04 April, 2012

04 April 1945

438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
4 April, 1945      0850

Dearest sweetheart –

Well – I feel all pepped up this morning – even so early – and this time it’s from an unusual cause, dear. Last night we got a quota for 1 officer to go to England on 7 Day’s Leave and 3 officers to go to Paris on a 3 day pass. The first name out of the English hat was mine. I didn’t know what to do at first, but I ended up by declining. There are several reasons, too, one of them being the long distance to the coast from here; another is that I’ve seen London – and a good part of England up, down and sideways; and finally, from what we’ve heard – you have to waste a good deal of time at the channel ports until you actually get across – both coming and going.

All in all – it’s about a 3 week affair and I don’t want to be away for that length of time. Well – another officer was chosen. Then came the Paris drawings (sounds like a lottery, doesn’t it?) and sure enough – I was the first out of the hat – and hell – I accepted. I’ve never before been so lucky in winning drawings – and don’t forget – a couple of months ago – I was picked to go to Brussels and turned that down. Anyway, dear, Paris is a 3 day affair – not counting traveling time. It’s a long way back, at that, and all in all – I’ll be away from Battalion about a week. But a pass doesn’t count as time off, while a 7 day’s leave in England – would. There’ll be 3 of us going from Headquarters – which makes it nice, too. We’ll have to get an early night’s sleep tonite and start out very early tomorrow a.m. We drive a certain distance, and somewhere on the other side of the Rhine – we make train connections. My writing will necessarily be spotty, darling, because it will be impossible to write going there and coming back – but I’ll do the best I can – and I know you’ll understand. I’m rather looking forward to getting away from the routine. The last time was about 5 months ago when I went to Verviers. Since then we’ve seen a might lot of action, believe me.

Other than that, dear, there isn’t much news. Yesterday was a quiet day for the most part. I believe I told you about our flag. I went up to see how it was coming out – the Nuns in the village are making it – and they’re doing a swell job. I was amazed to see one Nun working on the stars. She’s embroidering them – or some such thing and we’re going to have a class A flag.

Later in the day I went down to a prisoner of war enclosure that we’re taking care of here. There was a mob of them – and a sad lot, too. They had been out in the rain – and it would have been easy to have felt sorry for them – if you didn’t remember vividly their dirty work in the Belgian bulge. Every American soldier swears when he thinks of it – and when I left the P.W. area – I was sorry only that the weather wasn’t freezing – as it was in Belgium.

I read your letter in which you told me of your visit with Verna and Irv – and staying over. It sounded quite cozy and made me homesick – but in a pleasant way. You told me how you’re always thinking and talking about me – and it really thrills me, sweetheart, to realize that I occupy so much of your thoughts. I’m thrilled particularly – because the reverse is true. I want – as much as you – to be your husband, and I have – in fact – lived the past over in my mind so often and so thoroughly, that often it doesn’t seem as if we were merely engaged. Despite separation, distance et al – I feel tremendously close and accustomed to you in every respect. It’s going to be very easy to step right into the role – darling – wait and see. Above all – we’ve got to hang on in these closing months – and I think they are closing. One of the reasons I didn’t want to go to London is that I was afraid I wouldn’t be around for the kill – and sweetheart – after all this time – it’s worth being around for.

And then dear – perhaps I’ll have that chance to come home and tell you I love you and want you to be mine alone – What a day! Better close now, get some things done, and see what I have to get ready for tomorrow. Until later, then, so long – love to the folks and

All my everlasting love


about Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosures

By April of 1945, the Allied Armies had swept across the Rhine, deep into Germany. About 200,000 German prisoners were already taken, and the number increased day by day. The Ruhr pocket brought in an additional 300,000 men, who had to be processed through Allied hands responsible for guarding and processing German POW's in the area around the Rhine river.

The Rhine Meadow Camps (Rheinwiesenlager) was the official name of the Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosures (PWTE). The group of 19 transit camps held about one million German POWs. The camps were founded in April 1945 and remained in existence until September. There was a similar plan for the construction of all the camps. Open farmland close to a village with a railroad line was enclosed with barbed wire and divided into 10 - 20 sub-camps, each housing 5,000 to 10,000 men. Existing field paths were used as streets of the camp and surrounding buildings as the administration, kitchen and hospital. The prisoners of war, forced to surrender their equipment, had to dig holes in the earth by hand.

Map of Rheinwiesenlager Locations

The Eaglehorse (2nd Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment) web site explains the situation:
U.S. Commanders and leaders at all levels were to insure that prisoners were disarmed, interrogated when possible for locally important information and then sent quickly to the rear. Combat troops handed responsibility off for POWs as soon as possible with battalion and division support troops usually shepherding long German columns to the rear. POW camps were the responsibility of the Military Police within Corps and Army rear areas but by the Spring of 1945, their numbers were stretched thin by the sheer volume they faced and under utilized units with no formal training in prisoner administration increasingly were ordered to the POW task.

In central Germany, the number of POWs reached proportions that began to strain the abilities of U.S. forces to adequately process the vast broken army. The Wehrmacht was dissolving and given the choice between surrendering to the Americans or the Russians, the roads and forests became choked with unarmed soldiers in gray fleeing to the west - southwest to reach American custody, hide in the woods or simply make their way home. In the British sectors of responsibility, surrendering Germans were often directed, led or chased towards the boundary with U.S. forces. The numbers of POWs were astounding.

Aerial View of a Prisoner of War Temporary Enclosure

At the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, to help guard all the prisoners, additional forces were allocated to include the men from most of the U.S. anti - aircraft battalions deployed in Germany. From 30 March until 5 April 1945 this included the 438th AAA Aw Bn (Mob). Open air camps holding tens of thousands of men became the norm, the prisoners had no shelter beyond the tent halves they may have brought with them. There was no running water or sanitary facilities. Logisticians tried to insure that at a minimum, each POW received one C ration per day.

Camp administrators organized captured German medics and doctors to form local POW hospitals overseen by Allied medical personnel. It was said that sufficient medical measures prevented mass death from disease. Nonetheless, credible estimates for German POW deaths in these camps range from about 3,000 to 10,000, in most part occurring from starvation, dehydration and exposure to the weather elements. Thousands more would have died of exposure were it not for the late Spring of 1945 being relatively mild.

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