Letters from the Front – Correspondence Spanning Two Centuries of American War

We were pressing through a thicket when this big plug-ugly Hun suddenly loomed up in front of me and made a one-armed stab at me with his bayonet. You can make a hell of a long reach this way, but it’s a rather awkward thrust as the bayonet makes the rifle heavy at the muzzle when you’ve got hold of your rifle at the small of the stock like this guy had. A homelier guy I never saw before in all my life and he’d make two in size compared to Dad and you know what a big man my old Dad is.

Well you can imagine that this bud did not catch me unawares.

I was ready for him. I thought I was going to have a pretty stiff one-sided fight on my hands, with the odds in his favor, but he was a cinch. Before I even realized it myself I parried off his blow and had him through his throat. It was my first hand to hand fight.

It was all over in a second, that is it for Jerry. He never even made a shriek. He went down like a log.

It was hand to hand all the way through that section of the woods as it was considered a vulnerable point, but we finally cleared them out and opened up the way for an attack on Grandpre itself.…

While sneaking about the ruins of Grandpré “Mopping Up” we came across a Prussian Chap in a ruined building with a rifle. He was a sniper, alive and the reason he was still there was because he could not get out although the opening was big enough for him to crawl through. During the bombardment the roof of the building had fell through in such a way as to pin him there by the feet and although he was practically uninjured he could not get himself free. I’ll explain better when I see you, as I can tell it better than I can write it. He begged us to help him and although we had been cautioned against treatury one of the fellows who was with me put down his rifle and started to crawl through to free him. The moment he got his head and shoulders through the hole which had been smashed by a shell, by the way, this Hun hauls off and lets him have a charge right square in the face.

Poor Dan never knew what happened. His face was unrecognizable. We didn’t do a thing but riddle that hole, we were that furious, and we didn’t stop shooting until our magazines were empty.…

Well I guess this will be all for just now so with best regards and good wishes to you, Elmer, Mother Sutters, Pop, Mutt, and all the kyoodles. I close.

Your Old Friend and Comrade in Mischief

World War II
Beginning on Feb. 13, 1945, Allied warplanes carpeted Dresden, Germany, with thousands of tons of high-explosives and incendiary bombs, creating an ocean of fire that ultimately killed tens of thousands of civilians. Ironically, a group of U.S. prisoners of war detained in the city lived through the firestorm virtually unscathed. On May 29, 1945, one of these POWs, a 22-year-old U.S. Army private first-class, wrote the following letter to relatives back in Indiana about his capture and eventual liberation. (Click here to hear second part of letter. Excerpted from the audio version of Behind the Lines.)

Dear people:

I’m told that you were probably never informed that I was anything other than “missing in action.” Chances are that you also failed to receive any of the letters I wrote from Germany. That leaves me a lot of explaining to do—in precis:

I’ve been a prisoner of war since December 19th, 1944, when our division was cut to ribbons by Hitler’s last desperate thrust through Luxemburg and Belgium.…The other American Divisions on our flanks managed to pull out: We were obliged to stay and fight. Bayonets aren’t much good against tanks: Our ammunition, food and medical supplies gave out and our casualties out-numbered those who could still fight—so we gave up. The 106th got a Presidential Citation and some British Decoration from Montgomery for it, I’m told, but I’ll be damned if it was worth it. I was one of the few who weren’t wounded. For that much thank God.

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