14 February, 2012

14 February 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
14 February, 1945       1000
Germany
My dearest sweetest Valentine –

I hope you’ll excuse me for neglecting you – I so enjoyed the Valentines you sent me, dear – and I felt terrible that I hadn’t been able to send you at least one. You’ll just have to understand that Valentines were farthest from all our minds about the time they should have been sent out and they were unobtainable, anyway. I hope, though, that you received some notice of the day from me.

The Germans don’t know about Valentine’s Day, it seems, and so the War goes on with no display of hearts and flowers. We’re not making the news these days, darling, but believe me when I say that for some of the boys the fighting and the horrors of war are just as bitter as if we were making the headlines.

Yesterday was a dull, boring, long day – and I was glad when it was over. It seemed to drag more than even other slow days. I did manage to get over to a bath-house they have in this city and soak in a tub for about an hour – and then I took a shower. Boy! That’s really something. When we were in this city last – the place wasn’t open. Since then it was taken over by an American outfit which employs German laborers and they draw the water for the tub and clean up after you. When we first got here we all took 3 baths in a row to soak some of the dirt off us – it really was a relief.


I came across a letter of yours written 26 Dec. You had been to a party and had met a Bob Sherman and a Herb Almtuck. I believe I remember the Sherman boy. I can’t understand why he’s not in the service. As I remember him – he was a harmless enough sort of fellow and not overbright. I don’t know the other guy. He must have been in another class although he’s right about Leo Waitzkin. We were very friendly at Harvard and at Tufts although I’ve lost track of him since the war. He was doing Public Health work in Virginia when I last heard from him. He was quite an English scholar, by the way and got a Summa Cum and Phi Bet at Harvard for writing a brilliant thesis in his senior year on some obscure details about Shakespeare’s early days. It attracted the attention of Kittredge at the time.

I’m glad and happy, darling, that you can meet so-called eligible young men and not feel that you’re wasting your time waiting for me. I hope and feel certain you won’t be sorry. If you can still feel that way – that’s the test, I guess. I haven’t had a similar opportunity – although we did meet quite a few people in England. Needless to tell you again, sweetheart, you’re the girl for me and no one else will do!! I love you so deeply and earnestly – I don’t believe I’ve ever really been able to convey to you how much – and I left too darn soon to be able to show you. You must believe me, sweetheart, when I tell you that I love you more than anything or anyone in the world and from the day I knew we were engaged – my entire vision of my future life became centered on you. You’ll never doubt that either – when I get back and show you what I mean –

All for now, darling, got to do a couple of things. Love to the folks – and

My deepest love is yours –
Greg

* TIDBIT *

about Personal Accounts of
The Bombing of Dresden

Here are a few personal memories of the bombing of Dresden. The first is from the web site 384th Bomb Group Memories, originating from a book written and formerly published by Ken Decker of New York. The last two are from survivors of the bombings.
Again, no losses today. Jules Levison (Radio/gunner) describes the mission:
I was not scheduled to fly but Jerry Jerome's brother decided to get sick, so I had to fly in his place. I was kind of sore at first but later on was glad. Russ Holtz also flew on the crew and the pilot was Lt. Russell E Carlson.

At the request of the Russians, the target was Dresden as the Germans were sending a lot of traffic through that town. We hit the Marshaling Yards with eight 500GPs and two M-17 incendiaries. The Germans say that all we did was kill a lot of evacuees but personally it wouldn't surprise me to find out that we knocked out a locomotive or two.

On the way in we had to fly over the Zuider Zee, which is the home of Herman and his 4 guns. Herman is a German stationed on the Zuider Zee who fires his 4 guns at you when you fly over. He was a Corporal and one day he actually shot down a plane and they made him a Sergeant. Well, they must have made him a Staff because he got a plane in the group ahead of us. We saw it go down in a tight spin and only saw one chute open. It wasn't a pretty sight.

On the way home our gas was getting low so after much discussion we decided to land in Brussels, Belgium. I sent in a message to Combat Wing that we were landing there so we wouldn't be MIA.

