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Today is Memorial Day and we just returned from services - services in memory of the men we have left behind. It is somewhat of a coincidence that I should happen to start this letter to you on this day. If you turn back the calendar, you will find that the last uncensored letter I sent home was written on the 10th of November 1944. After that time, we were not allowed to say anything about the future. For the next week or so, we spent most of our time packing weapons and other equipment. We were outfitted completely with new clothing, much of which was for winter use. On the 15th, we were told what had only been a rumor before – that our port of embarkation was to be Boston, Massachusetts.
It was on the night of Saturday, the 18th that we left Fort Wood on a train, and we were on the train until the morning of Tuesday the 21st. The post was Camp Myles Standish and it was located about 20 miles from Rhode Island, and about 40 miles from Boston. The place had a secret address and no one was allowed near the place unless he was on military business. I remember that first morning quite well as we had to walk about two miles to our barracks and it was raining very hard.
At Myles Standish, we picked-up more winter clothing and we began to use it there because the day after we arrived, it started to snow and it never stopped for three days. That was the first snow I have ever encountered and I did not like it at all. Little did I realize then that I would be living in the damn stuff for two whole months.
We had several passes while we were there. I went to Providence, Boston, and Taunton – the last town was just two miles from camp. We also had some training and we enjoyed our stay there. As with all good things, the stay was soon over.
On the morning of December 6th, a Wednesday, we packed and loaded onto another train that took us to Boston. Note that I mailed my last letter to you on the 4th, a few days before leaving Myles Standish. We arrived in Boston shortly after noon and immediately lined-up to wait our turn to board the huge transport. The Red Cross women served us coffee and donuts and a band played music – it must have been for morale purposes. I must admit that when my time came to walk across the gangplank, I had a strange feeling. I wondered how long it would be before I would set foot on American soil again. The thought never entered my mind that I might not ever come back. You see, we still did not know what it would be like “over there” and we were all sure of coming back someday.
As for a bunk, I was very lucky that I was on B deck and had an upper bunk. I don’t believe that you can imagine how crowded it was though.
Now for a little dope on the transport. It was the U.S.S. American and the second largest ship in the American Merchant Marines. As we were soon to learn, she was very fast and did not travel in convoys. It was around 4 in the afternoon when we started to move from the dock. When I came on deck again at around 8 that night, we had water on all four sides.
Life on board the ship was not bad at all. We had heard that it is hell on the smaller boats. One change we did have was the fact that only two meals a day were served. However, it was possible to buy ice cream, coca cola and cigarettes at the ship store. In the daytime, we could lie on the deck – read books or listen to radio programs picked up by the ships radio. At night we were allowed to stay on deck until 9 o’clock but had to observe the strictest of blackout orders. The last night on the ship, we saw a motion picture.
The first sight of land that we picked up was the coast of North Africa – this was exactly one week after sailing, or the 13th. At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon we passed through the straits of Gibraltar. It was a beautiful day and the land really looked good.We arrived in the harbor of Marseilles around 2 o’clock on the morning of the 15th. The harbor itself was a mess – the Germans had sunk ships all over the place and all the docks had been blown up. Our ship anchored about two miles out and we were taken ashore on barges.
Once ashore, we were loaded on trucks and taken to a staging area in the hills about 18 miles from town. We were soon to learn that our ways of barrack life was over. We were assigned a section of ground and preceded to pitch our pup tents. It was colder than all hell and no sooner had we become set up that it started to rain. I don’t believe that it stopped raining for more than an hour at any time as long as we were there. The mud was a good six inches deep everywhere and everything we owned was muddy.
While we were in this staging area we got more clothing and cleaned our mortars. We had packed them in grease for the trip across. Every man also got a 12-hour pass to Marseilles. The trip was interesting from the standpoint of visiting a strange place and there were plenty of women too. Over here in France anyway, prostitution is legalized. In fact, there were some 46,000 licensed prostitutes. And the black market was doing a big business – a pack of American cigarettes sold for 75 franks, or $1.50 – usually we paid 4 cents a pack.
