issue 20 :: September 2011

previous contents

LETTERS: From My Grandfather Joseph,
Stationed in Germany, 1945

This typewritten letter from my father's father, a quartermaster in the U.S. Army, was sent to his brother, who was stationed in the Pacific at the time. My grandfather died when I was young, and I remember photos of him more than the actual man. -Josh Ronsen
Saturday, 26 May 1945
Hello Ben,
Your letter of May 2 arrived last night to remind me that I havenít written you in some time. Your guess that Germany would fold up between May 23 and May 28 is now proved by events to have been only slightly pessimistic. When the Jerries started to fold up during the latter part of March we all knew it was only a question of days.
The last campaign we participated in was the liquidation of the Ruhr pocket where we took prisoners in droves daily--a total of 317,000 after intelligence had only calculated about 90,000 at the start of the campaign. Towards the final stages minor German officers were handing out scribbled, but worthless, discharges to the men who started to filter through our lines in civilian clothing all set to go home. They didnít get far.
After the Ruhr pocket we set out for the interior of Germany, but stopped far short inasmuch as Jerry was collapsing all along the line and there was no further need for heavy artillery to be expended and we remained in reserve until the end which found us in the vicinity of Frankenburg--about 150 miles east of Cologne on the Rhine where we have become garrison soldiers with reveille formations, road marches, uniform regulations and all the pettiness of camp life. Fortunately, as part of a service unit (still have to draw rations, clothes and equipment) I am relieved from much of it. Three of the batteries are occupying towns, performing occupation duties like checking civilian movements, passes, etc., while another battery has set up a Jerry prison camp which now takes care of over 3,000. They do their own management, cooking, policing but there is terrible bad blood between the SS and regular [German] army troops and many a fight amongst them which doesnít bother us in the least. In addition there are some strong Poles among them who love neither and make free use of their rubber truncheons.
We have 5 campaign stars to our credit to make my discharge score 72. We are waiting for the critical score to be announced but I am resigned to remaining in until the end of the Pacific war although I hope to spend the reminder of the time in the States--I may be wrong for no one can predict Army policy. We are now merely sweating out shipping space which is critical. Our present duties are only temporary until the British take over their sector in a few weeks. If all goes well I should be home on furlough the early part of August; then wait for developments as to whether I shall accompany the unit to the Pacific.
I do not share your pessimism concerning the length of time it will take to defeat the Japs. If you could see the vast amount of equipment which we have built up here while fighting 2 wars you would be a little more cheerful about the matter. When all this is now diverted to the Pacific the pace of success would be faster. Some of our air power, once here, has already been in action over your theatre as as soon as the Japs are sufficiently softened up by air I expect land invasions simultaneously on the Jap, China mainland. Everyone expects the Russians to join and I cannot see how they can possibly stay out since they will undoubtedly want to have a say as to matters in that part of the world.
Germany is a very pretty country. It has plenty of land (despite the propaganda). Its cities, mostly devastated, were once modern. The many small villages are backward. Most of the farming is done by hand or by horse or cow drawn plows. The holdings are small--each family has its plot, cows, fowl. The manure is stacked up in the front yard. The outhouses are pumped regularly and the contents strewn over the sown ground. And like all European countries the women do the bulk of the backbreaking work in these farm areas.
The girls are genuinely pretty and althoí fraternization is punished and severely limited officially, it goes on a grand scale, particularly at night. They have been without young men for so long and our boys have been away for so many months that it is a perfect set-up. Besides the morals of European girls are not like ours back home.
This period of waiting for the return home is pretty hard, but life among us is as pleasant as can be. I am with a grand bunch; we play 500 rummy every night (that is those who do not go out). We have plenty to eat and not so much to drink. Of all the areas we have been in this the poorest. In other places the cellars were stocked with wines and liquors and souvenirs were aplenty, but this is definitely not one of those places and it is not a fitting way to end the war.
I saw my sister Libby a couple of weeks ago in the vicinity of Frankfurt, the captain giving me and a buddy a 3-day pass. I intend to see her again Tuesday for the purpose of taking a radio to her. She expects to remain here for another year inasmuch as replacements among the Wacs are not available, but she is thoroughly adjusted althoí the life of the girls is a restricted one. For my part, I donít think their being in the Army has been a success--there are too few of them to count; they need special treatment and I doubt whether it has been as great a morale booster as they would have you think. The girls feel however, they are releasing the men for combat which makes their job worthwhile. I think the same result could be accomplished if they cut administrative details down--there is a tremendous amount of brass and non-coms in higher headquarters.
I am not at all pleased with the way we are running the show here. We are not severe enough with these people and we do little to make them feel guilty. We have yet to bring one of their prominent leaders to trial or execution. Mussolini died at the hands of some of his people; Himmler, Goering, Hitler committed suicide. What about the others who have been captured. Goebbels was actually feted when taken prisoner and our boys were made to salute high ranking prisoners. There is much to be done in preventing another war.
I am sending a copy of this to Dotty to whom, including Aunt Rose, I owe many apologies for not acknowledging directly a parcel I received last December and which I enjoyed and also a Christmas card from Dotty. I hope to make this negligence up when I return.
Everything continues to run smoothly at 864 and I expect to see my son [my uncle Martin; my father would not be born until 1947. -Ed.] shortly. I hope it wonít belong before you do. My best to you as ever,
previous contents