Sergeant Mort Herbert
Unit : Company A, 275th Infantry Regiment, 70th Infantry Division.
Served : Europe (captured).
Camps : Stalag IVB.
The following is a transcript of an interview with Mort Herbert, the full audio version can be heard at Mort Herbert's War Story.
The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor December 7th 1941, and I was in Los Angeles. I was going to UCLA at the time, doing some work on the side in the music business, and finally was drafted early in 1943 and was taken to Camp Roberts, in California, near San Luis Obispo, near the coast. And we were supposed to go through basic training there but because of my musical background and one thing or another I was put into an army orchestra, which was making recordings for the military soundtracks for training films. After several months of that, coming either back to Los Angeles every weekend, or going to San Francisco on pass, I got a little bit, I won't say eager to volunteer, but I had enough of the orchestra and felt that I could be doing more to help the war effort. So I took the test to become an Air Cadet.
Incidentally at the time of my orchestra work I was made a Corporal, and took the test to become an Aviation Cadet and passed for pilot, navigator, and bombardier - all three - and was soon after transferred to the US Army Air Forces. What they did was send us to Montana State University, in Missoula, Montana, where they were going to make gentlemen of us all. We had a five month pre-flight training course, in which we reviewed certain types of math, and science, and English, and things of that nature. Missoula, Montana is a beautiful place, it's in the western part of Montana, in the Rocky Mountains, and we were up there, about 300 Cadets and about 2000 girls, so we had a very good time there.
In April 1 of 1944, the Air Force discovered that it didn't have the aircraft losses that it had expected and had three or four air crews for every aircraft, so they eliminated the Air Cadet Training Program, and rather than become an aviation gunner, which was an option that we were given, I asked to be transferred back to my original outfit, the orchestra. Well of course the government doesn't do things for the convenience of soldiers and everyone who didn't stay with the Army Air Force, to become either a mechanic or an aviation gunner, was transferred into an infantry division throughout the United States. There were aviation cadets from all of the Army Forces, and in fact we even had a few aviation cadets that came out of West Point. They were not sent back to West Point: we were not sent back to our original outfits. Most of us went to a new infantry division which was being formed; the 70th Infantry Division around the Oregon area, the Salem - Corvallis area, and we became infantrymen, and of course everybody was very, very disappointed because infantry was the lowest of the low on the scale on the Army, we thought.
To describe our infantry outfit, the officers were 90 day wonders who had just been trained at Fort Benning, with no previous military experience for the most part. The cadre, which is the non-commissioned officers, the squad leaders, the Master, the Tech, the Staff Sergeants, had just come out of a cadre school in the Southern United States, I think it was Mississippi or Alabama, and they were all a bunch of Southern boys - we felt they were very uneducated - and aviation cadets and ASTP, the ASTP boys were the scientists that were being trained at the colleges under the army auspices. We made up the rest of the foot soldiers. So you can see with this kind of a start we had very very low morale.
At that point we went into training and actually it was like a basic training for me. I'd never fired a rifle. I'd never really had any close order drill, marching, anything of that nature. After about three or four weeks we went on maneuvers in Oregon - beautiful country there. We got lost for a few days at a time, intentionally, and picked cherries out of the trees and ate wild raspberries. But we were still firing all the weapons, machine guns and rifles, and going through regular military problems.
After about a month or so of this we were transferred to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, in the Ozark Mountains, where we had more maneuvers, about another four or five weeks of maneuvers, war games, and sleeping in the open, and firing shells, and having problems, and reading maps and compasses, and forced marches, and all that kind of training, hardening us up for actual military combat.
Shortly thereafter we went to Camp, I believe it was Patrick Henry, in Boston. Boston was our overseas embarkation point. We stayed there for about a week, had a couple of two or three day passes, and for me at least, sent on a ship to Europe. Now the ship was the largest United States passenger luxury ship at the time, it was converted into a troop carrier, it was the USS United States and it carried about 15,000 troops. Now we crossed overseas in the North Atlantic and most of the boys were sick. Actually we were unescorted by any other ships or destroyers or anything of that nature. We did not go in convoy because the United States was such a fast ship it could supposedly outrun any German submarine. Although there were a couple of scares and many alerts, we never saw a sub nor were we attacked by a sub.
