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BILL COLLINS' WWII MEMORIES, Page 6

  
From 15th of August at La Vielle to 26`h of September, we had been in three different locations. We finally arrived at site (A78) Florennes, Namur, Belgium, which had been a German Air Base and would be our permanent stop for the next three months. We were living in tents with a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the tent used for heat. It was a very cold winter.
   
SSgt. Joe Blyskal, (Ware Mass), Bill Davis (Penn.), Kirk E. Miller (Ury W Va.), Cpls. Max Rosenberg (Erie Pa), and Charles Fouratt (Brooklyn N.Y.) shared the tent with Sgt Bill Collins. The American Pad and Textile of Greenfield and again my days of working as a summer replacement in 1940, hit home again, had issued us sleeping bags, which they manufactured. I was fortunate to have such great guys in my tent, each taking turns to keep the stove going, thru the night or having to start it in the morning for it was very cold.
   
Paris had been liberated on August 26th and Brussels on 4th Sept as we hedge hoped to Florennes. During that time, Paris was at last free of Germans and all the Officers wanted to get to Paris. Since they were not allowed to drive, we enlisted men got to see Gay Parie by driving the jeeps. One night Chuck Fouratt and Coyte Carpenter (Gambier Oh) and I were in Paris together. Carpenter, our Mail Orderly had been married just a couple of weeks before we left the USA, and would write two or three letters each day to his wife. However this night we decided to go to Pigalle, one of the swingiest parts of Paris, and stopping in a bar were greeted by three of Paris' finest who wanted to have a beer with us. However when one of the girls put her arm around Coyte, he ran out of the bar. Took me three blocks to catch up with him and probably ruined a great evening, but Carpenter was right!
   
The Red Cross had a unit assigned to our Group, with a couple of Red Cross Ladies, to work in a tent and provide coffee and donuts. Since I did not drink coffee and the ladies were more interested in the Officers, we did not think too well of it. Besides every move we made, our Headquarter Enlisted Men would have to take down the tent, load the supplies into the trucks, and set up again in the new location. After the third move, we were going thru Paris and our jeep ended up with 100 lbs of sugar and 50 lbs of coffee, which some how lost it's way in a Bar in Gay Parie! ! That night we were the Kings of France.
  
During this period, while lifting, I strained myself and ended up in a field hospital, which sent me back to a General Hospital in Paris for treatment. My first bed assignment was next to Paul Royce who was in my class in school in Greenfield. Another patient in the Hospital was Roy Starns Jr. class of 1942. After a week I was discharged from the Hospital and told to find my way back to the 370t1', which was still in France. Somehow I made it.
   
Florence was located about 12 miles from Dinant on the Mouse River, which the Germans reached during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Our Group had about 75 Planes, with an additional 150 Bombers from the Sty' Air Force. They were snowed in and used our Air Field as their base until the weather changed. If the Germans had been aware of those planes we would have been buzz bombed day and night.
   

I recall seeing the Belgium people fleeing from the East, thinking the Germans were going to return again, carrying all their belongings, and having the saddest faces I had ever seen. By New Years Eve we were sure the Germans had been stopped, and since we had found a large supply of Booze the Germans had left behind, the 370th Enlisted Men had a great party and one big head ache on 1st of January, 1945. On 27th January we moved to Zwartberg. Limbourg, Belgium.

   
Sgt. Blyskal recalled, "Our first glimpse from the air of the former German Filed at Florennes was anything but favorable. It was clobbered beyond recognition. Since buildings were few and far between most of us had to sleep in tents. When we arrived, we did not realize that our stay here would be the longest of any we made on the continent. However, like everywhere else, we proceeded to make ourselves as comfortable as we could. We made improvements almost daily in the pyramidal tent, which was our home. The fellows I lived with had ideas and among the improvements were: walls around the tent, a door, a floor with carpet, a stove, electricity, and small items of furniture. It wasn't the nicest place to live but is was comfortable and we actually had a reasonable good time there."
  
Joe added, "A week or so before Christmas, the Germans started their last big drive which was called the "Ardennes Offensive" and more commonly referred to as "The Battle of The Bulge". The spearhead was headed our way and the group was alerted for any eventuality. We spent many uneasy nights since the weather was foggy and ideal for paratroop andings. During that period everyone was armed at all times and extra guards were placed on duty.
   
Though the closest Jerry came was about 12 miles from our filed, we could hear the rumble of bombs and artillery shells in the distance for several days."
    
