Antwerp, Belgium
August, 1945

Dearest Family
I am taking this opportunity to write you as much as I can think of at the
moment about my trip overseas and what we have been doing since our arrival in the ETO.
To begin with, we loaded into troop trains at Camp Robinson on September 14, 1944, and on the afternoon of September 16 we landed at the god-forsaken hole of Camp Shanks. I don't care if I never see that place again. We were told that wehad been alerted before the train arrived, so we didn't get into the big city. We worked until the wee hours of every morning getting things in shape to set sail-and on the evening of the 19th we loaded up into a New York Central train that carried us down to the ferry landing. The ferry carried us for a good ride up the bay, and from the boat we could see the beautiful skyline of the greatest city in the world. It was a most encouraging sight to know that we would have that to greet us on our return; and now that we have seen so much death and destruction as a result of the ravages of war, that sight is even more vivid in our minds. Long live America!


After having landed on Staten Island we were greeted by the most mother-
like Red Cross women I've ever seen. They had doughnuts, coffee, candy – anything almost that one would want. They were certainly a lovely sight in their spotless uniforms, carrying the different items in large wicker baskets. Just another thing to remind us of the wonderful place we were leaving behind. A special service orchestra was on hand playing all the old familiar tunes as we awaited the signal to load up.
We closely resembled pack-horses when we stepped off the ferry with a full field pack, rifle belt to which was attached a first-aid pack and full canteen of water, our rifle, and on top of all that a duffel bag (about 5 feet tall and seemingly that big around) in which was packed all our personal belongings. If you don't think that is a load, try it sometime! At 9:45PM the 19th up we went on the gang plank wagging all that into the huge liner, the USS Uruguay, which had been converted from a one-time luxurious ocean liner of the Moor-McCormack Lines to a badly overcrowded troop transport. At 10:00 AM September 20 the big tub eased out into the harbor, and we caught our last glimpse of the land we loved so dearly.
Our trip across the ocean was as uneventful as any ocean voyage in peace-
time, except that we did have a sub scare one night and lost some time zig-zagging to get out of his path. We had everything one could ask for on the boat. Our meals (only two a day) were not the best in the world, but were all you'd want on a galloping boat - or rather all that it was safe to eat. There was a PX aboard where one could buy solid cartons of candy (even Hershey bars with almonds), peanuts, etc., at greatly reduced prices. We had church services every day. We were allowed on the outer decks during daylight hours, and there was always lots of fun out there. All the boys who had musical instruments would get together for a jam session - there were crap games galore for those who wanted to take a chance-and many boys were just reading or enjoying the ocean scenery, which, I must admit, was simply beautiful.
The bunks inside the ship were tour-deep, in order to crowd just as many men as possible on one ship. At night it would get so hot you could hardly sleep-and the aroma from all the sweat wasn't anything too pleasant. We were always glad to hear when blackout restrictions were lifted after daylight so we could open the windows and get some fresh air. Aside from that, the trip was as pleasant as it could be. On the afternoon of September 30 we first sighted land, and on the morning of Sunday, October 1, we could easily see Ireland on one side of the boat. At that time we were anchored off the coast of England, and not long after noon we pulled into the port of Liverpool.
At 7:30PM we first set foot on England. It was sleeting when we first got ..
off the boat; however, by the time the men were made into a formation and we started marching up the streets of Liverpool toward the railroad station, it was fairly clear and the moon was shining. After we boarded the passenger train that was fairly clear and shining after we boarded the passenger train that was waiting for us, the Red Cross was right there again with delicious hot coffee and doughnuts. It seems they always knew just when we needed them! We pulled out of Liverpool at 9:05 PM, and after a time spent in adjusting ourselves in the compartment we were in, riding in typical British passenger compartment cars, we decided to get a little shuteye, never knowing what was in store for us the following day. The following morning we debarked at Eastleigh, a small town outside Southampton from where we were taken in trucks to a staging area calledC-19, which we have never forgotten. There, with the exception of our C Company, we lived for about a week in tents, rain, and 'mud every day with no heat in the tents. We couldn't go out at all legally, and, all in all, C-19 just doesn't hold many pleasant memories for us. .About the only good thing I can say about it is that we had movies every day.

