With the crossing of the Rhine, the men in Task Force 30 reassembled in the Dornbusch area, while those in TF 79 moved into their restricted zone. It had not yet been determined whether to return to Briey, and while billets were being sought, the men took advantage of a well-earned rest. Rations, because of the proximity of the well-stocked 9th Army Qm, were the best the men had experienced. Taking full advantage of the situation, Terry’s Tea Room built up its reputation as the best kitchen in the Headquarters, for in addition to serving the Hq and 1st platoons, he had a number of Heater men added to his clientele. Only one meal marred the otherwise perfect cuisine. This occurred when some unknown herbs were inadvertently added to flavor some chopped meat. The resultant gastronomic disturbances entitled the entire mess personnel to a continuous rendition of the then popular dirge, “One Meat Ball.”
The 2nd and 3rd platoons, while not able to enjoy Terry’s culinary treats, partook of another sort of feast. A GI warehouse was discovered enabling all who so desired to stock up on field jackets, shoes, and other hard-to-get equipment, in readiness for the Briey inspections and marche noir. For the latter worthy purpose, a considerable amount of German equipment was liberated. The number of radios, in particular, which showed up in the Caserne the following week, was quite astounding. Looting had been forbidden where the Germans had been forcibly removed from their homes, but where they had abandoned everything, it was excused on the grounds that other Germans would have stolen it if the Americans didn’t.
An administrative change had occurred during the problem when 1st Sgt. Toth was discharged from the Army. Because of this step, Toth was still in uniform when the rest of the outfit had been mustered out, since his discharge was brought about to enable him to accept a “battlefield” commission. He was transferred to the 603rd Engrs, turning his 1st Sgt. job over to Fred Price. Bill Jordan was elevated to the spot of 2nd platoon Sgt. with John Cattani being upped to the position of squad leader, and Pete Maceda to assistant.
Since the billeting party had met with no success, it was decided to return to Briey. Accordingly, the first platoon traffic guides set out early on the morn of March 27th. What had hitherto been considered a good deal was marred considerably by inclement weather. The rest of the outfit, for a change, had the laugh on Lt. Daley’s men, who had to direct traffic in the rain and make the trip in open jeeps. By nightfall, however, the entire organization had made it safely back to the Caserne, with the exception of one 4 ton which was incapacitated outside of Liege.
Ever since early September, rumor had it that as soon as the Rhine River was crossed, there would be no further need for a deception unit in the ETO. Thirty days was the maximum anyone gave for the unit to remain in Europe. The accepted version of the outfit’s redeployment included a trip back to the States for reorganization, reequipping, and further training before leaving for the Pacific. The only other allowable possibility was a trip direct to the Far East, but that we would see China was a foregone conclusion.
Thus it came as somewhat of a shock to hear that Col. Reeder had volunteered the services of his command to Gen. Patton in whatever way he saw fit. For a while terror spread through the ranks, particularly when it was announced that the signal company was being used to lay wire and perform other tasks of a real signal company in conjunction with the spearhead that was heading towards Czechoslovakia (they actually entered that country, too). Imagine if they decided to use the 406 to storm a pill box. Or, pick up mines. Or, put up a pontoon bridge under fire. Or, perform any of the hundreds of combat engineer tasks for which we had supposedly been trained. It was not a pleasant thought. But on April 10th, when the 406th’s mission was announced, the bravado returned to these daring soldiers. What did Patton want the 406 Engr C Co to do for him? Did he have a tough river crossing to make? Noo. Did he need some crack infantry reinforcements? Nooo. Did he need some experienced demolition men to dig out fortress troops? Noooo. Did he even need any permanent bridges fixed in his rear? No. All he wanted from the 406th (and 603rd as well) was to have them feed and care for some Russian and Polish Displaced Persons (hereinafter known as DP’s) who were causing quite a problem for the military government.
Although the men didn’t realize it at the time, this was a large order, enabling them to see more combat (if fist fights can be so termed) than had been possible in their previous activities. Although disappointed in not being able to return to the USA, at least part of the rumors were proved to be correct with the official announcement that Blarney’s mission in the ETO was now at an end. For the first time since their arrival on the continent, the 406 trucks were actually marked with the 406th insignia. To many, the sudden change in events was quite welcome, since it meant that much more time away from the Pacific Theatre of Operations (PTO). Who knows but that this magnanimous act on the part of the Colonel may not have been the deciding factor that kept the unit from the Far Eastern Theatre?
