The ‘R’ in TRBL

My Dad’s brother, Bob, is the ‘Robert’ who Timothy is named for (Timothy Robert Brandon Lee,aka TRBL).  Bob was killed at age 19 in World War II, and this is part of his army story, told through his letters home.

We’ve visited Bob’s grave in Luxembourg several times with the kids, and I’ve always wanted to know more about him.  In 2005, I created a work that told Bob’s story in the army, combining excerpts of his letters with passages from his regiment’s book to provide context for the letters.

I also found a gentleman, Ken Fessel, who served under Bob and was with my uncle when he was killed.  Ken and I had many interesting conversations, which are contained at the end of this piece.  I am eternally grateful for Ken for sharing his recollections about Bob.

– Jack Lee

___________________________

1st Lt Robert E. Lee

(serial # 0551073), Weapons Platoon leader, E (Easy) Company, 2nd (White) Battalion

304th Infantry Regiment, 76th Division, Third Army

Less than a year after graduating from St Thomas Academy, Bob proved himself ready to be an officer at age 18, and then led a platoon into battle and became one of the most decorated of the more than 2,000 soldiers in the 304th Infantry Regiment

Bob’s timeline as a soldier:

*Officer Candidate School at Ft Benning, GA,  Feb – May, 1944, and is commissioned 2nd Lieutenant (officer)

*Basic training at Camp McCoy, WI,  Jun – Nov, 1944

*Shipped to England in Nov, 1944,    and celebrated 19th birthday  on Dec 8, 1944

*Landed in France in Jan, 1945, and moved through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, western Germany    Jan and Feb, 1945

*Promoted to 1st Lt Feb 20, 1945, and sees his first serious combat on Feb 24, 1945

*Bob is killed in action Mar 1, 1945 north of Olk, Germany.  He is posthumously awarded Silver Star Medal and Bronze Star Medal

 __________________________________________________

_______________________________________

Bob’s army story from Feb, 1944 to March 1, 1945

(Assembled from Bob’s letters (in bold italics) and from accounts from the 304th regimental history.)

Spring, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA)

Monday, Feb 21, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

(Bob is an officer candidate with the 18th Company, Third Student Infantry Regiment)

                                                                                                                                                                Monday night

Dear folks,

“I hope you will understand why I haven’t written of late.  The past week was one hellish week which I never hope to spend again.  We were constantly on the go…Nowadays map reading has become extremely important, because of its faulty use in the past in combat.  I fired the gosand automatic rifle for the first time Friday afternoon and frankly was quite nervous before I started…I am a marksman but that was not too good (Note: he wanted ‘sharpshooter’)…(this week) I am student 1st sergeant of the company.”

“I received your very swell package and all of the fellows dug in, thinking that you must be a darn swell family (especially mother) to send all that food and clothing.”

“Two men are quitting the course.  One is a good, old, chubby Irish sergeant whom I have become quite attached to.  He has been taking care of me, so to speak.  He said, ‘You’re my boy, Lee and I’ll take care of you.’  You see his wife is having an operation, his baby has the measles and he is rather homesick for his outfit…Our TO (tactical officer who watches our every move) told him (the second man departing) he tires easily.  Imagine what he thinks of me.”

“I think you should eat at home more often, Dad.  I would if I got the chance.”                                                                                                                                                 Love,

                                                                                Bob

 

 

Friday, Mar 3, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                                Friday night

Dear folks,

“…I believe we have been having the most interesting week of all…We fired for record with the light and heavy 30 cal machine guns on Monday and Tuesday…We were shooting those guns almost continuously from 9:00 until 5:00.  I never enjoyed anything so much in my life…One thing that bothers me is the noise.”

“The tactical officer wants to see a lot of fellows, including myself;  and I guess the interviews are for the purpose of telling us some more of our faults.  Those TOs watch you like a hawk, and they don’t miss a thing.”

“The fellows quickly consumed the contents of the package and they are convinced that I have one of the best mothers and fathers of all the fellows on the floor…Does dad know that I have absolutely no opportunity to play the piano?  I don’t want to disappoint you, dad, but frankly I will never play while I attend O.C.S. (Office Candidate School).  However, I do plan on taking lessons after the war is over, along with some college work.”

“At present my outlook on O.C.S. is very doubtful, and frankly believe I will appear before the 5th week board, especially if I don’t crack this platoon leader’s computation test…If I do graduate, I will finish here on the 6th of June.”  

“I hope the convention was a success but I don’t want you two working so hard.  Save yourselves a bit.”

                                                                                                Love,

                                                                                                Bob

 

 

Friday, Mar 17, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                                Friday night

Dear Mom and Dad,

“Many things have happened since I last wrote you.  Last Saturday we watched and excellent demonstration of an attack of a river line.  Some engineers and infantry men built several types of bridges and assault rafts and crossed a swift flowing river in about 15 minutes.  It rained all afternoon…naturally I was soaked to the skin, but I didn’t catch a cold.  I was much more fortunate than the five men who were drowned in that same river while they were rehearsing for our demonstration.”

“All the men of the first platoon were confined to quarters for a week for whistling at some passing girls.  We had our first board this Wednesday and I was very fortunate in not having to appear before it.  We lost about 24 men from the entire company and all those men are leaving for overseas within a month.  My best friend, Dave Tamun, was among the victims; and he got a dirty deal.  I feel so bad about him leaving.  It sure was sad seeing all those nice men leave us, many of whom are more capable and experienced than I.  I have become convinced that I am too young to make a good officer.  I have seen and heard enough to thoroughly convince me of that.  However, I am going to do my best as long as I am here.  I am certain to be called before the next board, but I am getting excellent training here and I like it most of the time.”

We threw live grenades for one whole morning.  It was quite a thrill…Next week we will be out on bivouac from Monday til Thursday.  I hope we have good weather…We just finished our bayonet and hand to hand combat training and it was really fun.”

“I appreciate all the swell letters I have been getting from you folks back home and I try to write as often as possible, but the time is short.  No matter what happens to me, you can be assured that I did my best.  Believe me…Hope to be home the 7th of June, but I won’t ever get home if I don’t graduate.  Things are pretty tough now as officers aren’t much in demand.”

                                                                                                Love,

                                                                                                Bob

 

Tuesday, Mar 28, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                                Tuesday night

Dear Folks,

“Well, last week we became acquainted with the great ‘out of doors.’  We had a bivouac (Note: Bivouac is camping, living outdoors)  from Monday to Thursday…All of one day it rained.  We spent the entire day, including eating, outside in rushing streams of rainwater and muck and mire…All of the work was exceptionally interesting…We spent part of two nights out on problems and we ran what is known as the ‘infiltration course’.  In the course you crawl on your stomach for about 200 yards, with machine guns firing about 3 or 4 feet from the ground.  Every so often a dynamite charge goes off and dirt is sprayed all over the place, so you have to shield your rifle because it must be kept clean even though the terrain is muddy.  You have to go under barbed wire emplacements…You can hear the machine gun shells cracking sharply overhead and you begin to realize just how terrible combat must be when you are hunting and being hunted.” 

“We are now in our 8th week – 9 more to go.  Our second board comes up in 2 or 3 weeks, so ———“

“Don’t work too hard Mother and dad, because it isn’t worth what you get out of it.  You will just shorten your lives and that’s not what we kids want.  I hope Laddie is staying home and behaving himself.  How’s uncle Joe and Teresa.

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

Thursday, Mar 30, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                Thursday evening

Dear Folks,

“Before I go on I will answer a question or two…I get milk at the PX every so often because it’s still my favorite drink.  I just can’t get to like the taste of the stuff (coffee)…As far as smoking, I just had one cigar a few weeks ago and have had no intentions to do any further smoking.”

“Tomorrow night we will be on a patrolling mission from 6:30pm to 4:30am.”

“Here’s my situation.  I just messed up the last two GT’s (graded tests) and it makes me mad.  I have done very good on all of the others.  The older fellows said I have matured a lot and became much more self-confident since I first started, but what my TO says and thinks is probably another story.  I will probably talk to him within a few days and see how I stand.  You se, no matter how you look at it, I am rather young to be an officer, so I will probably have to go before the next board at least for that reason.”

“Today was certainly cold here…Of course it rains nearly half the time, and half the countryside washes away.  I certainly will appreciate Minn weather when I can.”

“Jim, I have been firing the 81mm mortar all week.  It certainly is an accurate weapon.  We know it inside and out by now, but I did mess up the test, darn it.”

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

 

 

Sunday, April 2, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                Sunday afternoon

Dear Tom,

“How are you small fry.  Are you eating a lot of food and getting so big and strong that I won’t even know you?  Are you still the little boss?  I hear you are learning to play the piano just like the rest of us.”

“How are you and your old friend, ‘laddie’ coming?  Do you still play and run around the house, or are you and laddie getting too old? 

“Just think how lucky you are to be going to a school like St Mark’s.  Your last letter was the best one you have written me yet and the drawings are getting very good.  You can print almost as good as I can.  If I don’t watch my step, you will get even better than me.”

“I hope you are watching Celine for me, to be sure that she doesn’t go out with other fellows.  If you are a good boy for awhile, maybe I’ll have something for you when I come home.”

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

 

 

Sunday, April 2, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                April 2, 1944

Dear Dick,

“…I do hope that you and Jack keep fairly friendly on all occasions for a change.  You know the old house won’t stand much more of that rough house in its older years…Are you still tops in your math class?”

“How’s that handball game of yours treating you?  Are you top man yet?” 

“Say, have you been studying the 60 or 88mm mortar yet?  Well we just fired them last week…the powder takes the shell high into the air for quite a few seconds and then they hit the ground.  All hell breaks loose when they explode and they surprisingly enough are very accurate.  You adjust them until you hit your target right on the head.”

“…I hope you have accomplished a lot since I last saw you.”     

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

 

 

Sunday, April 2, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                April 2, 1944

Dear Jack,

“I’m finally answering you for all of the swell letters you so faithfully sent me.  It certainly is swell that you’re president of your room and one of the stars on the basketball team.”

“I suppose you didn’t expect to receive the small patch I wear…the emblem stands for O.C.S, Officer’s Candidate School.  I hope someday I can wear an officer’s uniform.”

“I hope you’re having a good time at home and working on your music.  Tommy might catch up to you.”

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

 

 

Sunday, April 2, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                Sunday evening

Dear Mom and Dad,

“Well, another week has passed and I am 1 week closer to graduation.  I’m in my 9th week now with 8 more to go.  The next eight weeks will be the real test.  We have our second board in two or three weeks and that’s the one which most of the candidates are called before.”

“Bill Marrinan has passed his final board and he will graduate in 10 days.  He must be happy; I know I will be if the day ever presents itself.”

“This laundry business is what makes me mad.  I spent at least 2 or 3 hours doing some washing today, and I spent the same time yesterday.  I didn’t sign up for the GI laundry last month so I paid the consequences.  I have to wash all my equipment, field jacket and coveralls every week.”

“I do like it here and I hope and pray that I will make it.  Last night I was trying on some beautiful blouses and officer’s clothes just to see what it would feel like.  Boy that makes you feel good…I had better say so long for now, but I will write soon.”

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

 

 

Sunday, April 9, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                Sunday evening

Dear Mom and dad,

“Well today was just another ‘Sunday’ in most respects.  I suppose everyone was wearing their new outfits to mass on Easter Sunday.”

“Last night I went into town to do some shopping and go to a dance.  I couldn’t get anything I wanted, I missed the dance and I had a lovely steak dinner.  To top everything off, Vic Lamar, my present friend, and I had to wait about 45 minutes for a bus back to camp.”

“I certainly appreciated all that swell food but it really wasn’t necessary to go to so much trouble just for me.”

“You have all heard about the ‘bazooka’ I presume.  Well, I spent all Saturday afternoon firing one…Believe me it can do plenty to a medium tank up to 300 yards…We fired the 57 mm and 37 mm antitank guns all one day.”

“We will be having our next board in a week or two, and that is the one that will be the hardest, so I’m really hoping for the best…I’m glad I won’t be here during the summer months.”

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

 

 

Friday, April 21, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                Friday evening

Dear mom, dad and kids,

“Sorry I haven’t written sooner, but we have been awfully busy the last 2 weeks.  The next Friday we have a board which I will probably have to meet.  It is only a screening board and not a washout one, but nevertheless it is very decisive and important.  At present I have the problem of deciding how much and where I should buy my uniform.”

“We have had a few night problems lately and they fire shells all around us, with steady streams of machine gun tracer ammunition going over our heads and to our right and left a few feet.  The different men get to have different jobs.  I was squad leader twice and BAR man twice.” 

“Sunday afternoon our class is going to be privileged to witness an air-ground demonstration, showing tactical use of airplanes in supporting the infantry.  It is the best and most expensive demonstration they put on for us, so I expect there will be a lot of machine gunning, bombing and shelling, with about 15 different kinds of planes.”

“Dad, I hope your doctor isn’t cutting you up too much.  I hear Celine can take care of you.  How are ‘bunny’ and ‘laddie’ getting along, Tommy?…Goodbye for now.”

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

Wednesday, April 26, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                Wednesday evening

Dear Folks,

“I was extremely glad to receive all your very cheerful and newsy letters.  I have been selected to appear before the screening board on Friday so you can easily see that I could use a little cheering up.  I also got two of the best letters from Celine that I have ever received from her as yet.  I don’t know exactly what gave me all the self confidence I have, but I realize that those recent letters played a large part.”

“The T.O. let me see the recommendation he was giving me for eth board and he was pretty fair.  My greatest difficulty is my youth and inexperience.  I’m going to be as aggressive and convincing as I can, but only time will tell.  By the time you receive this letter, I will know whether I will get those coveted bars or not.  It’s funny, you know, but I want more than ever to become a 2nd lieutenant now.  Before I didn’t care very much because I didn’t think I was capable at all; but now I believe I could teach and lead troops with a little practice and training.”    

