This story is dedicated to my loving wife, Mary; my children, Sharon, Tom and Robin, their families and all the wonderful acquaintances and army buddies I was fortunate enough to develop and rekindle 50 years after my two year service to our great country in 1944 and 1945.
On December 7, 1941, my brother John, a couple friends and I went ice-skating at the Michigan Ice Rink in Ann Arbor, Michigan. After ice-skating we drove through town and saw the newsboys on the street corners selling papers. They were shouting “extra, extra, Japan bombs Pearl Harbor”. My brother John and one of his friends immediately thought they would be involved in some form of fighting against Japan. At the age of 14, I never dreamed I would have to serve in a war, let alone World War II.
On January 17, 1944, I turned 18 and was required to register for the draft. At this time, I was classified 1 – A which amounted to a six month deferment to finish high school. Previous to this time, it seemed we were losing ground in the Pacific War with Japan and the Germans and Italians were taking over Europe and actually threatening England. The moment I knew I would be directly involved in this war was in June 1944 while sitting in class at Pioneer High School. Over the schools public announcement system, the principal was broadcasting the landing at Normandy, France.
Two of my classmates and I went to Detroit to enlist in the Navy. My two buddies were accepted but because I was already classified, I would have to wait for the draft.
After our high school graduation, Daryel Wisely, Mayfor Kaercher and I went to work for the Michigan State Highway Department. Soon after this, my friend, Mayford Kearcher, “Moe” enlisted in the Marines and on August 9, 1944, I received my greetings from Uncle Sam. Many people asked, “Didn´t you hate to go”? We all thought that this was the right thing to do and most of our friends were already in the Armed Services or about to go. My older brothers, Ed and John were already in the Service. I was inducted in Detroit, Michigan on August 22, 1944. That afternoon we left for Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, an Army camp. We were only at Ft. Sheridan for about 3 days but I remember a tough army Sergeant who told us we were really “lucky only 99% of you guys are going in the Infantry and you guys that walk on the grass, you get ice cream and cake”. During these three days, the army asked for volunteers to drive trucks. These volunteers ended up pushing wheelbarrows. We learned right away, never volunteer. After leaving Ft. Sheridan, Illinois, we went to Camp Roberts, California for our infantry basic training. We traveled by train with sleeper cars called Pullmans. The porters were not very happy with our cutting up and water fights. I recall this trip being very boring and a short stop at Texarkana, Texas, where the temperature was 100°. We finally arrived at Camp Roberts where it was also very hot. Most days it was reported to be 90° in the shade of which there was none. Camp Roberts was half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco surrounded by very large hills. Every day as we marched to our field training, we had to march over these hills. I used to think how nice it would be to be able to drive some of these roads by car. I guess that is the reason why in 1965, I took my family on a driving trip to California. I had to show Camp Roberts to Mary, Sharon, Tom and Robin. We were scheduled for 17 weeks of basic training at Camp Roberts. Weeks fifteen and sixteen we were supposed to be sent out in the field on bivouac sleeping on 2 man pup-tents. At the end of the sixteenth week the training required us to march all the way back to Camp Roberts which was 25 miles. The seventeenth week was to be a fun week with nightly passes to two of the closest towns – Pasa-Robles and San Maguial. On Saturday, the infantry diplomas were to be awarded. And this was supposed to be followed by a 10 day furlough at home. After our 14 weeks of training, we were loaded onto trucks and transported 25 miles to our bivouac area. We had unloaded the trucks and were almost finished setting up our two-man pup tents when the top brass (head officers) came riding up and soon afterwards ordered us to load up the trucks and head back to camp. The next day, we were given our certificates for the completion of our basic training and were told that our basic training was shortened because of the heavy casualties suffered at the front of the Belgium break through. This meant we missed out on the “fun” week at camp plus the 10 day furlough. The soldiers that had not previously signed up for paratrooper training at Ft. Benning, Georgia were put on a train to another location on preparation for an overseas assignment. Those of us that were staying for additional paratrooper training were told that our additional training was cancelled because of the Belgium break through. On a Monday at midnight, we left Camp Roberts for a delay in route to our homes. We were put on a troop train which we renamed the “milk run” train. Our train traveled the northern route through numerous tunnels. The black soot from the train was so bad that the only white spots on our faces were around our mouths and eyes. The “milk train” arrived in Chicago the next Saturday morning. I was alone at this time and had quite a long layover before I would be able to catch the next train to Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was so tired of slow trains and didn´t want to waste anymore of my time at home that I decided to take a Parmalee cab to the Greyhound bus station and hop on the next bus to Ann Arbor. This left me with 4 ½ days of delay in route before having to report to the train station in Detroit. Seeing a few injured G. I. ´s at the station made me feel bad about where I was headed. We spent about 2 days at Ft. Myles Standish and Ft. Meade Maryland. This was for shots, equipment and supplies.