Zwartberg, Belgium was East of Brussels, near Hasselt and closer to Germany in the coal mining part of Belgium. The Germans had a prisoner of War camp in Zwartberg, using the Russian Prisoners as workers in the coalmines. The Enlisted men lived in Quonset huts the Russians had used, holding about forty men. Our Group Headquarters was in a part of the local schoolhouse being used by the Belgium's for their children. We moved to site (Y-32) on January 26, 1945 and were assigned to XXIX Tactical Air Command.
   
Needing light bulbs for the office, Chuck Fouratt and I drove the Chaplin's jeep to Zwartberg, a little village about a mile from our Headquarters, where we met the Lemmons girls. Their father owned a furniture store, selling furniture, hardware, bicycles, and light bulbs. Since we were the first Americans to arrive in that area we asked the girls what Zwartberg had to offer, and were told this small village about three blocks long, had six bars with most playing music to dance by, every night.
   
We asked the girls if they would like to show us the bars and they agreed to take us that night. When we arrived back that night to pick up the girls, we were invited to meet their Parents, who went along with their three daughters to one of the bars featuring music, consisting of an accordion, drum, and piano. From then on the three girls, Lucy, Josie, and Annie and their Mother and Father were like family. I was very fortunate to have been taken in by the Lemmons.
   
Huis Lemmons, their father, would get up every morning to run his traps for rabbits and other game and at the same time take along two burlap bags to pick up wood for heating the cook stove. Huis was a very smart man who had stored in the basement of his furniture store, 100 bicycles, which he had hidden from the Germans. After the German troops had left he would assemble one bike a week. He told me if he put more than one together the price would drop!
   
Mrs. Lemmons would have four meals a day for her family and if she thought I might be down in the evening, would not let the family eat until I arrived. She would make me hot tea which mother had sent me. On Saturdays she would make pies, cakes, and bread and take them to the Baker, who would bake the villager's goodies in his big oven.
   
Lucy worked in the office of the coal mine; Josie and Annie were both attending the school, which housed our Headquarters office. Both girls used to tell our Officers, they knew Captain Collins, who ran the Headquarters. Nothing like having a couple of young girls putting out that stuff
   
As you know Maxine and I visited the Lemmons girls when we were on a Ford trip to Amsterdam. Annie, the youngest, lived in the rear of a beautiful furniture store with her husband. Her daughter and granddaughter were visiting so we met them all. Annie invited her sister
   

Josie and her daughter Karen to join us for dinner. I talked with Lucy on the phone but one of her sons was practicing for his marriage and could not join us. A couple years later, Josie and her daughter Karen spent a weekend in Greenfield. In 1982 Lucie and Annie both passed away.

      
"Zwartberg's coal mines were quite modern from what some of my friends had to say. I am not familiar with coalmines, but some of our boys worked in them in Pennsylvania. One thing that I liked about them was they let us use their hot showers, which were available during certain hours. Though the distance was about a mile, we made frequent use of them, riding down there when rides were to be had and walking when we had to. "Joe wrote in his report. He also added "Buzz bombs came over every day and night while we were here. Most were on their way to Antwerp and only occasionally did they land close enough to hear the explosion."
  
On March 1st we were converted from P38 to P51's a single engine fighter. On April 20t'' we were moved to Gutersloh, Germany. We had just settled into this permanent Air Base of the German Air Force, when on May 2 Berlin was overturned with V-E Day on May 8th.
    
The end of the War was not announced till after 5:00 because they Allies knew everyone would stop working to celebrate. We had received the message early in the morning and having my work caught up, 1 asked Capt. Campbell for a weekend pass which he signed, and I hooked a ride hack to Zwartberg, arriving before the Belgium people had been told it was all over in Europe. They all went wild, many headed for the Catholic Church, which was located close to the school we had used for our Headquarters.
   
Mrs. Lemmons really cooked up a feast, and the next day Lucy and I took the train to Brussels where the Belgium's were really celebrating. I bought fresh strawberries, which I had not seen in two years, and Chocolate Eclairs with the good Belgium cream filling to take back the Lemmons family in Zwartberg.
      
On the 26`h of June we were moved to Sandhofen, Germany (site Y-79) located between Frankfort and Heidelberg Germany. Later in July, Capt Starke took personal property of Pilots who had been killed, to a shipping out port that was close to Camp Lucky Strike. My brother Jack was in a staging area, waiting to be shipped back to the USA and then on to Japan, so I hitched a ride and spent a day with Jack. That day went faster than most but we really enjoyed it.
   
