22 April 1945
The city of Wolfenbuttel, Germany had not been noticeably
damaged and most if not all of the city housing remained untouched.
Even the municipality services were operating. When ordered to
find suitable quarters, we located a small cottage about two
blocks away from CC"A" Headquarters. I said let's check
it out and walked in without knocking at the door. An elderly
German lady dressed in the customary black clothing of a widow
met us as we entered. Standing at her side were her three daughters.
All four showed fear in their faces when as the spokesman I told
them simply, "Five minutes, raust!" The widow, I learned
her name later, Frau Decker, began clasping her hands and begging
in German not to be thrown out of her home, to no avail. To the
victors belong the spoils. No amount of pleading and begging
served to change our minds and they then began gathering what
they could of any personal possessions and left weeping. Nearby
neighbors seeing their plight took them in.
Frau Decker would come by daily and ask permission to clean
her home. She would attempt to persuade us to leave, but that
fell on deaf ears. The three daughters - the oldest in her early
twenties was named Waltraut, the next about 20 was named Ilsa
and the younger daughter about 15 named Hilda. The latter was
fluent in English, but we never learned that until much later.
Once we assured Frau Decker that her daughters were in no danger
of being molested, she permitted them to accompany her to clean
the house daily. After the tension had broken, Frau Decker explained
that her only son had been taken prisoner in North Africa where
he had been serving with Rommel's Panzers and captured. His whereabouts
were unknown at this time. Presumably he was in the USA with
the others captured in North Africa.
May 7th arrived and there were not any celebrations for V-E
Day as there were back in the States. The day the Army pulled
us off the line - 20 April 1945 - and said the war is over for
our division was our day - even then there were no celebrations.
With the peace came new orders - absolutely no fraternizing with
the German civilians (meaning women); that also fell on deaf
ears, if you were discreet. Women everywhere were willing to
wash our clothes and some willing to provide other "services"
- for a single package of American cigarettes. Hunger was also
a problem for the civilians and soon a black market spread all
over Germany in order for the people to survive. Money was of
no value in a barter market. Amazing what people will do to survive
and feed themselves.
While we were forbidden to speak to the Germans in public that
didn't stop the small kids from coming up smiling and asking,
"Soldat, haben sie chocolat?" We gave them candy from
our rations and they soon began asking for chewing gum. Their
older sisters asked for cigarettes as soon as the sun went down.
Our officers turned a blind eye as long as you didn't flaunt
it in public. Our Headquarters CO, Captain Louis Bifano, would
warn us at the Company Roll Call formation that if caught, you
were liable to a court-martial and punishment in the form of
a fine. That also fell on deaf ears.
Things then happened fast. First we were issued the new style
OD uniforms with the "Ike" jacket, and then issued
shoe polish! The three of us Privates First Class in the wire
team all were promoted to T/5 (Technician Fifth Grade), while
Veno remained a buck Sergeant. We took note of the fact that
only three of us - Veno, Hull and I who left England to make
the Invasion were still here. Of course Donahue who joined us
early in France was also on board, but all the others were now
On May 24th the Belgian government bestowed on the whole 2nd
Armored Division the Belgian Fourragere for two noteworthy causes;
being the first Allied Division to enter and liberate their country
on September 2, 1944 officially at 0930 hours and for our participation
in the Battle of the Bulge in stopping the deepest penetration
made by the German forces at Celles. We proudly wore their honored
"red cord of war" on our right shoulder.
The Army announced a point system under which men with the most
points earned would be the first to return to the States, which
seemed like a fair system - we received five points for each
for the five campaign stars earned in the war. Five per each
personal medal awarded. We received one point for each month
served in the USA prior to shipping overseas and two points per
month for each month served overseas - fair enough, so far. But
then men with dependent children were given 12 points for each
child, which we thought totally unfair. I got five points for
each battle and somebody with a kid got 12 points? Two points
more for a kid than any two of the bloody campaigns we endured?
The cut-off established was 85 points. I had 81 points. The Army
was very generous in granting anyone recommended for the Bronze
Star for Meritorious Service - we called it the "Atta-boy"
medal. If only Lt. Moll had made the recommendation for all four
of us, who survived that eleven months of war under his direct
command, as many other Division Signal Wire Officers had done,
that would have given me the magic number -- but for whatever
reason he failed to do so. C'est la vie.
