LYON COUNTY GENEALOGY
ANOTHER WORLD WAR II VETERANS STORY
S/SGT. JAKE WULF
S/Sgt. Jake Wulf, who was born at Lester, Iowa, and spent his entire life there with the exception of the years that he served his country here and overseas in the European theatre of war. Jake registered for the draft and was one of the first draftees to leave Rock Rapids. He left December 1, 1941, on the Morrell meat train for Fort Crooks, Nebraska, where he was inducted into the army. From there he was sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Here he was issued his clothing and equipment. Then he was off to Camp Roberts, California, for nine weeks of basic infantry training, then on to San Luis Obispo, California, for advanced training, and then to Burbank, California, to guard a defense plant that built airplanes for the war. After eight months, he was sent to Camp Hood, Texas, where he took tank training. He arrived in Texas in the middle of a snowstorm in January 1943. The army had taken away all of his winter clothing and issued him summer clothes because that was all he was supposed to need down there! The tank training consisted of driving through obstacle courses and up and down deep ravines and a lot of target practice. There he received his "driver's license" which he kept among his war mementoes.
In May of 1943, he was discharged due to the fact the services had drafted too heavily. They discharged farm laborers and railroad personnel as they were deemed valuable on the home front.
Apparently, it was hard for Jake to settle back into civilian life after all of his training, so he volunteered for army service a year later and in August of 1944, he was sent to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, for induction and then was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to take basic training all over again. While there he did guard duty at the gold vaults. It was then the army discovered he was a licensed tank driver, so they transferred him to that unit where he went through the whole tank-training procedure once more. In January of 1945, he was sent overseas. They loaded out at night in New Jersey, and Jake wasn't aware that he was on board ship until he awoke the next morning and couldn't see anything but water!
The trip overseas took three days, and he landed in Liverpool, England, in the middle of the Battle of the Bulge. He then was loaded onto a train which went through England to the English Channel which they crossed by ship. They then went across France on a train which had 40' x 8' cars. The soldiers were tightly packed in each car, but they did have sleeping bags. They were glad to get out of the crowded conditions when they got off in Belgium. Jake was designated as a replacement with the 773rd Tank Destroyer Unit which had arrived in Belgium by the time he had arrived there. On January 19, 1945, Jake went into combat with the 773rd Tank Destroyer Unit attached to the 90th Division which was a part of the Third Army led by "Blood and Guts" Patton.
Jake's tank unit fought all the way through Belgium, Luxembourg, and then on to Germany. Tanks were arranged by platoon and company. There were four tanks to a platoon and four platoons to a company. They also had 4 by 4's and foot soldiers traveling with them. A 55 mm gun was on the tank, but the 20 mm guns and bazookas were fired by the ground forces. Jake's company was the first to reach the Rhine River. They could see the Rhine from a high hill about a half-mile away. Their Colonel got on the radio and called back to Patton to tell him that we were the first ones to reach the Rhine River. Patton's reply was, "Can you pee in it?" The Colonel said, "No, but we can see it." Patton's reply was, "If you can't pee in it, you ain't there!"
They were scheduled to cross the river at 6 P.M. that evening, but just before they were to cross, the German warplanes blew up the bridge! The unit had to wait three or four days until they could put a pontoon bridge across the Rhine. It was a "hit and miss" affair while the pontoon bridge was being installed as the German air force would come over every now and then and strafe the workers. Jake crossed the Rhine River on March 24, (his 24th birthday), in 1945.
After crossing the Rhine, the first town they took was Darmstadt. There wasn't a building left in the town. It was blown completely to shambles by the artillery and aircraft bombs. They went on to Nuremberg where the Germans tried to make another last stand. But after three days of bombardment by the artillery and bombing by the Air Force, the Germans finally surrendered. Nuremberg was a fairly large city, and when the 773rd Tank Destroyers left, there were only two buildings standing.
In addition to being a tank driver and gunner, Jake also became an interpreter. He could speak fluent German and so became invaluable to the U.S. Army as it crossed Germany and took village after village. As the U.S. Army moved into towns, they would pick out the best and biggest homes to serve as headquarters for the officers or housing for the soldiers. Jake told me, "I was the meanie," as I had to tell the people to get out of their homes and find some other place to live. It made it bad for Jake as he had to carry out his orders. One other fellow and Jake were the interpreters, and they were hated because of it! They also had to tell the populace that they were to bring all of their weapons, knives, and cameras to their Burgermeister, which would be the city hall.
Jake said that when he tried to tell the people, they were so excited and would say, "Nichts verstan, nichts verstan, nichts verstan." They just kept saying that and wouldn't even listen, until he became halfway angry and told them in German to shut up and listen. Then they would say, "Guden Deutsch sprechen," which translated into he can talk good German. In one of the towns they captured, they were helped by a woman who discovered Jake could speak German; she told him that there were some German officers in the basement of one of the buildings. When the Americans stormed the building, the German officers came out and gave themselves up.
