’s almost never quiet – and more often than not the place is crowded with soldiers on sick-call waiting for a ride back to their outfit or for our run to the Hospital. The phone rings almost as much as yours, I’ll bet, and 50% of the time I have to speak; the other 50% my staff sergeant takes care of things. But with all the confusion – etc, and discounting my mental state – which isn’t always tops by any manner of means – I know each and every morning that I want to sit down and write or talk to you and I don’t feel content until I at least start. Perhaps I don’t always succeed in telling you just how much I love you and why, but that thought is always in my heart and I just know, darling, that you must be fully aware of that by now. Oh there are thousands of details – it seems to me – that we’ll have to take up when I get back; but one of them will not be the question of our love for each other – and that is the most important thing of all. And with that thought, darling, I think I’ll have to stop because I’m late. I hope you’re well, dear, taking care of yourself for me and loving me. All my love for now, sweetheart – and remember – you’ll have it for always.
P.S. By the way – I love you!


about the Effort in the Eifel
Part 2

As previously mentioned, the 1st Infantry and 82d Airborne Divisions of the XVIII Airborne Corps opened the attack on 28 January. The next day the VIII Corps attacked with the 87th, 4th, and 90th Divisions. On the 30th, the V Corps jumped off in the north. The following excerpt comes from "U.S. Army in WWII European Theater of Operations: The Last Offensive" by Charles B. MacDonald for the Department of the Army's Office of the Chief of Military History, published in 1973 in Washington, D.C. The pictures come from other sites on the internet.
The story of all these first attacks could be told almost in a word: weather. By the end of January the month's unusually heavy snowfall and low temperatures had left a snow cover one to two feet deep everywhere and in some places drifts up to a man's waist. Snow glazed the hills, choked the valleys and the roads, and hid the enemy's mines. On the first day, it snowed again all day and into the night.

Plowing through the deep snow, the two divisions of the XVIII Airborne Corps encountered only sporadic opposition, often taking the form of occasional patrols or scattered rifle fire. Yet men marching all day through the snow even without sight or sound of the enemy were exhausted when night came from sheer physical exertion. It would take the two divisions four full days to traverse the eight to twelve miles from their jump-off positions to the high ground confronting the West Wall in the Losheim Gap, a key route from Belgium into Germany.

A Part of Losheim - Today

It was in some ways a curious twilight war. One night, for example, a patrol from the 82d Airborne Division, sent to investigate a report that the adjacent 87th Division had occupied a village near Losheim, found no soldiers, American or German. Behind blackout curtains the villagers had their lights on. Now and then a shell crashed nearby, and between times the paratroopers could hear babies crying.

On the other hand, an enemy who was nowhere in particular might be anywhere.

As happened at the village of Holzheim, where on 29 January a company of the 82d Airborne's 508th Parachute Infantry seized 80 prisoners while overrunning the village. Leaving the prisoners under a 4-man guard, the bulk of the company had moved on when a German patrol sneaked back into the village, overpowered the guards, and freed the prisoners. Onto this scene stumbled the company's first sergeant. Surprised, he pretended to surrender, but as the Germans moved to disarm him, he swung his submachine gun from his shoulder and opened fire. Seizing German weapons, the 4-man guard joined the fight. In the melee that ensued, 21 Germans were killed and the rest again surrendered.

Aerial View of Holzheim, Germany - Today
(From Google Maps)

Or as happened one night early in the attack when a platoon of paratroopers advanced down a narrow road between three-foot banks of snow thrown up by German plows. Three tanks rumbled between the files of riflemen. Out of the darkness, dead ahead, suddenly appeared a German company, marching forward in close formation. The banks of hard snow on either side of the road meant no escape for either force. The paratroopers opened fire first, their accompanying tanks pouring withering machine gun fire into the massed enemy. Surprised and without comparable fire support, unable to scatter or retreat, the Germans had no chance. Almost 200 were killed; a handful surrendered. Not an American was hurt.
According to General Hodge's diary, 1000 prisoners of war were taken by First Army on the 29th, and more than a thousand were taken on the 30th.

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