Our C Company left us on October 5 and the following day landed on the Omaha Beach in France, where only four months previously so many of our boys paid the supreme price to establish a beachhead that started the Germans on the road to defeat. The following two months found our engineers, firemen, conductors and, brakemen hauling trains from Cherbourg right up to the fighting fronts. Crews would be out on a "trip" for as much as a week at the time without relief. Any of our C Company boys can, tell you of many thrilling experiences and narrow escapes encountered while they were running trains in France.
In the meantime, it seemed that the balance of, the battalion were never
going to get to a decent place in England - but finally on October 13 we were loaded onto a passenger train in Southampton and moved to a little English village named Street, not far from Glastonbury. We arrived in Street about 3:00PM and marched to one of the camps that had been used by our troops prior to D-Day while they were awaiting the invasion. There we had 'a swell setup - a nice camp - and we were the only GIs in the town, which made it wonderful. The British people all seemed extremely nice to us, and we were in hopes that we would spend the duration right there. However, two days was the extent of that - and on Sunday, October 15, we pulled out of Street at 11:00AM headed for Southampton again, where we got off the train at 1:30PM and marched to the docks. We sat around there all afternoon awaiting orders - but, once again, were cheered up by, the Red Cross girls with their coffee and doughnuts. After feasting on that we boarded LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) a small ocean-going vessel that is, frankly, rough as hell.

Unfortunately, it was the time of the year for gales and rough waters in
the English Channel. We didn't move at all until 10:15AM October 17, when we
started out for Southampton for destination unknown. About half way across the
channel the skipper decided the little tub just wouldn't take it, and turned back to England. Nightfall found us right back where we started from - and four boats full of mighty sick boys. Honestly, it was the roughest trip one could imagine. At 9:15AM October 21 we again attempted to get across that pond, and this time were successful. About 7:00PM we dropped anchor just off the coast of France, and there we spent the night. During the night, however, the LCI pulled up to shore in high tide, and early the next morning we found our vessel completely out of the water on a sand bank, the tide being out. Ramps were lowered on. each side of the boat, and by 6:45AM we had all left the ships, unloading on the Utah beach.

Our first impression of France wasn't any too good. We had a long hard march in mud more than ankle deep, for several miles - and were stunned -to learn that in a wide open field, filled with nothing but oodles of mud, we were to spend several days. Pup tents were pitched as best they could, and meals were served out in the open. The hot coffee was about all that saved us! The only pleasant memory we have of that place is that it was there we had our first mail call since leaving home. A great deal of the 'mail was received the second day we were there, and, naturally, that made all of us feel much better.

At 9900am on October 24 we started marching again- the great walking TC and this time it was for several miles down to a railroad station-Chef Du Pont. We hung around the station waiting for the train, and finally to our surprise a freight train stopped at the station” Oh no”, we thought to ourselves , “Surely they don’t expect us to ride in those filthy cars” But you guessed it- we were wrong, for we loaded up 30 men to one little car. It was just like livestock the e States. The weather was very cold, and we had no heat, of course, in those cars.

Finally, around 7:00PM the train was on its way, and we were off on our
first hobo trip. From this trip we gained our first knowledge of what real war had meant to France. Building after building was completely demolished. Locomotives, cars and tracks all along the route were destroyed. Caen and Argentan were perhaps the worst hit cities that we saw - but they were virtually a complete wreck.
On this trip we saw many of our C Company boys busily engaged in hauling
trains of supplies, double headed, usually, with GI 2-8-0 engines, and hospital
trains. On the morning of October 26 we came within the city limits of Paris, but
we were gypped out of a ride through the city and went completely around it to our destination, Beauvais. There we were given the mission of operating the railroad from Creil to LaHavre, through Beauvais . We set up battalion headquarters, but very few of the men had a chance to get out on the road before our assignment was changed and we found ourselves again loading into those lovable box cars, This time, though we were not so badly crowded, loading about 16 to the car, and were able to pick out some nice USA box cars that were much cleaner and better to ride, in. at