“I would like to say more but it is 11:00 and the bed check is going on up in the barracks so I better sign off.  I hope everyone is well and happy and I hope to see you all soon.”

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

 

 

 

 

Sunday, April 30, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                Sunday afternoon

Dear mom and dad,

“Well I finally made this last screening board and now I won’t have to appear before the washout board Tuesday.  The president of the screening board (a colonel) told me that I was the youngest man in the company and that the government couldn’t afford to commission me unless I show that I have the potentialities.  He pointed out the difficulties I would have leading older men, but he said I could do it if I had the stuff that it takes.  He also said I would be a marked man in the company and that I would have to appear before the final board for a checkup on my work unless my Company CO said I had done very good work.  So you can easily see that my next and last 5 weeks will be quite a strain.” 

“We go on our last bivouac (Note: Bivouac is camping, living outdoors) this next weekend.  I guess we do a lot of walking and we have a few dawn attacks about 2 or 3 in the morning…It’s starting to get hot down here; I guess you almost roast in the summer here.”  

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

 

 

Thursday, May 4, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                Thursday evening

Dear Folks,

“I am just writing a few lines as I have to write an article for the paper and it is 2200 (10:00pm).”

“Things are going along fairly well and I am on probation for graduation.  I’m pretty sure I can do it, but you can’t tell too well.  We have about 5 very tough tests coming up.”

“Say, dad, what would you suggest I do for transportation home?  I can take a chance on going by plane but the chances are slim and you can’t tell until the last minute.  It is hard to get Pullman reservations but day coaches are available if I take a taxi from Columbus to Atlanta (90 miles) with 4 other fellows.  You can even take a taxi to Chicago for about $30 I guess but I don’t know about the dependability.  I weigh 170-175lbs now – not much change.”

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

 

 

Monday, May 8, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob    

                                                                                                                May 8, 1944

Dear Mom,

“I am writing this little note to you on Monday morning, out on bivouac.  We arose at 1:45 this morning to go out on a problem…It’s now 8:30 and we have the rest of the morning off.  All the rest of the fellows in my tent are sound asleep and I believe I will join them shortly.”   

“Now all I have to do is graduate.  We have about 29 days left down here and a good part of it is tactics.  As you know I haven’t had any experience with it in the field to speak of but if God is with me I will do all right.  My marks are pretty good I guess.”

“I certainly am looking forward to getting home.  I haven’t been lonesome as yet but home sounds pretty good to me.  I still don’t know how I will travel but I suspect it will be by train.  Bye for now.  We return to camp tomorrow after another night and early morning problem.”     

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

“I went to church yesterday on a truck.  I got this stationery from the protestant chaplain.”

Monday, May 8, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) Mother’s Day card from Bob    

 

“I think I will come home by train and I might be short on money…It will certainly be swell to eat at home once more.” 

“We just returned back from bivouac this morning.  We had a problem from 2:00am to 6:00am this morning…I laid awake on the floor of my tent just about all night trying to decide on a plan but I’m glad it’s over; now I can rest for a short while.  I understand that nearly all of the officers who are now graduating are going over seas within 3 or 4 months.  I will probably stay around awhile later because I didn’t receive any basic training in the army.”

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 18, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob    

                                                                                                                Thursday afternoon

Dear folks,

 “…We are now preparing for a 30 hour problem out in the field…We do a lot of marching and attacking and we have a gas attack and a few bombings, I guess…Anyway it will be somewhat of a relief to be in a problem when you don’t have to run things yourself.  I’m the last ammunition bearer in the 1st squad of the Ammunition and Pioneering platoon.  When I was platoon leader of a machine gun platoon one night on bivouac, my career in the army was probably decided.  Through someone’s fault everything went wrong and I as platoon leader had to make some quick decisions.  It so happened that my T.O (tactical officer) was trailing along and I did everything exactly as I should have.  The T.O. and a captain whom I don’t know both complimented me on my excellent job of troop leading and making quick decisions.  It so happened that my messenger, my platoon sergeant and all my squad leaders and men cooperated as though I was actually their combat platoon leader in a real battle…I had studied my map the night before very carefully and I was traveling through the woods mostly on instinct, but I kept on the trail somehow.  That’s all that really counts.”

“I’m not sure but I think the T.O. recommended that I don’t appear before the final board next Thursday.  We turned in our final rating sheets the other day and all the follows gave me high recommendations and ratings.  They said I have improved more than anyone in the section, and quite a few other good things.  Of course my voice is still a little weak and I am inexperienced in handling troops but things look pretty good…Of course anything can happen up until the last minute so I must work hard and be ready for anything that might come my way…I will be home 3 weeks from today at least (I hope).”

“All of the fellows are starting to get their uniforms, so I will check to see how mine is coming.  You know what a poor buyer I am.  Well, I tried to be a real business man.  I don’t think he got the best of me, but only time will tell.  It’s extremely hot down here every day and the time is passing very slow.  Hope to see you all soon.”

                                                                                                Love,

                                                                                                Bob

 

 

Sunday, May 28, 1944 (Fort Benning, GA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                Sunday evening

Dear folks,

“…Wouldn’t it be terrible if I didn’t graduate now?  But I’m too busy to think about flunking out.  I’ve come too far to give up now…I don’t know where they’ll send me.  They’ve been sending quite a few to Camp McCoy, Wisc lately; but I guess that’s all filled up by now…I suppose I will be stuck down South some place.”

“It’s terribly hot down here and I’m glad to be leaving the old place.  I never thought I’d make it for a while.  We’ve been having a lot of conferences with officers who have just returned from overseas.  It’s a lot different than you can imagine from the papers – entirely different.  They’ve been developing a large rocket down here to be used in place of artillery.”

“I’m looking forward with great expectation to my few days at home.  I hope they will be pleasant, as I will be snowed under with responsibilities for a long time afterward.  I will be charged with the welfare and lives of about 40 men, you know.”

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

“P.S. Thanks for the money.  It would have been very difficult to make out without it.  I appreciated the candy very much.”

 

 

 

 

 

Summer, 1944 (Camp McCoy, WI)

 

Sunday, June 18, 1944 (Camp McCoy, WI) letter from Bob

 (Bob is now in Company E, 304th infantry regiment, 76th Division)

                                                                                                                                                June 18, 1944

Dear mom and dad,

“This is a brief letter to let you know just what I have done, what I will be doing in the future and especially what I need quite badly…We got up at 7:00 and ate a delicious breakfast with four of our gang from the 18th Company.  We got a bus and arrived at Camp McCoy around 12:30 that afternoon.  The camp itself is fairly good, although it is quite small and it is extremely hot and sultry here…I am assigned to a rifle platoon in Company E, 2nd Battalion, 304th Infantry regiment, 76th Infantry Division along with my friend Vic Lamar.  At present they are giving all these brand new men an 8 week basic course. The men here are from anti-aircraft, coast artillery, air corps, and every place but the Infantry.  The non coms are mostly well trained, except for quite a few of them from other branches of service.”

“About 2 months ago this division came from a tough winter maneuver up north of about 4 weeks.  They were a very well-trained and tough outfit.  However, all the Pvt, PFC and many non coms were sent overseas as replacements.  Since then enlisted men, as well as officers have been moving out…They just sent 31 officers overseas from my Regt and they have been doing this for a long time. Everything is consequently in a high state of confusion and we’re about 50% or more low on officer strength.”

“Don’t expect many letters in the future.  What few officers there are here all say I will be so darn busy in a few days I won’t have a chance to go to the PX, show or barber shop.  We are going on maneuvers down South between now and October.  So you can see I probably will not get home at all.  I will if it’s at all possible, because it may be my last.”

“Don’t worry about me.  I will write as often as possible.”   

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

From the 304th regimental history:

*…’the base camp (used by Camp McCoy), situated near Bonifas, Michigan.  It was invaluable training and an accomplishment to establish an outdoor arctic camp’

*’ During the Spring and Summer (of 1944), hundreds of men…left their regiment to strengthen other regiments headed for the Normandy invasion coast.  To fill their places came men (like Bob, from other units and training facilities)…with short, concentrated, incisive training, the regiment went about the task of weaving these men from other branches of the Army into an Infantry division.’

*’It was during this summer at Camp McCoy, also, that the regiment’s recreational program reached its high point…baseball and other sports…a recreation hall, transformed into a clubhouse, was the setting for a succession of dances and entertainment…a beer garden…dance band.’

Tuesday, July 11, 1944 (Camp McCoy, WI) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                                                11 July 1944

Dear mom and dad,

“Hope you will forgive me for not writing more often, but I’m terribly busy and hard pressed for time.  I fall asleep nearly every night, trying to prepare the next day’s assignments.  You see all last week from Monday till Saturday we were out on a firing range from 0530 (5:30am) to 2030 (8:30pm).  We had to get up at about 0400 or 0430 and I usually hit the hay around 0100 (1:00am) every morning.  It was a really rough week, standing on your feet for about 16 hours a day directing fire.  I had charge of our battalion’s men who fired on the 200 yard range.  They put me in charge of it the first morning; didn’t give me any non coms or officers to help or tell me what to do.  I was pretty well confused at first, but everything turned out alright.”

“Dad, I forget completely about meeting you in LaCross.  Anyway, I had a battalion duty which kept me here Saturday night, and I had to work on squad problems all day Sunday and so I missed mass for the third time in my life.  I’m afraid I’ll be busy writing platoon problems this weekend, and there’ll probably be something to keep me here every other weekend.  I never worked so hard or had so many things to do in my life.  They keep you hopping all the time.  Every time I see the Company CO he gives me another 4 hours of classes to prepare.  Oh yes, I’ve been chewed and reamed by the Company CO already.  This morning I was in charge of an ill-organized range, which was mostly my fault; and the Captain didn’t like it very much.”

“I’ve heard rumors about where and when we will be pulling out, and it looks as though it’s going to be very soon now.  That’s why I want to get home as much as possible on weekends.”

“My face is as red as a lobster, the work is hard and the hours long, but I’m in good shape, and feeling good (physically not mentally) at all times.  That is except for a few blisters I got from digging and chopping wood Sunday.”

                                                                Love to all,

                                                                Bob

 

Fall, 1944 (Camp McCoy, WI)

Monday, Sept 11, 1944 (Camp McCoy, WI) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                                11 Sept 1944

Dear mom and dad,

“I guess you’re wondering how much worse than Bernie I’ll be on writing letters.  Actually, I’ve been very busy this past week.  As you know, I’m a Division umpire for battalion firing problems.  I work from 12 o’clock noon to 12 o’clock the next noon, and then I’m off for 24 hours…I’m getting plenty of sleep.  I’ll be finished with that work by Wed afternoon.  We will be running problems and doing everything under the sun for a while now.”

“Here is some very confidential information.  We are not going to maneuver in Louisiana or anyplace in this country.  We will be gone from this camp by the end of October.  We are taking only woolens.  Don’t worry, because it might not be what you think it is.  No dependents are coming; so it probably means a boat.”

“Here is one item of clothing I will need, and as I’m leaving in 6 weeks, I will definitely need it by then.  I have to have a Service cap.” 

“Hope you are all in the best of health.  I feel fine, but I have a wisdom tooth coming in on the side that will probably have to come out.  I still have the hard spot on my hand, but I can use it a good deal.  I still get shocks in the one finger.  Don’t worry about me, though.”

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

 

 

Monday, Sept 11, 1944 (Camp McCoy, WI) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                11 Sept 1944

Dear Jack and Tom,

“Boy, are you two boys lucky to be going back to school at St Mark’s.  Jack, you are in about 7th grade aren’t you?  Let’s see.  Tom, I think you’re in the 2nd grade.  Gosh you will be at St Thomas before you even know it.  I’m still looking for something to give each of you, but the army doesn’t make anything like jackets that will fit you…I want you both to study hard in school and then play real hard when you finish your work.”

“Tom, why don’t you try to write me a regular letter instead of copying from the ‘Life’ magazine?  I’ll bet you can do it.  Jack will help you a little bit.  How is Laddie?  Is he still fat and lazy?  Does he play with you anymore?”

“I work at night now.  I work one night and then I sleep the next night.  We almost live outside now, and we hardly ever sleep in a building more than half the time…Write me a letter soon.”

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

 

 

Sunday, Sept 24, 1944 (Camp McCoy, WI) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                24 Sept 44

Dear mom and dad,

“How is dad coming on that hat?  If he hasn’t got one by now he might as well forget it…You know how the army changes its mind.  Well, now we don’t have to have one.  Of course I would like one very much but that’s beside the point.  This clothing situation is bad.  There are so much I will need and things we are required to buy.”

“Also the plans for movement have been changed.  Instead of shipping out soon we are going on a 30 day maneuver 35 miles north of here, starting Oct 2.  Then we are supposed to leave for sure, and we probably will at that time.  I’m putting in for a 15 day leave for as soon as possible.  Maybe they will give me 10 days.  That will probably be my last chance to see you before I ship overseas unless I have 1 more weekend free after that time.”

“I probably won’t get home next weekend.  I am going to fulfill my ambition (if I get off then) of going to Chicago for a weekend.  A few of my friends are going along.  I’m worried about spending too much money.  You needn’t worry about me getting drunk or getting in any other trouble down there.”

“I might get transferred to a Heavy Weapons Co or to the weapons platoon of my Co soon.  They are having some trouble with the officers they now have.  Lamar and I might both be changed, but probably we will stay where we are in the end.”

“Hope everyone is well and happy.  I suppose School is liked as much as ever.  It’s not a bad way to spend time, however.”

                                                                                Love as ever,

                                                                                Bob

 

(Note: Bob did get transferred to lead the weapons platoon of E Company)

From the 304th regimental history:

*’Then came maneuvers, beginning September 18th and scheduled to continue for 30 days.  Since the influx of recruits from the ASTP, from the Air Corps…and the myriad of other spots whence all this new blood had been flowing into the veins of the 304th, there had been a number of exercises and short field problems and tests of every description and nature.’

*’All units were to function (in the maneuvers) in precise conformity with this plan – as close to battle as could be without running the risk of loss of life.  Live ammunition was packed – and used – for bazookas, MG, M-1, artillery and mortar.  Command posts were set to work just as they would in a few short months from now.’

*’The 304th, with as complete preparation as it was humanly possible to achieve, was ripe for combat duty.  Soon, marching orders would come.  The first hint was dropped in September, when the 304th, as part of the 76th Division, was given the mission of preparing itself technically and physically for overseas movement.’

Monday, Oct 2, 1944 (Camp McCoy, WI) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                                2 Oct 44

Dear folks,

“It’s 1:00am and the division is moving north for a 30 day maneuver in about 6 hours, so I’ll have to cut this down to a mere note.  The chances are slight that I’ll get a leave during those 30 days; but you can look for me on a 10 day leave from 15 Oct to 1 Dec.  It might be the last time I’ll see you before shipping over.”

“Please write to me at the same address, but don’t expect to get any letters from me.  Too busy and poor facilities.  I’m having the orderly ship home the trunk and the laundry box full of clothes.”

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

 

 

Sunday, Oct 15, 1944 (Camp McCoy, WI) letter from Bob                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            15 Oct 44

Dear Mom and Dad,

“Please don’t think that I waited until I needed something before I would write.  Actually, I didn’t have time or the facilities to write while on maneuvers.  Now the situation has entirely changed.  Here is the story as much as I can tell you – As you know, we went on maneuvers around the 1st of October.  We had 2 exercises during the first week.  The next week we bivouacked (camped if you so call it) a few miles outside of camp and had a breather while we kept on training and filed out on the range.  Then it all started to happen.  General Ben ‘Yohoo’ Lear, Commander of Army ground Forces inspected us on Thurs.  By Friday night the rest of the maneuvers had been called off and we were preparing to move in Sat afternoon.  Here all this time I was getting to like it out in the woods and I got to know my men very well.  Lt Lamar said my leave of 10 days that was to start on Mon had been approved.  I was overjoyed, naturally.  We all knew we were moving from McCoy sooner than we expected.  Rumor was that all men had to be back from leaves by Oct 25, so mine was to be the 1st, last and only one in the Company.  Saturday at 4:30pm after we had moved into the barracks, the officers had a meeting.  It was trajic (I don’t even know how to spell) to me I guess.  ‘No leaves!!!’  Maybe 3-5 days if emergency or you had to move your family.  I was sick.  I guess we’re moving out around 1 Nov.  I was disgusted and downcast.  No leave.  I couldn’t even come home over the weekend because I had to try 5 AWOLs at a Court Martial that night.”

“I realize that I may not see you before I go overseas, but at least realize I tried to reach home.  Today I put in for 5 days starting Thursday but chances aren’t too good.  I may get home next weekend.  I sure appreciate everything you’ve both done for me, and I’ll always remember you for it….Thank you and love to you all.”

                                                                                Bob

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*’Maneuvers began Sept 18th, 1944 and were scheduled for 30 days but were cut short.  After only two weeks, the regiment was ordered to its home station to complete as soon as possible its final preparations for departure from the United States.’

 

 

 

 

 

November, 1944

Sunday, Nov 5, 1944 (Camp McCoy, WI) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                                5 Nov 44

Dear mom,

“Well, I guess it was about time I get stuck for guard on a weekend.  I only had it once before. I almost got someone to take my place, but I found a few of my so-called ‘friends’ none too willing to take my place even though they weren’t going out.”

“I received the gloves and they’re absolutely perfect.  I guess I’ll always be indebted to you and dad.  Thanks.  I received the fruit from ‘Joe’s’ and it was excellent, and I still have a lot left. You should see the room Lt McBride and I occupy.  We can hardly move around in it.”

“Don’t faint now.  I bought $10,000 insurance from Acacia Company…Everyone bought it almost.  Also, I have a Class E allotment of $40 taken out of my pay start Dec for you…I want you and dad to use it partially to repay you each month.  That will leave me $60 each month which is great plenty.”

”I’m sure I won’t see you before we go overseas.  I believe we will leave for Boston around next weekend.”

“I’m feeling fine and enjoying myself and my work and my men.  Don’t worry about me at any time.  I’ll write soon.  Tell Jack I’m sorry I forgot his birthday and maybe Dick too, but I will try to get them something for Xmas.”

Love,

Bob

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*’There were very quiet and yet all important preparations taking place…changes of allotments, of beneficiaries, of powers of attorney, etc.’

*’Overnight, the camp became a city of packing boxes.  Officers and men kept busy twenty four hours a day.. Trainloads of equipment must be packed.’

*’On Nov 11, 1944 (Armistice Day) the regiment boarded a train for the Port of Embarkation, Camp Myles Standish, Massachusetts (the Boston embarkation port for the European Theater of Operations, located between Boston and Rhode Island) and a staging period of ten days.’

Wednesday, 15 Nov, 1944 (Camp Myles Standish, MA) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                                15 Nov 44

Dear folks,

“…I hope you don’t get the idea that I don’t think Minnesota is one of the swellest places a fellow could live in, because I really do.  But nevertheless I’ve seen some beautiful scenery.  I’ve seen beautiful, green flat fields with large white farm buildings.  I’ve seen rolling hills and small mountains with fast flowing streams and pine trees.  Some of the farmers make wooden fences out of logs with no nails or wire…Also some of the farmers make their fences out of cobblestones.”

“It doesn’t seem that I can’t hop on the Milwaukee Road and be home in a few hours.  But all that will come another sweet day.”

“Dad will be glad to know that cigarettes are plentiful up here.  I heard they almost had to ration yours.”

“How is Jim getting along with St Thomas…How is Dicky doing along with his math and Latin?  Jack, with his excellent coaching, should be a good basketball player.  How are you, Tom?  Are you taking care of Laddy?  Well, so long for awhile.”

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

 

 

Monday, 20 Nov, 1944 (Hotel Touraine, Boston) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                                20 Nov 44

Dear mom,

“…I’ve seen a good bit of Boston since last Saturday but I am disappointed in it.  It is an old city buried deep in ancient laws and customs, but it does have its good points….I ate a delicious meal at Basochi’s, an Italian restaurant…We tried to go to the Mayfair to dance, after picking up a few swell girls, but it was too crowded and the places close down at 12:00 Sat night because of some horrible ‘Blue laws’.”    

“I’m afraid this will be my last night here or any town for quite some time to come, so extend my good wishes and apologies (for not finding them a present) to poor dad, Tommy, Jack and you yourself.” 

(Note: He asks his mom to buy a present for his dad and also for Celine) ‘Now I must rely on you as usual.  I would appreciate it if you would get Celine the best sweater of the Cardigan B type in town.  Even if you have to pay $15 or $20,  I want it to something extra special this time.”

“I miss you and Celine terribly much – more and more each day.  Please keep writing.  Celine hasn’t written me since I’ve been here, so that’s not so hot.  I’ll answer Jim’s swell letter soon.  Why doesn’t dad write?  I really miss all the kids a lot.  I probably won’t see them again for a few years, so take good care of them.”

                                                                                                Love to you and all the others,

                                                                                                Bob

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*’Behind a curtain of secrecy the troops at Camp Myles Standish were being rushed through a final briefing on their new status as combat-zone soldiers. There were lifeboat drills and gas drills.  There were talks on censorship.  There were inspections of clothing and equipment.  And there were religious services for the men. Embarkation was imminent.’

*’The regiment was alerted to move on Thanksgiving Day (Nov 23rd, 1944).’

*’The troops came in by coach and arrived at the dock, next to the troopship, the Brazil, with an army band blaring and Red Cross girls offering coffee and doughnuts.  To load the ship, a number was called from the ship’s manifest; a man responded with his name, and moved toward the ship and up the gangplank.  This loading process continued all afternoon and evening, loading over 4,000 people.  Along with the 304th were elements of the 417th and 385th infantry regiments. As fast as they came onboard, the Transportation Corps guides rushed them to their assigned cranny amongst row on row of four tiered canvas bunks.’

*’The U.S. troopship Brazil began its journey in Boston Harbor at 0015, November 24, 1944.’

*’The Brazil awoke well out to sea.  It was morning and troops crowded the decks for their first exciting eyeful of a wartime convoy.  Spread out over the dark green water as far as the horizon were ships of many types, each following a prescribed course, with destroyer escorts bobbing about the perimeter, on nervous watch for submarines.”

*Mealtime was not fun, and getting into the dining hall meant standing in a long line and moving slowly down narrow corridors into the crowded, steamy dining hall.

 

 

 

Nov , 1944 (in the Atlantic ocean on troop ship Brazil) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                Somewhere at Sea

                                                                                                                                November, 44                                                                   

Dear mom, dad and kids,

“As you probably guessed I am on the final jump overseas.  There is only one thing I dislike, and that’s the rolling of the sea.  I can’t seem to get my stomach to coordinate with the rolling of the ship.  Here, I’ve always bragged about having a strong stomach.  I was fairly sick for two days, and boy I mean to tell you I was really miserable.  I didn’t care if I lived or died.  Because of the foul air inside the ship, I’ve had almost a constant headache and a sort of dull feeling in my stomach.  But if this fine weather keeps up I’ll be back in good health.”

“For something to do on board ship we see movies, have shows, and do a lot of reading…The only women aboard are 6 nurses who live next door to my stateroom.  Man, are they being rushed by all the gay blades.  Every day at seas – strangely enough – they look even more beautiful than the day before.”

“One thing that is unpleasant is the fact that we have to wear life preservers or have them with us 24 hours a day.  We have abandon ship drill almost once every day.”

“Don’t worry about me or where I’m going.  I’m perfectly well and happy, although I do get quite lonesome now and then.  I would tell you more if I could but I’m sure you all understand.”

                                                Love to all,

                                                Bob

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*‘A few of the men found sailoring somewhat less than enjoyable.  In the roll of the ship, they were also gaining a new experience, one which all of the motion-preventative pills they could swallow didn’t seem to affect…Two days of rolling waves were followed by the Gulf Stream, smooth sailing and happier days.’

*’Adjustment to life on this floating hotel wasn’t difficult, the men found.  Their biggest job was to amuse themselves…Thousands of pocket editions of best seller books were circulated through the ship.  A game room offered anything from checkers to Parcheesi, but poker was the enlisted men’s choice.  There were movies everyday… boxing and wrestling matches filled the afternoon hours.  There was a ship’s P-X (a store).’

*’In the evenings, the ship’s dining hall took the spotlight.  There, nightly radio shows played to ‘live’ audiences while those who could not crowd into the room ‘tuned in’ via the ship’s public address system.  The 304th Dance Band became a star attraction.  Professional level variety shows, staged with the aid of the ship’s three dramatically inclined – and pretty – nurses, fed laughs to the GI passengers.’

*’Despite this galaxy of entertainment, probably the most popular activities were letter writing and the simple pleasures of lounging on deck, watching the progress of the convoy…every day religious services.’

*‘Boat drill was an everyday routine…Blackout restrictions were rigid from sundown until sunrise.  Life jackets became part of the uniform day and night, to be worn wherever the soldier went on the ship.’

 

 

 

 

 

December, 1944

Dec , 1944 (in the Atlantic ocean on troop ship Brazil) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                                December, 1944

                                                                                                                                                                Aboard the Good Ship —

                                                                                                                                                                Somewhere in the Atlantic

Dear mom,

“This letter is more of an experiment than anything else.  Please tell me the date you receive this V-mail compared to the air mail I also wrote.”

“At present time I am beginning to realize just exactly what a soft and pleasant life I have had aboard ship.”

“After days and days at sea, we finally sighted our destined coast line this morning.”  

Love,

Bob

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*’A week slid by.  There were rumors and conjectures about the Brazil’s destination.’

*On Dec 4th, 1944 after eleventh days at sea (including a trip into the southern Atlantic), ‘the destroyers closed in and planes circled overhead.  Someone cried ‘Land!’  And that was it.  The white cliffs became clearly visible and the convoy went steaming through the English Channel…around the Isle of Wight…passing the ancient marine city of Portsmouth, the vessels swung into the Spithead and steamed slowly up the twenty-seven mile run to the docks of Southhampton.  To the men of the Brazil, England was the forest of chimneys rising from Southhampton rooftops.  It was the derbied Englishman with his black umbrella aboard the Southhampton ferry.’

*’Boscombe, a suburb of Bournemouth…large hotels along the beaches of a city famous around the world as England’s great summer playground.  Here, amid beautiful gardens, with civilians as next-door neighbors, the men of the regiment were destined to spend a pleasant month. ‘

*’Calistenics, a crying necessity after the long trip, were stressed; short hikes not only served to tone the men’s feet and legs into shape again, but to acquaint them as well with the historic richness of a surrounding countryside.’

(Note: Bob celebrated his 19th birthday on December 8th, 1944)

Sunday, Dec 10, 1944 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob    

                                                                                                                                                Somewhere in England

                                                                                                                                                Dec 10, 1944

Dear mom, dad and kids,

“I hope the absence of any letters will not alarm you at any time, because you must realize the situation I am in.  I will be moving at almost any time – and the work will probably become much more intense.  Remember, however, that I will write as often and whenever possible.”

