13 March, 2012

13 March 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
13 March, 1945      0930

My dearest darling Wilma –

Well – we’re a bit more settled today and I won’t mind if we stay awhile. This spot is O.K. – and it took me all the way back to my fraternity days – the way we sat and lounged around last evening. A radio was going continuously, as was a game of Bridge. The rest of the fellows were sitting around – reading or writing. Hell – except for occasional artillery of both varieties – you’d hardly think there was a war on.

I can’t seem to remember what I wrote you in yesterday’s V-Mail, dear – but if I didn’t tell you I love you – I ought to be whipped. Anyway – I do – and more strongly than ever, sweetheart, and that’s a healthy sign. And loving you as I do, I aim to marry you and make you my own for always. Is that clear?

Now that that’s settled, I guess we can take up the business of the day. First matter on the docket is to tell you that I love you very strongly today, too! Well! Well! – let’s get along here – we don’t seem to be making very much progress. I don’t know – I’d be more careful before making a statement like that. For example, Al Smith used to say, let’s look at the facts: I tell you I love you and you say the same; I want to kiss you, hold you, squeeze you – and generally love you up and down; you agree to that. Hell – if that’s not progress – then I can’t think of a better word. All right, all right – let’s not argue about it – all I wanted to do – was to get going on this letter. Well – what’s the g-d’d rush, anyway? The hell with the letter – I want to clear up this ‘love’ situation. Am I going to be able to bring it up when I want to – or not? If not – so help me. I’ll stop right now and let you imagine what else I was going to write.

To go on – then – remember that I can write what I want and as often as I wish – on any subject too. Now – if we were married right now – and you were in my clutches – and honestly, I mean ‘clutches’ – you’d be continuously gasping for breath. I really think you’d better fit yourself for a good oxygen-concentrating mask, sweetheart – because I won’t let you come up for air very often – and when I do – it will be for only seconds at a time; you’ll then be able to clasp your mask on quickly, and as soon as your color changes from blue to pink – we’ll start all over again. What a wonderful way to become breathless, darling! Just thinking about it now makes me gasp – psychically only – of course – but these are hard times – and we can’t complain. Pity those who don’t even have that!

And when we’re all alone – by ourselves, with no one to disturb us, I’ll look at you, hold you tightly to me – and tell you all the nice things I wanted to before I left you – and didn’t dare – and all the things I’ve stored up in me all these long months. And we’ll be happy.

Hell, sweetheart – I didn’t tell you much news today – and this didn’t turn out to be much of a letter. But I don’t want to change the mood. So for now, dearest, so long, be well, send my love to the folks – and always always remember that I am

Yours alone


about Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives

The Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives branch (MFA&A) of the U.S. Army had not developed even to the modest proportions envisioned in early 1944 when the U.S. entered Germany. SHAEF and 12th Army Group had MFA&A sections in the G-5, and each "E" detachment had space for one MFA&A officer. In the advance in March and April 1945, the armies employed one officer apiece on detached service from the E detachments. On the other hand, the monuments multiplied as the front moved into Germany. The monuments, including archives, in the SHAEF official list totaled 1,055 for all Germany. By late March, 12th Army Group had identified 600 in the path of its advance alone. SHAEF had listed 15 monuments in Aachen. After the city was captured, the number rose to 66. The list made no provision at all for art collections, libraries, and archives evacuated from the cities and deposited in remote places to keep them safe during the bombing; and 12th Army Group had found or knew about 115 items in this category before the end of March.

Because of the nature of the war, even having many more MFA&A officers could not have prevented the most extensive losses. The bombs had generally done their work days, weeks, or months before the first Americans appeared on the scene, and MFA&A had left to itself the sad task of assessing what had survived and what was gone for good. In the old city of  Trier, for instance, the only structures found undamaged were the Roman ruins. The bombers had obviously tried to avoid the churches but were only partially successful. The cathedral, the oldest Romanesque church in Germany, had taken one direct hit, and the bell had shaken loose and fallen through the tower. The Liebfrauenkirche, an early Gothic structure dating from the thirteenth century, was badly damaged, and the eighteenth century Paulinuskirche had a hole in its roof. In both structures, all the windows were blown out. The most that could be done was to make the buildings weather-tight to prevent added damage from the elements. In buildings so old, whatever was left was valuable, and close inspection revealed that some things, such as the paintings in the interior pillars of the Liebfrauenkirche, had survived practically intact.

Leibfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Trier
Entry after WWII Damage (above)
and Repaired (below)

Leibfrauenkirche in Trier Today

Probably the least necessary casualties were the castles, of which the Rhineland had a large number. Most, generally located in isolated spots, had come through the bombing well; but castles have military associations, and sometimes the artillery could not resist laying in a few rounds. Castles also were rumored to have fabulous wine cellars, which made them magnets for thirsty troops. They also made attractive command posts and billets, often the only ones for miles around. Unfortunately, because they were generally safe from bombing, the Germans had done nothing to protect the castles or their contents and had used them to store art work and archives evacuated from the cities. From experience, MFA&A officers ranked them as the least safe depositories, after ordinary country houses and far below churches, monasteries, and hospitals. At Rimburg Castle in Aachen, the furniture and art work were scattered, vandalized and thrown into the moat, and the locked rooms broken into and rifled. When Ninth Army G-5 MFA&A advisers later toured, they concluded the destruction was a combined effort among the British, Canadian and American troops. There were slashed pictures and cases of books from the Aachen library broken open with their contents strewn about by souvenir hunters. A castle of the Deutschorden at Siersdorf near Aachen, a division had set up its command post and moved valuable carved panelling from the Aachen Rathaus (city hall) out into the weather where they were ruined. After this, units had been ordered to inventory all valuables and store them under lock and key; but such orders were notoriously hard to enforce in a fluid situation.

One castle which had not escaped the air raids was the Schloss Augustusburg, located in Brühl. Augustusburg had been a fine example of Baroque architecture, complete with a grand staircase, chapel, gardens, and outlying lodge. On 10 October 1944, a single bomb destroyed the north wing. On 28 December, several bombs had hit near the chapel, and the concussions smashed the plaster baroque and rococo interior. On 4 March, two days before the castle fell into American hands, three artillery shells struck the main building. Testimony taken later indicated that no German troops had been in or near the building. One shell blew a corner off the roof. The other two detonated inside and did extensive damage. Before the military government detachment arrived in Brühl, troops bivouacked in the Schloss and caused more damage. Again it was a case of trying to salvage something from the wreckage. Detachment I1D2 found an architect, a master carpenter, and a dozen carpenters and laborers and put them to work patching the roof, shoring up the walls, and putting cardboard in the windows. Material had to be scavenged from other ruins in the city. The detachment stationed two German policemen on the grounds, but they had no authority over US soldiers who continued to go in and out as they pleased. Augustusburg seemed likely to suffer the same treatment as Rimburg.

Front and Back of Castle (Schloss) Augustusburg in Brühl
Today the palace belongs to the government of North Rhine-Westfalia
and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Two Views of the Famous Staircase in Augustusburg Castle

Lt. Col. Webb, SHAEF's MFA&A adviser, toured the two British armies and US Ninth Army in March. Pillage and wanton destruction, he concluded, were at least a combined effort, being as prevalent among the British and Canadians as among the Americans. Aware that the prevailing mood was not one of kindliness toward Germans or their property, he pointed out that the German collections also contained looted art work which the Allies had pledged to restore to their rightful owners, and these pieces too were threatened. SHAEF G-5 forwarded Webb's report, adding, "It is appreciated that a certain amount of 'toughness' may be desirable in occupied territory and it is not suggested that we should instruct our troops to act in Germany as they have usually in liberated territory; nevertheless, it is important that Allied troops should not desecrate churches and should not destroy works of art looted from our allies."

It was, in fact, not a good time to attempt to convert the troops into guardians of German culture. General Smith passed the Webb report on to the army groups with the slightly equivocal comment that looting had to be considered a less despicable offense on enemy territory than on liberated territory but ought to be discouraged for the sake of the restitution policy and "to impress on the inhabitants the fact that their conquerors are superior to them not only in military prowess but in their moral standards."

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