At this time I would like to share how impressed I was of our country and its leaders. While at Ft. Meade Maryland, a Captain from Michigan noticed I was also from Michigan and explained to me our leaders had prior information informing them that earlier supplies were stolen and sold on the black market and not getting to the men on the front lines so we were some of the first troops that were issued newly used packs which consisted of 2 large packs with 2 blanket roles covering the top and sides of the packs. They gave us extra under clothes, socks, food, candy, and cigarettes knowing that when we arrived at the front, we only needed one of each so it was passed on to the men on the front lines. This was a sure way of having these items reach the front line troops. During this time, I kept looking for some of my buddies from basic training but didn´t have any luck. This was a different group of men. On February 10, 1945, we left for Europe.
We sailed on the third largest ship at that time, the USS America with a military name “USS West Point”. The other two larger ships were the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary. The USS West Point was completed as a luxury liner and immediately converted to a troop ship. It was a fast ship at that time. We landed at Glasgow, Scotland on the 17th of February, 1945. Like before, I didn´t know anyone within these troops. I did meet up with one chum on the ship and we spent every day with each other all the way to the front line. We traveled by train across Scotland and England to Southampton located on the English Channel. We were told that the English Channel was the most dangerous waters to sail on and infested with German U boats (submarines). While we were at Southampton for the night, we were in metal Quonset huts with little wood stoves but with no wood. We were miserably cold that night. Across the English Channel, we landed at Le Havre, France. We left Le Havre on a train riding in box cars (40 & 8´s ). That´s the name the WWI soldiers gave them – 40 men or 8 horses. After about two days and nights on the train, we were loaded onto Army 6×6 trucks and ended up in Belgium. We were very close to the front line and we slept in old buildings. Now I have to tell you something that came as quite a surprise to me being so close to the front lines. My good buddy that I met on the ship could speak their language and told me he made some arrangements with some Belgium fellows for us two to go that evening for a steak dinner and wine. I suspect it was arranged through the black market. Due to the bombings, there was a blackout and it was pitch black, hard walking and a little scary. We went to this building and down to the basement to an area with tables covered with checkered table cloths. We had a tough steak (but good), french bread and a bottle of wine. We gave them a handful of money. We left this area of Belgium and again traveled by truck getting closer to the front line. We spent one night in a castle and after about two days, we assembled in an area where we could see and hear the sounds of artillery and see the flashes on the front lines. Later that afternoon, my buddy and several other troops put up a 2 man pup tents. I have to laugh about this because we put up our tent real neat and according to army specifications. We even put down straw to make a nice soft bed. At just about dusk, we both witnessed our first sighting of a German buzz bomb flying across the sky to England. It was dark and we had just laid down when we heard someone yelling “we´re moving out”. This was the last time I saw my good buddy and the last move to the front lines. This is the night I was assigned to the 2nd Platoon, L Co., 38th Reg.: 2nd Inf. Div. I joined about 6 or 8 guys down in the basement of a German House. They were all unshaven, well-seasoned soldiers and I felt like a real rookie. They couldn´t believe I had just left the States. I am sure they were happy to see at least one replacement to their squad. They all got candy bars, Lucky Strike cigarettes and clean socks. After a short time I met my Lieutenant, 1st Lt. Earl Ingram whom I will speak of often in my story. He came down in the basement and told us to get some sleep because we were going into attack at 5 o´clock in the morning. This was a very scary time for me. When we left the basement we had been staying in, we all climbed onto tanks. I thought there wasn´t enough room for me but when 5 more guys got on after me I realized I was wrong. Our sleeping bags were picked up for us and delivered to our new location most of the time. We had a different sleeping bag almost every night. We had K –rations for the first few days. Normally we would be in a 12 man squad but there were just 7 of us for quite a while. When it was at all possible, our mess truck would make it up to the front so we could have a hot meal which usually consisted of mutton, potatoes, bread and fruit cocktail for dessert. For breakfast we were served greenish blue eggs and sometimes pancakes. Our syrup was like sweet water. Sometimes we would have to go back a couple of miles to meet up with the mess truck. One night I was part of the detail that was sent back to bring up the food. I carried a large stainless steel pan of mutton on my shoulder and grease spilled all over my field jacket. Every day after that as it warmed up I could smell that old mutton grease.
