Reflections of a Combat Infantryman
A Soldier’s Story of C Company, 134th Infantry, 35th Division
By James G. Graff
I am a native of Middletown, Illinois and was born August 20, 1925, raised in a small town and moved to the farm in 1941 and have been a farmer ever since.
I was inducted into the Army at Fort Sheridan, Illinois on May 27, 1944 and moved to Camp Hood, Texas and went through 23 weeks of basic training in the IRTC there. Departed for the ETO on December 22, 1944 and after my overseas service in C Company, 134th Inf., 35th Div., I returned to the states on September 10, 1945. Afterwards I was transferred to Co. K, 2nd Inf, 5th Div., at Camp Campbell, Kentucky. I was separated from the service on April 24, 1946 at Fort Sheridan.
This account was written by me 31 years after the events had taken place. I have tried to avoid using too many dates as my memory, although good, is not that good and in combat we did not keep a calendar as we took each day as it came.
I was encouraged by many of my comrades and also my family (wife, 3 daughters and 1 son) to write of my experiences. I have used names and hope no hard feelings will be felt, but this account is of my true feelings and memories of events I saw there.
I have a warm compassion in my heart for my many comrades in arms and hope that they hold good memories of me. We were for the most part, good soldiers who fought a good fight in a just cause.
My wife and I have got to know many of my comrades and their families through the years and we find them to be very good and true friends in peace as my comrades were in war.
My thoughts in this book were influenced by my very good friends Bob Landrum of Missouri, Kenneth McCrae and Herman Genrich of Nebraska, Joe Kelso of Texas, Marvin Gardner of Iowa and Rex Storm of Illinois. Also I must include Elwell Sanborn of New Hampshire, James Steinhaufel of Colorado and, of course, the late Roger Pitcock of Texas. All these and many more were my comrades in arms in the 35th Division.
I want to dedicate this book to all the men living and dead who served in the 35th Division during World War II.
As I served in the 134th Infantry Regiment, this primarily the story of that unit although I believe the following pages could be a part of any infantry unit. The story is just the same only the names and places are different.
As a veteran of this unit, I am proud of my service in it; I am justly proud of its achievements and believe that its war record stands second to none among infantry regiments of the United States Army.
Lastly I must voice our battle cry, which has a familiar ring to all ex-members of the 134th ---“Lah We Lah His” we move on Sunday!
The regiment motto was taken from the Pawnee Indians and translates into “The Strong-The Brave.”
We seemed to have our worst battles on Sunday.
Events of Our Overseas Service
After leaving Camp Hood, Texas with a 10-day delay en route home, we arrived at Fort Meade, Maryland. We did some training, including firing on the rifle range, then had a train ride (through New York City at night) to Camp Myles Standish at Boston, Massachusetts.
We were trucked down to the Boston docks and loaded on the British liner, Aquatania. This ship hauled troops to the Dardanelles Campaign in WW I. We went on board ship as advance party. I was a salt-water corporal and went to carry food to the serving line. Boarded ship December 20. I never saw so much mail – they loaded for 48 hours.
We had 8,000 men on board and guess who I saw? Bill Charis, a boy from near home. I had run across him in Fort Meade and now I see him about every day in the chow line and also saw him the evening got off the boat. We were packed four high and not much room to move, but the monotony of it was broken by our KP work. Sure liked to watch the water and it was pretty at night – no lights – just the sky and stars. I was a little scary throwing garbage off the fantail with no railing at night. Christmas Eve on the ship saw an uproar by the men when the order came out for all enlisted men to go to their quarters and all officers to the saloon for Christmas caroling. Christmas dinner featured pork chops.
We set sail December 22 and never saw land or another ship until we entered the Irish Sea on the seventh day out. Saw an airplane try to land on a small carrier, but it crashed over the side. Our destination was Greencock, Scotland, which is the port of Glasgow. The ship docked late in the afternoon, or rather dropped anchor in the harbor and almost immediately we began to disembark. We had to walk over a narrow gangplank to a small coal-fired British boat. We assembled on the dock and then were loaded on a train, which was to take us to Southhampton. Next morning we did see much of the English countryside and took a ride through London. Detrained at Southhampton and boarded trucks to a tent city. A lot of Italian prisoners were here and also colored GIs. Requisitioned a gas lantern and some fuel from the Eye-ties. One night at Southhampton we went out through the fence and went to the local pub.
The next day we were alerted for another move, onto trucks and down to the harbor and onto some small British ships for movement across the Channel.We crossed during the night, New Year’s Eve, and in daylight transferred to LSTs and were ferried to the beach and waded ashore. We were at Le Havre and the whole harbor was full of sunken ships. Masts and funnels marked their graves.
We marched through the town and up a hill, which was pretty steep. We went into a tent city, which at one time must have been a German ammo dump. Drew some PX rations and it rained.
Next day we walked down and boarded trains for the move east. Three nights and two days of French boxcars and it was cold and snow covered the ground after the first night. Once man fell under the train and lost a leg. Messed along the tracks –field kitchens with GI cooks and German POWs to serve. No stools to go to the toilet. Just do it in your steel helmet and pass it to the door and hope somebody don’t throw hat and all out. Kelso fixed up a hammock, but the hammock and Kelso both fell down. Those frogs used the throttle and the brake very hard. Lots of guys feet began to freeze before we ever arrived at the front.
Morning of the third day on the 40 or 8s we detrained and started walking. We saw our first casualty, a German corpse on a stretcher and a sign – “Danger (Mein) Mines.” We were at Metz, an old French fortress city. We were billeted in an old French calvary barracks with a big quadrangle parade ground out in front. It was a cold, three-story stone building. Here we drew rifles and got two clips to zero them in. Talked to two guys out of the 26th Div. who told of heavy fighting in the area north of here. We had known before we left the States of a German counter attack in Belgium. Now it looked like we would be part of it.