We didn't know where we were going. Naturally, it was all very hush hush and we were not told where we were going, but we knew, crossing the North Atlantic, we had to be going somewhere in Europe. We figured, like most other infantry divisions, we would be sent to England, Ireland or Scotland for the training. Most of the infantry divisions went over to England for a year or two and got their final training, and were integrated into some European Army and one thing or another. Not the 70th Infantry Division - we went right through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea, and went into the Invasion of Southern France.
We landed right near Marseilles, which had been under naval bombardment for about a week, in which the US Navy, with their big guns, destroyed about half of Marseilles and killed about 15,000 Frenchmen. So, naturally, when we came ashore to fight the Germans, who were still invading France, we were not too well received by the Germans, naturally, or even the French, who didn't like the fact that we'd kept Marseilles under bombardment and the whole southern coast under bombardment. This was, I believe, some time in July of 1944. Now the Western Invasion of France had actually begun from England, crossing the Channel, a month or so earlier. But we came in on the invasion of Southern France up through Marseilles, and immediately we were engaged in combat, although it wasn't anything like on the north-west coast where the invasion of France was made, originally. Men were still being killed and shot up and there were a lot of casualties. And we worked our way up through Southern France, up into the Rhône valley, up through Dijon and that general area of France. It took us about three or four months. Along the way the fighting was relatively light, although every now and then someone would get shot up or killed, but we mostly moved in trucks. We did move on some trains, 100 kilometers or so at a time, and stop and fight another battle, or do some patrols, and worked our way north of Dijon.
At this point we were pulled off the line, having about three to four months of combat, we were pulled back to a rest area around Nancy. It was about mid-December, and they took all of our winter gear, our snow packs, with our boots, and heavy uniforms, and they were all sent back for cleaning and we were just to rest and recuperate and so on. Our company, division, regiment, was being re-staffed with certain new recruits and soldiers who had come in from a replacement depot, somewhere in France, to make up for the boys who were shot up and killed. At this point in time, after about 3.5 or 4 months of combat, we'd had probably about 20-25% casualties, which wasn't a very high ratio.
About a week later the Germans broke through what they call the Battle of the Bulge. The weather turned terrible; there was no air support from the US Air Force, and when I say terrible, I mean fog, snow storms, it was about 5 or 10 degrees above zero and just dreadful weather, there was no visibility, the planes couldn't fly. It was very much a surprise attack. Our Division was thrown back to counter-attack at this point, without having any of our winter gear returned. In other words we were fighting, in this very cold weather, in things like leather boots, just our regular woolen uniforms, field jackets - something you should wear in 40/50/60 degree weather or more, not really set for cold weather.
We were sent in to counter-attack and finally wound up in the area near Phillipsburg. The 2nd Armored Division came in to help us. When we saw the armor, that is American tanks, half-tracks and so on, whenever an infantryman sees a tank he's very happy because tanks can give you tremendous support when the air force cannot. However we were up against a very experienced German outfit, which had fought all the way through Poland and had four years experience, and it was an SS Panzer Division. I don't at this point remember their number or identification, but they were very very tough. We had tremendous losses in a matter of days, in which about half of our company, of about 165, were wiped out. My Staff-Sergeant was killed, our Platoon Leader our Lieutenant was killed. Most of the officers in our company were either killed or wounded so that they had to be removed. I became the Platoon Leader and I received a field promotion to Lieutenant; the message was being sent back to our company clerk for identification; the messenger and the company clerk and most of the remaining people were killed. So I don't think it went on the records, but I did receive a field promotion to Lieutenant at that point.