S/Sgt Charlie Tichacek was a hustler first class, he told me
to get the wire jeep and we took off for Braunschweig (Brunswick).
Through the grape vine Charlie learned of a German brewery where
we could trade gasoline for a pony barrel of beer with the tap
included. We couldn't scrounge any ice, but we brought the keg
back to Decker's house and even shared it with some of Decker's
elderly neighbors. When that keg was drained we went back and
But now the old-timers were starting to leave for home as we
said goodbye to both Charlie and Bill Veno. The Decker family
had mellowed out and no longer saw us a permanent "guests"
as May came to a close. Shortly after we packed up to move. Our
next stop was to a former gasthaus along the route the Military
Government had commandeered for the Berlin bound road march.
Just the three of us, Hull, Donahue and myself were all that
remained on the wire team as the Division assembled in the Bernburg
area on June 19th. Within a few days the Company sent us two
new replacements to join the team. Other changes were happening
rapidly. General White left for the States and BG Collier became
the Division CO. We were now reassigned from the Ninth Army to
the Army of Occupation Seventh Army.
On July 3rd a light rain began falling as the lead elements moved
out and crossed the river at Torgau. We were entering the Russian
Zone. At a Russian road block checkpoint the front of the column
was stopped and refused permission to pass by the sentinel on
duty. When General Collier back in the column inquired why the
delay, he was told of the Russian refusal to let the column pass.
With that he called for one of our new Pershing tanks to get
up to the head of the column and run over anybody in their way.
So much for Soviet diplomacy. We moved on without further hindrance.
CC"A" entered the outer ring of Berlin near dusk on
July 4th, led by our guides. We learned that both the 82nd Airborne
and 101st Airborne Divisions had sought to be the first American
division to be chosen as honor guards for the Berlin Potsdam
Conference and meeting of the Big Three occupational powers.
However, General Eisenhower made the decision to go with an armored
division as a show of force. The 2nd Armored Division had undeniably
earned this honor. As our endless column of tanks and armored
vehicles entered the city proper, the main streets were lined
with solemn looking elderly men and women who stared at us in
silence. Apparently, their Teutonic mentality told them that
we were the lesser of the two evils they had to contend with
in the years to come. They had already felt the Russian fist
in the early months of brutal occupation and wanton abuse by
the rampaging Russian Army.
While mile after mile of Berlin was decimated with an estimated
ten square miles of buildings demolished, the section of Berlin
assigned to us was in far better condition in contrast to the
bulk of the city we traveled through to reach our assigned housing
area. We were quartered in what once had been very expensive
homes owned by the elite bankers and professionals on a tree-lined
street. Remarkably, not so much as a windowpane of glass was
broken in any of these homes we occupied. Miraculously they had
escaped the years of bombing by the Allied Forces.
The Army had trucked in folding canvas cots for our sleeping
arrangement in the huge homes. I selected the oak paneled library
for Hull and I. Donahue having been assigned to head up the CC"B"
wire team. Lt. Col. James Power became the new Executive Officer
at CC"A" and briefed us on his policy. The Officer
of the Day would make a bed check every night and any man found
absent would be court-martialed. However, realizing how ineffectual
the non-fraternizing regulations were being enforced, being the
gentleman that he was, he advised us if we intended to spend
the night "elsewhere visiting friends," to fold our
cots and put them out of sight. No empty bed no one missing.
Any wonder that Colonel Power as well liked by the men!
Our residential neighborhood was too quiet so Hull and I got
the jeep and headed for all the "action" in the Russian
Zone. Crossing Check Point Charlie on the Unter den Linden was
no problem as we looked for Friederich Strasse, in the Russian
Zone of the city, on the east side of the Brandenburg Gate. The
cafes had live music and dancing with plenty of German women
- plus Russian female soldiers in uniform. The liquor they were
selling represented as vodka tasted liked it had been cut with
gasoline! A few drinks of that and we were afraid to light up
cigarettes! Getting acquainted with the German frauleins was
easy as they all wanted to meet the Americans - by mutual arrangement.