We had quite a time in Brussels until our money ran out. Night clubs, clean sheets, good food, etc. We were there four days. On the second day the weather cleared and we could have taken off but the pilot was in town drunk. The next day we were all set to take off, there were 19 men in the plane as we were taking back a crew that had crashed. Everybody had a bottle of beer and the pilot was running up the engines with one hand and drinking beer with the other.
This memory is from Lothar Metzger, a survivor of the bombing.
About 9:30 pm the alarm was given. We children knew that sound and got up and dressed quickly, to hurry downstairs into our cellar which we used as an air raid shelter. My older sister and I carried my baby twin sisters, my mother carried a little suitcase and the bottles with milk for our babies. On the radio we heard with great horror the news: "Attention, a great air raid will come over our town!" This news I will never forget.

Some minutes later we heard a horrible noise - the bombers. There were nonstop explosions. Our cellar was filled with fire and smoke and was damaged, the lights went out and wounded people shouted dreadfully. In great fear we struggled to leave this cellar. My mother and my older sister carried the big basket in which the twins were lain. With one hand I grasped my younger sister and with the other I grasped the coat of my mother.

We did not recognize our street anymore. Fire, only fire wherever we looked. Our 4th floor did not exist anymore. The broken remains of our house were burning. On the streets there were burning vehicles and carts with refugees, people, horses, all of them screaming and shouting in fear of death. I saw hurt women, children, old people searching a way through ruins and flames.

We fled into another cellar overcrowded with injured and distraught men women and children shouting, crying and praying. No light except some electric torches. And then suddenly the second raid began. This shelter was hit too, and so we fled through cellar after cellar. Many, so many, desperate people came in from the streets. It is not possible to describe! Explosion after explosion. It was beyond belief, worse than the blackest nightmare. So many people were horribly burnt and injured. It became more and more difficult to breathe. It was dark and all of us tried to leave this cellar with inconceivable panic. Dead and dying people were trampled upon, luggage was left or snatched up out of our hands by rescuers. The basket with our twins covered with wet cloths was snatched up out of my mother's hands and we were pushed upstairs by the people behind us. We saw the burning street, the falling ruins and the terrible firestorm. My mother covered us with wet blankets and coats she found in a water tub.

We saw terrible things: cremated adults shrunk to the size of small children, pieces of arms and legs, dead people, whole families burnt to death, burning people ran to and fro, burnt coaches filled with civilian refugees, dead rescuers and soldiers, many were calling and looking for their children and families, and fire everywhere, everywhere fire, and all the time the hot wind of the firestorm threw people back into the burning houses they were trying to escape from.

I cannot forget these terrible details. I can never forget them.
Here is another memory from a survivor in the city, Margaret Freyer.
The firestorm is incredible, there are calls for help and screams from somewhere but all around is one single inferno.To my left I suddenly see a woman. I can see her to this day and shall never forget it. She carries a bundle in her arms. It is a baby. She runs, she falls, and the child flies in an arc into the fire.

Suddenly, I saw people again, right in front of me. They scream and gesticulate with their hands, and then — to my utter horror and amazement — I see how one after the other they simply seem to let themselves drop to the ground. (Today I know that these unfortunate people were the victims of lack of oxygen). They fainted and then burnt to cinders.

Insane fear grips me and from then on I repeat one simple sentence to myself continuously: "I don't want to burn to death". I do not know how many people I fell over. I know only one thing: that I must not burn.
Finally, this from a woman named Elisabeth. Elisabeth, who was a young woman of around 20 at the time of the Dresden bombing, has written memoirs for her children in which she describes what happened to her in Dresden. She was in her late 70’s at the time of her writing. First she sought shelter in the basement of the house in which she lived. Her story continues..
Then the detonation of bombs started rocking the earth and in a great panic, everybody came rushing down. The attack lasted about half an hour. Our building and the immediate surrounding area had not been hit. Almost everybody went upstairs, thinking it was over but it was not. The worst was yet to come and when it did, it was pure hell. During the brief reprieve, the basement had filled with people seeking shelter, some of whom were wounded from bomb shrapnel.