Of all the DP centers that the 23rd Sp Trs was to take over, the one assigned to the 406th sounded like the toughest job and the best deal at one and the same time. Each of the 603rd Companies and Heater was assigned to fairly small camps, but located in beat-up, undesirable spots. The one the combat engineers were to take over was in the relatively unscathed city of Neukirchen. Some 15,000 DP’s were supposed to be turned over to the 406th’s administration on 13 April.
At 0900 on 12 April, the men paid their final respects to Briey. The local populace, with their newly acquired clothes, bicycles, and radios were saddened no less than the Americans by the departure. After a four hour trip the company arrived in Neunkirchen, where lavish, if not spacious living quarters were taken over. The only DP’s in the area, however, were four Ukranian girls who were living in the local bank which served as the officer’s quarters. Headquarters realized its mistake, and was not long in finding another location. Meanwhile the men were kept busy guarding a reported 3 million marks in the bank and guarding, distributing, and consuming the contents of a wine cellar with a seemingly inexhaustible supply. In addition, help was needed by the American Military Government (AMG) of nearby St. Wendel to quell riots that were reported between the Germans and the French. Sgt. Kelleher’s squad was sent to handle this mission.
A DP center worthy of the best administrative efforts the company could put forward was finally found in the town of Baumholder. With their hearts heavy with the news of their Commander in Chief’s death, the company left Neunkirchen at 1430, setting up a bivouac at 1630 in a field on the outskirts of Baumholder. The DP “lager” was to be taken over at 1400 the next day. Meanwhile, the men were briefed about the salient facts known about their future headache.
The camp, situated on a hill overlooking the town, contained about 15,000 Russians and a thousand or so minority groups. About 5,000 women were included in these figures, of whom a large percentage were said to be pregnant. In addition to reiterating the order that all persons in Germany, whether nationals or not were included in the non-fraternization ban, Capt. Rebh also warned the men that 15% of the camp had gonorrhea and 3% had syphilis – just in case any Casanovas were anticipating a happy time on their new job.
Because of the crowded conditions in the camp, the C.O. thought that the men would prefer to move into the town, necessitating the removal of several civilians from their homes. The advantages of this arrangement were dubious, since it more than doubled the guard duties.
Barely had duffle bags been unloaded from the trucks when the fun began. An emergency required all those not on detail to rush down to the end of town with equipment to fight a fire. Said conflagration was in a large farm house which was well on the way to becoming an ash pile when the 406th men arrived on the scene. However, effective action was out of the question, since the whole town was there to watch, and the Hitler Jungen had taken over. The fire had been started by a group of revengeful Russians who had done a very neat job indeed, with the aid of quite a bit of benzine. It was difficult to determine which angered the Huns more, destroying the house, or wasting the benzine. Be that as it may, orders were to salvage whatever could be saved and prevent the fire from spreading. This would have been easy enough had it not been for the management of the fire hose. Periodically the water would shut off as some helpful Heinie decided another section should be added. While the water did flow, professional firemen like Earnie Brodbeck were spurned by the two capable boys handling the nozzle. They sprayed the water hither and yon succeeding only in creating a good deal of steam, and finally ended up with one of them putting the forceful stream in the other’s eye. At least, the benzine gave out and the fire was brought down to manageable proportions. The experience gave the men a good example of the much vaunted German efficiency, not to mention a foretaste of their job as guardian and protector of the Germans against the horrors of the Russian vengeance.
In spite of all the ill omens, organization of the camp ran relatively smoothly. The main task, of course, was to feed this happy little family numbering more than an infantry division. The weighty responsibility for this job fell on Lt. Daley, but logistics never had bothered the American Army, so it was not long before the motor pool was spread all over the countryside ferreting out civilian dumps and warehouses. In addition to the TE vehicles dispatched by Joe Accardi, UNRRA and French Transport Group trucks were assigned to help in this difficult mission. The sight of an idle truck was rare indeed, for when not loaded with potatoes or live cattle, they transported the CP’s, packed in a similar fashion, from one camp to another.
Next to eating, the most important job in the camp was the problem of health. To Lt. Robinson went the duty of supervising camp cleanliness as well as arranging to keep the DP’s as busy as possible with labor details (“Idleness breeds trouble” was Capt. Rebh’s motto). S/Sgt. Jordan was put in charge of housing, while plumber Blackie Hughes worked on the water supply, electricity and telephones. But keeping 15,000 or more people, living in extremely crowded conditions, in a state of health involved a great deal more than these simple steps. To insure that there would be no outbreak of epidemics, there had to be daily inspections, disinfection with DDT, isolation of infected cases, immunization, and regular sanitation, hospital and dispensary service. A medical staff was supplied by UNRRA consisting of Drs. Adamowicz, Dupon, and Salamona who were assisted by Russian medics from the camp.