When I first joined my outfit, we would go out on patrols at night to possibly learn the location and strength of the Germans. I was happy when we discontinued these patrols because they were dangerous and scary. Soon after our first combat, we were awarded by the combat infantry badge. This is something each infantry soldier is proud of. We call it the rifle with the graveyard wreath. This is about the same time privates are made P.F.C.´s (private first class). I do not remember how long I was in the outfit before we crossed the Rhine River. We were in a town called Koningsfeld just before we crossed the Rhine. What happened to me in this town could be like a nightmare or a bad dream. It was a very cold afternoon and we took the town riding tanks. There was some opposition from snipers and heavy fire from a church steeple. Soon after that it was hit and the snipping stopped. Part of my platoon was in a German House and a soldier came in with an open pail of beer that he had taken from a German tavern. This was typical for a G.I. because if there was anything to drink, the found it. I had about one third of a canteen cup of beer when our platoon sergeant (Bob Budge) said “Kittel, you and Corporal Herrington go with the fellow that found the beer and get a small keg of beer”. This was about a two block walk and I would have never ventured out if I wasn´t ordered to do so by the Sergeant. I was the first on backing out of the door carrying this key of beer when someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked “does your Captain know you have this beer?” I said “no” and he said “what?” After seeing the eagle on his shirt, I said “no sir”. He was Colonel Barssonti, our regimental commander. He told us if it was alright with our Captain, we could have the beer. As this conversation was going on with Colonel Barssonti, a Lt. Kalinski approached and overheard the conversation and at the same time our Captain John Murphy walked up. Immediately, Lt. Kalinski said to Captain Murphy, “this guy is already drunk”. I suppose this was due to my red face from riding on the tanks in the windy cold and my short conversation with the Colonel. Captain Murphy wanted to make a big impression with the Colonel so he said “I am going to make you three guys 1st scouts and see that you get killed even if I have to do it myself”. Then he said, “get your asses in off the street and if I catch you out again, I´ll knock your blanket blank brains out”. I often wondered what kind of impression Capt. Murphy made on the Colonel. I disliked him for this as did my buddies. I often thought how convenient it was to have the company “C.P.” right next to the tavern. The Captain also took Corporal Herrington´s stripes away and said the three of us were to pull K. P. (kitchen police) while we were in this town. The Sergeant that sent me after the beer got me off from K. P. duty. I always wondered why the sarge did this.
