May 8, 1945 Spring was in the air Staff 12/30/2006 It was a strange morning, the sun out and all was quiet on the eastern front. There were no planes from either side up there and no sound of artiller
It was a strange morning, the sun out and all was quiet on the eastern front. There were no planes from either side up there and no sound of artillery…something was wrong and we were very nervous, this was not going to be an ordinary day. We knew we were near the Elbe River and had been told the Russians were somewhere on the other side. Our radioman was twisting dials trying to connect with headquarters to learn what our next job was going to be and what panels to put on the trucks. We were exhausted and didn’t want to build a bridge across the Elbe.
Muttranowski, I think that’s how it’s spelled, finally hooked up and we could hear him talking to someone. Then Mutt got excited, very excited, threw down the headphones and started dancing around hollering, “The war is over.” None of us believed him because he had pulled funny stuff on us before. But when he told the captain, we had no doubt and I can still feel the joy of that moment. Right then we would gladly abandon our beat up equipment and ship out for home, but that was a long way off. Instead, the captain brought out the “juice” and spent the next hour shaking hands with all of us. If this news were not true we would soon be in no condition to continue the war. Cognac can do that.
None of us had earned enough points to go home and we’d be there awhile doing what had to be done…reparations. This work did not make the news…we were ordered to strip the country…Germany would be rendered “sterile.” We spent months gathering anything of value that could be useful to the nations Hitler had invaded. Machinery, lumber, steel, sheet metal, fencing, telephone posts, etc. It was loaded on trains and sent to the various countries Hitler had sacked.
Hitler had “conscripted” uncountable citizens of defeated countries and forced them to work in Germany producing war materials. This form of slavery had gone on for years and these poor souls, men and women, had been wrenched from their lives. We arranged for as many as we could find space anywhere on out going trains to get aboard and go home, wherever that was. We gave them what food we could for the long trip and they had gathered flowers from somewhere, waving happily from even the tops of the boxcars. I still swallow hard when I write this; it was a wonderful sight to see in the chaos of postwar Germany. We wondered what awaited them when and if they eventually reached their destination.
We traveled far to find undamaged materials to pack on the trains, searched bombed out factories for anything on the list provided by the Army. It was painful to see the shambles of buildings in Cologne, Dusseldorf, Duisberg, and other cities along the Rhine. We went back to Wesel where we had crossed that river under fire from planes and artillery, only this time on the east side. We had dealt with that five hundred yards of rushing current, labored 57 straight hours building two miles of roads on the swampy dikes and three floating bridges across the Rhine. In five days we crossed most of the American Ninth, and the British Second armies. It was a thrilling dangerous time and is still with me.
We had watched the city of Wesel destroyed by B-17s in preparation for our crossing. This was part of British General Montgomery’s plan and it turned out to be one hell of a battle. The last major one for us, and the next two months passed quickly. More would die in those last days, as the defeated German army collapsed. Then came that life-changing spring morning in May of 1945…somewhere in those two years I had become a man.
Robert Pocklington is a Suffolk resident and regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.