Our company, because of a very eager company commander who wanted to make a name for himself, wound up on top of a hill, a small mountain, and we were leading the advance for the counter-attack against this section of the Saar. And we got surrounded, were cut off, could not get down from the hill. As a matter of fact, part of the 70th Infantry Division and the whole 7th Army had to pull back about 30 miles because the German attack was so concentrated and so heavy. But not the 70th Infantry Division, we were stuck up on the hill and under artillery fire for three or four or five days, at which point most of the troops were either shot up or killed. We were down to about 14 or 15 men at that point. So being out of mortar ammunition, virtually out of rifle and machine gun ammunition, out of food, we weren't out of water because there was plenty of snow around us, another member of this Division and I volunteered to go down and try to make contact with our Division, our outfit, the 7th Army, somebody, so we could possibly bring more ammo or more food up to our buddies who had remained up on the mountain.
Well we made our way through the lines at night, down the hill, and through the German patrols and through the German Army, for about a day and a half, and in a little valley we discovered one of our company jeeps, of all things, who was stuck in the ice and the mud, stuck above the axle and couldn't get out. And we thought of unloading the jeep, the weapons carrier - like a little trailer behind it - and trying to get back through the lines up to our buddies again with the ammo and food. And of all things this jeep had on it was mail, which we had not received in about 2 or 3 months from home. We had about 6 mail bags; just the ironies of war, things we didn't need at that point.
So we unloaded the jeep and started trying to make our way back to where the remnants of our company was up on this hill. And we were cut off. The Germans had brought lots of armor, and, by this time, lots of ground troops; they infested the whole area. So the best we could do was go back to where the jeep was, because it had a 50 caliber machine gun on it. A 50 caliber machine gun shoots shells that are about 6-8 inches long and can really do a bit of damage to troops, and we had a good field of fire, we were in this little valley. But after a day or so the Germans discovered we were down there and set artillery after us so we dug in pretty good. They hit the jeep a few times, they hit the jeep driver who was wounded. We had dug in, we'd dug some fox holes around the jeep. They would roll grenades at us at night down the hills, trying to scare us out, or send patrols. We got rid of the patrols when the machine gun was still working, that scared them off pretty good. It was very cold, it was around zero degrees temperature, but we were pretty much committed, we were in our fox holes and there was nothing else we could do.
A day or so later, this happened to be January 3rd 1945, which is my birthday. I had the feeling that something was going to happen that day, that I was going to get it, I was going to get shot or get killed - you just have this type of a feeling. And a few hours later we heard the clank-clank-clank and we knew that it was a tank coming up. By this time the machine gun was out of action, one of our people were wounded, I had frozen feet by having to remain in the fox hole in cramped quarters with wet leather combat boots, not being able to change my socks, not being able to get into dry clothes, not being able to get any circulation by walking or running. And when this tank came up, there was no way we could fight the tank, plus the fact that the German Tiger Tank was a 90 ton tank with an 88mm gun that the American high explosive shells used to bounce off this type of tank because they had such heavy armor.
When we finally saw the tank coming up this little valley we knew it was the end for us, if they'd let us live. That was the first thought in my mind that I'd ever become a prisoner, if we surrendered and they didn't shoot us down, if they let us live I would become a prisoner. At this point I remembered that I had my dog tags round my neck which had an "H" on there for Hebrew, and didn't want to take any chances so I threw my dog tags away. When the tank was about 50-100 yards from us, the three of us got up out of our fox holes, put our arms up, said "Kamerad", which means that we surrender, and it was very hard for the jeep driver to do this because he had caught some shrapnel in the back, but we got up out of the holes anyway the best we could and, very luckily, they didn't shoot us down. In fact the tank commandant got out of the tank. He was like a first sergeant, was 20 years old at the time, he told us, offered us some wine out of his canteen as a friendly gesture and we talked about the war a little bit. He radioed and they sent up some ground troops to pick us up.