We cleared some German soldiers out of the woods bordering the town we were in. I was the first one to enter this wooded area leading L- company though a ravine across a long field. Lucky for me the few Germans in the woods surrendered right away. Some of the 2nd Division´s heavy weapons were able to cross the Rhine on the famous Remagen Bridge before it collapsed. We were told that it was unknown whether the Germans had come back in the evening and blasted the bridge or that it just collapsed from all the bombing. We were also told that once some of our men crossed over the bridge, a sign had been put up that said “thanks to the 8th Air force”. Even with all the U.S. bombings, it wasn´t enough to completely destroy the bridge. It was still useable. The rest of our Division crossed the Rhine on Navy L.S.T. landing boats. These boats were brought up to the front and camouflaged until we were ready for the crossing. My squad leader, Sgt. Osborne helped me through my fright of being made a first scout. He assured me that if I needed him up front, he would be there for me. In a few days, he was sent to the hospital and that was the last time I saw or heard from him. My new squad leader was Sgt. Daniel Berg and the other men in my squad were; Neale Daly, Ed Sironka, Lawrence Otten, Raymond Habig and Ed Del Rosario. Ed Del Rosario and I were foxhole buddies. He was older than I and he looked out for me. Ed Sironka served as first scout before me. As I took over the first scout job, Ed passed the Thompson sub machine gun to me and he stated how he hated to give it up, but couldn´t wait to pass it over to me along with the first scout job. At different times, we would discuss the scene of our exchange of weapons with different ammunition and all the various equipment. Along with the Thompson sub machine gun came 6 magazines that held 15 rounds each and one that held 7 rounds. These were spring loaded metal cases that held 45 caliber bullets and were quite heavy. Also with this came a bag of loose ammunition which hung around your neck. I managed to come up with leather pouches that held 315 round magazines (45 rounds). The pouches came with a leather harness that helped carry the weight of the 45 round magazine on each side. This left the 7 round magazine to be inserted in the weapon. I will talk about the bag of loose ammunition later in my story. We rode mostly on tanks and 6×6 trucks whenever it was possible. Soon after we crossed the Rhine River in Germany, we had to wade across the Wied River which was cold and swift. This was the only way we could take over this little town. It was in this town that I was awarded the Purple Heart for an injury I received just below my left eye. The amount of blood from the wound made it appear worse than it was. Once the medic cleaned it up, I figured it wasn´t bad enough to go back to the Aid Station. Our platoon medic put a bandage on it and later that evening I was given the Purple Heart. I mentioned I couldn´t carry it with me so they sent it home to my mother. All of my Army buddies knew I had received the Purple Heart but later at my discharge time, I discovered it as not on my Army records. I was young and anxious to be discharged so I didn´t really care that it wasn´t listed and I didn´t realize at the time the importance of having it listed. I have regretted many times that I didn´t have this oversight corrected. Earlier I could have made many contacts but as years passed it seemed too difficult. I didn´t think about this until 1998 when I located my foxhole buddy, Ed Del Rosario who now lives in Vallejo, California. In the very first letter I received from Ed in 1998, he mentioned my injury and being beside me when it happened. This is what made me decide to pursue this oversight. I am now in the process of having this corrected but am having a difficult time because many of the Army records from this era were stored at Army Records Headquarters in St. Louis and were lost in a fire.
The following year after locating Ed, I was fortunate enough to locate 8 more men from my company (I realized that had I decided to look for Ed while I was in California in 1965, I would never have found him because I always thought his name was Del Rosario. All those months in Europe, I didn´t know his first name was Ed). In August 1998, our children gave us a week vacation in Hawaii for our 50th Wedding Anniversary. Since I had just located Ed Del Rosario in California, we added time to our trip so we could visit with Ed and his wife, Esther. Ed carried a large picture of his wife and his two young children tucked in the front of his shirt on the front lines. When we slept in a German house, he would set the picture on a table or dresser. Soon after our visit, I located Earl and Marge Ingram. Earl Ingram was Ed´s and my Platoon Leader. A First Lieutenant at that time, Earl had stayed in the service 35 years and retired a full Colonel. Earl and Marge live at Pinehurst, North Carolina and he told me they frequently visit friends in Florida, so in March 1999, we planned our first meeting since 1945 