(The following is my father’s memoir of his life during the years of WWII)
In February 1941 I received my draft call into the army. At that time I was living at 157 School Street,Jamaica Plain, Mass. with Ma (Mary Ellen McColgan and Pa (Christian Aloysius Stier). I took the street car to West Roxbury Courthouse on February 19 and reported to my draft board.
Afterwards, with a group of fellow draftees, I took the street car to the Induction Center which I believe was a store on Huntington Ave. Here I spent the day being examined, tested and accepted into the service, in spite of my flat feet. Sometime that afternoon I took the oath of allegiance to the U.S.A. and was trucked to Fort Devens, Mass, where I spent my first night in an army barracks. Two days later we left for Fort Bragg, N.C. by train sleeper, no less.
There were three trainloads of draftees being sent to fill up the 9th Infantry Division. (After this, new divisions were made of cadres of officers and noncoms, and ranks were filled from replacement centers. In the case of engineers, they came from engineer replacement centers, infantry were from infantry replacement centers, etc.)
Upon arriving at Fort Bragg I was assigned to 9th Infantry Division. Since this was peacetime army, the pace was still slow. We had Wednesday afternoons off, and weekends off till reveille Monday morning, unless one had duty such as KP. As the army brass was trying for a one year extension of the draft bill, I suspect they treated us fairly gently.
On June 1 we went on our first field maneuvers to Bowling Green, Va. All summer it was mainly map games in Fort Bragg, eaten by chiggers, living in tents, taking long rides in the back of squad trucks. In September we concentrated on big peacetime maneuvers in North and South Carolina.
In November Congress by one vote passed the extension vote which meant I would serve an additional 18 months. After that it was back to Fort Bragg in the barracks and thinking about furlough – home for Christmas.
On weekends camp was deserted as many soldiers went away for the weekends. As I stayed in camp generally we skipped breakfast on Sunday mornings so I did this. On Sunday mornings I went to mess halls for lunch and was sitting in day room reading newspapers when the bulletin came over radio announcing the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
And so we were at war.
As usual, everything was in an uproar. Leaves were canceled, infantry were sent to guard bridges in North Carolina. We were alerted for air raids, imagine in the middle of NC! Eventually everything calmed down and Christmas furloughs were granted after all. Instead of just Christmas, I ended up with Christmas and New year’s at home. After the New Year, the training pace quickened. We no longer had Wednesday afternoons off, nor Sundays.
That summer we furnished cadres for other divisions. Many left for Officer Training Schools and other schools. First we were going to be a motorized division, but this was changed in March. The division became part of first amphibious Atlantic and we were to begin amphibious training.
I went on three or four training exercises in Chesapeake bay off of Solomon’s island, Maryland. Have you ever been circling around Chesapeake Bay at three in the morning in a higgins boat, carrying a rifle, a pack and a bag of wooden blocks (the great arsenal of democracy had no minds or TNT). I got very seasick after climbing down a rope ladder from a tall ship – it’s no wonder I don’t care for small boats.
In September1942 we left the barracks that had been my home since February 1941 and moved to Fort Braggg. That night we of the 3rd Platoon were awakened and told we were going for a special training. So at three in the morning we were lined up for our booster shots, then we packed up and left for Norfolk, Va., which was the North Atlantic amphibian training base.
The train which we traveled on must have been used in the Civil War. When we got to Norfolk we were told of our mission but not where we would be. And this was a beaut – a platoon of 60th infantry and our platoon were to be landed from ship on beach then paddle across a lagoon to a fort, where we were to take it by surprise and spike the fort’s guns in preparation for landing of entire combat team. Can you imagine me as a commando?! In any case, this was a bad idea. We trained at this for several days then some sense prevailed and it was changed. Instead we were to transfer to a destroyer and proceed up a river and seize an airport. This was a far more practical scheme.
As we had come under the guns of the Casbah, the captain turned the boat around and got us out of there in a big hurry…
In late October we went back to Norfolk, where we boarded the U.S.S. Susan B. Anthony, an attack transport. After another training exercise at Solomon’s Island, Md., we sailed eastwards to our first combat. Two days out we learned we were to land at Port Lyautey, French Morocco. This was not too bad a trip, in spite of the overcrowding and long lines to sweat out for meals. On the night of November 7 we climbed down the side of the Susan B. Anthony, took higgins boats and transferred to the U.S.S. Dallas, an old World War 1 destroyer. Our mission was to go up the River Sebou and secure the airport which was about 6 miles up the river.