Jake's division eventually captured one of the Nazi concentration camps at Flossonberg; it was a large camp composed entirely of men who were all in an emaciated condition. There was a big cement block building at the back of the camp, and this was the crematorium where the Germans cremated the dead Jews and prisoners of war. The horrors and inhumane treatment in the concentration camps is a matter of history never to be forgotten. The first thing the Army did was to get a load of potatoes to the camp. Once again, Jake's knowledge of and ability to talk German pushed him to the foreground, and he was ordered to stay at the main gate on duty to act as interpreter. One day, a gaunt, sickly fellow walked up to Jake at the gate and asked for a cigarette. Jake was smoking at the time. He asked Jake not to come too close as he was sickly. Jake asked the fellow where he learned to speak English so well and was surprised to find out that the prisoner was actually from Texas and had been part of the British Forces that had been captured. He had lived in several concentration camps, but he felt this was the worst. Needless to say, he was glad to see the Americans come. Another thing that Jake witnessed while at Flossenberg was one day a prisoner watched a U.S. soldier drop a cracker he was eating and it fell into some horse droppings. Willing to do anything when he was starving, the prisoner retrieved the cracker, wiped it off on his dirty shirt, and ate it.!
Jake told me that as far as their food was concerned, they lived mainly on K-rations while on the move. There would usually be a can of stew or some kind of meat, a candy bar, some vitamin pills, some instant coffee or some kind of drink, and what soldiers called "dog biscuits." They were crackers on the order of graham crackers. Water in the European towns that they marched through was plentiful, but it wasn't fit to drink. They had shallow wells and their house and barn drainage all ran into the well, so you can imagine the situation. The army issued the soldiers two cases of pop and one of beer every two weeks. Jake said, "After the war was over, we got to making beer, so we had a lot of it, probably more than we should have!"
Jake's unit moved on to Czechoslovakia where they had a three-day rest and headed up to the front lines. They were stopped and advised that the war was over. They were going through a little town a the time and moving fast to get up to the front battle line. Some civilians asked where they were going, and they replied up to the front line whereupon the civilians asked, "What for? The war is over!" Jake said they wouldn't believe it and continued on up toward the front lines. Jake's unit finally came upon the German Panzer Division which was the big tanks. Jake said, "It was quite a sight as we joined jeeps and other small equipment and just surrounded them until they surrendered. Then we drove back with those big tanks behind us. I think they could have run over us if they had so desired, but they were done fighting." Rumor had it that Hitler was dead and their chain of official command had broken down. We brought them back to command headquarters and put them in a field just like a herd of cattle! The German Army was surrendering so fast that the U.S. Army couldn't take care of them. They didn't trust the enemy either as Jake said, "We didn't know for sure the war was over as we had no official word at that time."
Jake said, "As soon as we got the official word of the ending of the European War, you can believe, we were happy!" Jake had a lot of admiration for General Dwight Eisenhower. General Patton was the commander of Jake's tank unit, but he was answerable to Eisenhower who put the stop to Patton's Army when it was in Czechoslovakia. They couldn't keep us with the ammunition and supplies. Jake felt General Patton didn't care how many men he lost, wheras General Eisenhower was concerned, as it seemed he didn't want to lose any more men than necessary. We lost a lot of men, but it could have been worse had Patton kept going. The tanks ran out of ammunition and gas as it was. Patton wanted to take Berlin, but Patton's army was stopped, and, consequently, the Russians took over. Jake said they were told Hitler was dead, as was Roosevelt. Lots of rumors circulated after peace was declared.
Jake was never quite satisfied with the peace treaty, as he felt Russia was given too much. Jake said there were tough times when they were on the move to keep in touch with his folks at home in the USA. All of the letters the soldiers wrote were censored. I wrote a letter telling my folks that I had crossed the Rhine River on my birthday which I wasn't supposed to do;; we had orders not to mention specific towns, rivers, or areas of country we were taking our tanks through. About two days later, my commanding officer came up to me and said, "I had a notion to cut that out, but I let it go."
They received one newspaper, Stars * Stripes, which they got about once a week. They found out on the day that Roosevelt was buried that President Roosevelt had died. Jake said it was a day he would never forget, as it was one day that his whole unit could have been destroyed and buried.
His unit was sent to guard a bomb storage unit that the Germans had hidden in a huge, wooded area. They had piles of bombs in various sizes that the planes dropped. Also hidden with the bombs was ammunition of different types. Jake's unit pulled in there about 3:30 to 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon to guard the area. They had just arrived when a German fellow came up, was so excited and agitated, and talked so fast that Jake couldn't make out what he was saying. The other interpreter in the outfit was at the other side of the bomb storage area, and finally Jake took the German over to him; he had quite a time trying to calm down the fellow enough to make out what he was trying to say. What he was trying to tell the tank crew was that there were time clocks on the bombs which had been set from one to one hundred hours when the German army pulled out and left. The German claimed there were already 96 hours used of the 100 hours for which they were set. This meant that there were four hours left before the bombs detonated! The German wanted their permission to go in and take those time clocks off!
So, needless to say, the interpreters lost no time in getting to the commanding officer to relay the message. Jake said that the commanding officer was so dumb and stupid that he wouldn't permit the German to go take the time clocks off until they took him to the CIC who screened everyone to see if they were telling the truth. They came flying back with the German as the CIC had said to get him out there right away and get him to work at removing the clocks which the German knew all about because he had installed them. He had stayed behind when the German army pulled out and buried his German uniform and his gun. He said if the U.S. Army didn't believe him, he would show where the buried uniform and gun were. This he did afterwards.
Jake said that they were put on guard duty again and some of the clocks got down to 2 to 3 hours before the bombs would have detonated. By morning the clocks were all stopped. Afterwards the German said he lived in the village just 1000 feet from the bombs, which if they had gone off, would have destroyed his whole village and his family. He had intended to stay behind, desert from the German Army, and remove the clocks, but the Americans arrived too soon; he was afraid they would shoot him if he ventured into the bomb storage area without their permission.
Jake felt pretty fortunate that even though they were in action, they never had to fire a shot from their tank although they lost a number of fighting men. Jake said he was glad that he was a tank driver and never had his tank destroyed. I always had to carry a gun but didn't kill anyone. Jake said he prayed often. There were two times he really recalled. They were crossing a mountain one night with the tanks and could barely see as they had to use their blackout lights. They climbed higher and crept around steep, winding curves, and then the most frightening thing happened, a truck convoy was making its way up the other side! It was dark and the tanks were on the outside of the road. One slip and they would go crashing down the side of the mountain into the deep canyon! Jake said, "How I prayed that night!"
Another time he prayed was when they had come down out of the mountain and were crossing the Rhine River on the pontoon bridge. It was also at night and the tank drivers were told that they had to drive very carefully as they crossed with the tanks. Too much weight or sudden movement could sink the tank! In other words, the drivers were instructed to literally crawl their tanks over the floating bridge and not shift gears. Jake's tank had an automatic shift, so he was pretty happy when they finally made the crossing. Jake remarked that most of all he felt the prayers of the folks back home. They told him in letters, but he really could feel the prayers when he was in a tough spot during the war.
Jake said, except for one occasion, he never ran across anyone from home. The one occasion was while he was guarding a bridge in Germany. A convoy truck came to the bridge and halted. A fellow riding in the back of the truck hollered, "Hey! I should know you. You're a Wulf, aren't you?" Jake looked at the guy who had a helmet on but didn't recognize him, although he did look familiar. Jake asked him who he was. It was Butch Vonder Leith from Alvord. That is as far as the conversation went, as the convoy got orders to move on. Jake never saw him again until he got back home.
There were sad things that happened during the war, things that Jake would have not wanted to dwell on. He said some of the soldiers became quite hard-hearted after seeing some of their buddies killed in battle. The first night that Jake joined his outfit, two German officers surrendered. The company commander asked for a volunteer to take the two men to the CIC. A soldier volunteered to take them, but he didn't take them to the CIC. He marched them up into the woods and shot them. Jake said he didn't know until the next day that the volunteer was his tank gunner. Jake stated, "He was really a hard nut! I never could become very friendly toward him."
Jake was discharged from the service on March 20, 1946, at Camp Grant, Illinois. For the duration of 1946, he did farm labor. He had sent most of his army pay home during the service to apply to farming expenses. He planned to farm when he arrived back home. He earned $21.00 per month for the first six months and then was raised to $36.00 per month. His overseas duty pay was $74 per month. In 1947 Jake started farming. On January 8, 1950, Jake married Alice Moser of Morris, Minnesota. They farmed near Lester, their home for some forty-odd years, during which they raised their growing family. When asked how many children they had, Jake with a twinkle in his eye would reply, "Two and a half-dozen!" Six daughters and two sons is what they had.
They moved to town, but Jake still continued to help out on the farm, and in 1999, he had his farm sale. Jake brought back many World War II mementoes including German money, photos of his buddies, a Nazi armband worn by the German soldiers, Nazi sabers, a fork and spoon from a German mess kit, and the memories which lingered a lifetime.
Jake died June 29, 2004, at the age of 85. I had done quite a few sessions of interviewing with Jake but hadn't completed his story. One afternoon in late August, I visited Alice, and we finished the story and had a nice afternoon of visiting over a cup of coffee.
I hope Jake's service story will nurture and renew the importance of what he and so many others did to protect and save humanity, and it was a job well done.
Written by Evelyn Halverson
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