My grandfather, Bill Brown, was drafted for the Army in 1943, eventually becoming a sergeant in the Battle of the Bulge. His job in the war was to string communication wires so that the Army could communicate, and to trouble-shoot any technical errors that were found.
Years later, he sat down to write a memoir of his life on an old typewriter, on paper that is now fragile and crumbling. I have come to appreciate this window into his life, because I see a lot of myself in his words. I thought on this Memorial Day, I would transcribe some of what he wrote about his time in the Army, fighting the Germans in World War II.
During the Battle of the Bulge we were hit by several probing attacks, but after repulsing them we had no further trouble. When the battle was over we shifted back into our old sector and went into defensive positions. In the first week of March, after much preparation, we launched a massive attack and put the germans on the run. The first day was hairy because my wire team was held up by a blown bridge and was under sporadic shell fire until the engineers could lay a new bridge. Also during that day the company lost one complete wire team when their truck ran over a daisy string of mines. The first town that we advanced into had been totally wrecked by shell fire. I have never seen such destruction in my life. There was not a building left standing, and even the rubble had been blasted.
Our attack so shattered the Germans that the infantry made a break-through; they advanced so fast that in order for us to keep up we laid a single strand of wire as fast as we could for 72 hours without stopping or getting any rest. A day or so later we were slowed up by the Siegfried Line. There, in the German town of Bobentol we sweated one entire night under intense shell fire. That night our truck was hit but not destroyed. All of the reels of wire were destroyed, several tires were flattened, the windshield was punctured, and many holes put into the body of the truck. After repairing the truck and getting a new load of wire we were ready to go again.
After time to regroup, we prepared for an assualt through the Siegfried Line. This time the 103rd was the spearhead Divison for the Corps. We attacked and broke through the line and went to the Rhine River. There, in a nearby town, we found a huge underground warehouse loaded with wine. The men took all that we could carry away! by this time the Division had been relieved by another which made the Rhine Crossing and we went into division reserve at Heidelberg, Germany. After a week of rest, the Divison was needed and once again we were committed into combat. These were the days near the end of the war, and most movements were very rapid. We went through the cities of Stuttgart and Ulm, captured Garmish and Ober Ammergau, crossed into Austria, seized Innsbruk and sealed off the Brenner Pass in Italy, successfully trapping the German Army fighting there. The Germans soon surrendered and we took up occupation duty in Innsbruk.
My discharge marked the beginning of a very turbulent period in my life. I suppose I was afflicted with what people referred to at that time as “post-war readjustment.” I had a very difficult time readjusting to civilian life. When I left for the service, I was pretty much of a “mama’s” boy. When I returned, I had learned to drink in the Army, had been associated with some pretty rough characters, had seen and done some very gruesome things, had narrowly escaped death many times, and was mentally, physically and morally hardened. The normal things that civilians got excited about left me, not shocked, but amused.