On Friday afternoon, the 22nd of December, we left the staging area and were moved about 15 miles to a train station. We had thought the old pup tent to be bad but what awaited us now really took the cake. There on the track stood the same old 40 and 8 French boxcars that had been used to haul troops in the last war. Our morale really took a dive then.
Two sections, or 32 men and 1 officer were assigned to each boxcar. That must have been our unlucky day because we drew one that had about half of its roof missing and it was raining hard. By using canvas, we finally stopped the flow of water but there was never enough room for anymore than one person to sleep at a time. That trip lasted until 2 o’clock in the morning of the 26th. The day before had been Christmas and was one of the most miserable days we experienced. Everyone was thinking about home and about Christmas days of the past. There was no change in rations that day either. Our dinner was the same-boxed K ration.
The route of the trip had taken us through the area where the 7th Army had fought the Germans retreating from southern France. Signs of death and destruction were on all sides. The closer we got to the front, the fresher the signs of the battles. Here and there, we would pick out burned-out American tanks or perhaps a big piece of field equipment that had been hit a week or two back. On the last day, we saw our first dead German – the battle had moved so fast in that area that there had not been time to clean up the battlefield.
Our detraining point was about 10 miles behind the front and as near as you can place it on a map, it was about 40 miles northwest of Saarburg, France. Afterwards, we left the train and sat around freezing for three hours – then we walked about 5 miles to a small town called Grives. We stayed there one day and one night just long enough to get all of our equipment together. Everything we had brought overseas and that we did not have on our backs was taken away and placed in storage.
The next afternoon, December 27th, we started moving towards the front. We found out that we were to relieve an outfit that was holding the west bank of the Rhine just south of Strasbourg. At this time, we had already been assigned to the 7th Army and things had been very quiet in this area for several weeks. You see, the Battle of the Bulge was just gathering speed in the North, but we knew nothing of this battle because it did not start until the 16th of December - the last news we had was from on board the ship on the 15th. Anyway, this sector was a part of the old Maginot line and we moved into a fort called “Epenorik” - the thing was about 300 yards from the riverbank and appeared to be very strong. We stayed in this fort until the afternoon of the 30th. Our stay was supposed to have been a breaking-in process and we would have stayed much longer had the Krauts not started an offensive on the 7th Army front too. However, we did enjoy the short period - all we did was pull guard and not a man was hurt. The Jerries threw over a few rounds now and then but did not do any damage.
We were moved to the next town called Bischwiller by truck. It was about 20 miles due north of the fort. Some Jerry planes tried to strafe the motor column but anti-aircraft batteries nearby shot down two and chased off the others. In the first town we reached, we lived in our pup tents, but in Bischwiller we were billeted in an old beer garden. Our stay here was also short. We heard that attacking enemy forces had been temporarily stopped about 10 miles to the northwest so on the evening of the second day, New Years Eve, to be exact, we moved out again. We got to another town – Niederbronn just after midnight and went to sleep in a foundry.
William David Morris (Bill) was born January 24, 1920 in Oakland, California. The following information was primarily written by Bill in letters addressed to his father, William H. Morris. Other information was taken from his Enlisted Record and Report of Separation and Separation Qualification Record. Some of his photos had writing on the back and that information has been included in the captions throughout. The photos of bombed-out buildings are randomly placed throughout.
Me at Camp Roberts in California - I was there from 1941 - 1945.
Information from My Service Records
Served with: 275th Infantry Regiment 70th Division
Place of entry into service: Presidio of Monterey, California
Battles and campaigns: Central Europe - Rhineland
Camp Roberts: Handled all administrative details of the company. Prepared correspondence, records, reports, orders, duty rosters, sick book, etc. Supervised the work of two clerks.
Europe: Squad Leader, led squad of 8 men into combat who operated 81 MM Mortar in support of advancing riflemen.
Place of separation: Camp Beale, California
My office at Camp Roberts
It is not much to look at, but it serves the purpose.
A buddy and I at Camp Roberts
I'm on the right with the pipe.
Time for a rest
One of the buildings at Camp Roberts
The left-most sign reads "Quarantine - Keep Out".
Some fun around the barracks
We all knew that we were going to war, we did not know that we would fight in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge.