WWII Army Experience of Milo Elgin


      I began my army life when I reported to Fort Snelling, Minnesota on June 19, 1944 for induction. The following day, I took the oath to become a soldier and was issued a uniform and equipment. Richard Milligan from Michigan and Herman Seratski and Dale Kleven from Aneta were also there. I stayed at Fort Snelling for about ten days.
      I left Fort Snelling for basic training in the Deep South at Fort McClellum, Alabama. There, I passed an exam and was accepted in the U.S. Army Mechanics School. Two weeks into mechanics school there was a need for foot soldiers in Europe, so I started training for the infantry. This included instruction on using rifles, bazookas, hand grenades, and mortars. I received an expert rating in all of these.
When the sixteen weeks of basic training came to an end, everyone got a two week delay in route to go home. I arrived home November 4, 1944. That was the first time I felt like a human being again. However, the feeling didn’t last long. I was to report to Fort George Meade, Maryland on the 19th. There I was fitted out for overseas.
      I spent approximately one week at Fort George Meade. One day while I was there, the head cook came in and asked for three volunteers. I was tired of just sitting around, so I volunteered. We had to wash and clean up the kitchen. We did such a good job, the cook got us a three day pass to Baltimore. I ended up spending one whole day at the Smithsonian Museum. From Meade, I was sent to my P.O.E. Fort Miles Standish near Boston, Massachusetts. The big day finally came to get on the boat. We left on the U.S. Washington, a very large ship. Incidentally, it was the same day that I got a ten dollar increase in pay per month, big deal. It was the 5th day of December, 1944.
      I spent the next seven days on the Atlantic. Finally, we could see mountains around, Liverpool, England. It was cold and rainy. The next day we debarked and loaded on an English train. The following morning, we arrived at South Hampton. It was still raining and cold. We stayed in some tents—no stoves, cold as hell. All we got to eat was C rations. I guess they were getting us ready for what was to come.
      On the 19th of December we boarded an English ship called Lundgren Castle to cross the English Channel. The fog was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. When we were about five miles from the mainland, we boarded L.S.T. boats that took us to La Havre, France. We had to wade ashore because all the docks were gone. La Havre was our first sight of war torn Europe. The once bustling city was nothing but a pile of rubbish. I spent the next two days here getting ready for combat.
      We loaded on the famed 40 & 8 boxcars for a very miserable ride across France. On Christmas Eve we got our cold C rations and a Merry Christmas from our C.O. Just after we received our C rations we were attacked by German aircraft. The next day we arrived at Guiet, France, where we finally got off the 40 & 8 cars.
      We were on the Belgian and France border. Here we received our rifles, ammo, hand grenades, and the rest of the combat gear. It was Christmas Day and we were treated to our first good meal in many days. There was turkey and all the trimmings to go with it. This was the best present we could have gotten. It was sure good.
      It was here that I got my first real taste of the German Air Force. They bombed an old factory next to where I was sleeping. I guess they picked the wrong target. They probably figured we were in that old factory. Following a few days of orientation and a church service, we loaded into trucks and headed for the front lines in Belgium where the Battle of the Bulge had already started. On New Year’s Eve, I became part of the 2nd Indian Head Division. I was assigned my fox hold for the night, which had to dig out of the snow. On New Year’s Day, thanks to our P-51s, I did get to see two German planes go down in fire. Our lieutenant told us to get the hell back into our foxholes, they were fighting for keeps.
We stayed there for a while and held our position. We went out on patrol at night to see what the Germans had. We would get into German territory once in awhile. This was in the Argon Forest. Sometimes, it would be hard to find our way back to our company. One night, I just about stumbled into a German camp of a few men. I got to within about five feet of a German guard before I saw him and made a quick about face and headed back to rest of the squad.