In the morning we were steaming through the mouth of the river. When we got there, word came that the party that was supposed to have removed a barrier across the river’s mouth had failed its mission. As we had come under the guns of the Casbah, the captain turned the boat around and got us out of there in a big hurry.
The next day we waited offshore for word to proceed upriver. On the morning of the 9th we proceeded up the Sebou and seized the airport, thanks to the fine gunnery of the Dallas. We spent a scary night holding the airport, but the next day armistice was signed. The first engagement of the war was over.
There was a nice beach there, but unfortunately it had a bad undertow. We lost some swimmers…
We spent the next months bivouacked in Mamora Forest, a cork forest outside of Fort Leoyoe. On January 25, 1943, we left French Morocco for Tlemclem, Algeria. From Tlemclem we left by squad trucks to Cassir Pass, Tunisia. The plan was for us to meet the German army, who were being pursued from the east by the 8th army. This was a distance of some 800 miles, where US forces had suffered a bad setback from the Germans.
Perhaps I should explain how we operated. An infantry division is composed of three infantry regiments and supporting troops. The 9th Division was composed of the 39th, 47th, 60th infantry regiments. I was in ‘C’ Company, 15th engineers battalion, 3rd platoon. We had the 60th regiment to service – they were our particular client. Where they went, we went.
On March 18th the 60th combat team of the first armored division moved to the town of Maknessy, where they would attempt to block the retreat of the Germans who were going westwards to Tunis. But the Germans held us off and retreated to Tunis. I spent twenty days there, living in a wad, and laying mines at night before the 60th lines. This was a very scary job, since both sides had itchy fingers at any noise.
April 16th: the entire division moved to Northern Tunisia where we were going to take Bigerte. The 60th, along with the Corps France, was given a flanking mission up the Sedejanne Valley, so this was mostly road work and cutting roads through heavy brush.
On May 8th the campaign in North Africa was over. The entire division went back to camp near Magenta, Algeria, south of Sidi Bel Abbes, home of the French foreign legion. This was a hot, dusty, semi-arid place, plenty of flies, lots of dysentery. In July we left for BouSfer, Algeria on the sea coast. There was a nice beach there, but unfortunately it had a bad undertow. We lost some swimmers.
The first night we went to an air raid shelter which was a railroad tunnel near the dock. It was bedlam. The place was filled with Sicilian women and children crying and saying the rosary…
In July 28th we sailed on the U.S.S. Evangeline, a converted cruise ship that sailed to Nova Scotia in peacetime. Our destination was Palermo, Sicily.
The convoy came into Palermo Harbor on August 1st, but we were unable to debark and had to spend the night aboard the Evangeline. That night the Germans bombed the convey. It was a very unpleasant experience, down in the hold of the troop ship, with officers with loaded side arms on duty in gangways. Fortunately no ship was hit and that morning we got off the ship.
As our trucks were not unloaded for the next two days we were stevedores unloading artillery shells from a liberty ship. As we were very awkward at this it was two very uneasy days. Our kitchen truck was still not unloaded so we weren’t eating full rations. Both nights the Germans sent bombers overhead. The first night we went to an air raid shelter which was a railroad tunnel near the dock. It was bedlam. The place was filled with Sicilian women and children crying and saying the rosary. The next night we didn’t bother to go there, but stayed in fox holes instead, too tired to even move.
The next morning we boarded our trucks and left for the front.
Here I received news of my dear father’s unexpected death. Here also General Patton came to address us. It was supposed to be an apology for slapping soldiers in hospital but consisted mostly of swearing..
Sicily was the easiest campaign for us. The weather was great and warm. There was no rain at night so we slept on our blankets with just a mosquito nets over us. Since we were up in the mountains it was not too hot in the daytime.
The 60th combat team was given a flanking movement into the mountains while the main push was in the valley below. Our work consisted mostly of a road open for supplies for the infantry. As the Germans were mostly in a delaying action, we did not have much mine removing to do, nor did we come into combat with them.