Other UNRRA personnel included Mr. Fawcett, who was responsible for the information delivered over the loud speaker which had been borrowed from Heater and posted on bulletin boards. He was also in charge of registration. Then there were Mr. Edney and Mrs. Hardy who assisted in registration, and Miss Annesley who was in charge of welfare and schools in the camp. All four were British. In addition, the Czech and French Repatriation officers, Capt. Suk and Lt. Kestler, helped in registration and took charge of recreation. Dutch and French drivers of the UNRRA trucks rounded out the crew.
To ease the administrative tasks, the CP’s had their own self government headed by one Maj. Rabovsky, a Red Army PW. His staff of commisars, deputies, and policemen had all volunteered for the work, with the result that Capt. Rebh, through his interpreter N’Ponemaiya Motsegood, promised them preferential treatment if they performed their duties well. The policemen, however, were not permitted to have arms, with the result that the security of the camp was entirely up to the 406th guards posted there.
In town, the full cooperation of the Burgmeister was received with Willie Kerstein attached as liaison to see that all requests were complied with. On the first day the Captain requested an American and Russian flag. Though none was available, the mayor knew that to refuse would mean punishment, and accordingly ordered a local Betsy Ross to manufacture two of the finest flags the company had ever seen. Demands for radios, light bulbs, and almost anything else that the town could supply were met with similar alacrity.
Meanwhile, full responsibility for the company fell on the shoulders of 1st Sgt. Price. The CO as camp commandant had more than his share of troubles. Lt. Aliapoulos arranged for the investigation, trial, and punishment for the many breaches of camp regulations, and also had his hands full. Brodbeck was in charge of internal security, which meant the posting, feeding, and relieving of all guards, and in addition he censored the mail. Tuttle was the external security man, which included the task of collecting all unauthorized weapons and ammunition both in town and in the camp, as well as protecting the enemy populace from the foraging and revenge raids of the Russians. In short, everyone was kept occupied by a full time job. To make matters worse, the company was constantly under strength. Passes to Paris, and furloughs to London and the Riviera had been authorized since the beginning of the winter. Luckily for the company, however, the privates elected to remain behind and carry on the necessary work.
On April 21, about a week after the camp had been taken over, Capt. Rebh decided to send all the Poles, Czechs, and other non-Russians to the camp at Liebach (operated by the Heater) in exchange for their Russians. This move was to prevent any further flare-ups between national groups, a pastime that the Nazis had encouraged with great success. The transfer was accomplished about as smoothly as could be expected over the bumpy road from Baumholder to Liebach. However, much to the dismay of Sgt. Charley Laub, the permanent CQ at the camp office, 500 Poles had to come back because the place they were to have occupied in Liebach was still being used by the old tenants who were supposed to move to Trier but were prevented by the lack of transportation. Before Laub and his three interpreters went crazy, however, a spot was found to house the returnees in the Russian school.
Things were now beginning to run a bit better. After several meetings with the commissars, Capt. Rebh finally got the latrines in a semblance of order, had the dung heaps covered, the trash cleaned up, and, in general, had the place made suitable for living. Kindergartens and schools were opened, the kitchens were locked and guarded to prevent looting, and law and order once more prevailed. The only difficulty was with the foraging parties which continued to raise havoc with the countryside. To meet this challenge, Tuttle, whose responsibility it was, decided to raid various buildings of the camp whenever he was tipped off that he might find weapons. His first series of nocturnal raids on hidden arsenals occurred when he was informed on Friday, April 20, by some prankster in the Russian police, that there were several barracks in the camp containing forbidden ammunition. At 0200 Saturday morning he awoke all those he could find in town to form his raiding party. They sped up to the camp, deployed around the suspected buildings, and then ruthlessly attacked. Screams, groans and shouts split the still of the spring night, but although a lot of man hours of sleep were lost, no weapons were found.
The next night, the call to arms came from the hospital. A regular raid had been scheduled on one of the barracks when at 2400 a message came down from the hospital saying that the Russian guards there had been attacked by some German speaking soldiers. Confusion reigned at the hospital when, a few minutes later, the patrol entered. No one seemed to know exactly what had happened. One Russian policeman presented evidence that it wasn’t all a figment of someone’s imagination, demonstrating a serious wound in the groin from what later turned out to be a bayonet. Having nothing better to go on, Tuttle accepted the majority opinion that the attackers were French, and not German soldiers. On the way out to the French garrison to check the story, some French soldiers were encountered who seemed to know something about the affair.