in Florida. Ed decided to join us in Florida. His wife Esther was not able to attend due to her health. This was a great reunion for the 3 of us. We talked more about the war and our experiences than we had since the war 54 years ago. We talked of a late night where we were moving in 6 x 6 trucks when the German started to shell us. There were 14 men on our truck that were hit by German fire including the driver who was sitting next to Lt. Ingram. Earl brought him an article that mentioned Sgt. Budge, our Platoon Sgt., who was also the same guys that sent me for the keg of beer. This article tells of an experience we had while we were dug in on an overpass on the Autobahn. We didn´t do much sleeping that night and the next day, we moved out on trucks. Another experience I remember well and will tell about. I don´t know the exact time or place, but I think it was close to Leipzig. There seemed to be a lot of snipers about this time. We were riding tanks and capturing may little villages. The weather was sunny and warm. Weapons Platoon started moving into this Village and soon three or four men were hit by sniper fire. The tank we were on turned around and we were ones that had to go in. I was the lead scout. The men hit were crouched in the ditch beside the road. Every time I had to go around them, I could see bullets hit plowed fields. This was a scary time for us. I got real tired and miserable of carrying the loose bag of ammunition around my neck so I just hunched over and ran as fast I could. Maybe the Germans stopped firing by this time. This small village had a brick wall built around it. A soon as I went through the street opening and approached the first house, four German soldiers came out with their hands above their heads yelling “Kamerad, Kamerad”. I was glad they stopped shooting and surrendered. After this experience, I had the mess truck carry the heavy bag of loose ammunition. I had heard many of the stories from some of the older men in our outfit and always felt fortunate I was not in the earlier battles. We spent many miserable days and nights but happy that we had the Germans on the run and most cases, they were ready to surrender. I mentioned before our mess truck tried to serve us as often as they could. Our rations were mostly of the K – ration – breakfast, dinners and suppers. We often talked about how much thought went into the packaging. The inner box was covered with a heavy coating of paraffin. Enough so you could light it and it would burn until you heated your food. Sometimes we traded the K – rations for a 10 and one rations from the tankers. These large cans of ham and eggs were good and one can would serve 10 men. Also some evenings we would fry potatoes and our eggs that would raid form the chicken coops. If lucky sometimes we would confiscate some good wine and cognac. Each outfit had their taster, ours being Lawrence Otten. When we found a bottle we would have Lawrence taste it. If he spit it out, we wouldn´t drink it. One time we were in an extra nice German house. In the basement, there was a locked closet. We shot off the lock and there were many bottles of 1929 wine. We all had a lot of wine and soon we heard we were moving out. Ed Sironka and myself were a little late and there was not room on the tanks so we climbed on an ammunition trailer behind the tank. In the first place this was no place for someone that had too much wine. We sobered up very fast. This trailer had a tight canvas over it with criss-crossed ropes. We hung on for dear life. The tank drivers knew we were back there so they ran off the road throwing large chunks of mud at us from the tank treads (never again). About a year ago, Earl Ingram´s wife located the Sironka´s telephone number on the internet. I talked to Mrs. Sironka and she said her husband had passed away in 1992. I have fond memories of her husband. In the last few weeks of the war, I was made a Platoon Runner. I was happy to give up the first scout position. On my job, I had a lot lighter gear and carried a small carbine riffle. My job then was to run messages to the Company CP and the different Squad Leaders. In the evenings I shared the telephone duty with my Platoon Leader, Lt. Ingram, Platoon Sgt. Budge, Platoon Guide Sgt. Nelson, Platoon Radioman Naylor and Platoon Medic Dr. Bronson. Nightly, we usually would run out phone lines to the Platoon foxholes. During this time we rode mostly on 6 x 6 trucks. The weather in Germany had become quite nice. We had taken the town of Grimma. While there we were taken back to some portable showers. This was my first shower on the front lines. We also received some clean cloths. While at the showers, I met a high school buddy of mine, Mike Hedlesky. On May 1st, we received orders to change front line positions. We traveled 240 miles to Rosendorf, Germany near the Czechoslovakia border. During this long trip, I happened to be riding on an amphibious vehicle. It was very hard to sleep on this trip and I think Sgt. Nelson and I held on to each other. During the night, it turned quite cold and it began to