“After the soft life of the trip across the waters, I am very soft and fat, but each day finds me just a little bit more in shape…The food is excellent, although it doesn’t compare with that the Navy gave us.  Nothing will equal that for a long time…I have now become an honest to goodness coffee drinker, but nothing will ever take the place of milk, and there is just none of that to be had here.  I’ll make up for it when I get home.  I would appreciate a box of candy, if it would be possible.  What little there is here is rationed very strictly. ”

“Don’t worry about my happiness.  I’m in the best of health…I like this part of England very much and there are Red Cross clubs, shows and dances to see every nite.  That is, if you can find them in this horrible blackout we have constantly.”

“I went to mass and communion on my birthday, and thought of the 18 other years I had gone to church in St Paul. 

“I live in a small hotel (former hotel) which looks like two small houses connected by a hallway.  It is rather old and there is almost nothing inside but a few electric light bulbs, gas heaters and now we have hot water… We live right next to the water on top of a cliff about 500 yards from a large bay which opens into the ocean a few miles out…Actually most of our rooms are very livable and comfortable after we get settled and get things set up properly.  I like this part of England very much.  It probably has the most beautiful parks in the world right here in this town.’

“I want to go to London for a visit…I am going to try to locate Harry and Bill through the Red Cross… The people here are very hard hit, and so they are quite reserved, but very polite and helpful.  The men around here wear a lot of knickers and bright colored wool socks and either a cane or umbrella.”

“There are a lot of little boys like you, Tom.  They have lost their homes and always ask for money or ‘Gum, chum?’ or ‘Candy, Andy?’  Many of them have never had an orange or ice cream.  Nearly everything is scarce or rationed strictly or very high priced.”

“It’s very hard catching on to the English accent and to their slang expressions.  An elevator is a lift, saloon is a pub, a flashlight is a torch.”

“Well, the first mail we’ve seen in weeks is to arrive in 30 minutes, and I want to see if I have any.  I hope so… please write often.  Letters are valuable.  Send my Inf journal back to me again… I have cancelled my Acacia insurance and increased my Class E allotment $15 (to $65 total).”

                                                                                                                Love to all,

                                                                                                                Bob   

 

 

Sunday, Dec 17, 1944 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                Dec 17, 1944

Dear folks,

“…I spent last Wednesday and Thursday in London.  I went down on a train with Vic Lamar and 2 service women Vic knew very well…We went out to dinner.  Food is expensive and very inferior… I am now becoming a tea and coffee drinker because of the need for something to drink…Their subway system is one of the best in the world.”

“Those London civilians seemed very stupid.  They didn’t seem to know their streets, and they just couldn’t give you the right directions.  They say for instance ‘bear right and take the second turning on the left.  You cawn’t miss it.  Cherrio.’  I missed it all night until I finally found a place at 11:30.”

“The next day I saw Hyde Park, the Great Marble Arch, Constitution Hall (a road), St James and Green Parks, Buckingham Palace…All around St Paul’s, the buildings are bombed to rubble…Everything in London looks ancient, old and their Victorian and Gothic architecture is awe inspiring.”

“We aren’t doing much of anything at present.  We mostly have short marches and a little physical training.  I believe we will spend Christmas day here where we are now… And as long as the mail keeps coming the way it has.  I can’t complain at all…Even in December the weather is fairly nice and the grass and hedges are green.”   

“Please keep me informed as to the bonds coming home and any other money.  Don’t worry about me.”

                                                                                                Love,

                                                                                                Bob

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*‘Visits to London were high on the priority list.  Special trains carried hundred of 304th men daily to the wartime capital to discover for themselves…There the men saw their first blitzed city.’

*‘GIs were surprised with the discovery that English girls knew – and liked – the American way of dancing.  There was the tea time habit and the pounds to half-penny headache.’

Tuesday, Dec 19, 1944 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                19 Dec 17 44

                                                                                                                                                England

Dear mom,

“…I’ve read in our daily paper, ‘The Stars and Stripes’, that you have been having very much snow out Minnesota way.  I’m glad you’ll be having a nice white Christmas…Some girl I met invited me up to London for Christmas dinner, but I won’t be able to make it, because I am going up there for a second time this morning for 48 hours.  I hope to meet Harry Paulet there, but he might not be able to get down.  I certainly hope I get to see him before he shoves off again.”

                                                                                                Love to all,

                                                                                                Bob

 

 

Monday, Dec 25, 1944 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                Yuletide greetings from

                                                                                                                                                England

                                                                                                                                                Dec 25, 1944

Dear folks (Mother, Dad, Jim, Dick, Jack, Tom, Joe, Teresa and Laddy),

“My best wishes to you all on this day of all days.  This is the first Xmas I have ever spent away from home, but it has turned out much better than I ever expected.”

“Here’s why I feel so good – I went to London for the second time this week and I saw Harry for 12 hours.  I enjoyed every minute with him immensely…took a 2:40am train from London…I worked all that night and the wee hours, until 4am bedding and feeding new troops.  As a result I slept late the next morning and missed a rough 25 mile march.  Then, Saturday night 2nd battalion officers had a buffet supper and dance.  I was on guard until 8:30pm so I missed the dancing by the time I got dressed and ate.  We ate real ice cream, cake spam (a mainstay in England), potato salad, chocolate éclairs, 36 gallons of beer, lots of scotch and a few other things.”

“I met a number of girls who were out with some of the officers and I took one of the stranded beauties home…Vic Lamar and I finally hit the hay at 5am, but slept on two very short and uncomfortable couches.  I got up at 10am Sunday morning and went to mass.  Last night I went to confession and benediction at the Corpus Christi Church and then went out and spent the evening talking to a good English family.  We talked as we sat by the fireplace, and we listened to the wireless (radio).”

“The best thing of all was going to Christmas mass and communion this morning.  All the Catholics in the regiment marched to church with drum and bugle corps and colors flying.  It was a thrilling spectacle to say the least.  It was a solemn high mass and some army men made up a choir and sang the whole mass just like we used to do at home.  They sang a lot of Christmas carols, as well.  It wasn’t as good as Prof Pardo’s choir, but it certainly sounded good to me.  I thought I was going to church at St Mark’s for awhile.”

“I certainly appreciate the letters, mom.  I get one from you almost every day – it helps when everyone else is too busy to write.  But don’t worry about me getting enough sleep.  My mood is excellent…I hope you all had a prosperous and happy Christmas, and maybe I’ll be home for the next one if I pull a few strings.  I hope you are satisfied with what presents I was able to get you; nothing is obtainable here.  Throw a few snowballs for me, kids.  I’m spending a non-white Christmas.  But my conscience tells me I’ll see plenty of snow in a short time.”                                                  Love to all,

                                                                Bob

“Wish I could see the Christmas tree just once.  Wish I had some candy and cookies.”

                                                                                                                Bob

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*‘A whirl of social activity was planned for Christmas and the New year…The people of Boscombe opened their homes to troops, entertaining hundreds of men throughout the holidays.  The result was that an expected let down over Christmas away from home was substantially mitigated and failed to materialize.’

*‘At 1030 hours the following morning (Christmas Day) Boscombe was treated for the first time in its life to the sight of a military formation moving down its main thoroughfare, Christchurch Road, to an exclusively Roman Catholic ceremony…The entire line of march was led by the Drum and Bugle Corps.’

Sunday, Dec 31, 1944 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                31 Dec 44

                                                                                                                                                England

Dear mom and dad,

“Well, I guess you all realize that this is the first Christmas or New years I have ever spent away from home.  It was indeed the saddest one I have ever spent; but in a way it was one of the happiest.  I never before really appreciated home and all the swell things that it had to offer.  I never thought that I would miss a lot of the little things like Christmas trees, presents, 5:30 mass, Christmas morning, the kids banging on the piano, the good old RCA radio blasting away, all my school books and the whole family (Celine too).  I hope everything is still the same when I come home in the distant future.  You don’t know how well off you are in every way.  Hold onto it all.”

 “Our outfit is still having physical training and regular other classes.  When that will stop and we will move to the continent, no one knows.  We will leave in a moment’s notice when the time comes.”

“I’m happy but I will never be entirely so until I get home once more.  Until then don’t worry about me at all.  I’ll be home sometime soon.”

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob       

 

 

January, 1945

Monday, Jan 1, 1945 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                1 Jan 1945

                                                                                                                                                England

Dear Tom,

“How are you and Laddie getting along?  I hope you are both good friends…I won’t be able to send you a present but I want to wish you a happy birthday this month on the 14th January….Over here in England the little boys never get candy, gum or milk, like you do…They always run up to American soldiers and say – ‘Gum, chum?’, ‘Candy, Andy?’…We don’t have any snow here.  It’s always very foggy and dark, or else it’s raining.  I think I like St Paul best of all.”

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

 

 

Monday, Jan 1, 1945 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                1 Jan 1945

                                                                                                                                                England

Dear Dick,

“I want to send my congratulations to you on earning an eagle award at St Thomas.  It look as though you are well on the road to success and high honors at St Thomas…Do you still play a lot of basketball and whip the pants off Jimmy in ‘handball’?…All the movies over here are about a year or two old so I don’t want to hear you ever squawk about the service at the Grandview.  I’m becoming very English because I often have an afternoon cup of tea and cake.”

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob       

 

 

 

Monday, Jan 1, 1945 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                1 Jan 1945

                                                                                                                                                England

Dear Jim,

“I’ve heard a lot about your troubles, adventures and dates from letters from mom.  But I would like to hear a few things from you first hand.  I resented one thing you told mother, to the effect that you had gone out with more girls than I ever had.  Well, perhaps you forgot to give me credit for the McCoy nurses and the Boston and English girls…Don’t tell Celine, though.  She might not appreciate it too much….Say hello to Tom and all your other friends for me.”

                                                                Love,

                                                                Bob

 

 

Monday, Jan 1, 1945 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                1 Jan 1945

                                                                                                                                                England

Dear Jack,

“I hope you aren’t too mad at me for not buying you a Christmas present… Very few of the little English boys get presents at all….How’s your basketball team coming?…You and Jackie Abbott will probably both be star forwards for the St Mark’s Lions…I go to church and communion here every Sunday and holy days and the priest says everything in the mass just like Father Corrigan, except he has an English accent.”

                                                                 Love,

                                                                Bob       

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, Jan 6, 1945 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                6 Jan 1945

                                                                                                                                                England

Dear folks,

“From now on I’m afraid you’ll have to be satisfied with me writing one letter to all of you…you see, from here on we won’t have much time for writing.  I sure appreciated receiving all the letters from you mother, dad and the cards from the kids.  Mail is many times a soldier’s life blood.  I received 14 cards and letters from Celine and all of you yesterday, dating from Dec 6 to Dec 19.”

“I’m very sorry to hear about Bernie shipping over here…As you probably know by now, the war is far from being over, and there are hardly any divisions left in the States even now.”

“Theresa, I want to thank you very much for the lovely card I received from you…Dad, I suppose you realize from my former letters how wrong you were in your deductions that I was in the Mediterranean Sea.  We sailed the South Atlantic route; that is why we had a few balmy days…I appreciated the ‘St Paul Readers Digest’ very much.  It tells me a lot about home and what is going on back there.”

“Nothing exciting or new seems to be happening to us.  We eat well, get plenty of sleep at night and do very little during the day.  I’m crazy about my men and my job.  I now have 2 jeeps, 3 light machine guns and mortars and 34 men under me.  We have our troubles and disagreements but on the whole we get along famously.  Today on staff inspection of the battalion one of my MG squads had the best room.  Also I had the best score in the regiment on and inspection by division.  I wish I knew my job a little better though.”

“I have pretty well decided to become a doctor and also take up my music again.  I don’t intend to be a bachelor anymore, either.”

                                                                Love to all,

                                                                Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, Jan 8, 1945 (Boscombe, England) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                January 8, 1945

                                                                                                                                                England

Dear folks,

“This letter of necessity will have to be a little short along the edges.  Things are happening fast, and the time is short from now on.  It seems as if all I’ve been doing lately is going to free GI movies.  One of the men in my platoon runs the movie projector for the whole Regiment.  So he always shows private movies in one of my squad rooms…All in all I have spent some very enjoyable evenings here and I will regret a little when I leave in the inevitable near future.”

“I feel remarkably well so far, so I guess I’ll last it out for a few more weeks of this climate of fog and rain…It’s very strange how the mail comes.  I will get a few mailed about the 29th of Nov and then some from around the 15th of Dec and then a week later a few come in from 4 Dec.  I can’t understand why.  It makes it a little difficult to read the letters logically.  I still appreciate all the letters you can write however.  Please don’t ever worry if you don’t receive letters for a few weeks in a row.  There are so many things that could happen that it is silly to worry…Also, I move so frequently and I’m often so busy I haven’t the time to sit down and write a letter…Hope everyone is well and happy.  I couldn’t be better.”

                                                                Love to all,

                                                                Bob

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*’The regiment, meanwhile, had received its warning order and first alert.  Quiet preparations had been going on through the holidays.  Delivery was taken on new vehicles for the entire regiment, and shortages of equipment were filled.  Weapons were test fired.  Early in the New year came the final alert.’

*’Since no transportation was available, the men were forced to hand carry their duffel bags a mile and a half to the railway station in Bournemouth.’

Friday, Jan 12, 1945 (Yerville, France) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                12 January, 1945

                                                                                                                                                Somewhere in France

Bonjour Madame and Monsieurs,

(Hello Madam and sirs)

“I’m on the move again or should I say I have been on the move.  After having crossed the English Channel in a rolling ship docking at a very famous harbor which was almost completely bombed to nothing, and marching and riding quite a few miles, I have reached a lull in this constant moving and confusion of warfare.  By means of a GI French phrase book and a French interpreter from my platoon, the officers and men from our company have managed to find shelter in some of the French homes of a small village.  There is more than a foot of snow on the ground and it is very cold out…Vic Lamar and I have been put up in a room above a café, there is no heat whatsoever, but there is a nice soft bed and plenty of covers to be had.”