We were taken back 2 or 3 miles to their command post and were interrogated by an SS officer. As a matter of fact he hardly even interrogated us, they captured so many troops by this time out of our Division, scattered troops around, and out of the 7th Army they knew, they told us, when we came over to the Invasion of Southern France, the outfits we were with, all about who our commanding officers were - they didn't even ask us, they knew all this information; it was surprising. As a matter of fact, I shouldn't have had it with me but I did have my California drivers license, I shouldn't have taken that into combat. But at any rate the officer, he was a Lieutenant who spoke English as well as you or I do, had been over here at the 1932 Olympic Games, and had spent several months around the Los Angeles area. And when he found out that I was from Los Angeles he tried to get me to talk and just converse with him, and they find out a lot of things about you or your Division which can be used in wartime. He told us because we were prisoners, we would be well treated, the war would be over for us, that we were safe, and not to worry any more, we were in good hands now and so on and so forth. At this time, this is in January of 1945, they really knew the war was over for the German Army.
By this time my feet were giving me all types of problems. They were swelling and they were getting black. And I couldn't wear my boots any longer, so they couldn't even take them off, so they were cut off me and I had to wrap my feet in...
They started marching us out of that sector. It was very difficult for me to walk at this point because of my feet. I asked that they bring an ambulance, which of course they refused. There were several wounded in our group, they refused to give them any kind of assistance or transportation to a hospital; boys who were badly wounded, who were wounded in the throat or legs were shot up or had shrapnel all over them and could hardly move. Well some of them couldn't move and they fell out and were shot by the German guards, so we learned very early in this march that you better not fall out if you wanted to stay alive.
There was no provisions set up for us, to accommodate us against the very cold nights and very cold days that got somewhere between zero and 5 degrees, we were told by the German soldiers who were marching us. One thing we were amazed at when we got behind the combat lines, the Germans seemed to be in such bad shape from a physical standpoint, or I should say from a military standpoint, that they were bringing up their supplies to their front line troops in horse drawn vehicles, or captured American, or French or Italian trucks, and whatever they could make run. There were a lot of charcoal-burning vehicles at that time the Germans had converted from gasoline or diesel into charcoal-burning, so some of these trucks were burning wood or charcoal.
At night we slept in barns or out in the open with no protection. We were given no food. And over a period of 17 days, we walked through areas like Saargemeinz, Pirmasens, Ludwigsburg and finally to Stuttgart, Germany. Now that's approximately, I guess, as the crow flies, maybe 40, or 50 or 60 miles from where we first were but I'd venture to say it was more like 125 or 150 miles, through the mountains, and through mountain roads, up and down hills in the worst weather that you can imagine.
We still had no air support. There were no American planes flying, no Allied planes flying. The Germans, however, we learned later had been stopped in their offensive and the Americans were counter-attacking in strength so they were pushing us on pretty fast to get into Germany. One observation we made about the German combat troops, even under the worst conditions, fighting in the mud and the snow, and very primitive living conditions and living in the ground and holes, they had a way of shaving every day, keeping themselves clean. They had a tremendous high esprit de corps, whereas our outfit, we didn't shave for several days at a time in combat, we were muddy, we seemed to be crawling through the mud, getting muddy and dirty, they seemed to keep themselves clean, they were very tough soldiers, very astute and I'd hate to meet them again. Very tough soldiers to fight.
We marched for 17 days, 17 nights, evidently this marching helped set up a circulation in my feet, and that, plus the fact that my buddies would rub my feet at night when we weren't marching, either with snow or just the warmth of their hands, and they set up I guess some type of a circulation in my feet and toes so that it actually saved my feet and toes from having to be amputated.
Along the way, when we come to these little German towns or villages, and, being marched through as prisoners, we noticed that the women, the streets naturally were very clean, we had to take a lot of derisive action from the German population, they'd throw rocks at us or try to hit us with brooms, or try to injure us as we were marching the town. Naturally we were their enemy. We were the representatives of the terrible bombings that they were just now starting to get from the American US Air Force and the Royal Air Force. Another interesting observation I'll make at this point, we were marched through the Maginot Line and the Siegfried Line. The Maginot Line was built by France on the French-German border and extended from Switzerland north to where Belgium and Luxembourg meet France and this goes for well over a hundred miles... On the East side of the Maginot Line the Germans had built the Siegfried Line which was something similar... It was amazing to see how well the German Army had organized the Siegfried Line.