snow. We didn´t have our heavy coats and covered ourselves with ponchos. On May 3rd, we moved to a defensive position in Parezov, Czechoslovakia. There were relieved “ K & L “ Co. 359th Infantry reg. 90th Division. The weather was quite warm and each morning, a fella we called “Pop” Robenson would look up at the blue sky and say “this would be a nice day for the war to end”. Then on May 7th, 1945, our trucks and tanks stopped moving. After setting for a while a jeep came along and they yelled the war was over. We pulled into Plzen with the civilians cheering us and tossing lilacs to us. It was a great night of celebrating. The next day, my dear friends of the Czech Republic took the five of us into their apartment. The five of us lived with Marie Korousanova and her husband on Jablonskiho Street. This was May 8th through May 22nd. It is hard to believe that we were able to visit Marie again last May, 2000 for the first time in 55 years. Marie was 85 years old and remembered me very well. We left Plzen on May 23rd and moved to a small village in the Stupno area – 12 miles from Plzen. A few of our Division members partied with Russians at a party in Plzen but after we left Plzen, road blocks of tanks were put up to keep them out of our village and we were ordered not to go into the territory under their control (although they were our allies, they were not trusted). We left Supno area on June 6th and traveled 46 miles by truck to Radonice, Czechoslovakia. After spending 8 days in Czechoslovakia, we traveled by truck to Regensberg, Germany where we boarded a train to France. We traveled through France and on June 21st, we arrived at Camp Norfolk, France. Soon after we boarded the ship USS Monticello for our happy trip back to the States. Mike Hedlesky and I spent a lot of time talking on the ship. It was wonderful sight passing the Statue of Liberty. Movie star, Marlene Dietrich greeted us at the dock. I soon arrived back in Ann Arbor for a most welcomed 30 days furlough. After the 30 days home, we were scheduled to have 6 weeks of amphibious training and we heard later that the 2nd Division was going to be one the main assault divisions to land on Tokyo. This would have taken place in late October 1945. My brother, John, was also home on a 30 day furlough. He was in the 8th Air Force and back home from England. It is hard to explain the joy when we heard the Pacific war ended while we were at home on leave. After my leave, I reported back to Ft. Sheridan and then on to Camp Swift, Texas. I had a good buddy in Headquarters Company who said there were some troops at Camp Swift, who were going to be sent to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. So, Mike Hedlesky, George Michel and I put our names on the list. We should have realized that this is not the way the Army operates. We ended up shipping out to Ft. Sam Houston at San Antonio, Texas. We were barracks´ orderlies at a small separation center. Mike, George and myself were assigned to a barracks. This was one of the best jobs we had in the army. All we had to do was to see that the 2nd floor stayed clean. The first floor of our barracks was used for the Red Cross. The Camp had German Prisoners of War, so they cleaned the latrines and the first floor. We stayed together about 4 months and then our soft job came to an end. I wasn´t a very good title anyway. I was transferred to the Post Guard House and worked at the main gate on 8 hour shifts with a partner. Quite often I worked with Whitey Aanerson from Minnesota. The guard house had a pretty good softball team and I was the team pitcher. While on duty at the main gate, I used to snap some pretty sharp salutes to the Officers as they came and left the post. One day this Lieutenant stopped his car, got out and said I am going to see that you make Corporal of the Guard. Big deal! A Corporal, but it was a better job. Our duty was to pick-up extra vehicles at the motor pool each day and drive the men to the different posts for the exchange of the guard. I would occasionally taxi a couple of mess Sgts. and their Wac girl friends to various locations and in exchange, I was rewarded with many favors. Many times the other guards on my shift would also receive rewards such as food and snacks. Our camp was close to San Antonio. We didn´t need passes so we spent a lot of time there. I believe we were there for about 8 months and I was discharged on June 22, 1946. I was only home a couple of weeks when I met my dear future wife Mary, the mother of my children Sharon, Tom and Robin, the grandmother to Sarah, Cody, Al, Chris and Steve, aunt to many nieces and nephews and friend to numerous individuals. After the service, most veteran forgot about the things they went through, the good and the bed. Myself, I never talked to my family about it but I often thought of the men I served with. I was able to keep in touch with a few of them. My friend Mike Hedlesky from Ann Arbor had come to our wedding but soon after, we lost contact. In 1949, while living in Ann Arbor on South Main St., my army buddy Whitey Aanerson from Minnesota