      I was promoted to first scout of my squad. On the afternoon of January 29, 1945, I was called up to headquarters, an old bombed out building. I was issued a pair of heavy socks and snow packs. I figured something was coming up. That night we began our attack to reclaim Kringle. The Americans had been run out of the small town twice before. We walked all night in snow that many times was up to our hips. The second scout and I would alternate breaking the trail. At just about daybreak, we were in a creek bottom and heading up to hedge row. We had orders to go through the hedge row and head for town about a quarter of a mile away. When we broke the hedge, all hell broke loose. We lost most of the men in our squad. I got hit in the leg. I was only carrying an automatic called a grease gun, buton the way to a nearby bomb crater, I got hold of a BAR from one of my dead squad members. I pulled the 40 to 50 pound gun and a couple clips of ammo to the crater. A German sniper had me pretty well pinned down in the crater.  I finally got the BAR up to the edge of the crater. It was full of snow, but after some maneuvering I got it going. I used up both clips of ammo, crawled out of the crater and headed back to the hedge row.
      I dressed my leg the best that I could and started to work my way back to camp. On the way back, I was picked up by a Red Cross weasel, a jeep-like vehicle with tracks on it. It had room for four stretchers and several of us standing on the back platform. We got back to the First Aid station where the medics took care of my leg. They said that I hadn’t done the best job of dressing it.
      I was moved several times that night and got shots every two hours. About 2:30 in the morning, I was put on a train to the 40th General Hospital in Paris, I stayed there for two days and on the 4th of February was transferred to a hospital at Estampes, about 30 miles from Paris. My rehab consisted of cleaning a hallway every morning, noon and evening.
One day as I was working out in the gym, a warrant officer asked me if I would be interested in playing some basketball on his team. He said it would keep me out of field duty for awhile anyway. This lasted for about two weeks. We played different hospital and rehab teams all around the Paris area. I had a good time doing that.
      When the doctors said I was ready for combat, I was put back on regular duty. My first stop was the 19th Replacement Depot. As soon as I got there, I was given a 72 hour pass to Paris, which was a USO station. In Paris, I saw many of the sights such as the Eifel Tower and the Arc de Triumph. We had a French girl as a guide. She could speak English quite well.
Back at the replacement depot, I volunteered to rejoin my old outfit, the 2nd Division, 38th Infantry. It didn’t take them long to get me back into combat again. I was put in for a Buck Sergeant rating and they put me in charge of my old squad. It was mostly new men.
By this time, the U.S. really had the Germans on the run. We would come into small towns and they would have the white flags out. As we went down the streets, the Jerrys would come out of the houses and open fire on us. I was just lucky that I didn’t get it again. We took quite a few prisoners. I think most of them had had enough.
      On Easter Sunday, I was crossing an open field between two hedge rows. When I got into some shelter, I decided to have a bit to eat from my pack. I reached back and found my rations all broken up and two bullets s from German rifle fire in my canteen. I guess, it’s lucky I kept my rear end down.
We had been in a rest area for a couple of days after contact with the Germans. One day our commander, we called him Captain, called all the squad leaders to meeting. He told us he had just gotten a fifth platoon. A company normally has four platoons, but this platoon was different. It was all made up of volunteers. They were cooks, clerks, and motor pool workers who wanted to get into combat. They were also all black.
      Soon we went back into the forest to start cleaning out the Germans. After several hours of walking our company got pinned down by machine gun fire. I was up front with my squad. I just made it behind a fair sized tree before they spotted me. The German machine gun was out in front of me. Every time I tried to move, they would give the tree a blast. I had a radio with me, and I finally got in contact with Captain and told him what was up front. We could not advance or the Germans would wipe us out. He asked if there was any other way to get at them. After checking it out, I noticed there was a small hill to our right flank. Maybe someone could get in that way and knock out the machine gun. He said this would be a good test for the fifth platoon. After a short wait, I could see them working their way around the hill. Minutes later, they knocked the machine gun nest.
Shortly after that, we began to ride on tanks to keep up to the Germans. We were hooked up to General Patton’s/ 4th Armored Division. My squad was on the lead tank going down the autobahn to Berlin.
      One day, we stopped for the night in a small town. We had an outpost at the edge of town where two highways intersected. We found an empty house near the intersection and I got my squad into the house and set up for the night. Meanwhile, our tank was going to turn around and help protect us. Suddenly, a German Mark IV tank with an 88 cannon came out of an old building and fired a direct hit on our tank. Nothing was left of the tank or the crew. We had only gotten off the tank five minutes earlier. Another on of our tanks got the German tank before it could get out of town.
