Friend of the Czech people

John Pershing Wakefield, 2nd Infantry Division


On the day Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was working as an assistant at Iowa State University. Following that, I was called to active duty as a Reserve Artillery Officer, and after ten months of training, our 2nd Infantry Division was deployed to Armagh County, Ireland. In May 1944, our troops were stationed near Cardiff, Wales and on June 7th of that same year, we launched an attack on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. We had no doubt that we were fighting to free Europe. We were confident in our belief that most of the nations of Europe were victims of, and had suffered under, the tyranny of Adolf Hitler´s Nazi regime. But, to our surprise, the European welcome during the liberation of Normandy turned out somewhat differently than we expected…

The British, our strongest Allies for many years, seemed to consider us to be their unwanted relatives. We imagined that the French would have more respect for us because we had liberated their country, but often it appeared that that wasn’t the case. When we advanced through Germany, people were skeptical, and, to a certain extent, seemingly afraid of our behavior.

Following the victory in the battle near Leipzig, we were ordered to hold our fire, stop advancing forward, and wait for the Russians. We were about a half hour ride from Berlin and after waiting a long time, without sighting a single Russian soldier, we were redeployed that night to the neighboring country. When we stopped, we were within shooting distance of the southern suburbs of Pilsen.

Most of us had hardly even heard of this small country in the heart of Europe, about this nation of hard-working, healthy, intelligent, and faithful people with their own language and a culture similar to our own. When we headed out on trucks from the southwestern border of Czechoslovakia to Pilsen, we realized that we truly were among real friends, among people who exuded honor, love, and understanding for one another. There was really a heartfelt atmosphere here.

The best part of our distressful journey from Omaha Beach through Normandy, Brest, and Germany was liberating Czechoslovakia. We realized that this sudden honoring of us and trust in us was genuine, because our friends accommodated us in their homes without hesitation. At various celebratory luncheons, shows, and dance parties, we celebrated the great victory together. We recognized that the only light in our difficult battle through Europe was Czechoslovakia.

From book 500 hours to victory