One soldier had a leg torn off. He was accompanied by a medic, who attended to him but he was screaming in pain and there was a lot of blood. There also was a wounded woman, her arm severed just below her shoulder and hanging by a piece of skin. A military medic was looking after her, but the bleeding was severe and the screams very frightening.

Then the bombing began again. This time there was no pause between detonations and the rocking was so severe, we lost our balance, and were tossed around in the basement like a bunch of ragdolls. At times the basement walls were separated and lifted up. We could see the flashes of the fiery explosions outside. There were a lot of fire bombs and canisters of phosphorous being dumped everywhere. The phosphorus was a thick liquid that burned upon exposure to air and as it penetrated cracks in buildings, it burned wherever it leaked through. The fumes from it were poisonous. When it came leaking down the basement steps somebody yelled to grab a beer (there was some stored where we were), soak a cloth, a piece of your clothing, and press it over your mouth and nose. The panic was horrible. Everybody pushed, shoved and clawed to get a bottle.

I had pulled off my underwear and soaked the cloth with the beer and pressed it over my nose and mouth. The heat in that basement was so severe it only took a few minutes to make that cloth bone dry. I was like a wild animal, protecting my supply of wetness. I don’t like to remember that.

The bombing continued. I tried bracing myself against a wall. That took the skin off my hands – the wall was so hot. The last I remember of that night is loosing my balance, holding onto somebody but falling and taking them too, with them falling on top of me. I felt something crack inside. While I lay there I had only one thought – to keep thinking. As long as I know I’m thinking, I am alive, but at some point I lost consciousness.

The next thing I remember is feeling terribly cold. I then realized I was lying on the ground, looking into the burning trees. It was daylight. There were animals screeching in some of them. Monkeys from the burning zoo. I started moving my legs and arms. It hurt a lot but I could move them. Feeling the pain told me that I was alive. I guess my movements were noticed by a soldier from the rescue and medical corps.

The corps had been put into action all over the city and it was they who had opened the basement door from the outside. Taking all the bodies out of the burning building. Now they were looking for signs of life from any of us. I learned later that there had been over a hundred and seventy bodies taken out of that basement and twenty seven came back to life. I was one of them – miraculously!

They then attempted to take us out of the burning city to a hospital. The attempt was a gruesome experience. Not only were the buildings and the trees burning but so was the asphalt on the streets. For hours, the truck had to make a number of detours before getting beyond the chaos. But before the rescue vehicles could get the wounded to the hospitals, enemy planes bore down on us once more. We were hurriedly pulled off the trucks and placed under them. The planes dived at us with machine guns firing and dropped more fire bombs.

The memory that has remained so vividly in my mind was seeing and hearing humans trapped, standing in the molten, burning asphalt like living torches, screaming for help which was impossible to give. At the time I was too numb to fully realize the atrocity of this scene but after I was “safe” in the hospital, the impact of this and everything else threw me into a complete nervous breakdown. I had to be tied to my bed to prevent me from severely hurting myself physically. There I screamed for hours and hours behind a closed door while a nurse stayed at my bedside.

I am amazed at how vivid all of this remains in my memory. It is like opening a floodgate. This horror stayed with me in my dreams for many years. I am grateful that I no longer have a feeling of fury and rage about any of these experiences any more – just great compassion for everybody’s pain, including my own.

The Dresden experience has stayed with me very vividly through my entire life. The media later released that the number of people who died during the bombing was estimated in excess of two hundred and fifty thousand – over a quarter of a million people. This was due to all the refugees who came fleeing from the Russians, and Dresden’s reputation as a safe city. There were no air raid shelters there because of the Red Cross agreement.

What happened with all the dead bodies? Most were left buried in the rubble. I think Dresden became one mass grave. It was not possible for the majority of these bodies to be identified. And therefore next of kin were never notified. Countless families were left with mothers, fathers, wives, children and siblings unaccounted for to this day.

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