At the garrison still more soldiers became implicated, so Tuttle, deciding the matter was too complicated and touchy for him to handle, sent for Capt. Rebh. At the same time, Motsegood was sent to the hospital to get a girl who had claimed she could identify the culprits. Her finger was pointing almost before she entered the room, but in her haste and excitement it hit on the wrong party. Although no two stories were completely alike, questioning finally brought an admission and explanation from three of the Frenchies. It was all a case of mistaken identity. The French thought the Russian guards were a part of the gang of outlawed foragers caught in the act of sneaking back into camp. In order to be understood, they gave their orders in German. This led the brave policemen to attack them in the belief that they were armed Nazis. In the ensuing scuffle, one of the Frenchmen was forced to use his bayonet to prevent an over-ardent guard from taking away his rifle – this, accounting for the above-mentioned accident. - - - - There were no further raids that night.
The good sergeant continued to receive his “inside dope” about large stores of ammunition, and accordingly organized another raid, this one starting at 0300 on April 23rd. The same routing was followed as on the first night, but with infinitely better results. Doors were battered in by the demoniacal sergeant if forced to wait more than 2 ½ seconds by his sleepy-eyed suspects. Such caustic treatment was better than they deserved anyway, since Tuttle knew from the Nazi propaganda broadcasts that none of these Bolsheviks could be trusted. At any rate, his Gestapo tactics brought the desired results. One fourteen year old culprit was caught with a flare gun which he had the unmitigated gall to say was a toy. A bayonet was also found hidden away in a closet. Both of these items were apprehended in spite of attempts to camouflage them with several layers of rust. Loaded down as they were with all this contraband, the raiders found it impractical to tear up the floor boards of the suspected barracks and cart away the Sherman tanks that most certainly were hidden there. But as long as Blood and Guts Tuttle of Bronze Star fame kept an eye on these blackguards, the Germans could feel perfectly secure.
Not all Russian G-2 was as unreliable as the tips Tuttle received from his unimpeachable source. A dramatic demonstration of Soviet efficiency in tracing down fascists was given by a liaison lieutenant from the Red Army. He reported to Capt. Rebh and asked for his permission to enter the DP camp to look for a member of the SS. All he had to go by was the man’s description, yet he promised to pick him out of the camp of 18,000 within 24 hours. Skeptical, but willing to let him show his stuff, the captain allowed the Soviet officer to enter the camp. Lo and behold, the next day Motsegood was asked to report to one of the buildings where the lieutenant was waiting for him. Telling him to have his Tommy gun aimed on the door, the lieutenant explained that he had prepared a trap for the SS man and that within five minutes he would walk into the room. Right on schedule, the Nazi stepped into the muzzle of Motsegood’s gun and was immediately taken prisoner. He spent a rough night in the cellar of the first platoon’s quarters and was then taken to the nearest CIC where questioning brought the admission that he was indeed a member of the SS, though he denied the Russian charge that he was a German, only posing as a Russian. This fact certainly didn’t make his crimes any better, so he was held in the camp jail until such time as he could be sent back to the U.S.S.R. for trial and inevitable death.
Incidentally, one of the charges against this Hitler agent was that he attempted to stir up trouble for the Americans among the DP’s. How successful an agitator he was is not definitely known, but there was a marked decrease in foraging activity after his arrest.
Not all traitors were handled as efficiently as was the apprehended culprit described above. Sgt. Molenkamp, who was in charge of the jail house, witnessed a mob attack on one fellow who wasn’t given a chance to prove his innocence or guilt. The infuriated Russians beat him to death with their bare hands. According to Molenkamp the deceased’s head was not much thicker than one of Terry’s pancakes when they were finished with him. Lt. Aliapoulos, upon investigating the case, discovered that no one in the camp knew anything about it.
Not long afterwards, another mob gathered to mete out a similar fate to some wretch accused of having been a German stool pigeon. Luckily for him some armed 406th guards were nearby, including such huskies as big Dave Cummings. Faced with the wrong end of several loaded M1’s, the crowd quickly dispersed, leaving their blood-smeared victim in the protective custody of the Americans. Questioning by Motsegood revealed that he was probably guilty of the petty accusations that were hurled at him, but his fate, even from one of those inexorable Soviet courts, would certainly not be as severe as that which his vengeful comrades had tried to mete out.