We got to Stuttgart. It was our first indoctrination into a large German installation. With several thousand other captured troops, Allied, American troops, English troops, a few French troops; the French didn't fight very much in this war, it was mainly the Americans and the British that were fighting in their country. We were finger-printed, we were processed, we were given German dog tags. I was given no medical attention on my feet, and on this 17 day march, about 125, 150 miles, we had had no food to speak of. We had tried to dig up some frozen roots, some frozen potatoes to exist, and we were eating snow for liquid. As a result I got a terrible case of dysentery and tried to report to the German hospital or the Allied hospital, some kind of a hospital, for treatment on my feet and my dysentery, and they had none of that, they said they weren't prepared for sickness or illness and I had just better get better or they'd bury me there.
After about a week of being in Stuttgart, being processed, photographed, they tried further interrogation on us which didn't work, in my case I told them nothing but my name, rank and serial number, which they already knew. We were then put on what was the most horrible experience of my life. We were put on German transport, a series of box cars, trains. They had these little narrow gauge box cars like you might have seen in the TV movie of Holocaust, which were used to transport a few men; they call them 20 and 8's, up to 20 troops or 8 cattle. There were about 8 or 10 of these cars and on the box car I was put in there were well over a hundred troops put on. We were actually forced on. There was no windows, there was a door which was shut and locked, and there were so many people in there that we couldn't sit down, we had to stand up. Many of the troops were wounded. Many were sick by this time, many had frostbite or had frozen feet, as in my case, and we were transported across Germany in this manner for 4 nights and 3 days. We were locked in the box cars; no food, no water, no toilet facilities.
The trains generally traveled at night and sat in a railroad station during the daytime. They disconnected the engine from the train during the daytime because the first thing that the Allied planes would go after was the engine. We were bombed by our own forces. By this time the weather had cleared up somewhat, it was about the mid or the end of January 1945, and the weather had gotten somewhat better, was clear, and we were bombed and strafed by our own Allied planes, because the Germans were supposed to have marked red crosses on the train to show that it was a prisoner transport, but they did not and several cars were hit, and several of the troops were killed in this manner. It was such a terrible experience that several of the boys in our car died from their wounds. A few of them went out of their minds, they went insane because of being in a dark, crowded place.
It was very difficult to stand with all the troops in there, you were all shoved together like sardines. After a couple of days though we tried to count off, so there were some groups who could sit down for three or four hours at a time, others that would stand up, others that would push near the door so that we could relieve ourselves to the best of our ability - all of the doors were locked, so we tried to push all the excrement and whatever, the vomit and the urine out of the cracks in the door, because the stench was terrible. But you couldn't depend on your buddies at that point because everybody wanted to sit down, nobody wanted to stand up, you couldn't after three or four days, you were exhausted, naturally, you weren't in good shape, there was no food and no water.
And finally, when I thought I might go mad myself, if I was there another day or two, the train had stopped, we had reached our destination. That destination turned out to be Stalag IVB, which was the German identification of this area. It was in the Eastern German area, east of Leipzig, east of Dresden, east of the Elbe River, in an area right near the Polish-Czechoslovakian border. We understood that it was near a little town of Muhlberg, Germany. Now Muhlberg was very evidently a wealthy farm community, very rich in products that they turned out for the German government and army; dairy products and things of that nature, however we saw none of that.
We were all processed into this Prisoner of War camp, which was one of the largest for the ground forces in Germany. We understood that there were about 20,000 captured Allied troops at this facility. This was made up of, we understand, about 1,500 Americans, there were some British that were originally captured in Dunkirk, France, five years previous to that. The British Army was actually running the camp, they had the Senior Officers, so they were actually, from a prisoner standpoint, they were enforcing the rules that the German government and the German camp commandant put down to them.