stopped to see me on his way to New York. In 1952, Mary and I went to Wilmington, Delaware to visit another good buddy, Buz Lafferty. In 1955, Mary and I went to Laverne, Minnesota to see Whitey Aanerson. He and his wife Gloria were farming and we spent a fun week with them getting reacquainted and reminiscing. In 1965, I took my family to California and on the way, via Minnesota, we visited Whitey and his young family again. During our trip to California, we spent some time Orange Grove, California with our former Ann Arbor neighbors, John & Dorothy Borgerson and their 5 children. All the while I was in California, I kept thinking how good it would be if I could find my good Army buddy Ed, who lived in this big state. California was a great trip and we traveled a lot on the famous “Route 66”. During these years, life was busy with family, work and all the house projects. There was not much thought of Army life and my Army buddies. I had many friends that talked about their Army reunions held in different states. I should have realized that my division would have organized reunions. It wasn´t until 1991 when I read in a V.F.W. magazine an article about the 2nd Division Reunion headquarters. They are located at Buda, Texas which is 13 miles from Austin, Texas. I became a member of the 2nd Division Association and they listed addresses of all new members in their monthly newsletter. I soon received a letter from my very good Army buddy, George Mitchelll from Dover, MA. This is one of my Army buddies I so wanted to find. He stated that he and his wife, Marge spend their winters in Naples, FL. In winter of 1991 – 1992, we were scheduled to spend December, January and February in Lake Havasu, AZ. After learning that Mitchell was going to be in Florida, I started to think of excuses why we should leave Arizona and drive to Florida. Well, the weather was cool and the apartment we had rented was not so great so we stayed there a month and headed for Florida. It was a long drive but Mitch and I were able to reminisce. We stayed in touch until Mitch passed away in 1999. About the same time I located Mitch, I also located Mike Hedlesky. After being overseas, Mike, Mitch and I were together at Ft. Sam Houston at San Antonio, TX. I spoke of these two fellas earlier in my story. Mike lives at Big Sandy, TN on the river. Mike stopped to see us in 1999 while he was in Ann Arbor for a Class Reunion. This was our first visit since 1947. Our first meeting with the Ingram´s was at our home in Florida. They told us of the great time they had at Plzen, Czechoslovakia for the 50th year celebration in 1995. This celebration was for the liberation from the Germans on May 7th 1945. The Ingram´s have gone back to Plzen each May and in 1996, they started their search for the building we stayed in while there as well as all the dear people that took us in. After some time, they located Marie and Zdenka. They became acquainted with their fine families as well. After I had located Earl, he shared with me his experiences via letters and telephone call. Earl also sent me Marie´s address and some photos that Marie and her husband had taken of us in 1945. Her son Henry does the writing for her since Marie doesn´t know English. At our meeting in 1999, Earl and Marge told us of the great plans the Czechoslovakia people had for the 55th reunion of the liberation on year 2000 celebration. Mary and I decided then that we must go. In March 2000, the Ingram´ stopped by again and we finalized our May trip to Plzen. When ae arrived back in Ann Arbor, we scheduled our flights and made our hotel reservations for our trip to Europe. This was a unbelievable experience to see Marie, Zdenka and their families. It was joyful and tearful reunion. They had a four day celebration for us which also included having the Veterans riding in the parade. They estimated about 250,000 people came out for the parade. The very young and the old shaking our hands as tears flowed saying “thank you”. We hope to go back for another reunion soon. Mary and I attended the 2001 2nd Division reunion in Peoria, IL. and had a very good time. There were four of us from the “L. Co”. It was good to see Earl, Marge and Ed again. We also saw Joe Zuber again for the first time since 1945. The next reunion is going to be in Nashville, TN.
Since I started communicating with my Congressman and Senators to correct my Army records, my granddaughter, Sarah E. Kittel graduated from University of Wisconsin and secured a job in Washington, D.C. for the Armed Services Branch. Sarah started talking to some of her associates and located a very generous individual who listened and read all my communications. Sarah just forwarded an e-mail message to me that indicated I would hear from the board in a few weeks that they reconsidered my case and will confirm the award of the purple heart on my records and based on my already receiving the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, I will also be awarded the Bronze Star Medal. I am so thankful to everyone that assisted in this task especially Sarah.