In matters like this, it was difficult to determine whether the scapegoat was the real villain or not. In the areas overrun by the Nazis, the only Soviet citizens who could be considered to be of unquestioned loyalty were the guerrillas, those that were hanged or the ones the Germans put in concentration camps. Unquestionably, a large percentage of the forced laborers that made up the major portion of the DP’s also fell into this category. But because it was known that a good number of the Ukrainian peasants, never too friendly to the Stalin regime, had volunteered to work in Germany, it was impossible for Americans to tell who was a collaborator and who was calling the other fellow a collaborator to hide his own guilt, or possibly silence one who knew too much. Gen. Eisenhower’s inclusion of the DP’s in his nonfraternization ban took cognizance of this situation. The boys of the 406th could not accept this view, however, most of them acting as though it were not possible for anything to be the matter with the Russians, especially as concerned the women members of the community. The notorious “free love” of the Russians, however, proved to be quite a disappointment to some. While on the one hand, they expected no remuneration for their attentions; on the other hand, the last resort of a chocolate bar or a pack of cigarettes seldom had the desired effect so usual among other European females.
Toward the end of April a strong resurgence of boat rumors arose, abetted no little by indications of turning Baumholder over to another outfit. The 406th had done a man-sized job in converting the camp into an orderly center from which it would be rather easy to repatriate the DP’s once transportation was available. The enormity of the task was fully realized only when it was noticed that a full battalion was sent in to relieve the company – even after the most trying jobs of organization were already completed. The proper reward for a good job well done would have been a move in the general direction of a port. But as any soldier knows, do a job well in the army and you’ll only get a tougher one.
So, at 1000 hours, the morning of 28 April, the men betook themselves, bag and baggage to the small city of Wittlich, where a heterogenous group of about 5,000 DP’s, mostly Poles and Russians, were waiting to be straightened out.
The main problem lay in the fights among the different national groups. Foraging parties were not a major concern here since the smaller confines of the camp made it relatively easy to guard. There wasn’t much that could be done about the petty squabbles except to separate the different groups into different sections of the camp, thus decreasing the antagonisms. It did not, however, prevent one Pole from being shot, presumably by accident.
Since the deceased had been a soldier, the Polish liaison lieutenant desired to tender him a military funeral. Capt. Rebh gladly complied by sending a contingent of nine men under Sgt. Purdue to render the honors. While at the camp to pick up the body, a representative of the Poles invited them to attend a dance that night. It was not quite certain whether this dance was in honor of the dead man, or to thank the Americans for sacrificing their time in such a noble enterprise. The rainy weather and the dismal task ahead of them did not make the boys feel as though any dance could be worth it. They didn’t know what a fine show was in store for them.
The funeral services were held in the large Catholic church in Wittlich. The young German priest who officiated possibly felt ill at ease paying homage to a member of an inferior race, but the armed American guard of honor, standing at parade rest in the center aisle, reassured him that the Poles, too, were God’s children. Then too, the Poles, devout congregation that they were, came through handsomely with every last mark of the few they possessed when the collection was taken, showing their thankfulness for the fine treatment the Germans had accorded them during their long stay.
Sgt. Purdue had planned to have the men march out of the church directly behind the beautifully bedecked coffin. At the termination of the impressive service, however, it was discovered that the dead man had missed the better part of his funeral. The body had not been brought into the church at all, but had remained behind in its simple box in Al Daubert’s weapon carrier which was serving as a hearse. The strange procession moved slowly through the town toward the cemetery while the few civilians out in the rain gaped in wonderment. The nine representatives of the U. S. Army maintained a dignified and solemn appearance until just before turning into the burial grounds. At that point, a large excavation had been made in the ground, probably to fix a sewage pipe or some such thing. At any rate, the boys from the 406th thought it was to be the final resting place of the deceased Pole. They solemnly stationed themselves around the would-be grave, but fortunately, the remainder of the mourners continued on to the real grave. When the entire assemblage had finally gathered, the grave ceremony began. Some confusion was caused when the Poles said their Ave Maria’s in Polish, while the German priest, looking more uncomfortable all the time (although he should have been the last one to complain, since he had an umbrella over his head) said his in Latin and German. Then, while Purdue was wondering whether to give the men “Present Arms” or “Right Shoulder Arms,” a further mishap occurred. The coffin was too big for the grave. With no little entreating and stamping, it was finally lowered successfully. Then, while no one was looking, Purdue gave the order to assume a firing position, and a soft “ready, aim, fire.” The report of the volley was so loud that it nearly knocked over the entire congregation into the open grave. For several of the boys, it was the first time they had fired their rifles in the ETO.