“You can’t begin to imagine how amusing it is to see me try to hold a conversation with a Frenchman.  It takes every bit of ingenuity I can find to buy a loaf of bread or get a drink of water.  I had a taste of French wine, cognac, and it is the strongest stuff I can even conceive of existing anyplace in the world….I miss you terribly.”

                                                                Love to all,

                                                                Bob

 

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*The regiment boarded LSTs in Portland, England on Jan 10th to cross the English Channel…  ‘The flat bottomed monstrosity (LST) was no smooth sailing Brazil.  Men jammed into every corner of the hold, piling equipment beside them.  The boat wallowed through the choppy Channel, taking its toll of seasick soldiers…When the regiment disembarked at LeHavre on the same evening, there was no disappointment over the shortness of the journey. ‘

*’Up from the battered waterfront, through the city’s hilly streets and into the French countryside, the troops struggled with their heavy packs.  Mile after mile they trudged, into a blinding snowstorm…At last, almost ten miles from Le Havre the column turned off the road down a slippery, nearly invisible path.  They had reached their area – an open field…Here was a bed of slush and ice.  Some of the men made sleeping bags of their shelter halves.  Others pitched pup tents…One could keep warm or keep dry, but not both.’

*’Next morning, the men laughed it off over a breakfast of Spam, bread and coffee.  The appearance of a convoy of two and a half ton trucks gave them a new outlook on life.  So the regiment moved on to the vicinity of Yerville…the men basked in the comparative luxury of hay, and the warmth of flagrantly adjacent cows.’

*On Jan 11th, the regiment took a convoy of trucks to Yerville and nearby villages, where they were to spend a week.

*‘The metal chains on vehicles provided a lonesome symphony swelling and then fading into the night.’

Sunday, Jan 14, 1945 (Yerville, France) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                14 January, 1945                                             

Dear mom, dad and kids,

“I was almost as happy today as I will be on the day I return home to you.  I received a letter from good old faithful Jack and 3 from mother and 2 from Celine.  The letter situation assumes more importance each day, as far as morale is concerned…No, I haven’t received any Xmas boxes…It takes awhile for those to get through.”

“It is almost impossible to spend any money over here.  The French people would almost rather give you something than sell it to you.  Of course, they will do almost anything for a package of cigarettes…and a cigar is almost priceless. I’ve got a carton of Luckies and I have had many more which I didn’t know what to do with.  Too bad I can’t send them home to dad or Joe.” 

“I’m glad you celebrated my birthday anyway and had a nice chocolate cake…Send all the fruit cake, cookies and candy you can, to a reasonable amount.  We sure miss that sort of food.” 

“I’m very sorry but I’ll have to end this letter suddenly.  I promise to write tomorrow night if I get a chance.  Everyone in the French family and Lt Lamar have gone to bed and all I can hear is the alarm clock ticking and the snow chains on the tires of jeeps racing by.  This is a very busy place now with all the troops and vehicles.  Hope we stay a few more days.”

                                                                Love to all,

                                                                Bob

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, Jan 17, 1945 (Yerville, France) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                17 January, 1945                                             

Dear mom, dad and kids,

“We have been spending a very pleasant few days here in this little French village, and it’s going to be very hard to leave this life of a lazy man.  Every morning when I get up I try to speak a few words to the French people over here…You see, over here the people greet everyone they meet on the street in the morning, afternoon and evening.  The men over here all like the French people a lot more than they do the English.  The English are too reserved, but the French, on the other hand, do almost everything for you.”

“Man, are we having the good chow now.  I haven’t eaten any better than I am now for a long time.  Three solid meals a day – and hot too.  In the near future it will be all cold K rations, c rations and 10 in 1 rations (something new).”

“The men are all turning domestic.  We wash our own clothes, sew and repair them, make mittens hoods, scarves…they even bake cakes, pancakes…”

“I won’t be able to write for a few days.  But don’t worry about me.  I’m in excellent health, morale and everything else.  I went to mass and communion and confession about 10 days ago.”       

                                                                Love to all,

                                                                Bob

 

 

Wednesday, Jan 17, 1945 (Yerville, France) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                17 Jan 45                                             

Dear folks,

“This is just a note to let you know that I spent my stay in England at Boscombe… in southern England.  We had PX rations yesterday…I get many apples and oranges.  Hope you all are well.  I won’t have a chance to write for a few days.”

                                                                Love to all,

                                                                Bob

                “Just got back from mass and communion.”

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*’At home they were good for a laugh as American Legion stuff.  But in France, 40 and 8 box cars (built to fit 40 men or 8 horses) were a painful reality and still in style as late as January, 1945.’

*On Jan 19th, they marched about 10 miles to Auffay, France, and boarded the 40 x 8 box cars… ‘for a ride that was more picturesque than comfortable.  Bedded down in straw (without the horses, but with the full complement of forty men) the troops cooked their ten-in-one rations on mountain stoves and witnessed the passing scene in great detail as trains made a halting advance through northern France.  Beauvais, Compiegne, Soissons, Reims – at last the long trip was over.  As the regiment set up temporarily in the vicinity St Hilaire-le-Petit (20 miles east of Reims), an advance party was already on its way to Belgium.  There were a few hours to thaw out frost bitten feet and enjoy a hot meal before the regiment went on in trucks to its Belgian rendezvous.  Every passing mile brought the 304th nearer to the fighting.  Forgetting freezing hands and feet, the men eagerly examined this battleground of the centuries (as they approached the ‘Bulge’ area).’

*On Jan 22nd, ‘the regiment moved into the 8th corps reserve on January 22nd in the vicinity of Beausaint and Champlon’ (near Hives, Belgium)’ after the trip by truck of almost 100 miles.

Tuesday, Jan 23, 1945 (Hives, Belgium) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                Belgium                                                                                                                                                                                                               23  Jan 45                                            

Dear mom, dad and kids,

“I miss you all very much now – more than ever before.  I hope you are all having Christmas winter.  I would like to see spring or summer here, though.  It’s very miserable at times with the wind and the snow.  We left our former French village (Yerville) and traveled for a few days until we arrived here at our temporary village (Hives, Belgium).  I saw an endless stream of wrecked equipment and ruined houses and towns.  I’ll bet some of those traces of war could tell some horrible tales.”

“Be thankful for every piece of clothing and every small bit of food.  You have so much more than these millions of poor people ever had – and so very much more than they now have.  The French and Belgians threw food at us as we passed by on trucks, and they ran out to us with hot coffee when we halted.  They all waved to us, but when we got near the front, the people didn’t seem one bit glad to see soldiers.  They probably had seen all they ever want to see.  I was within a few short miles of many towns that were all over the papers a few days ago (Note: he is referring to the Battle of the Bulge).”

“As we came up to the front we passed some very beautiful evergreen forests with the branches leaning heavily from the 10 inches of snowfall.  I was very much surprised to see so many hills and so many large forests.  It could easily be a section of Minnesota or some other state.  But the houses look much different.  Many of the trees were covered with cuts from shell fragments, and a great deal were almost cut in half so that a few more chops of an ax would fell them and make them a roadblock.”

“All the houses in Europe never have more than one room heated at one time…I’ve never seen women who were quicker to see our troubles and help us out.  Of course they get valuable food and cigarettes from eth soldiers.  Nearly everyone, women and me, young or old, smoke cigarettes.  I can’t understand it entirely, but so far I am in perfect health.  No frost bitten feet, bad teeth, bad colds or anything.  I’m still plump – not quite as jolly.  You should see all the fruit juices I get – pineapple, pears, peaches, tomato juice, apples and oranges – more than I’ve ever had.”

“I am now living in a small village near the front lines in Belgium.  The Germans left here a short time ago.  I guess we will be here for a little while anyway before we move up to the front to battle the foe.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better bunch of officers or men.  My NCOs are excellent and the men, although young, are quite cooperative.  But they want to get home very badly, just as much as I do.  I never realized there would be so much trouble to have with 34 men.  They have every type of trouble imaginable, and they usually come to me.  It’s good training for me, don’t you think.”

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

“Thanks to everyone for all the swell letters.  They mean a lot to me.  I can’t answer them all individually.”

“(Mother only ) Please use some of my money to buy Celine and Orchid… for her birthday.”

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*‘The Battle of the Bulge was yet an open issue.  Hitler’s Wehrmacht (armed forces) remained a mighty punch, and the threat of von Rundstedt’s desperate counter thrusts (which started the Battle of the Bulge just weeks earlier) still loomed.  Here, in Belgium, the Allied armies on the Western front were recovering from their first major reverse.  In the icy grip of winter, they were fighting off an attempt by the enemy to prolong the war for months.’

*’Less than a week before Royal Tigers had lumbered up and down these roads.  Bloody Bastogne was only 12 miles away and German patrols were far from inactive.  The 304th was in combat.  As the troops deployed over chewed up, icy roads into a dozen tiny Belgian villages – now ghost towns – they had their first glimpse of the 1945-style village fighting which was to become so characteristic of their own battle experience.  Snowdrifts, covering fields and roads, mercifully veiled much of the debris of battle, but they could not hide the gaunt ruins of towns shattered by artillery fire and bombs, nor wreckage of vehicles, tanks and equipment of the enemy.’

*(from a later diary by a soldier whose unit was temporarily attached Bob’s company, E Company): ‘Section was attached to E Company, 2nd battalion, 304th infantry regiment.  Met all the officers and they sure are a good bunch!’ (from same diary several days later) ‘Still sitting…sure like the men from E Company.’

*’Few realized how close this enemy was even when the order came down to set up observations posts and patrols…flares were reported at night and…the sounds of some small arms fire not far…But, for most men, this was passed off as the work of some too eager, trigger-happy GIs.  The realization of war was not complete.’

*’Beausaint also was the scene of the first roving, motorized patrols with their hourly reports:…’Small arms fire, scattered, intermittent, reported approximately 1,000 yards from 2nd battalion (Bob’s battalion) CP.’

*’Enemy patrols were coming through. There could be no doubt about that.  But they were spasmodic and scattered, a sort of a casual rear-guard action.  Our own reaction was almost equally casual.  Food, drink and heat were tacitly still more important, more easily grasped and understood to the rank and file than was war or the enemy.  And on January 24th when the alert for another move came down, the comment most commonly heard was: ‘Just another hurry up and wait!’ ’

*On Jan 24th, The 2nd battalion left Belgium for Osweiler, Lumembourg at 2200…’ Snow had fallen and the temperature was way down.  Windshields developed stubborn glazings of ice and frost inside and out.  For all practical purposes, visibility was nil.  The march order called for black out with sixty yard intervals and a ten mile-per-hour speed…Little by little, the column crept and crawled along to destination, without benefit of the moon.’

*In coming down to Luxembourg, the 304th regiment was moving up into the line and relieving the 324th regiment and 87th division, which had been occupying the same positions for the past ten days.

*Artillery was known as ‘mail’, and the mail continued to come in (from the Germans) but went out (from the Americans) with even greater frequency

-In late January, the German artillery in this area was very accurate, meaning that they knew the locations on the American troops, which they probably received from German patrols.  ‘Patrols from the other side of the Sauer – enemy patrols – had been coming over, hiding by day, prowling by night and stealing back over the river with whatever information they had been able to pick up when the end of their three days’ rations had been reached.’

-So the Americans began to do more frequent patrols, to gather information and capture prisoners.  The American patrols were manned by volunteers.

February and March, 1945

Thursday, Feb 1, 1945 (Osweiler, Luxembourg) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                1 February, 1945

Luxembourg                                     

Dear folks, mom, dad and kids,

“Before I get started in any long winded discussion about anything, I would like to inform you that the package situation is very poor.  I received one in England that Dad sent me away back at McCoy.  All the rest of them have been lost or are still on their way.”

“Tell Jim I think he is foolish to even think of joining the paratroopers.  He has nothing to gain and everything to lose.  He’ll probably break his back or ankle.  If he joins the air corps or navy, he’ll probably learn something that will be of value to him in civilian life.  I’m proud to say I’m an infantryman, but I’ve learned very little.”

“It has been snowing here for almost 10 days off and on, but today and yesterday we got a new wrinkle.  The weather had been bitter cold, but it has warmed up considerably and started to rain….There was a good foot of snow on the ground, but most of it has disappeared.’

“We are living in a small village that is entirely surrounded by high hills and many woods of evergreen trees.  My platoon and I are living in a small house about the size of yours at home.  The town is absolutely empty of all civilians or life, with the exception of our battalion.  Most of the homes have been burned, demolished or at least hit by some sort of shell but the one we live in.  Even the church steeple has a hole in it.  Most of the houses are at least standing, though, and the people must have left them in a big hurry, because they left almost everything…We cook our own food half the time, making pancakes, coffee, mashed potatoes dehydrated milk (very good), etc.  We sleep on mattresses which we place on the floor.  We found 2 pigs and 4 chickens and slaughtered and ate them.  We get up at 8:45 for 9:00 breakfast, and we eat supper at 4:00 in the afternoon.  What a life!  I could stand a lot of this.  We get free candy and cigarettes (which I still don’t smoke), matches, shaving cream, tooth brushes and paste.  Free papers and magazines.”

“I went to mass and communion yesterday, but I missed the two previous Sundays.  We were traveling in a 40 and 8 boxcar during one of the Sundays – 40 men or 8 horses…I stored my footlocker and all my good clothes in a small town in France…I stored my duffel bag, too, and threw my grip away.”       