On April 9, 2003, I received a notice from Washington, D.C. listing the medals the awarded me and on June 17, 2003, I received my WWII Army Medals. On the following page is a list of all the medals and certificated they awarded me and I received.
It is my privilege and honor to be able to share this story with my family, reacquainted army buddies and friends. You are the ones who complete the circle to make my life whole.
Thomas J. Kittel, Corporal, Retired
2nd Infantry Division 38 Reg 3rd Bat “L. Co” 2nd Platoon
The 2nd Division had spent 303 days in combat since coming ashore on D-day plus one on June 7th, 1944. It remained on line 71 straight days after the landing in Normandy and after taking over positions in Germany on October 4, 1944, it was committed continuously for 217 days until the end of the war.
WWII ARMY FACTS
NUMBERS OF INTEREST
An army consists of 350,000 men
Division – 14,000 men
Division – 81 Rifle Platoons – 3,250 men
Company – 3 Rifle Platoons & 1 Weapon Platoon
Platoon – 40 men – 3 Rifle Sqauds
Battalion – 3 Rifle Companies & 1 heavy Weapon Company
Regiment – 3 Battalions
In a war theater zone, there is one (1) man with rifle for each 15 men behind.
October 23, 2007
In my past story, I told of different highlights that happened during my time in the Army and years after, also. Ever since May of 2005, I have wanted to tell my experiences and good fortune that I have had on my second trip to Europe.
This trip was planned to take part in the 60th year – 5 day celebration of the Liberation of Plzen. This trip was more special in a way than the trip in the year of 2000 due to the fact that Mary and I had family with us. We all arrived in Plzen and stayed in the famous old Hotel Continental. We had a great time meeting my veteran friends and many of our Plzen friends. We all attended the ribbon cutting of the Patton Memorial Museum. This Plzen visit was special to me and my family to again see and to meet Marie and her family. Marie said she never dreamed she would someday embrace my daughters and grandson. During this celebration, I was also able to ride in the parade with the same two fellas that I rode in 2000. (to be continued)
October 29, 2010
I will start again and finish my story of the 2005 European trip with a new “Story Book Ending”.
In the first part of my story, I often spoke of our dear friends Earl and Marge Ingram. After the five day celebration at Plzen, the Ingrams, Mary and I visited the little village of Krise. In 1945, Earl Ingram was a 1st Lieutenant and leader of our 2nd platoon. Our 2nd platoon stayed in this village for three weeks in 1945. This was after spending two weeks at Plzen. Our visit to Krise was to meet up with a Mr. Ingvaclav Mudra who was just 17 years old in 1945. He was going to show Earl Ingram the house that he and the 1st Sergeant stayed in while there.
Mr. Mudra served us a nice lunch then later Earl, Marge, Mary and our interpreter, Sidney, were sitting away from the table drinking tea and coffee. I was at the table with Mr. Medra enjoying some good Pilsner beer when he started to show me some photos that he had taken in 1945. The first one was of our tanks which were used for road blocks. The second was of a soldier that I recognized (Neil Dailey) while the third photo was of me with a 10 year old girl (Dana) and her mother. (See the photos on a separate page)
I said, “That´s me!” Everyone was surprised that this could be. That afternoon Mr. Medra took us to meet Dana and her husband Richard. Dana then showed me the bedroom and bed in which I slept.
We continue to stay in touch by mail.
After arriving back home, I had told my brother this story. He then told me I had sent him a photo of myself and a little girl while he was in England serving with the 8th Air Force. He had carried this photo in his bill fold about 30 years and later he located it in a box of old photos. I had it enlarged and sent one to Dana. She said this is like a story book and that she always wondered who that smiling soldier was. “It is a small world.”
Another highlight of our trip was to spend five days in Paris with a daylong visit to Normandy. I feel blessed to have been able to do these things and then write about them.
Thomas J. Kittel