S Sgt. Jack Collins a platoon leader in an Armored Infantry Company had seen a lot of front line action. Jack had received the Purple Heart and was awarded his Combat Infantrymen Badge. He arrived home in August when he and Janice were married before I returned to the USA.
   
One night Cpl Lenny Rosen from New York City and I were in Worms Germany, which was in the French Army occupation area. At a bar we met a German who offered us $200.00 for every carton of cigarettes we could bring him. At that time we had been selling cigarettes for $20.00. We returned to camp and bought every carton we could find, most of them we promised to pay for after we had made the delivery. By 10:00 the next morning, I dropped off Rosen with 3 mailbags of cigarettes thinking we were going to clear $180.00 on each carton. Our buyer did not return. However we were able to find a buyer at $20.00, so we could pay off everyone for the cartons we had bought on credit. Story of my life, when it coming to make BIG DEALS!
      
Sgt Marvin O'Neal of Savanna, Georgia, the oldest enlisted man in our Headquarters Company, was a lawyer and also a Brother-in-law to US Senator Dick Russell, one of the top Democrats in the Senate, who would send the Congressional Record to O'Neal every day. Marvin had many stories and liked to help defend any GI who was up for court martial.
   
Sgt Stanley Nadel from Brooklyn, another character, was in charge of the Officers Club and also made sure all the Jewish holidays were properly celebrated. He loved to play Black Jack and could never stand to loose. Nadel took quite a bit of ribbing from most of the GI's.
    
Sgt Joseph Nemeth of Communications Section was from Detroit, Michigan. No relative of the football Nemeth but a heck of a good guy. After the War he was an oil dealer in Detroit. I talked to him several times when in Michigan, during business trips with Ford.
   
By the first of September most of our guys had accumulate sufficient points to be returned to USA and were assigned to the 27thBomber Group of the 12'x' Air Force to wait for our turn to come. M Sgt Chuck Heaton from Cleveland, Ohio was the head of the Headquarters section I was assigned to. Chuck Heaton had been a sports writer for the Cleveland Press, who after the War covered the Cleveland Browns and was named to the Football Hall of Fame as a top reporter. His daughter appears on the TV show Everybody Loves Raymond as Raymond's wife.
   
We were shipped to our staging area from Germany in a "Forty and Eight" boxcar (Received its name because the car had room for 40 men or 8 horses) and took three days to Camp Lucky Strike where we were assigned to the Sheepshead Bay Victory ship to head home.

Back to the USA on SS Sheepshead Bay Victory

I had been assigned to the 27th Fighter Group of the 12t" Air Force to return home. Most of the enlisted men who had been in the service longer had gone home and after awaiting our turn the 27t" Fighter Group with most of our younger enlisted of the 370th were raring to board THE SHEEPSHEAD BAY VICTORY. This type of ship had been built to transport troops and was the maiden trip for this Victory ship. We boarded the ship on Wednesday 24 October along with 1924 other passengers which included 323 Officers and 1606 Enlisted Men who would eat 77,939 meals before we would arrive in New York on Tuesday November 6th
  
On Thursday 25th the ship encountered a gale and dropped anchor in the English Chanel near Dover England. More gales on Friday and on Saturday we returned 34 miles to drop off a Dutch Officer who had became ill. The Sea was rough for about a week and the trip which was suppose to take 7 days lasted 13.
   
The Sheepshead Bay published a daily news report and S/Sgt Joe Blyskal and myself were on the Staff. Each day we would report to Capt. Eaton who with one other officer and 8 of us enlisted men would produce the Daily SHEEPSHEAD BLEAT. Was a good assignment taking a couple of hours each morning and beat hell out of the other duties the other GIs had to perform.
 
The Chow was great..real milk and ice cream, fresh fruit, we devoured 17,982 pounds of meat and 3,303 lbs of chicken on our way home. Movies were shown each evening in the mess hall and the Notre Dame-Navy Football game was broadcast on Saturday Nov 3rd.
    
The trip was long and rough but the sight of the STATUE OF LIBERTY, was a sight we will always remember The Army Band played when we debarked and the smiles and tears flowed from many of us.
    
Camp Shanks was our next stop and goodbyes for most of our guys, Jim Denham and I would take a train to Indiantown Gap Penn where we would be discharged on November 11" at 11:00, the identical time the Armistice of World War I was signed.
   

   

Thanks for the story Bill. We all appreciate what you and your generation did for us.

    

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