January 8, I think, we were alerted, our names were called and we loaded on 6x6s, open trucks, with colored drivers. It turned out to be about 90 miles in a few degrees above zero temperatures. On this trip we were to see Gen. George S. Patton, the Third Army Commander. Recognized him by his pearl-handle revolvers. In Metz we were told that we were joining the 35th Div. We arrived in Martenlange, Belgium and were assigned to the 134th Inf. of the 35th Div. They divided us by alphabetical order and I went to C Co. The chaplain of the 1st Batt. Gave us some indoctrination, something of the history of the regiment and what was expected of us.
Some of us were billeted with a family by the name of Blum. This was the kitchen area of the regiment. On January10 we loaded on ¾ ton trucks and moved out. Detrucked in the woods, passed battalion aid station, some 90 mm anti-aircraft guns being used as artillery. We dismounted and started moving off into the woods. As yet we had not been issued any ammunition. As we moved up we came to an 81 mm mortar position and a red haired sergeant was standing there. Three mortars, all facing different directions, were in place. I asked, “Why are they faced different direction?” The reply – “You damned fool, we’re surrounded on three sides.”
Soon we were going across an open field and behind a wrecked barn, a member of our supply group was giving us two bandoleers of ammo and six grenades. A little farther up we met several POWs under guard of a single GI.
The trail led through pine plantations, which about every quarter mile had a 300-yard firebreak. In one of these fire breaks the trail wound around what I took to be some tree branches, in reality, the black booted legs of a dead German officer almost buried in snow. Just beyond him was another corpse, laying on his back, his mouth filled snow, with the bluest eyes you ever saw. To our left up the break were scores more of dead Germans, victims of tank machine gun fire. They had been dead for several days, but here the dead were preserved by the cold.
It was dark when we finally reached C Co. positions. They divided us up and a guy said.” I am Sgt. Storm (Rex, Illinois). You belong to the 2nd squad. Walk to your right and get in a hole with a guy down there.”
I walked down and someone said, “Over here.” I crawled into a hole and introduced myself and my companion identified himself as PFC Bruce Boyce of South Paris, Maine. I thought here was a chance to learn what to do and what to expect. I said, “How long have you been in the line?”
He replied, “Seven - - - - ing days,” which I was to learn was a lot longer that some men lasted up here. You know, I didn’t know what he looked like ‘til morning. Stood guard that night, but really didn’t know what to look for.
Next morning breakfast of pancakes, syrup, spam and coffee --- not too bad. As we were in reserve we were able to move around some and pretty soon I was approached by a tall older man. He asked where I was from and when I answered, “Illinois,” he said, “Chicago?” I said, “Hell, no.” He introduced himself --- Bob Landrum of Hunnewell, Missouri and I found out he had hauled corn from Mt. Pulaski and Shirley, Illinois. He asked if I was familiar with traveling in the woods and I said yes. He answered that a platoon runner was needed and he wanted one who wouldn’t get lost in the woods. Also I would have to use a walkie-talkie radio. I answered that I would do anything to help and do the best job I could.
So I moved in with the platoon headquarters group, which consisted of Landrum, who was the platoon guide, and the platoon sergeant, T/Sgt. Kenneth McCrea, or Scotty, as everyone called him. I spent the rest of the day getting acquainted with my new job and my new comrades.
Next morning we were alerted to move out. While rolling our blanket rolls (four blankets and a shelter half with one roll to two men) a shot rang out along with the shout, “Medic!” One man had shot himself in the wrist – accidental or not, our first American casualty was a self-inflicted wound.
We changed position still in reserve; only an occasional explosion from artillery betrayed our enemy. In our new position we occupied former German holes and these had tops. In the immediate area was a knocked out Kraut chow wagon, a dead horse, a dead driver with the lines still in his hands and a dead German medic with glasses. Also were two dead GIs who had been killed sometime before as their pockets and packs had been searched, probably by the Germans.
I had to take a telephone and wire out to an outpost and upon arriving back at the Co. CP, I experienced one of the oddest happenings of my overseas service. I and a company runner (PFC Stenis – probably misspelled) were standing in a shallow trench about knee deep when from the direction of the German lines came a figure. The runner called, “Halt!” This individual stopped; we gave the sign; he didn’t answer. It was repeated and again no answer. I asked his name and he answered with a German accent and a German name. Stenis shouted, “A Kraut!” and lifted his rifle to shoot. I knocked it down and ran and jumped on this man. We dragged him down into the CP and by candlelight he looked like a GI, but didn’t sound like one. Claimed he was out of K Co. (in reserve behind us). His name was Henrick something or other. Finally, the CO (1st Lt. Wallace P. Chappel of North Carolina) called the Third Batt. by radio and confirmed that this man was missing. We kept him until morning and sent him back. Hope he realized how close to death he was.
Next day we moved up and dug in again. Here we found where the Krauts had built stalls for their horses. They cut saplings for stalls and bedded them with straw. Grave registration crews were collecting German and American dead. They ricked them like cordwood, all were frozen solid. One officer carried a 2x4 and would break arms or legs so the bodies would lay better. I remember that Scotty, Landrum and I all slept in one hole.
Next day we moved back to a little town, slept in an open cattle shed, and as next day was Sunday, we had church. The 1st Battalion chaplain was a good preacher and a good guy. Church attendance was a lot better here than in the States. Somebody said that “there were no atheists in a foxhole.”