I still was very ill with my dysentery, my frozen feet were still giving me a tremendous amount of problems, however the color had not changed, well it had changed from a dark black to a lighter black. I still could not put any kind of shoes on, my feet were still wrapped in rags and newspaper, whatever I could find, strips of cloth which we tore from dead soldiers' field jackets and things of that nature. They wouldn't let me go, I shouldn't say they wouldn't let me go on sick call, I did report to the hospital which was run by a British doctor officer, and he said there was nothing he could do for me; he had no medicines for my dysentery, and he had no whirlpool baths or any kind of injections or any type of treatment for my frozen feet. So he said just gut it through, and do the best I could and have my buddies still massaging my feet, which they did. The weather was still dreadful, very cold.
By this time, I believe it was February 1945, we soon approached the daily routine of the Prisoner of War camp, which was a cup of Ersatz coffee in the morning, and at noon time we got a bowl of dehydrated like a turnip soup and a very small slice of black bread, that was our food for the whole day. We tried to save the bread inside of our jacket for our dinner. Being a non-commissioned officer at the time, I was not put out on any slave labor details, and when I was asked my religion, I always said Protestant, because they took some of the Jewish captured prisoners and sent them to what they called Kommando. It was forced labor in the mines, the sulphur mines, or in the fields, and these boys never came back alive. So I was a good Protestant there for a few months, even though my nose could have given me away.
At any rate I was sick throughout this whole period of my incarceration in the camp. We did nothing but try and keep warm and clean. We had no change of uniform; by this time my uniform had deteriorated, I think I was still wearing my American shirt, my pants had been torn and ripped, I had no American boots. They brought me in a British jacket, I think, and some French pants to try and keep warm, which were off of a dead captured troop. Many of the Prisoners of War were dying because of the lack of food.
The country was bombed by American planes around the Dresden area. We were not too far from Dresden, and one night they sent over a thousand-plane raid, and the next day we were all forced to go into the city of Dresden and clean up the dead bodies of the Germans which made us very happy. We'd throw them into boxes or into coffins or into wagons, and they were carted away.
About this time, which was early April of 1945, we heard artillery fire, we saw the German jets start to fly over this part of the world; that was our first experience with jet aircraft, and if they'd brought these jet planes out, two or three or four months earlier, I think the tide of the war would have gone the other way. No Allied plane could catch up or fly nearly as fast as the German jets.
But the Russians were advancing from the Polish front and through Czechoslovakia, and we heard small arms fire and artillery, which told us they were within 10 or 15 miles away; we were very happy to hear that one of our Allies was approaching. For the last two days of our imprisonment the Germans guards had taken off. They brought in Hungarian SS troops, which were actually worse than the German guards, to guard us. One morning we got up and found that our camp was liberated. We saw the American flag flying in our camp, we couldn't believe it, and running through the camp was the Russian army on horseback, it was a cavalry outfit with submachine guns and these Russian fur caps. Well they took marvelous care of us. They put us immediately on special grain diets.
They said there would be no looting tolerated. Of course when we were strong enough we broke out of camp. I was amazed to find that I had lost about 75 lbs in weight, mainly because I had had this dysentery for this four month period or so, and was down to weighing about 95/95 lbs. My arms were like toothpicks and my legs were like toothpicks, I was very weak and could hardly move. But we did go out into that general rich farm area and loot, but only for food. We killed farm animals, we tried milking cows, we tried to kill chickens and cook them so that we would have what we felt was a suitable diet, but several of the boys fell ill and died from gastritis because we weren't used to eating any of this type of food, really only grains. The Russians tried to put us on grains, but after a week or so we got smart and tried to follow their diets because we knew it would be the best for us.
Naturally we were surprised also to find that on the front line, well I shouldn't say the front line, this was sort of a rear area for the Russian troops by this time because they'd ploughed on into Germany, the combat troops, but Russian women army doctors had actually treated us; they deloused us, they put us on these special diets, they gave us care and it was really a pleasure to be in the hands of Allied Forces again, even though the Russians were a little bit strange in many ways. But they took very good care of us.