Lake Wansee was a great spot for "German-American"
In addition to meeting the ladies of Berlin, sightseeing was
on everyone's mind. Hull and I had full use of our wire jeep
and spent every day checking out the different sections of the
city. We found the Tiergarten by chance and learned it was Germany's
biggest outdoor black-market center. While walking through the
park, who called out my name but none other than Sergeant Herman
Moeller, my old nemesis from the 143rd Signal. Moeller was now
a Tech Sergeant assigned to the Military Affairs Section and
proudly wearing a Purple Heart ribbon. We exchanged handshakes
and greetings and I noted he had the Purple Heart ribbon so I
gave him the needle by saying, "I see they nearly got you,
Moeller. Too bad he wasn't a better shot." He laughed and
said that he noticed that I hadn't lost my rare sense of humor.
Everything imaginable was on sale! A pack of American cigarettes,
any brand, went for $10 - $100 a carton. The MPs were out in
force so you had to use caution. We would use condoms to blouse
our pants legs on our combat boots then put ten packs in each
pants leg. When you made the sale you accepted the currency and
then dumped the smokes as you opened the condom for the goods
to drop to the ground. The embryonic ATM machine.
Speaking of currency, all military services were paid in German
Occupation marks. Each of the three powers printed an identical
universal-type script using twelve digits. The only difference
in the printed occupational money was the first numerical digit.
The numeral "1" being American, the British a "2"
while the Russians used the hyphen instead of the first numerical
digit. The problem was then transferring the money sent home
in American dollars. The GI Company mail clerks who controlled
the purchase of US Postal Money Orders, sold in one hundred dollar
denominations, became wealthy - they charged us $150 for every
$100 dollar Money Order bought. Pocketing the other $50 bucks.
There was no other way out except to pay the price.
Watches were the top item every Russian soldier wanted to buy
with the paper money they could not take back to Russia nor send
it home as we did. The typical Russian soldier had not been paid
since the war began and they all carried a purse slung over their
shoulder loaded with the "funny money" when shopping
at the Tiergarten. They were sought any watch with a round face
dial - plus a bonus paid for one with a sweep second hand. Our
HQS CC"A" received two Swiss Omega wristwatches in
PX supplies. While the enlisted men drew a lottery ticket to
decide the single winner, the officers took the other watch.
Sgt. Johnson from Tennessee won the watch. He sold it to me for
$100. The next day at the Tiergarten a Russian paid me $1,200
for it! When the word got out that I had made a bundle, our CO,
Captain Louis Bifano approached me and asked if I would sell
his watch for him (meaning I had to take the risk being caught
by the MPs). I offered him $250 for it and he turned me down.
I passed on the opportunity.
It wasn't all business for us in our spare time as we took time
to check out the Reichchancellery building where Hitler supposedly
killed himself in his bunker. The Main Attraction going on was
the Potsdam Conference. It was a galaxy of stars - the combined
Chiefs of Staff and every big shot general and admiral of note
was there to share the limelight as they rode in our half-tracks
on parade to review our tanks arranged in parade formation. Generals
Eisenhower, George C. Marshall, Hap Arnold, George Patton, Field
Marshall Montgomery, Prime Minister Churchill, President Harry
Truman, Secretary of War Stimson and a host of other dignitaries
including the Russian generals were present. Our 2nd Armored
Division CG, BG John H. Collier was all smiles with pride riding
in that select group. Along with the others, I could now say,
"Ich bin eine Berliner!"
Like thousands of other GI's with human instincts and emotions,
I spent some time in "Cherchez la Femme." However,
I met my special fraulein quite by accident and maybe fate meant
it to be that way. I was over in the Tiergarten area near the
Unter den Linden trying to sell an Omega wristwatch to some Russian
Ivans, when two young attractive gals caught my eye. They were
trying to trade pieces of gold jewelry for American cigarettes,
for which they would then barter with the German underground
blackmarketeers in return for food. They were not having much
luck when I approached them.
The brunette fraulein took one look at me, put her hand to her
mouth and gasped an exclamation that caused her girl friend to
sharply turn to look at me. After they exchanged whispered bits
of conversation between themselves, none of which I could understand.
I then tried my best Milwaukee Deutsch sales pitch on them by
saying, "Guten tag, Frauleins, wie gehts es Ihen?"