On August 14 the 60th was pinched out by the 3rd division advancing along the northern coast road. So now this campaign was over for us.
We headed westward near the town of Cefalu on the north coast and stopped at a nice spot by the Tyrrhenian Sea where we could bathe and rest. Here I received news of my dear father’s unexpected death. Here also General Patton came to address us. It was supposed to be an apology for slapping soldiers in hospital but consisted mostly of swearing.
Now it was the rainy season. It rained day and night. Everything was wet. Tents went floating down the street. Sunny Italy became truly miserable. But finally we left for Meondelo, a staging camp near Palermo, prior to leaving for England, so I was spared that horrible winter war in Italy.
On November 1st we were at sea heading for England. I believe the ship was the Hawaii Shipper. It was a pleasant trip – for a troop convoy. We sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar to Gauruck, Scotland. We landed on November 26 and then went by train to Winchester.
Here we were stationed at a girls’ school outside Winchester for the next six months. Winchester was a nice town. It had a beautiful cathedral, where Jane Austin was buried, nice people, nice pubs. I went on furlough to London for a week and had a nice time. I even experienced an air raid there, but it was much tamer than the blitz.
Unfortunately some bombs fell short and landed on our side, causing many casualties. One bomb even landed on our battalion headquarters..
On May 27th we were put in a sausage. This was an enclosed barbed wire camp that once we were inside we couldn’t get out. We stuffed ourselves with food and we were told all about the D-Day invasion and what our part would be. On the morning of June 7th we boarded ships and on the 12th landed on Utah Beach, France. Thus began our Normandy campaign.
The landing force had kicked the door in, but the next four weeks were hard and dangerous work. Films of the 50th anniversary of D-Day brought back memories of Bacage country with its winding lanes and thick hedgerows that hemmed us in. The 60th was to cut the Cherbourg Peninsula then turn west and capture Cherbourg. That night the 3rd Platoon (me) was guarding a ford over the Douve River in case the retreating Germans tried to go eastwards. All night we stood in foxholes. We could hear them but luckily they were retreating westward.
Hitler had ordered Cherbourg to be defended as a Festung “fortress”. So the Germans didn’t come our way. But it was a long and scary night. We then drove to Cherbourg which surrendered June 27. Then the 60th CT had the job of cleaning up the Hague Peninsula.
After three days rest at Le Pieux the division moved south of Covantiannes where we underwent a hard month’s campaign till the division reached the Saint Lou Paris highway. This was going to be the jumping off place for breaking the German line and getting out into open country. The attack called for use of heavy bombing of German lines then the breaking out of tanks to exploit the opening.
On the 25 July the bombing all started. It was an awesome sight, as wave after wave of bombers went overhead. Unfortunately some bombs fell short and landed on our side, causing many casualties. One bomb even landed on our battalion headquarters.
That day we also suffered losses. Brenmen was fatally wounded that night on returning from a mission (that is him with me in the pictures on the wall taken at Winchester England). A jeep with some second squad of COC were shot up and killed, including Tony Jasinski. That’s Tony in Picture 15 on the wall, in Carolina Beach, NC. A nice guy, friend, good soldier.
I had to crawl on my hands and knees to cross the bridge, as a munitions truck had been hit and the ammo was exploding all over the place…
The breakout of the Bacage Country was successful and then we were off racing through France. This is what the American army with its mobility was best at. From then until we reached Belgium it was a rat race. When we got to the Mouse River near Diamont on September 4th, word came that we were to ferry the 60th across the river that night. It was a long and scary night, but we got them across. Then the race was on again until we reached the German border. On the 4th September the 60th CT attacked the German border at the town of Montshow. This was a very picturesque town on the Roer River.
It was here, on the 16th September, I received the shrapnel that gave me my purple heart. The third battalion was attacking the town of Hefen and I was walking with them in case they ran into mines. I was walking with the crew of a tank destroyer which had been knocked out of action.
A mortar shell landed near us and I received a small piece of shrapnel in my right knee. That night I had to make my way back to the first aid station which was in a municipal building in Monshou. I had to crawl on my hands and knees to cross the bridge, as a munitions truck had been hit and the ammo was exploding all over the place. I got to the first aid station where they dressed the wound.
