WWII Letters from the Men & Women In Service


Shefchik, Harry, letter dated Nov. 4, 1944

Just the usual few lines to let you know that I’m O.K. in every way and hope you folks can and do say the same. I can’t think of a thing to write about so maybe this will be a good time to give you a partial description of my travels in France. We’re allowed to tell of our experiences up to and including Oct. 9th so here it is.

I first saw France through a haze of smoke layed down by our artillery to screen our landing. A very welcome smoke I can assure you but one that wasn’t needed as luck would have it. The beach had been protected by under water obstacles and barb wire but our bombers and supporting ships had blasted all of this to bits so our landing craft took us right up to the beach. None of us knew what to expect as the landing ramp of our boat was dropped and all said a prayer to himself, or anyway I did. No hail of fire met us and we all made a rush to get to the beach and the cover that was about 75 yards farther on. The first few fellows hit the water but as luck would have it our boat stopped at the lip of a bomb crater and the first few men went in over their heads in the oily water. No one was lost tho and we reached our protective cover without mishap. Sounds simple and like it might have been fun but don’t let it fool you because all of us lost a pound or two “sweating it out” as we say in the army. This was my introduction to France. If I ever visit this country again I’ll take a bus. So much for our landing.

Part two and my first glimpse of the surrounding country. It was more or less just a hasty glance because a few “booby traps” had been sighted and it was one of our jobs to clear these out. This proved to be quite simple and within a few hours we had established a firm beach head. We started moving inland and taking in the surrounding territory. At first I was rather disappointed because all we could see were vineyards and sand, but as we advanced inland the country flattened out and a few stone houses with red tiled roofs could be seen in the distance. Not unlike the houses in Italy but still different.

We met the first civilians a few minutes later and gave them cigarettes and candy in exchange for water and wine. At first they couldn’t believe we were Americans but after we convinced them they sure were a happy bunch of people. It didn’t take the news of our landing long to travel ahead and soon the free French with F.F.I. bands on their arms started bringing in German prisoners. Given a chance to fight this band, or rather army of gallant French, really proved to be a big help, as you all probably know.

The next few days were a nightmare as we traveled night and day to take as much territory as we could before the Germans launched a counter attack. This attack never materialized till nearly a month later but by then we were several hundred miles into France. Our supplies had a hard time keeping pace with us but the supply officers and crew managed to keep us in supplies by working 24 hours per day. Only people fighting for what we were fighting for could have accomplished this job and even now no one can truthfully say how it was done. In fact, it would give a railroad or well established truck line a headache just to think of a job of that kind. Well, that is all past history so I’ll give you an idea of how the French people live and our treatment of them.

At first we were making forced marches and it was then that the French people really showed how much they appreciated our coming. Soon as we were sighted coming up the road … diet of C rations. When we were lucky enough to stop for a few minutes in any of the cities we were virtually swamped by the people. I never could get used to the idea of some old granddad sneaking up on you and kissing you on both cheeks but evidently this is one of their customs. Now, if it had been a girl that would have been different. The older people were the ones who made us feel that our coming was worthwhile. They were the ones who suffered most and many of the old women were crying because they were so overcome with emotion. Most of them couldn’t believe they were freed from the Nazi yoke of virtual slavery. I could go on all night describing the different customs of the people in the different sectors we’ve been thru but I haven’t the time to do so. I’ll now try to give a slight idea of our first meeting with the Jerries.

This was at a certain town that I’ll have to omit for military reasons. It sure was a blow to the Germans and they lost enough equipment to supply an army. An entire convoy was caught by our air force and artillery. It was jammed two and three vehicles abreast for a distance of three miles or more along the highway and what wasn’t destroyed by the fire was given to the French. Very few of the Germans in this convoy escaped and it kept us busy rounding up the prisoners. I’ve a few souvenirs from this convoy and they are ones I’ll always treasure. I’m not sure if this brings this letter up to Oct. 9th or not but I’ll have to sign off anyway.


Source: Tama News-Herald, December 14, 1944 [Tama County]


Shepherd, Joel, letter dated January 1945

From Where He Sits, Le Mars Looks Like a Swell Place
By Joel Shepherd, Red Cross Field Agent

I should type you a letter but we are all packed ready to move. And I am sitting here on an old German bed waiting for a truck to haul my things to my new location. So this can not be very legible.

There is too much that censorship rules do not permit me to say, but I will try to tell some things of interest. Our trip across was uneventful. We were all excited when we came to Straight of Gibraltar. But it was night and we could not see much. The lights of Tangiers looked most cheerful, off in the distance.

The Rock itself was not lit up and all we saw was a mountain. An eerie sight was the Zeppelin flying around with red and green lights—apparently to give us guidance.

It was cloudy the next day and we could only dimly see the African coastline as we steamed along many miles off shore.

Finally, we turned to the north and headed for our port. We landed at Marseilles on Friday, Dec. 8, two weeks exactly from boarding time. And two weeks without seeing land is long enough for me. I did not get seasick and think I would very much enjoy a luxury liner. But a troop transport—no.