Thus began our conversation. Due to my limited German vocabulary,
they switched to their high school English and saved the day
for me. And so began our meaningful relationship." The brunette,
named Augie, and I hit it off at once. My buddy paired off with
the blond and our courtship of the two Berlin beauties was underway
from that moment on.
Days later, when I mentioned our initial meeting and asked her
why she had appeared uneasy when I first approached her, she
shocked me with her frank answer. She came right to the point
and told me that the resemblance between me and her dead husband
was uncanny. He had been an Unterofficer on a German submarine
that never returned from a mission in the North Atlantic early
on in the war and was presumed dead. Without a further word,
she then produced a couple photos from her purse of the young
man in uniform. I had to agree that we could have passed for
twins. Was it any wonder that the expression on her face registered
with me on the day when we first made eye contact. I realized
that it must have been quite a shock to her under the circumstances.
The warm days and nights of July and August were more than welcome
as we spent every day together as soon as I could get away from
my duties. Outside of roll calls and nuisance formations, there
weren't too many restrictions or obligations placed on us, so
we had plenty of off-duty time, which I made the most of being
with her. I shared my rations and whatever I could scrounge from
the kitchen cooks with her also. Amazing what she could do with
GI leftovers. I had been unaccustomed to a one-on-one female
companion for so long that she spoiled me. I welcomed her attentiveness.
For looks, figure and personal grooming, this was not your typical
heavy-set German female, but rather an intelligent, shapely,
city bred, well educated person trying to survive in the hostile
divided city of Berlin. No easy task under the conditions prevailing
at that time.
But all too soon our summer romance was drawing to a fast close.
Then the news came that we were both expecting. Our division
was alerted that we were being relieved by the famed 82nd Airborne
Division. Parting is such sweet sorrow, the Bard of the Avon
once wrote and I had to agree. At the time, I had some very serious
and mixed emotions, true I was finally headed for home, but I
was leaving her behind. As I held her in my arms for the last
time, she whispered, "Auf Wiedersehen, Leibling" as
the tears began to roll down her cheeks. At that moment, for
lack of anything better to say, I promised I would never forget
her and to this day, I haven't.
On August 9th the 82nd Air Borne Division received orders
to relieve our division of Berlin occupational duty. We began
the westward road march on August 17th on the Autobahn headed
for Kassel. Thus, on the final morning of our mass departure,
our mile-long convoys wound their way on to the Autobahn to head
west towards the City of Kassel. We were now enroute to the division's
final destination at Bad Orb. After we had cleared the city,
the MPs halted the columns at key check points and began a vehicle
search for unauthorized occupants. I was amazed at the number
of German women dressed in GI uniforms that they extracted from
our vehicles. Driving a jeep, I was in no position to hide any
passengers, so the thought never entered my mind. I told my fraulein,
Augie, "Auf Weidersehen, liebling" -- I had to leave
Long before our President John F. Kennedy would say to a Berlin
audience, "Ich bin ein Berliner, "I, too, was able
to echo the very same expression fifteen years earlier. Apparently,
I was deep in thought as we crossed the final Russian checkpoint
and my mind was neither on the route nor the trip that was ahead
of me, so I do not have any particular recollection of that journey.
We reached the city of Bad Orb, located just west of Frankfurt.
Hull and I were relieved from TDY assignment to Combat Command
"A" and rejoined the 142nd Armored Signal Company.
By this time, Doug Donahue had returned from duty with CC"B"
and rejoined Hull and I. As we looked around the Company area,
we recognized but very few faces. The majority were new replacements,
all the old-timers having left for the states in June and July.
Shortly after being at Bad Orb it was only a matter of days when
I was told that I had enough points to return to the US via the
pipeline, as I was in the next group to depart.
September 4th arrived and I celebrated my 23rd birthday quietly
waiting for my orders to start my journey home. Didn't have long
to wait for on September 10th I said goodbye to Hull and Donahue,
they were all that remained from our team that landed in France
back in June of 1944. My number and name was called and I climbed
aboard a truck headed for the port at Marseilles, France. Adios,
amigos. It was time to call it a day and another experience of
life had come to a close.
A condensed and edited version of this article
appeared previously in 1987 issues of the 2nd Armored Division
Bulletin and the 3rd Armored Division Association Newsletter.
Publication or reproduction, in part or whole,
is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don
R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family