Memories of WWII
By Buell R. Graves, Co. M, 272 Infantry
(As told to Sarah Jones, daughter)
I started out in the newly formed 98th Infantry Division. They were getting ready to ship us out and gave us all a physical. I had a hernia so they put me in a hospital and operated on me. While I was there, the 98th got shipped out and went to the South Pacific for training. I guess I was lucky to get left behind; a boy I knew got his arm blown off during training. (As it turns out, the 98th served almost the entire time in Hawaii and never saw battle - guess I wasn't so lucky after all).
When I got out of the hospital, I was transferred to Camp Shelby, Mississippi and into the 69th Infantry Division. it had been activated in WWI then deactivated. We reactivated it. We trained and got that division in top shape. I made corporal in Mississippi.
I was in a transportation company. We didn't have a paved lot for our vehicles. We'd stick a screwdriver down in the ground and run a wire from it to the sparkplug of the jeep. you touched anywhere on that jeep and it would shock the fire out of you. We pulled that several times on one old boy.
We were about to get shipped out and they gave us these little pocket Spanish language books. We just knew we were going to the South Pacific. I guess they did that to cover up where we were going. We got on trains and shipped out and we went all over the country on those trains. I know we went through the Carolinas, I know. Didn't stop over anywhere.
We wound up at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey across the bay from New York where we stayed for a few days. I wasn't interested in a pass to New York but I went with one of the boys to a night club. He was drinking and a woman in a fur coat came up to the bar beside him. They went to the back to dance. When they came back, she claimed he'd stolen her purse. That old boy was about to crawl all over that gal and I had to get him out of there quick!
We got on ferryboats, and went to New York Harbor. I saw the Statue of Liberty. We loaded on boats: a big troop ship. This was probably the MS Santa Maria. Bunks were about one and a half feet apart, one on top of the other. You had to slide in, you couldn't climb in. This was in the winter and there was a storm all the way over. I got seasick. All the food I could eat was a little pat of butter smeared on a piece of bread. We were 13 days at sea. The whole time that ship would zigzag every five minutes. You threw up over the side or wherever you could get to.
It took three hours to feed us a meal. Took that long to move through the line. The line wound down the stairs and back upstairs down in the ship. By the time you got there a lot the guys would get seasick: all that steam and stuff coming up, and they would have to get out of line. The sea was so rough, the dishes would slide back and forth on the tables. We landed at Liverpool, England. Before we got there, we'd hear these big booms; it would shake the whole ship. They were getting rid of the depth charges. Pushing 'em off the back of the ship. I guess you weren't allowed to go in with those on the ship.
We got to Southampton, England. We were sent to a camp South of London, in Winchester, England. They had a beautiful cathedral there and we got to visit it once. We lived in metal Quonset huts. They had dirt floors. They had a stove in the middle. I guess they were gas stoves, I don't remember bringing in any coal**. There were shed latrines with 5 -gallon buckets with stools on them. An old farmer and his wife would come in every morning and empty them. They used to call that old woman "Gravel Gertie", she was real dirty looking.
It was cold and foggy. Boy, it was cold. You couldn't see 40 feet in front of you on the roads for the fog. It didn't clear up until midday.
We stayed there and trained. The Battle of the Bulge was going on at this time, in 1944. On Christmas Day they called us in and gave us a pep talk. They had to have troops to replace the ones killed in the Bulge. They were going to split the division and send half of us over. I guess that was another luck time for me - I didn't get picked.
We had to wait there for more troops to fill our division. I got to go to London on a 3 day pass once. We stayed at the Royal Crown Hotel on Piccadilly Street. We mostly just walked around and looked at everything. They had a big party at the hotel on New Years Eve. There were girls all around. I hadn't ever heard of mistletoe before but I learned. Those girls were nice, They made you feel at home.
I remember the English Red Cross. They'd toast bread and cheese in the oven for us. I thought that was the best thing I'd ever eaten in my life.
When we shipped out, the Battle of the Ardennes Forest was in progress. We crossed the English Channel and landed in Le Havre, France. There was a blizzard and when we landed the drifts were piled up on the buildings. Snow was about 2 feet deep. The city was flattened; there were no buildings left standing.
At this time, I was a corporal in Co. M, 272 Infantry in charge of 7 jeeps with trailers with an 81mm mortar company. We kept them supplied with shells.
We went through Belgium, France and hit the Ardennes Forest where the fighting had been. I don't know how many miles of timber there was. There were some big trees. Every one was broken off about 8-10 feet off the ground where they'd shelled. There were dead Germans, shells, ammunition all around.
We were moving up, up around the Siegfried Line, over this mountain. When we got to Germany, our division slipped in and took over the 99th division's 81mm mortars and they slipped out and took ours. They got up and we got in their foxholes and gun emplacements and they came back and got in ours.
One of the worst times was when we were moving up. We were moving pretty fast taking 3-4 towns a day. One town, they were shelling us and we were ordered to move back. We shelled that town to bits.
If we ever got a new recruit, if he made it over the first three or four days without getting killed, it looked like he'd make it.
It was cold. Once, we stayed in an old barn. The German soldiers had been slipping in and out of our area wearing US army overcoats. The order came down that anybody caught wearing an overcoat that night would be shot. We had to leave our coats there. They got 'em to us later.
We went through Dusseldorf and Cologne, Germany. One of my drivers ran over a land mine and was killed. Blew that jeep a hundred feet into the air. Just before the bridge at Remagen collapsed, some of our troops got across.
We were in a battle at Kassel, Germany and took Leipzig. The zoo there had been torn up and the wild animals were running loose in the streets.
At the Elbe River we were given order to stop. Eisenhower was supposed to cross the Elbe and meet the Russians but some of our men crossed the river and met 'em instead.
The Russians had horse drawn chow wagons. The only motorized vehicles the Russians had were US. The Russians would come down those streets full blast. At night you could see the sparks coming off their hooves. The Russians were a rough bunch. We were staying in one house and across the street lived two pretty young girls. One day, I saw two Russians coming out of their house putting their clothes back on. I knew they'd raped those two girls. Those Russians would rape a woman wherever they found her.
After the war was over, I didn't have quite enough points to come home yet. I was transferred to an ordinance company. I broke my hand and was flown back to the states.
I've had a good life. I married and have 3 daughters, 4 grandchildren, and 2 great grandchildren. I was Sheriff of Cullman County for 2 terms and retired to farm a little. If anyone in my old company would like to contact me, my address is: Buell R. Graves, 147 Co. Rd. 765, Cullman, AL 355055
**Note by site Engineer: The stoves in the huts in England were heated with coke, a foul smelling ore that had to be started with coal.