However they wouldn't release us until the Americans had traded an equal number of freed Russian prisoners in their sector, however they did let in an American liaison officer through, and he told us it might be several weeks before we were traded back into American hands. He told us, however, that if we wanted to make our way across Germany, that they would have trucks for us in Halle, Germany, which was south-west of Berlin, which was as far as Americans had penetrated; they did send a few detachments into Berlin, but Halle was where the American army was. So in groups of threes and fours we took off from this Russian control. A week had gone by, we'd gained some strength.
By this time the war was over, the German Army had been released and were coming across back to their homes; they had side arms, they had guns, we had nothing, however we waylaid several German troops, took bicycles from them, and, I was with a group of four men and myself, we made our way across Germany on bicycles, across the Elbe River, the Mulde River; the bridges were bombed out, don't ask us how we got across the river with bicycles, we floated them, we swam them across, we walked them across. We got food from the German homes, who were very nice to us at this point, they all said Hitler was "nichts gut". We went through a concentration camp, of which name I don't recall right now, but it was a horrible experience, it had just been liberated a week or two previous to that, and you could still smell the stench from the ovens, the bodies, a terrible experience.
I believe V Day was actually May 8th. We were liberated April 23rd by the Russian Army and about the time the V Day came along, we were making our way across Germany, which was very difficult, because the Russians had posted all Russian signs along the road, they have a Slavic alphabet, different letters from the French, Germany, English, Italian, Spanish; the Romance languages. It was very difficult to know where we were going but we made our way back and everything turned out well in the end.
Well it took us about five days to make our way back to Halle, Germany, and sure enough, we waited about a half a day, and when we saw those American trucks and American troops roll in to pick us up it was the happiest day of my life. We heard the National Anthem and actually tears came to my eyes. At that point they flew us, from Halle, Germany, they brought in about six or seven DC-3's to fly us out of there, and would you believe after all this experience, with about 40 or 50 troops on board, the first plane did a ground loop on take-off, crashed and burned with troops in there. But the rest of the planes, luckily the one I was on, made it to Rheims, France, at which they gave us immediate hospitalization, put us on special diets for about a week or two.
Then I was flown to Le Havre, right on the English Channel coast, at which point I was put in a hospital on special diets again and more or less regained my health. However during this time in Le Havre, I was able to accumulate a whole duffel bag full of GI soap, extra GI shoes, pants, jackets, things of that nature, found my way into Paris, sold all this booty on the French black market, and spent two very enjoyable weeks in Paris. We had not been paid in about six or seven months, the Army didn't even have our records, so this was the only way we could raise money, but I had a very enjoyable time, I gained part of my weight back, and was feeling relatively good.
My feet were in pretty good shape by this time, I could walk, I could wear shoes and boots again, and things were going very well for us, very happy days. The city of Paris was relatively untouched; it was beautiful, the parks were still manicured, there wasn't any bombings, Paris was an open city, and they didn't bomb the city because it surrendered so easily, and it was very interesting to see such a beautiful city in the remains of all the other rubble we had seen all through Germany, with leveled cities, and most of the remainder of France that we had been through.
After Paris I went back to my hospital room in Le Havre to join my Company again. Our troop ship was coming back to pick us up to go back to the United States. A day or so before the ship actually was to arrive, my buddies said, "Mort, what happened to your eyes, they're yellow and your fingernails", and my skin had turned yellow. I was evidently pretty sick with something but I didn't report to sick bay at that time because I didn't want anything to delay my trip back to the United States. Our troop transport came in and was loaded to go back to the US, and after it was out to sea for 24 hours, then I reported into sick bay. They found that I had Hepatitis or yellow jaundice and put me in a sick bay. This was the first time I had slept in a bed, this was the first time I had white sheets in about three years, and it was a pleasure.
We landed in Newport News, Virginia, several days later and I immediately went to a Field Hospital at Newport News. I guess Newport News was something of a crummy town, but it sure looked gorgeous to us, knowing that it was the United States. It was across Chesapeake Bay from Norfolk, Virginia, and everything looked fantastic to us. After being in the Hospital at Newport News, Virginia, for about three weeks, I was able to fly home, and actually was shocked to learn from my parents at the time [that they did not know that I had been a prisoner of war.]
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