“The army…gave me a white pair of ski pants with a white ski jacket and hood to camouflage my dark OD uniform when I travel around the open fields in the day or on night patrols.”

“Everyone is reading the papers constantly to see how far the Russians are from Berlin.  They can really fight, can’t they?  I will probably have plenty of stories to tell you when I come home.  I can’t tell you where I am, but I’m sure that you have heard of this sector enough.”
“Don’t worry about me.  I’m happy and I look forward very much to coming home to you all.  I never realized how swell it was at home.  Dad and mom, you have been the best two parents to me that a fellow could ever hope to have.  I can’t begin to thank you for all the things you have done for me, and I hope I can half way repay you for some of the things you’ve done.  Remember that as long as I have any money or a home, you have too.  Happy Birthday to both of you.  I hope you will see another 30 more like those you have already had.  There are no stores in this town at all, so you will have to wait for some time for a present.”

                                                                                Love to all,

                                                                                Bob 

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*‘Patrols and observation posts… continued their regular, sometimes monotonous, sometimes engrossing routine…they wore white coveralls in order to blend with the what snow still lay upon the ground.’

*‘Dickweiler and Osweiler were strictly deserted, with the exception of the battalions and the German artillery…Both of these towns had already felt the devastating effects of artillery.’

*On Feb 4th, the command post moved about 6 km northeast, from Boudeler to Herborn, about 6 km south of Echternach.

-The ‘what, when, how and who’ were still big questions, but there was no doubt that something was brewing.  Activity was occurring which pointed to one thing – a crossing of the Sauer river would be coming soon.

-It was clear that this period of watching and preparing was coming to an end.  In Luxembourg City, at General Patton’s headquarters, the Third Army’s share of the frontal assault on the Siegfried Line was being plotted and the 76th division, new to combat, was to be heavily involved.

-The 417th (also part of the 76th division), was going to attempt the initial crossing of the Sauer at Echternach, one of the most formidable sectors of the West Wall (Siegfried Line) – while the other divisions would make simultaneous assaults further upstream (the 304th does not appear to have been involved in this offensive other than in a support role)

-Patrols and observations posts continued for all battalions in the 304th

*’Regimental reconnaissance was concentrated mainly around three spots – Steinheim, Rosport and Hinkel’

*Father Kolenda, the Catholic Chaplain, was starting to have his first heavy days of business in early February, administering last rites and consoling soldiers.

 

Monday, Feb 5, 1945 (Berbourg, Luxembourg) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                5 February, 1945

Luxembourg                                     

Dear Postal Department:

“Please let my mother send me some sort of stationery soon, or I won’t be able to write anymore.  Of course I can always use some kind of candy, dried fruits…Also I’m having tough lucky with pencils.  This darn one of mine is giving me all kinds of trouble.  Otherwise, I’m all set.  Thanks!”

                                                                                Robert E. Lee

                                                                                Lt, Inf

 

 

Monday, Feb 5, 1945 (Berbourg, Luxembourg) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                5 February, 1945

Luxembourg                                     

Dear mom, dad, kids and Joe and Laddie,

“Another move, another letter.  How’s everyone coming at home?  Except for being tired and doing a million different things all the time I feel in tip top shape.  My toes are all numb from being slightly frost bitten but that’s not enough to harm me at all.  The circulation is coming back pretty well…I get plenty of meat and vegetables to eat…”

“I’m very rapidly becoming a coffee drinker – especially when it’s cold, but nothing will ever take the taste of milk.  I mixed up some powdered milk and it wasn’t half bad.  Every day we get more and more winter equipment, swell mittens, boots…We almost froze to death at first.  There has been a break in the weather which almost looks like Spring is here.”

“I wish you could see some of this country with all of its scenery.  It’s very hilly with large patches of fir trees and other types all over the place.  There are almost no farm houses in the country at all.  The towns are usually quite small and they are about 2-3 miles apart.  All the farmers live in these little towns and then they go out to work their fields in the surrounding land.  I guess they farm about the same as we do, because I’ve noticed a lot of our farm machinery in some of the fields (John Deere for example).  These people are mostly Catholic, and they must have been very religious.  In all of the rooms there were beautiful holy pictures and at least one crucifix…Every town has a beautiful church, varying in size approximately as the town itself.  They are usually damaged by shellfire because Jerry had a habit of using them as an artillery OP (Observation Post).  But most of their statues seemed miraculously untouched.”

“You should see the boys in the platoon go to work on a dirty house we have just moved into.  We have moved so much that we have everything down to a system.  Within a matter of minutes after we have moved in, there are fires and gas filled bottles in every room, mattresses have been found and put to good use, chow has been heated and served, men are out searching for everything under the sun; some are even taking a bath with water they heated.  You would think we lived there all our lives.  It makes you feel like a wandering gypsy to be roving all the time.  I’m always packing or unpacking something.  Right now I live in a different town than the last letter (Note: Bob moved south within Luxembourg, from Osweiler to Berbourg).  We are staying in an old house on top of a hill at one end of the village – No 2.”

“We get more cigarettes and pipe tobacco than we can smoke for nothing at all.  I knew that would hurt dad but I just had to tell you.  So far I haven’t had a chance to smoke my pipe very often.  I still dislike cigarettes although I already got sick twice on a cigar.”

“Say hello to everyone for me.  Congratulations to 2nd Lt James Lee.  Thanks for all the letters everyone.  Keep ‘em coming.  Still no packages.”

                                                                                                Love to all,

                                                                                                Bob 

                      

“Send pictures of yourselves.  My light is going out – as the gasoline is getting low.  So, till I write again.”

 

 

Thursday, Feb 8, 1945 (Berbourg, Luxembourg) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                Luxembourg                                                                                                                                                                                                      8 February, 1945              

Dear mom, dad, and kids,

“Mom, I want to thank you dearly for the two delicious packages of goodies which I received today.  They were both sent between the 2nd and 7th of December.  I can’t tell you exactly why, but they were especially appreciated at this time.  Hard telling how long it will be before I will again be as comfortable and well fed as I am now.”

“We have been leading a very pleasant life for the last few days in this town.  It is just like all the others around this section of the country.  The streets are very narrow, and winding around the way they do, it is very confusing and difficult to find your way around during a blackout on a pitch black night.  All the last few nights have been as dark as the ace of spades and with a strict blackout that is enforced by armed guards, it is almost impossible to see your nose.  I have to walk up a winding road through mud, wreckage and past parked vehicles for ¼ mile each night.  I have to marvel at the fact that I’ve made it every night.  I’m afraid you don’t know what a real black out is.”  

“All I’ve been doing is cleaning and checking my equipment, sleeping and getting fat on apple pie, and rabbit, chicken and beef steaks.  The food in the kitchen seems to be excellent, and to top that off I have a few boys in my platoon who are very handy at finding and preparing food…We all had fresh milk today.”

“I’m glad to hear that Jim’s knee is healing and also you sore toe, mother. I don’t want any of you getting lame on me…I am seeing a heck of a lot of things over here that I never knew existed.  Wish I could tell you more about it…I went to mass and communion last night and I sure feel very much better…Everywhere you go, there are holy shrines.  And their cemeteries have huge crucifixes and large and extravagant tombstones.”

“The snow has almost disappeared so now the rivers and streams are swollen as they normally would be in Spring.  Not so good for us.  I hope you aren’t too optimistic about my return home.  The war will probably be over in a few months, but it might be years before I get home for good.”

“I still am very serious about studying chiropractic and practicing very hard on the piano when I return.  Until then, remember I am very happy and well taken care of.  God bless you all and keep you, for your prayers and good wishes and letters, too.”

                                                                                Love to all,

                                                                                Bob

 

 

From the 304th regimental history

*‘It was another one of those nights with which the GI had become so familiar in Luxembourg.  No moon, no stars and a black curtain of night which could almost be cut with a knife.’

*’Life seemed again to fall into an easy, even strain.  The snow began to melt and the ice to disappear from the roads.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, Feb 14, 1945 (Probably Echternach, Luxembourg) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                14 February 45

                                                                                                                                                Luxembourg                                                     

Dear mom and folks,

“Well, it seems as though we are going to be moving for the rest of our lives.  We just moved again last night, but this time it is quite a bit closer to the front lines (Note: probably Echternach, Luxembourg).  Our mission here is very simple and fairly safe, so you can probably guess that I’m not on the front lines.  Last nite I went over into Germany with my platoon, but we came back across the (Sauer) river by 2400 (midnight).”

“This town (Note: probably Echternach, Luxembourg) is actually the most demolished one I’ve yet lived in.  Every few hours the Jerries start shelling us, and you should see all of us duck and hit the floor of the house.  We keep our ears open for every little sound, and a person gets plenty jumpy after awhile.  Every time I hear a noise (especially at night) I peer into the dark, grab my carbine and strain my eyes until I have a headache.  Whenever someone hears a loud whistle we instinctively duck our heads.”

“We are living in a fairly nice house made of good stone and concrete.  The people certainly left here in a hurry.  There is clean linen on shelves, clothes scattered on the floors and many other signs of a very quick departure.  This is the largest town I have slept in yet, and parts of it are very modernistic.  There are some very beautiful and modernistic bathrooms in most of the houses, and their china dishes and linen easily equal ours at home.  Tonight I am going to sleep on a mattress between 2 fresh, clean sheets in a nice warm room.  One of the men even fixed a beautiful little clock, and now we have chimes every half hour and on the hour.  I am even writing this letter on German stationery…they have a lot of nice aluminum dishware in their kitchens.”

“I received 3 more of your packages.  The chocolates were more than appreciated.  I can’t begin to thank you.  The wool sweater and hood will come in quite handy.  I only wish I had them a month ago.  At present it gets very balmy during the daytime.  The cookies and nuts were delicious, so it didn’t take long to devour them.  I don’t know who thought of candles, but they are always a welcome item.  Send more if you can.”

“Thanks to you all for writing all the swell letters.  I love you all for them.  Just keep things the same for when I come home.  God bless you all.”

                                                                                                Love to all,

                                                                                                Bob   

 

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*‘It was always unpredictable when this artillery would rain in instead of just drizzling… drink in as much of the sights as one could and at the same time to keep both ears pricked up constantly for the first sound of 88mm or meemie or anything else untoward.’

*’Again and again, picked patrols from the battalions went into enemy territory to determine the location and extent of fortifications, minefields and anti-tank obstacles; to probe the pillboxes, bunkers and exterior entrenchments of the Siegfried Line.’

*’Echternach was a breathtaking sight.  There were few if any buildings which had not been hit.’

*’Feb 15th was more or less the mid way mark between the time of the 417th’s assault over the Sauer and the crossing of the same river by the 304th.’

*’To the 2nd battalion (Bob’s battalion)…went the job of maintaining and securing roads and bridges across the (Sauer) river.  For the combat team as a whole, despite the activity of its supporting mission, it was a time of fretting and fuming, growing more restless by the day.’

*Many of the soldiers in the 304th were tired of waiting around, preparing and doing patrols.  The 304th had nothing substantial to show after a month of service in combat zones.  And now, they were encountering soldiers from other units, and hearing their heroic stories.  Many of the men from the 304th were anxious to be on the move and engage the enemy.

 

 

Saturday, Feb 17, 1945 (likely in the area of Bollendorf, Echternacherbruck, Weilerbach and Ferschweiler, Germany) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                17 February 1945             

                                                                                                                                                Germany                                            

Dear folks,

“Make all your mail air mail; because most of it gets to me within 2 weeks, although some of it takes 3 and 4 weeks due to too much mail to be sent by air.  I think I’ll make all my requests now.  Stationery…candy, tea, coffee, handkerchief.  Also cheese, or small bits of food like that. Don’t ever let me catch you sending me Hershey bars, gum or cigarettes, or razor blades.”

“One of the men in my platoon promises to send a picture of me and some negatives of England to you.  Have them developed and then send the negatives to: Mrs. J Fessel (Buffalo, NY).”

“One of my men (Note: Pfc Thompson) sketched me yesterday and I sent it home by airmail.  It’s not exactly like me but it’s pretty good.  Please save it.” 

Tuesday, Feb 20, 1945 (likely in the area of Bollendorf, Echternacherbruck, Weilerbach and Ferschweiler, Germany) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                20 February 45

                                                                                                                                                Germany                                            

Dear folks,

 “Ah, the comforts and joy of a GI in Germany.  I’m sleeping in the upper wooden bunk with a mattress brought across the river from Luxembourg.  It’s going to be rough reverting back to foxholes and other primitive methods of living.  But every so often we have to lay ourselves down to sleep on a wooden floor or on the ground.  It’s really surprising how little it takes to make a comfortable bed – hard wooden floors, a little straw, pine boughs, or even just good ole Mother Earth herself.  The days are almost as warm as a day in May or June, although the nights have a little chill to them.  Apparently they have a lot of rain over here, because it is drizzling out at least every other day.  The roads get gooey and thick with sloppy German mud.  The hillsides often become so very muddy that we have to cut steps in the side of the hills.”

“Frequently, German prisoners of war are brought past our company location quite regularly.  You should see their clothes and equipment and the blank helpless feeling on their faces.  Some are as young as 16 but most of the younger boys are around 19.  The older men are generally over 40.  A lot of them are just new from the Luftwaffe or the navy a lot were just inducted in the Fall of 1944.  A good deal of them were taken away from essential war work.  We have run across quite a few Poles and Checks in the pillboxes.  Many times the men want to surrender but their NCOs keep them fighting and killing our boys.  One minute they are machine gunning our boys – even our medics at times – then the next one they are cowering weak PWs.  The men are picking up various things from them as keepsakes.”