The doctor asked me if I wanted to be evacuated, but as he said it was not serious, just that I would be lame for a while, I said no and went back to C Company. The metal is still in my knee and has never bothered me. If it wasn’t that the wound could be used a point system for getting out when the war in Germany was over, and a purple heart counted, I wouldn’t have bothered even to get it dressed.
We went back the next night to continue, but unfortunately underwent a bad explosion while unloading mines from a truck. There were many casualties…
In October began another tough time. This was in the Hurtgan Forest, a dark, dark place in which we seemed to be going nowhere and where we suffered heavy casualties. Here I made sergeant. Most of my old friends were gone and we were getting many replacements. On the 24th October we were relieved and sent to a quiet sector for a rest.
In December we began the drive to the Roer River and to the city of Daren. This was a flat region, a mixture of farms and manufacturing towns with lignite mines. On December 16 we were preparing for an assault crossing of the Roer River. It looked like we were in for another river crossing, but Hitler had other ideas and struck in the Ardennes. As usual, the brass was in an uproar. For 48 hours we rode around aimlessly. Finally we ended up at Monshau again. This was on the northern shoulder of the German bulge. It was comparatively quiet, which was fine with me. We had it fairly easy with road work and mine laying.
On the night of December 30 we were laying a mine field in front of the infantry. We went back the next night to continue, but unfortunately underwent a bad explosion while unloading mines from a truck. There were many casualties. Since I was putting up wire to mark the field, I was fortunate. We had to go back the next three nights to finish the job.
On arriving at battalion headquarters someone came up and said that someone from C Company was going home on furlough and I was the one…
The war took a quiet turn for me. The 9th Division stayed in the Monshau in a defensive position. At the end of January I went on a three-day pass to Paris – Gay Paris! In a fancy hotel, no heat, no hot water, but it was an interesting time. On our way back we stayed overnight in Rheims, France, where I saw a performance of The Barrettes of Wimpole Street with Katherine Cornell and Brian Ahearn. The show was terrific and those two were great.
On arriving at battalion headquarters someone came up and said that someone from C Company was going home on furlough and I was the one. I started on my way back to the States. After arriving at Liverpool I boarded the Isle de France – this was a fabulous boat. I believe this was the second boat of the three that were so named. There were just us leave men, a couple of hundred or so, some wounded, some British war brides and other civilians. So it wasn’t crowded. The weather was fine and it was a fast trip.
We pulled into New York harbor after a stay at Fort Dicks. Then we went on to Camp Devens, then home for 30 days. This was extended to 30 more! It wasn’t until the middle of April that we started back to Europe.
The return trip on the Louis Pasteur wasn’t very pleasant. It was run by the English. We slept in hammocks, had fish for breakfast, and the boat wasn’t too clean. By the time I arrived in Liverpool I wasn’t feeling too good. We took a train ride across England to Dover where we boarded a troop ferry for France. That morning I went down to mess hall feeling lousy. I passed out and was carried off the ship on a stretcher to a hospital in Le Havres. This was on Victory Over France Day. After a week in the hospital and fifteen shots of penicillin I started back to C Company.
Bill was recuperating in hospital from eleven months in the Stalag, where he’d lost a hundred pounds. He never fully recovered and died pretty young…
They were now stationed in Ingolstadt on the River Danube, deep in Bavaria, as the army of occupation. By freight train I crossed Holland into Germany. I was a ‘high point’ man by this time, because of all the ‘points’ I had acquired for length of service, overtime, medals, my purple heart. So at the end of June I started my last journey home. Again I went across Europe in a railroad car to Ingelstadt. There I stayed till the next batch of soldiers for home was selected at the beginning of July. I started on my final trip back home around August 1st, landed at Boston, went to Camp Miles Standish, and from there back to Fort Devens. On the sixth I was discharged and went back to 157 School Street.
There was Ma Stier, Doris, Rita, Mary, Paul, who was soon to go into the occupation army in Germany. Bill was recuperating in hospital from eleven months in the Stalag, where he’d lost a hundred pounds. He never fully recovered and died pretty young. Chris and Joe were both in the Pacific.
This was the end of my travels. I was in the peacetime army, wartime army, and took part in the first American operations in the western front.
copyright © 1998 Leo Stier