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World War II Story by Robert F. Gallagher
Chapter 24 - Straubing, Germany
What luck for the rulers that men do not think.
We arrived at the Army Air Force air base taken over from the Luftwaffe near the town of Straubing, Germany. The Germans had called the airport Brukm|hl. Instead of digging in, we parked our guns and trucks side by side. It seemed strange to be so casual about such things after being on alert such a long period of time. We stayed in wooden barracks and got our first good, hot meal in quite a long time. A quartermaster outfit had a kitchen set up and they were dispensing the nearest thing to fresh food we had eaten in some time. The barracks had shower rooms that got a lot of heavy use. It was fun being around other members of our battery and we exchanged stories and experiences. Everyone was in a very good mood. The rumors about where we were going began to circulate hot and heavy. They would be expounded upon and added to as they were repeated until someone's earlier guess was now related as positive fact. As usual, most of them would turn out to be wrong.
On May 12th, we moved out of the barracks and went down to a clearing located on to the bank of the Danube River, still near Straubing. We set up a battalion camp and stayed for an extended period. We lived in large sand-colored tents that had been used by Germany's Afrika Korps during the African Campaign. Some men in A Battery had found them in a nearby warehouse and took them despite the objections of the owner. The scenic beauty of the surrounding country and the free flowing look of the tents with their more attractive color made the camp look like a resort area instead of an Army camp.
The weather was grand the whole time we were there, and the scenery with its rolling hills was beautiful. The cooks were doing their best to turn out tasty meals, and after an almost steady diet of rations everything tasted good. The local German women would come around and pick up our laundry. We would give them soap, and they would go down to the river and wash it. They then rinsed it with well water. I don't know where they dried it, but when we got it back, it was sparkling clean, ironed, neatly folded, and had a very pleasing odor. We started to feel civilized again. To pay the ladies for their services, we gave them what was left of the soap and some cigarettes. Both items were considered better than cash and could be bartered for anything. After a while, the women would bring their children when they returned the laundry. We would give the kids Hershey bars after insisting on a smile.
Every evening as the sun was going down, a young girl from the village would show up and very methodically spread out a blanket in an open field, about two hundred feet from the camp, as an obvious invitation for anyone who was interested. The word got around she was not just young but very young; and nobody wanted to be seen approaching her. If she did any business, it was only on the darkest nights. We called her Blanket Annie.
We had no duty to pull, so we amused ourselves by reading, playing cards, writing letters, or horsing around. We played a lot of volleyball and twelve-inch fast-pitch softball, which I still found to be quite boring. It was a very enjoyable time but, at the same time, we felt a certain uneasiness about it all. We had all been in the Army long enough to know it could not possibly last too long.
Some of the men went swimming in a small inlet off the Danube River where the current was not as swift. The mess sergeant from B-Battery was carried out into the river by a current and drowned. He would be the fourth soldier in our battalion to die from an accident since we had been in Europe. Some men from his battery went out in a boat and retrieved his body. We were all surprised they found him because we thought the current was so swift, it would have carried him far downstream. That incident put an end to swimming in the Danube.
Several members of our battalion had to go into Russian-occupied Czechoslovakia for some kind of an assignment. When they got back to camp, they told horror stories about how the Russians were treating the Czechs who had collaborated with the Germans during the occupation. In this one town, the Russians set up a gauntlet of club-wielding soldiers down the main street. Then they forced the collaborators to run between the two lines of soldiers as they were beaten with the clubs. If they were not dead at the end, they shot them. One of our GIs tried to offer some help to a Czech woman whose husband had just been killed and a Russian soldier threatened him. They all reported the Russians were not friendly and seemed to have a chip on their shoulder. The men said their experience was more like dealing with the enemy than an ally. They also reported on their way to and from their objective, they had observed thousands of Czech civilians fleeing to the west because of their fear of the Russians.
While we were enjoying our vacation in Straubing and relishing the fact the European war was over, we still had one big worry. We thought we might be sent to the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) to fight the Japanese. It was difficult to judge how that war was going with the minimal amount of world new reaching us. We knew troops were being mobilized for the invasion of the Japanese Islands but that's all we knew. There were news stories about the Americans capturing certain islands, but we never knew how they fit into the overall operation. The rumors were rampant, the most persistent ones being that all but the minimum number of troops needed to keep order in the ETO would be sent in an expeditious manner to the (PTO). One day we would hear we were going to be shipped over there and the next day it would be to someplace else in Europe. As days turned into weeks with nothing happening, we began to relax and enjoy our very pleasant surroundings.
One day, I went over to the supply tent to get a new field jacket. My old one had frayed edges and was so beaten up it was coming apart. To my surprise, I was issued a tanker jacket to replace it. This was an article of clothing much in demand because it had some style to it. It was beige on the outside with a lining that looked like army blanket material, and it was much longer than the army's field jacket (see Fig. 152). When I got back to my tent, about half of the men there headed over to get theirs. Some of them were tearing holes in their old jackets to be sure it was eligible for replacement. It turned out the supply sergeant had received a small shipment of the tanker type and all were in the larger sizes. Those who had torn their old jackets had their sewing kits out to mend them.
On June 12th, I got to go on a four-day trip to the town of Berchtesgaden in the Alps where we saw Hitler's retreat known as Aldershort by the Germans and the Eagles Nest by the Americans. The American air force had not bombed that particular structure (See Fig. 153) although they heavily damaged Hitlers private residence called Der Berghof Obersaulzberg (See Fig. 154). It was located at a lower elevation from the Eagles Nest. The civilians in the nearby town thought the Americans were wonderful, because they only bombed Hitler's house and spared theirs. I went with Vern Bapst, who was in my gun section, and with Andy Anderson, who was in another gun section (See Fig. 154). We stayed in the quaint Alpine village, living in barracks originally built to house the German SS troops guarding Hitler's home. Most of the soldiers we met there were from the 101st Paratrooper Division, also known as the "Screaming Eagles," which fit with the Eagles Nest.
They told us some unbelievable stories about their war experiences. Everyone was in a festive mood, and we had a lot of fun. While we were there, the weather was great, and the food was delicious. The scenery with the snow-capped mountains, green forests, winding mountain roads, and quaint Bavarian homes was spectacular. Many of the civilians wore quaint Alpine outfits and looked like advertisements out of a travel poster.
It was interesting to go through the Eagles Nest, and I felt kind of strange standing on the outdoor deck where many newsreel shots of Hitler and Eva Braun had been taken. Some of the world leaders were also photographed there with Hitler, along with Nazis officials like Himmler, Goering, and Goebbels.
Back at the camp near Straubing, we continued to enjoy the area. Some of the men got passes and began to date the local German girls since the no-fraternizing rule had been lifted. The girls the GIs were dating were very concerned about the lack of men in their village. They complained two out of every three were never coming back now that the war was over. I don't know if that was an accurate statistic, but it was true the German military had very high casualties. Some of the women were so concerned about this lack of men who would be available for marriage they wanted to have sex with the GIs to assure they would have families.
On Monday, July 9th, we left Straubing for a long trip by convoy. We were told we were going to Antwerp, Belgium, which did not make us too happy. Typical of Army information, we got only minimal news thereby generating a whole new round of rumors trying to fill in the blanks. We knew Antwerp was a port city, and we were concerned we were going to be loaded onto a boat and shipped to the Pacific. We still had all our guns and ammunition that went with them intact. The end of the war still seemed a long way off.
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