“Outside the artillery is pasting the Jerries; a very comforting sound to say the least.  It used to keep me awake, but now it just keeps me to sleep better.  Tonight we heard Glenn Miller’s band playing from somewhere in Europe.  It really seems good to hear a band like that again.  I hope it won’t be long I can hear them more often.  All the men are afraid that we will be shot down to the South Pacific after this deed is done.  I hope not.  By the time we have crossed the Rhine from where we are now (just across the river from Luxembourg, in Germany) I’m afraid we’ll have a lot of new men.  Every day I lose 1 man or so for trench foot, combat nerves, lost foot frostbite, athlete’s foot, and many other innumerable things.  You just can’t keep a whole platoon intact once you get this far.”  ”                 

“ Vic Lamar and I got our silver bars (promoted from 2nd to 1st Lieutenant) today from Col. Richardson, our Batallion C.O. (commanding officer)…It came as quite a surprise to us both.  And I don’t have to tell you how wonderful it felt when we heard the news from the Col himself.  That means $16 more per month.”

                                                                                Love,

                                                                                Bob

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*’The 2nd battalion (Bob’s battalion) had, in a sense, spearheaded CT 403 over the Sauer.’

*’On the 22nd (Feb)… 2nd battalion reverted to regimental command and was assigned its new mission.’

*’On February 23 at 1055 the advanced CP set up at up at Weilerbach.  White battalion (ie 2nd, Bob’s battalion) was even then completely readied.  They were waiting, poised like relay runners, for elements of the 385th to take over their positions.  And when that relief came they took off.’

*’This was a foot movement…the way began to climb and grow steep.  Unceasingly, the columns climbed and climbed (Note: likely up the road from Weilerbach to Ferschweiler, which is really steep)…these slopes and mountains were thick…so recently devoid of enemy resistance that the smell of it still hung pungent in the air.’


Postmarked Thursday, Feb 22, 1945 (likely in the area of Bollendorf, Echternacherbruck, Weilerbach and Ferschweiler, Germany) letter from Bob

“I still can’t understand how the army manages to get all the swell chow up to us so close to the front lines.  But they do, so I won’t ask questions.  I have been doing next to nothing for quite some time now.  Nothing to do but eat, sleep and clean weapons and prepare our equipment.”

“The last town (Note: probably Echternach) I lived in was in Luxembourg just across the river.  The buildings were nearly all damaged from our terrific shell fire.  Even while we lived there the Jerries shelled us with 88mm guns quite a few times a day; the screaming noise is what scares everyone.  Quite a few men were killed when they were caught by those shells in the streets.  The town itself has some modernistic stores and buildings. I like to look around, but a person has to be careful for booby traps, and looting is forbidden, although a little does exist.  I went into a stationery store which had thousands of sheets of every type of paper, pencils, ink, chalk and many other things.  With the exception of a little wreckage it looked very much like one at home.  They had some very excellent linen stationery.  I looked inside pipe stores, barber shops, button factories, camera stores, hotels and grocery stores and they all looked half ready for business.  It’s very mysterious to look at all the empty houses and streets with no civilians anywhere.  We sleep on one or two mattresses when living in towns.  Usually we find preserves and fresh apples and other food to live on, and some of the men find derby and top hats in some of the houses.  Everyone is looking for some type of silverware to send home or some other souvenir.”

“Some of the men found some hot, bitter white wine.  I didn’t like it and it made my eyes water, but I wanted to please everyone.  I had too many and felt very woozy.  Was I ever happy.  But no more.  Don’t worry.  I bought a $7.50 Haywoodie pipe for 124 francs ($2.50).”

“I hope our swell weather keeps up.  Very warm but too much rain and mud.  I’m still in the 76th Division and in the 3rd Army.  We’re working on the Siegfried Line.”

                                                                                Love to all,

                                                                                Bob

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, Feb 24, 1945 (likely north of Ferschweiler, Germany) letter from Bob

                                                                                                                                                24 February 45

                                                                                                                                                Germany                                            

Dear folks,

“Time for another short letter.  Everyone is now in high spirits because the weather is so exceedingly nice.  The days are almost as nice as a day in June.  It hasn’t rained in a few days; that’s the worst part of this country, all the rain and mud.  It does get a little chilly at night and in the very early morning.  There isn’t even a trace of snow left now.”   

“At present we are bivouaced in a beautiful pine forest in Germany.  The trees are very close together and the smell of pine and fresh air in general is very stimulating and refreshing.  We were cutting logs for almost a day to put a roof and sturdy sides to our sleeping hut.  Then we put our shelter halves and raincaps around the top and sides to keep out the rain.  We put short sprigs of pine boughs on eth floor to make a nice, soft mattress. If it weren’t for the artillery going off all night about 500 yards behind us, I would have spent a perfect night.”

“Things are moving pretty fast now, so I’m sure I won’t have a chance to write any of you for about 2 weeks anyway.  I don’t carry anything but ammunition, carbine, knife, emergency rations, rain cap and extra pair of socks.  Everything else is left behind.  I do have a tooth brush and tooth powder, but no shaving equipment is needed any longer.”

“I hope you are all fairing very well.  I’m still doing fine and I’m raring to go.  I’ll write first chance I get.”

                                                                                                Love to all,

                                                                                                Bob

“PS – I could use candles, wool socks, handerkerchiefs, candy and a little cheese would hit the spot.  Also a little air mail stationery.”

 

(Note: That evening, Feb 24th, Bob’s regiment went on their first attack.)

 

From the 304th regimental history:

*‘On the evening of the 24th the men shed all excess equipment, picked up their emergency rations and ammunition. And generally prepared for the coming battle.  At 2300 that night they left the assembly area on foot and marched to Schankweiler where they were joined by their supporting weapons.  Immediately thereafter came the ‘jump-off’. ’

 

 

Saturday Feb 24 and Sunday Feb 25, 1945

*On the evening of Feb 24th, Colonel Choquette, his battalion commanders, liaison officers and staff gathered in the cellar of a ruined chateau in Weilerbach and laid out the plan for the 304th infantry regiment’s first attack, saying…

-‘Gentlemen, gather around where you can see this map and take notes.’

– ‘Richardson (commander of the Bob’s battalion, the Second battalion), your battalion will cross the river (Prum) one kilometer north of Holsthum.  Your initial objective will be the high ground southwest of Wolsfeld.  Be prepared to continue east on my order.’

-‘Battalion vehicles remain in present areas until heavy bridge at Holsthum is installed.’

-‘Are there any questions?  It is now 1845.  Synchronize your watches.’

-‘Gentlemen, I need not remind you that this is our first attack.  It must be successful.  I know you and your men are capable.  Good luck to you.’

*Note: See appendix for map of planned advance toward Trier, Germany

*The capture of Trier was the focal point of the drive.  Ferschweiler and Schankweiler to the north were the two spots from which the push was schedule to begin.  This was to be a foot movement.

Perspective

*From Echternach to Welschbillig (just north of Olk) is not a long distance, and would generally take a regiment a day to cover.  But the actual combat route was over 30 kilometers (due to circuitous route, such as jogging north to Holstum and Alsdorf) and had many obstacles for the 304th – the dangerous bridge across the Sauer River, 2 rivers to ford (the Prum and Nims rivers), stiff enemy resistance, pillboxes to breach, neberwerfers and 88s and tanks to neutralize, woods to clear out and steep hills to climb and command.  This, for a unit who had never been in combat.

The assault:

‘Following taped off paths through the mine fields, Easy (Bob’s company) and Fox with elements of H Company, led the battalion…to the foot bridge that had been thrown across the (Prum) river.  The assaulting units deployed at once, and under sporadic small arms and mortar first pressed up the steep slope.  The enemy opposition that night was only a contributing factor to the troubles overcome by the men.  The real job lay in climbing  those rugged, heavily wooded hills in the dark with heavy loads of ammunition and the supporting weapons of the individual companies.  By dawn the men had stumbled, scrambled, crawled and cursed their way to the top and were ready to push on.’

‘As the day broke, so did the battle.  E Company (Bob’s company) on the right pushed on the woods flushing persistent snipers and eventually worked itself to the edge of an open field.  The company’s weapons platoon (this is Bob and his platoon) was brought to bear on the far edge of the clearing and under this supporting fire, the rifle platoon plunged into the open.  Using marching fire, the 1st platoon succeeded in crossing with only two casualties, but when the 2nd started all hell broke loose.  The enemy threw in a screen of small arms and machine gun fire, and plastered the field with their mortars.  Some of the men managed to get some cover behind a barn in the center of the field and a heaven sent P-47 strafed the Jerry positions – but only five men of the 2nd platoon finished the fighting that day.’

‘The Prum had been crossed and one of the first phase lines achieved.  2nd battalion was on schedule and still ready to move on to the next with just enough time to catch their breaths and do a little hurried reorganization.’

‘Talked to Capt Mayberry (commanding E Company) then and found out that the company had suffered heavy casualties.  One platoon… badly shot up and Lt. Lemarr wounded.’

-Note: (This likely refers to Vic Lamar, one of Bob’s best friends, killed in action on Feb 25th)

‘By now the enemy must have wakened to the fact that a major attack was being launched upon their position.’

‘Getting into Holsthum and occupying it was no indication of the end of a fighting day.  Having lost the town, the Germans naturally decided to shell it.’

‘At 2300 on the day of the capture and cleaning out of the town of Holsthum…the enemy was well supported with machine guns and mortars’…left many Germans dead but also heavy casualties for the Americans.

Monday Feb 26, 1945

‘2nd battalion crossed the Nims River to take Alsdorf, the objective being the Siegfried Line’s main supply road, which ran through Alsdorf…but the Nims River lay between them and their mission.

‘The principle difficulties once more were due to the terrain which, though not as hilly perhaps as that covered the day before, was even more densely covered with timber.  The underbrush was so thick that units as small as squads lost contact with one the other of their flanking units and the advance was forced to halt until the men reformed…On arriving at the brow of the bluff (overlooking Alsdorf), the battalion dug in…’

‘The long stretch of open rolling fields to the front and high hills in the background were strongly defended…The order to the riflemen was to cross the river, clear the fields and take the distant ridge.’

‘Dodged through harassing enemy shell fire’

‘Easy Company (Bob’s company) moved forward, behind the first two units, to the right…at this point, the battalion had cut the strategic Bitburg-Trier highway and, under the personal direction of Lt Col Richardson, arranged a defense of the road.  In the distance behind Meckel could be seen groups of Germans trying to pull out.’

‘There is no doubt that the Germans must have more than realized how perilous their position had become.

‘At some spots along the line, the enemy artillery was emplaced only 400 yards away.  The inevitable impact of these close positions must have been terrific.  Continuous German patrols, like sharp stabbing fingers, kept trying to punch a hole in the perimeter of the battalion defense all night long.  After four sleepless nights the men were dead tired and cold – but morale was still high…The concentration was now upon Meckel.  Everything was working in high gear and with close to perfect coordination.’

‘The battalion, due to its aggressive drive over the Nims, found itself far ahead of neighboring units, with both flanks exposed.  Because of the rapidity of the advance, food had become scarce with this battalion (for example, for one meal, had to divide 36 meals among 200 men).’

‘2nd battalion formed the eastern flank of the arrow, pointing down through Olk and Trier’

Tuesday Feb 27and Wednesday Feb 28, 1945

‘Fox, George and Easy (Bob’s) companies moved in, pressing their attack against the town and in the face of bitter resistance were able to converge within it and finally count the town of Meckel as captured.  Captured, but not safe – for Meckel was shelled constantly throughout the time it was occupied by the 2nd battalion, the fire coming from 88mm and 20mm guns at almost pointblank range.

‘After Meckel, Helenberg – more hills and more woods.  This time, however the situation was a trifle different because enough bridge work had finally been completed over the Prum to permit the tanks and tank destroyers (TDs) to cross and move into support.  It was help that was sorely needed since this town was even more strongly defended and fortified than had been the previous ones.’

‘A TD sergeant said ‘Our orders were to support you from the Prum River on, and we’ve been trying to catch up to you for the past three days!’

‘While the mopping up of Helenberg and its surroundings was taking place word came through that the White (2nd) Batallion was to withdraw and be relieved by the Red (1st) Battalion.’

‘By clearing the territory between the Prum and the Nims river and securing the towns of Meckel and Helenberg, the 2nd battalion had opened a break-through through which the armor could speed to envelop the fortress city of Trier!’

 

Thursday Mar 1, 1945

‘There is no rest for the weary – that is an old adage and finds a truer proof in war, perhaps, than anywhere else.  The 2nd battalion had been relieved and pulled back to Meckel – but this was of short duration.  Their historian takes up the thread of their story again: ‘The rest period ended for the men at noon on the 1st of March when the troops were ordered to relieve the 3rd battalion southeast of Gilzem.  Easy Company (Bob’s company) spearheaded the advance through this town, which was in friendly hands, and bore the brunt of the attack on Kunkelborn.  Immediately after arriving at the front lines, E Company supported from the left rear, with G Company advancing through a draw northeast of town.

‘The 3rd platoon was the assault element followed by the company weapons platoon and, as they approached, they ran into a hail of rifle fire.  Lt Robert E. Lee (serial number 0551073) the weapons platoon leader, ordered the machine gun section into action but, turning, discovered that he had only one of the two guns and that only one crew-man remained.  Instantly he fed the gun and directed 1st fire until he was fatally wounded.’

‘Sgt Thompson then Pfc, picked up the hot gun in his hands, moved to another position and finished the mission.  As a result of their action sufficient covering fire was laid upon the enemy to enable the assaulting riflemen to overrun the positions…In the meanwhile the riflemen of the 2nd platoon cleared the adjacent slope where dozens of Jerries were entrenched.  The company bypassed the town itself and pressed on to the ridge overlooking Olk.’

