I used to have a very good friend who had a saying he used frequently. It was "my memory is what I forget with." I agree there are many things we do forget, but there are also things we never will forget.
I would like to share some of the latter things with you. Our history books nearly have forgotten many of these things, too.
In Europe during World War II, I served in the 69th Infantry Division. The organizations then were much different from today. Our division consisted of more than 15,000 men. Each division consisted of three regiments. Each regiment consisted of battalions, companies and platoons. Today, we usually hear only of brigades.
Our division was formed in May 1943 with a general whose name was Bolte. It was not surprising we soon became known as B.B.B. (Bolte's bivouacking bastards). In late October 1944, we moved to Camp Kilmer, N.J., where the saying was "the mosquitoes are so big here, they pitch horseshoes to decide which one gets you."
From there we went to England for about three months, then across the English Channel to France. Only a few days later, we saw combat during the Battle of the Bulge.
I remember another little town soon after that was known as Krinkelt. It remains in my memory because the church had been damaged badly from artillery fire, but the statue of Christ still stood with his arms full of debris.
The crossing of the Rhine River was memorable because we crossed on pontoon bridges since the Remagen bridge had collapsed. The Rhine River is a very big river and we enjoyed seeing the sights along it.
I don't propose to write about the war, but, instead, of the things that occurred apart from the fighting.
While we were in England, there are especially two things that remain clearly in my memory. We were stationed near Winchester, a town with a beautiful cathedral. The cathedral was built in 1079, nearly a thousand years ago. To get to see it was a wonderful experience. I especially remember the foundations with all of the huge stones formed into arches and windows.
Another memory from England occurred when I had a three-day pass to London. Yes, I saw a lot of interesting sights and the movie "Laura," but the thing I remember the best was the German "buzz bombs" coming regularly and not knowing where the next one would land.
Another event occurred in Kassel, Germany, when we happened to be staying overnight in a house. There were several of us and somebody in the bathroom asked about the purpose of a pedal close to the stool. When he stepped on it, he found what it was with a face full of water. I believe they called it a "bidet."
K rations are good food, but they can get a bit tiresome. One evening, someone had caught a chicken and planned for a chicken dinner. He had made gravy to be part of the meal early in his planning. When he tried to take the spoon out of it, it wouldn't move. Turns out the sack he thought was flour was Plaster of Paris.
I dare not forget to tell of an experience when our men had taken Leipzig. The shelling had struck the zoo and killed a mother lion, but the new little cub was not hurt. It was picked up and kept by some guys for a few days, and they could not continue with it. So we at Red Cross accepted it and kept it for some time. Its size was beginning to be an issue when a German lady who came to clean house poisoned it. Yes, I do have her pictures. We called her Suzy.
Maybe you are wondering why we were living in a house when we had the little lion. Leipzig is not far from Torgau on the Elbe River, where our division met the Russians and the war ended. We were living in a suburb of Leipzig at the time.
I remember we were moving so rapidly it was difficult for our supply forces to keep up. We had moved faster than our K rations, so we had to find other ways. We were fortunate to have overtaken the German army and came upon one of their supply depots, which had great food consisting of Norwegian fish and some very good cheese.
When the fighting stopped and things were settling down, plans were being made to get back home. Transportation home at that time was mostly by ship. Several staging areas were set up along the coast to prepare GIs for the ship. Each of the staging areas were named after cigarettes: Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, etc.
Shortly before it came time to begin loading on the ship, an order came down to those designated for our ship that "there will be no dogs onboard ship."
We had a number of transfer soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division, who had landed on the coast the day of the invasion. Many of these men had German Shepherd dogs who had saved their lives because of their sense of smell and alertness. They were not to leave their dogs, so they made arrangements with sailors aboard the ships to take their dogs onto the ship after giving them sleeping pills.
Our first day at sea, the colonel in charge of the troops learned the dogs were onboard and immediately came out with the order all dogs would be put overboard. Within minutes, the colonel had a message that if one dog was put overboard, he would be next. Guess who recanted.
You see, we WWII vets are not going to be around much longer, and I'm sorry we soon will be forgotten. Perhaps this article will help you recall WWII, "the greatest generation."
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations advisory committee.