A little after midnight, a convoy of came down the road about a half mile in front of where we were staying. We were called out to try to stop the convoy. All we had at our position were rifles and a couple of mortars. WE sent up a couple of flares. I guess they were more scared than we were, because they decided to surrender instead of fight. We ended up with about 200 prisoners and all their equipment. I think what scared them the most was the fact that we had set some land mines on the road earlier in the evening and the mines had blown up a couple of their vehicles. They had probably had enough.
      After reorganizing, we headed for Berlin, where we were to meet the Russians. The Russians, however, went right through Berlin and met us at the Elbe River. We spent a day there. Some of the guys went fishing—with hand grenades. We had a nice meal of fish that night.
The next day our company commander called us together and told us we had had some new orders. We loaded up the trucks and headed for Czechoslovakia to meet another group of Russians. There was very little fighting along the way, in fact we didn’t run into any. The Germans were giving up all over. We came into one small town and about 2000 soldiers were lined up in formation ready to surrender if we would not fire on them. We had a long job of disarming all of them. This was the day I got my two pair of field glasses and my German luger. One pair of the glasses was stolen on the boat on the way home.
      We met the Russians in Pilsen and Prague. The Czech people were very friendly. We stayed in Czech homes, usually two soldiers to a house. When V-E day came, each squad got a keg of beer from the Pilsen Brewery. The couple I stayed with went out in the back yard and dug up two bottles of champagne. The Czechs in our area drank up most of the beer.
After breakfast each morning, I would try and bring back the jam that was left over so the woman where I stayed could make kalaches. We hadn’t had any sweets since we had left England and those kalaches tasted very good.
      We stayed there for a short time waiting for further orders. Our first order was to report to the Pacific front to fight the Japanese, but then they decided to send us home on a delay in route. That is when they came up with the point system to get out of the service.
      While we were waiting to be shipped out, I had an appendicitis attack. I was at the dispensary when they called my unit. The doctors said that I had to have an operation and they were going to send me to the hospital at Pilsen. I told them that my outfit was going  home and that I wanted to stay with them. After a couple hours on a cot, they checked me out again and decided to let me go. The Navy doctors on the ship could operate if it was needed. As it happens, I still haven’t had that operation. The Navy ship we sailed on was very large and the ocean was very calm for our journey back home.
I shot some craps on the way home. I made about $350 to $400. The Statue of Liberty looked very good to us as we cruised past.  We put into port in Boston. Marlene Dietrich met us at the port and came aboard to welcome us home. She said the 2nd Division was her favorite. I was only about five feet from her.
      We had two days in Boston before we boarded a train for home. As soon as we could get showered and cleaned up, Chet Erickson, a good buddy of mine, and I went down to the PX. We each ate two pints of ice cream. The rest of the guys were drinking beer. It seemed to be a long train ride home from Boston. The night after I got home, there was a big train wreck in Michigan. When I got back to Texas, I was transferred out of my old outfit, the 2nd Division. I had too many points to stay in a regular Army unit. V-J day came while I was home. So many things had changed almost overnight.
I ended up in an Army depot in Chicago for a short time. From there, I was transferred to the state of Washington. There I worked in a place they called a staging depot. We would get loads of G.I.s from all over the Pacific. They would come in at all times of the day or night. We would get them into the barracks, cleaned up, and give them a good meal. In a couple of days they would have gotten new clothes and equipment and be on their way home.
      Later, when this slowed down, I was sent to an ammunitions unloading area near Astoria, Oregon. Here the Army policed the civilian workers unloading ships of ammo. All I had to do was keep a record of the men we had, about 60 of them. They were mostly young men and getting them up in the morning was the hardest.
      Every Friday, I would hitch a ride to Tacoma. Carrol was staying there. One Friday, a couple of Navy waves in a big Chrysler stopped to pick me up. They asked if I had a drivers’ license. I had my Army license and my one from North Dakota, so they had me drive. They drove through Tacoma on their way home to Seattle and on Sunday afternoon, they would pick me up again on their way back to the base. I would drive them as far as I would go. This was pretty handy for me. This went on for a couple of months until I got my orders to go home.
      I was shipped back to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin to be discharged. I was there a couple of days and then I was a free man again. The Army was quite an experience, but I wouldn’t want to do it again.