In conclusion

*Between Feb 23rd and Mar 1st, in their first combat, the 304th infantry regiment accomplished its objectives, took and occupied a dozen towns, intercepted the Siegfried Line’s main supply route, crossed a wide river and forded 2 smaller rivers, captured over 600 POWs and was ready to take on the next phase of their operation.

*In just one week of combat, Bob Lee became one of the most decorated soldiers in the 304th Infantry Regiment.

 _____________________________________

________________________________________

 

Appendix

Bob’s likely path from Feb, 1944 until March 1, 1945 

Feb(?) – May, 1944 – Officer Candidate School, Fort Benning, GA

Jun – Nov 10, 1944 – Camp McCoy, WI

Nov 11, 1944 – Troops take a train from Camp McCoy, WI to Camp Myles Standish, south of Boston

Nov 24, 1944 – Troopship Brazil departs Boston Harbor for England

Dec 4, 1944 — Brazil arrives in Southhampton, England

Dec 5, 1944 – Jan 9th, 1945 – Boscombe, England (suburb of Bournemouth)

Jan 10, 1945 – East of Le Havre, France (following crossing English Channel in LSTs from Portland, England)

Jan 11, 1945 – Yerville, France (north of Rouen) (following truck ride from Le Havre)

Jan 19 or 20, 1945 – St Hilaire-le-Petit, France (following a 10 mile march to Auffay and then a very long train

ride through northern France, through Beauvais, Compiegne, Soissons, and Reims)

Jan 22, 1945 – Hives, Belgium (following a truck ride)

Jan 25, 1945 – Osweiler, Luxembourg (just south of Echternach, Luxembourg)

Feb 3, 1945 – Berbourg, Luxembourg (further south and west of Echternach, Luxembourg)

Feb 13, 1945 – (Probably) Echternach, Luxembourg

Feb 15, 1945 – Echternacherbruck, Germany (across river from Echternach)

Feb 16, 1945 – Around Echternacherbruck, Weilerbach, Bollendorf, and Ferschwiler,  Germany (Bollendorf  and

Weilerbach are along the Sauer River, north and west of Echternach, Luxembourg)

Feb 23, 1945 – Ferschweiler, Germany  (east of the Bollendorf)

Feb 24, 1945 – Near Holsthum and Schankweiler (north of Ferschweiler)

Feb 25, 1945 – Holsthum, Germany      (Vic Lamar, Bob’s good friend, is killed in action on the 25th)

Feb 26, 1945 – Alsdorf, Germany (east of Holsthum)

Feb 27, 1945 – Meckel, Germany ((east of Alsdorf)

Feb 28, 1945 – Meckel, Germany (after capturing Helenberg, 2nd battalion is relieved, withdraws to Meckel)

Mar 1, 1945 – Bob is killed in action near Kunkelborn, Germany, north of Olk

_________________________

A few Key Dates late in the World War Two in Europe

Battle of Bulge

-Dec 16, 1944 – German assault marks start of Battle of Bulge

-Dec 17, 1944 – Germans murder US POWs at Malmedy

-Dec 26, 1944 – Patton relieves Bastogne, effectively ending the Bulge

-Jan 1-17, 1945 – German retreat from Ardennes

-Jan 16, 1945 – US First and Third armies reunite

Soviet march westward

-Aug 31, 1944 – Soviets take Bucharest

-Dec 27, 1944 – Soviets besiege Budapest

-Jan 17, 1945 – Soviets capture Warsaw

– April 21, 1945 – Soviets reach Berlin

American/ Allies march eastward

-June 6, 1944 – D Day landing

-Aug 15, 1944 – Allied invasion of Southern France

-Aug 25, 1944 – Liberation of Paris

-Sept 13, 1944 – First US troops reach Siegfried Line

-Sept 17-25, 1944 – Operation Market Garden fails in Holland

-Dec 16, 1944 – Jan 17, 1945 – Battle of the Bulge (see above)

-Mar 7, 1945 – Allies cross Rhine at Remagen

-May 8, 1945 – VE Day

Basic Army Organizational units

Squad

Platoon (about 35 men)

Company (4 or 5 Platoons)

Battalion (3-4 companies)

Regiment (3 battalions in 304th regiment)

Division (3 regiments in 76th division)

Army (a division may be shifted to work with multiple armies)

Medals

Silver Star

*The Silver Star is the third highest military award designated solely for heroism in combat.

*The Silver Star is awarded to a person who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Army, is cited for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force…The required gallantry, while of a lesser degree than that required for the Distinguished Service Cross, must nevertheless have been performed with marked distinction.

Bronze Star

*The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Army of the United States after 6 December 1941, distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service… in connection with military operations against an armed enemy…

*Awards may be made for acts of heroism, performed under circumstances described above, which are of lesser degree than required for the award of the Silver Star.

 ________________________________ 

Comments from Bob’s fellow soldiers

Medals

In my correspondence with Jay Martin Hamilton, LTC (Ret) (who did not, I believe, serve with Bob), he wrote:

“I wish to make a comment here concerning Lt Lee. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal AND the Silver Star Medal by E-304th-76 and as such is the most/best decorated of that Company probably the Battalion, perhaps even the Regiment. He indeed was a HERO and is to be celebrated as such.”

*This comment is backed up by the fact that Bob was one of only 13 people from Easy company (about 150 men) to be awarded the Silver Star, and of those men, only one other also received the Bronze Star.

People who served in the 304th Infantry regiment

Ret’d Col Francis Baker

“I was not privileged to know your uncle.  He was a legend among the troops.  I joined the 76th on the Rhine.”

 

William R. Layton (who was part of Company E headquarters of the 304th)

“I remember Bob well, and he was a very good leader.  He took to the boys very well.”

 

Ken Fessel

I had several conversations with Ken Fessel, a Private First Class (PFC) who know Bob well and served under Bob in the E Company weapons platoon, and was with Bob when he was killed in action.

About Bob as a person…

Ken says that the weapons platoon guys thought Bob was a great guy.  No one who didn’t like Bob.  Ken called him one of the finest people he had known, and Ken had a great deal of respect and very fond memories of him.  Bob was pretty quiet, well-mannered, never swore (which most men did).  He was a gentlemen.  He never reamed someone out.  When he issued an order, it was done with intelligence. He always looked out for his men, much better than some of the other leaders.

Ken worked out a few times on the beach in Bournemouth, England with Bob, and they played some tackle football, which sounds like it was pretty competitive.  He lined up across from Bob several times, and said that Bob always held his own but was also a good sport.

____________________________

A story about Bob…

The platoon came upon a mine field near Hellenberg, Germany (though hard to tell where exactly because the Germans had removed all of the town signs).

They had to cross an area about 40 feet long to get to the safety of a wooded area.

There was a German sniper firing at them, probably sitting in a tree.

Bob got across to the woods okay and was safe.

The sniper hit 5 or 6 guys.

Ken’s good friend, who was carrying about 85 pounds of stuff (mortar, ammo, hand grenades, blanket, shovel) was hit twice (and later died).

Ken, waiting to cross, figured he would meet the same fate as his friend.

He noticed that there was a small burm that ran almost to the woods, and so Ken laid down on his stomach and slowly squirmed along next to the burm, dragging his mortar.  Bob saw Ken trying to get across, and left the safety of the woods and crawled out and met him halfway (20 feet, exposed to the sniper), grabbed the mortar and helped Ken get to the woods.

Ken said that Bob risked his life and probably saved Ken’s life.

_____________________

The incident where Bob was killed in action…

Bob was killed in action near Kunkelborn, Germany (north of Olk).

As Ken recalls, It was a beautiful day, and they were going down a slight downward slope, maybe going away from and at a right angle to some woods, being fired at by the Germans.  Ken says that the eye witness account in the regimental history is accurate.  Bob realized that he was a man down, stepped in to help his troops, and was shot and was killed instantly.

(As Ken remembers, their unit never went into Olk)

Sam Thompson (who may have been the sketcher of Bob’s picture, though ken doesn’t remember him as a sketcher) was a Southern boy (‘Rough and ready’, Ken says) who grabbed Bob’s gun and finished the job and was promoted to sergeant as a result.

_______________________________

A few other random notes from the conversations with Ken Fessel….

 

Nov/ Dec, 1944

On their trip across the Atlantic, there were many destroyers who circled them, on the watch for submarines.

Ken remembers that they had to change course frequently, also to avoid submarines.

January, 1945

Ken said that it was very cold in January and up until February, 1945, when the weather broke and the snow melted (which led to mud).

Ken said that the trip from England to France on the LST’s was extremely rough and everyone was getting seasick.  He said that these boats often transported tanks and large equipment, and the weight of that equipment would stabilize the boat.  On the other hand, when it filled with the soldiers, which was much lighter, the LST rocked a lot and it made for a very rough ride.

He said that when they arrived in Le Havre, France, they walked about 7-8 miles and the field where they wound up setting up for the night was covered with 8 inches of snow.  He said that they could use their cover as a tarp or as a tent, and that it was very cold so they had to try to keep their head under the covers.

He said that 40 x 8 train car that they took in France was packed with men, and they slept head to toe.  He said that you just hoped that you weren’t stuck near the door, which was opened frequently and let in bursts of cold air.

February, 1945

Probably around Meckel, Germany, a few days into combat (and a few days before Bob was killed in action), E Company had to go through some woods.  They were concerned that the woods were mined, so they were told to ‘step in the footprints of the guy in front of you’.  Bob went first for their platoon.  It took them 2 hours to get through the woods.

Finally, they got to a clearing.  It had been a few days since they had had a chance to really sit down, shave and relax.  They had eaten nothing but K rations (which Ken describes as ‘terrible’) for several days, and finally, they had a chance to get some real food.

Ken said that their unit spent a few days on the Luxembourg side of the Sauer River before they crossed into Germany.  The 417th was the first regiment to cross the Sauer, and that they suffered major casualties.  By the time the 304th crossed the Sauer, there was a pontoon bridge and they crossed with no problem.  They met no German resistance from the Germans, though there were minefields right down to the edge of the water .  He said that the emplacements of the Siegfried Line were imposing, with many concrete pillboxes dug 40 feet deep into the ground.

Ken said that the combat in western Germany was tough, and remembers that there were a lot of trees, which was sometimes helpful for shielding yourself.  They had to keep an eye out for mine fields at all times .

Most of their fighting was outside of towns.  They did have some house to house fighting inside of towns, but the Germans were pretty quick to retreat out of the towns.

Bob’s messenger, who was a good guy and hard worker, was killed when a grenade was accidentally exploded.

As noted above, the Germans had often removed all of the signs identifying the name of the town, which added to the Allies’ confusion about their precise location.

When they’d come into a town, there would often be a German sniper or spotter (directing mortar fire toward the Americans) sitting in the church steeple.  One of the first things they would do is to find the burgermeister (mayor) and tell him to get the German out of the spire, or else the Americans would take him out and damage the church spire and the building in the process.

He said that they would sometimes dig a foot trench, which was a shallow trench that was useful for jumping into to avoid some shrapnel.

He says that they were often going long periods without much sleep, with no naps and they were often very tired.

The troops received some air support from P47s, which in one case saved them from a tank that was rolling right toward them (‘the P47 dropped an egg beside the tank’ Ken said), and sometimes Piper cubs (they would call in an enemy location and Piper cubs would come and bomb it).

Ken knew Vic Lamar (good friend of Bob’s who is often mentioned in Bob’s letters).  Vic was a platoon leader in a rifle platoon.  He called Vic an ‘aggressive guy, but a good guy; real gung ho, but did his job well.’

General information ….

Weapons platoon was the 4th platoon of Easy Company (the first three were riflemen).  The weapons platoon had 3 mortars and 2 machine guns (may have had more weapons).

In combat, the weapons platoon was located behind the riflemen.  The way the mortars would work is that they would identify a target to hit, the sergeant would clarify the location’s distance (using binoculars, range finder, other equipment).  Then it was up to Ken to decide how to aim it. He always had to be careful not to aim it too straight up in the air so that they didn’t go straight up and come down on their own unit.

In combat, Easy Company was generally in the same town and area, but were never not grouped too closely together because that would leave them vulnerable to all being taken out by a shell.

There was a big difference between the accommodations of Bob and the other officers and those of the enlisted men like Ken, who remembers sleeping in a bed only 3 times once they got onto the continent.

Ken said that they did not see many German tanks. His belief is that the Eastern front saved the Allies, as the fighting there had drained Germany of huge amounts of men and resources.

Ken remembers that ‘hurry up and wait’ was a common theme whenever they had to move.  It was a mad scramble to get ready to go and then a lot of waiting for the actual move.

The 304th regiment (possibly 76th Division) was eventually assigned to 3 different armies – the 3rd (Patton’s), the 1st and the 9th (the other assignments may have been after Bob’s death)

Ken said that Easy Company was made up of a great group of guys, and that he has prayed every night ever since for Bob and the other men in that unit.

3 Responses to The ‘R’ in TRBL

  1. What a great tribute to a hero! I am working on my fathers WWII letters. We had a better outcome. My dad came home. Thank you for sharing Bob’s story and preserving a piece of history. God bless Bob and his fellow soldiers.

  2. Doris Fessel says:

    Dear Jack, How I wish Ken could read all of the above history, some I knew but not all. All I can say is THANK YOU it brought so much clear to me. Your visits (telephone) and letters meant so much to Ken. He really didn’t have anyone to talk to about his army life (except me). Most of his friends were never in service and really didn’t want to hear about it. THANK YOU, JACK Sincerely, Doris, Ken’s wifek

    • jackblee says:

      Thanks, Doris, for your nice note. I felt really lucky to be able to talk with Ken and hear about his experience and his time with my uncle. My best to the Fessel family, Jack

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