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

By Andrew Carroll
10/31/2008 • Military History

Well, the supermen marched us, without food, water or sleep to Limberg, a distance of about sixty miles, I think, where we were loaded and locked up, sixty men to each small, unventilated, unheated box car. There were no sanitary accommodations—the floors were covered with fresh cow dung. There wasn’t room for all of us to lie down. Half slept while the other half stood.…We were released from the box cars on New Year’s Day. The Germans herded us through scalding delousing showers. Many men died from shock in the showers after ten days of starvation, thirst and exposure. I didn’t.

Under the Geneva Convention, Officers and Non-commissioned Officers are not obliged to work when taken prisoner. I am, as you know, a Private. One-hundred-and-fifty such minor beings were shipped to a Dresden work camp on January 10th. I was their leader by virtue of the little German I spoke. It was our misfortune to have sadistic and fanatical guards. We were refused medical attention and clothing: We were given long hours at extremely hard labor. Our food ration was two-hundred-and-fifty grams of black bread and one pint of unseasoned potato soup each day. After desperately trying to improve our situation for two months and having been met with bland smiles I told the guards just what I was going to do to them when the Russians came. They beat me up a little. I was fired as group leader. Beatings were very small time:—one boy starved to death and the SS Troops shot two for stealing food.

On about February 14th the Americans came over, followed by the R.A.F. Their combined labors destroyed all of Dresden—possibly the world’s most beautiful city. But not me.

After that we were put to work carrying corpses from Air-Raid shelters; women, children, old men; dead from concussion, fire or suffocation. Civilians cursed us and threw rocks as we carried bodies to huge funeral pyres in the city.

When General Patton took Leipzig we were evacuated on foot to Hellendorf on the Saxony-Czechoslovakian border. There we remained until the war ended. Our guards deserted us. On that happy day the Russians were intent on mopping up isolated outlaw resistance in our sector. Their planes (P-39’s) strafed and bombed us, killing fourteen, but not me.

Eight of us stole a team and wagon. We traveled and looted our way through Sudetenland and Saxony for eight days, living like kings. The Russians are crazy about Americans. The Russians picked us up in Dresden. We rode from there to the American lines at Halle in Lend-Lease Ford trucks. We’ve since been flown to Le Havre.

I’m writing from a Red Cross Club in Le Havre P.O.W. Repatriation Camp. I’m being wonderfully well fed and entertained. The state-bound ships are jammed, naturally, so I’ll have to be patient.…

I’ve too damned much to say, the rest will have to wait. I can’t receive mail here so don’t write.

Kurt – Jr.

Kurt Jr. is, in fact, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., who had been captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge and returned to the United States in the summer of 1946. Vonnegut went on to become one of the world’s most esteemed and influential writers, and his experience in Dresden inspired the literary classic Slaughterhouse-Five. He is also the reader on this letter.

General Douglas MacArthur’s “Home-by-Christmas” Offensive (as the media had dubbed it) fell to pieces under fierce Chinese resistance in late November and early December 1950. As temperatures plunged to 30 degrees below zero, 15,000 members of the 1st Marine Division and 3,200 soldiers with the U. S. 7th Infantry Division found themselves surrounded at the Chosin Reservoir by 10 Chinese divisions. It was a bloodbath. After recovering the use of his frostbitten hands, a 17-year-old private named Bob Hammond related to his father how he and his fellow Marines and soldiers struggled to survive. Letter read by Lucas Haas.

Dear Dad…

Dad, you asked me to tell you what I went thru.…I have never seen anything like what I just went thru. The “Vets” of World War II agree also, that this is the worst they have seen.

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