We landed at Marseilles about 10:15 a.m. but did not get unloaded until noon. Then under full pack we walked a mile, dragged another mile, then I hardly know how we made the last mile. Anyway, we made it to a motor pool where we were loaded into trucks and driven about 22 kilometers out to our staying area.

The country is nice around there for scenery—resembling some of our western desert areas. Mountains in the distance and some nice valleys. The port area of the town was badly damaged by shells, but the rest of the town was not bad.

Distinctly foreign, it was most interesting to me. All buildings are of stone or tile, tile roofs, yards enclosed with stone walls or steel fences, winding, dark narrow streets—almost no real modern buildings. Hotels and buildings are cold, as there is little coal or wood around. The Americans and their allies have taken over the town—second largest in France.

So many uniforms—all nationalities. Being a port town, it is a tough place. Reports are that 1000 soldiers per month disappear there! Some are found in the bay, many never found, some are AWOL’s. There are 43,000 licensed prostitutes—no one knows how many others. Army gave very strict rules as to soldier’s conduct.

The Army maintains a splendid billeting service throughout France. Due to the shortage of foods and blackmarket—all eating places are off limits to uniformed men.

Civilians have to have ration points to buy food—or anything. We sometimes talk shopkeepers out of it and eat. I stayed in two hotels in Marseilles—neither was good. But it was free, furnished by billeting service.

This service also gives you a mess ticket and you may eat there by presenting your ticket. Meals are good, supervised by Army, and cost you 15 francs or 30 cents. That is all except for service men who eat for 10 cents.

Red Cross people are civilians. Most of the time in Marseilles, I stayed in staying area—out on a hill in a tent. Cold, and inconvenient but we got by. Food was good but standing up, holding a mess kit, when you have to wear gloves to eat—well, it is a field soldier’s lot. We were thankful we only had one air raid alarm. Ack-ack guns barked but the plane was too high—observation.

When we left Marseilles, we did not know whether to be glad or sorry—combat is not pleasant to most people. I have now traveled close to 1000 miles in France. And I have been in German territory between Metz and Saarbrucken. Can’t say that I was a sufficiently hardened soldier to enjoy the “thrills.”

The French people in central France were most happy over their liberation. They almost “ate up” the first American troops who were driving out the Germans. And no one could pay for meals or wine. The soldiers would exchange K-rations for a hot meal and wine.

Where the British and U. S. air forces caught the Germans in convoy north of Marseilles—have never dreamed of seeing such destruction. Thousands of wrecked vehicles—strewn all along the sides of the roads where our bulldozers had pushed them.

And the villages were, some of them totally destroyed. But the people were not embittered—they waved cheerfully at us as we drove by.

French roads, I imagine, were beautiful until American vehicles tore them up. Trees all along—in southern France all the roadside trees were similar to the eucalyptus. Farther north it is a tree similar to the walnut. In one battle area, I saw live stock, dead, still unburied.

We came up the Rhone valley, and in some places it is beautiful. I would love to see those terraced mountain sides when fruit is in full bloom. Mostly vineyards, however, thicker than the wheat fields of Kansas.

In Alsace it is mostly meadows and, potatoes, cabbage, turnips, etc. The people live mostly in villages and go out from early to late to work in the fields. I have seen two tractors in all France, but horses, oxen, burros and goats and dogs hitched up to carts. And more bicycle—tandem and 3 wheeled—ridden by old men and old women, miles and miles out in the country.

DiJon and Nancy have huge, beautiful Red Cross clubs. At Nancy they feed coffee and donuts to thousands daily. Then the hot showers—how the GI loves it.

Christmas Eve was bad for me. I did miss my family so much—and the friends in LeMars. I was in an old theater and tried to enjoy the Russian girls dancing with GIs. Much gaiety but the GIs had been on the line for 135 straight days. And we were relieving them—so the release was noisy to say the least. We had one alarm which caused some excitement but the windows and doors rattled at only one blast.

Soon we were in full blast again. I received no mail from Dec. 15 until Jan. 1. And have never seen a Globe-Post. I had some letters and one package yesterday and two letters from my wife today. I am so sorry about Clarence Roseberry—a great loss to LeMars. Also Bill Lynch.

The coldest weather we have had is zero. Believe this climate is similar to Iowa’s.

My work is unorganized as yet. I plan to work much with Army’s special service officer. I have my own jeep now furnished by Red Cross. So I can at least—get around—when the MPs tell you where to go. We move so often I never get oriented so I can find my own way around.

We get little news—were discussing the Rose Bowl and realize they would be playing January 2—our time.

Go give my regards to everyone in LeMars. Sometimes I think I would give a small fortune to see my worst friend, if I have one.

Gee, but LeMars looks great in retrospect. I sure hope to see them all soon. And I hope the Globe-Post catches up to me soon.

Source: LeMars Globe-Post, LeMars, Iowa, January 29, 1945 [Plymouth County]


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