1:15PM November 9 we caught our last glimpse of the beautiful cathedral at Beauvais, which seemed to almost overshadow everything in the city. Our first stop was at Creil, where we changed engines, and then moved on to the famous city of Compiegne. It was there that we were taken into the RTO for hot coffee and sandwiches – which was the first time that any such wonderful arrangements had been made for us en-route on one of those trains. 4:15PM November 10 found us at our new home, Antwerp, Belgium.
About the first thing we heard upon our arrival was that buzz bombs were
being sent against Antwerp by the Germans, and had been coming in at the rate of
three or four a day for about a week. We spent the first night in the cars, and not
long after dark the air-raid siren went off . Although we had seen a V-I buzz off
in the distance while we were standing at a little town called Muizan that afternoon, the one that came over after that warning was our first real good look at
one - and, too, they looked much worse at night, with their tail of fire behind
them than they did on a bright day. Never having had any experiences with things of that sort, we were plenty scared, and many of the boys would get up every time the siren went off that night, others figuring that they were as safe one place as another chose to remain in the cars. We moved on Armistice Day to an old German camp located several miles north of the city. It was a beautiful place, and there was a chateau there that must have cost millions. The Germans badly damaged it before they pulled out, however, and we were not able to make use of the buildings We soon learned that we wouldn't be able to do any railroading with the men so far from the railroad. So on the 17th of November we all moved back into town, and each company was billeted in a school building, where we sweated out many a buzz or rocket bomb. Early in December our C Company left the railroads in France, after making an enviable record, and came to Antwerp to rejoin the other companies.
Shortly after we arrived Hitler started sending over big V-2 rocket bombs in addition to the V:l buz-bombs, and Antwerp turned out to be just about as dangerous a place as existed in the ETO.

The V-ls were much the worse on a fellows nerves, as they had a motor and you could hear them coming Many times you would 'see them go over, but there were also lots of times when, you would hear them cutout and fall before they got very close to you. When you would hear them cut off anywhere, you were eager to hear the explosion, because they could glide and you never knew you were safe until you heard the explosion and knew for sure that you were going to be there to sweat out the next one. One bomb contained a ton of TNT and could do an awful lot of damage; for instance, one of them could completely demolish a good-sized apartment building, and a lucky hit on anyone of the school buildings in which we were billeted would have left nothing but a big pile of, rubbish. .
The V-2 bombs, on the other hand, traveled faster than sound. They were fired into the air sixty miles, scientists claim, and would then fall through space, also carrying a ton of TNT to someone for a lot of death and destruction. They would come down so fast they would bury themselves and blow everything upward-hence the range of their destruction was not as great as the V-I. The way theV-2s were explained to us by a Canadian soldier who worked with parts of them found after they went off is that they were fired into the air for sixty miles, and would start down through the stratosphere at a rate of 7000 miles per hour, being automatically reduced to 4000 miles an hour when it struck the air - and the friction caused by the sudden great reduction in speed made them red hot when they landedoV-2s always had an explosion in the air before striking its target, when, of course, another loud charge was heard. It was nothing unusual to find shrapnel from them with i~e on it, at the same time finding some so hot you couldn't pick it up.
On December 12 a V-2 struck the brick street in the middle of the main
thoroughfare at noontime, much destruction resulting, as the blast affected every-thing within a two square block area. Many people were killed, the majority as the result of injuries sustained from flying glass in street cars, from windows, etc. On Saturday afternoon, December l6s a V-2 landed in the Rex Theater, one of Antwerp's largest, killing 567 and injuring 291, and making the movie house a complete wreck. It took more than a week to remove the bodies. One of our own boys was in the theater at the time it was struck, and miraculously was spared while everyone around him was killed. Another one of our boys was killed. On the afternoon of January 5 a V-l landed within 150 yards of battalion headquarters, in the center of a park in front of Central Station. Our office was wrecked, all the windows being broken, chairs and desks turned over, etc., and five members of the headquarters personnel received Purple Heart awards as result of injuries sustained. The worst incident involving personnel of our unit was aV-2 in the dock area that resulted in the death of three members of our A Company. There isn't a single member of the unit who didn't have a narrow escape at, the hands of the pilot less missiles. Headquarters Company, engaged in operating battalion headquarters, furnishing the dispatching force and operators, as well as the cooks in each company, had one fatality and 11 Purple Hearts. A Company who had three men killed and received 50 Purple Heart awards, assisted in the installation and maintenance of tracks and bridges in the vast network of track age in the Antwerp area. B Company, in addition to maintaining the steam and Diesel engines we used; assisted in the unloading and processing of several hundred new steam and diesel engines sent over from the States, and assembled the first 1000-hpDiesel locomotive in the ETO; this company has 16 Purple Heart awards. The company that furnished the trainmen and enginemen, our C Company, has lost three men and received 8 Purple Hearts. Our Dental Officer was killed by a V-2.
At Antwerp we were given the assignment of operating the dock tracks,
spotting empties and pulling the loads, and operating the North Yard, which, with a capacity of 8000 cars, is the largest marshalling yard in Europe. By the end-of December the volume of traffic being moved through the port necessitated another battalion moving in to help us, but they moved out in March and we again took over the whole show~ finally operating, in addition to what we had been doing, the mainline from Antwerp to Brussels. It is my opinion that we had one of the most vital-if not the most vital - assignments of any railroad battalion in the ETO. The highest number of cars loaded in the docks in a 24-hour period approximated~9,DO and we moved as many as 48 trains out of the North Yard in one day toward the front. I remember back in the Christmas holidays one day when we had 138 cars of mail going to boys on the front! Naturally, as the European war neared its end, the volume of traffic decreased, and VE day found us in Germany.
The last buzz bomb fell in the city of Antwerp on March 27, 1945, and we had only gotten back to the point where we breathed naturally again when we were "uprooted from our old ETO home” and sent on a new assignment in Germany. C Company, and the operators from Headquarters Company, were transported by truck ahead of the balance of the battalion. On the morning of May 7, the trains transporting the other companies to their new location pulled out of North Yard at Antwerp. From the train the boys gained their last glimpse of the dome of Central Station, where we once had our headquarters; the stately skyscraper, which is claimed to be the tallest civil building in Europe; and the countless number of church steeples that jotted the skyline of the city we had learned to love in spite of the dangers it had been exposed to during our stay there. I don't think anyone of our men will deny that he actually hated to see that skyline fade in the distance as the train pulled away.
The troop train traveled south out of Antwerp into Liege, Belgium, and then
out of Belgium into Holland, where it all but reversed its direction, starting
north ward through Maastricht, Holland, toward the Rhine River bridge at Wesel,
which was the only one in use at that time. It crossed the Ruhr River at Roermond, Germany, which was the first glimpse of Germany our boys had. From that very first city it was plainly obvious that our boys in the air as well as on the ground had done a good job of bringing to the "supermen" genuine destruction. At Wesel, that river that has made history so many times - the swift-flowing, but beautiful, Rhine was crossed by the train on the bridge that our engineers had constructed in the record time of 11 days. Slowly, but surely, it traveled on through Munster and down to Hamm, where we spent the night of May 9th; then the following morning our trains found their way through the great industrial Ruhr Valley into Herne, Germany, our new "home" Our B Company, however, remained at Hamm to operate the roundhouse at that point.
One of the most interesting things we saw on this trip was a German PW enclosure near the bridge at Wesel, filled almost to overflowing with conquered Jerries. Some of them were being loaded onto flat cars and coal cars, which was the manner, in which they were always transported o If they could but have gotten a glimpse of the inside of the box cars in which we were riding, with double bunks, six men to the car, hot meals enroute, etc., I am sure they would have been forcibly reminded of just what suckers they had been in following that sap, Hitler. About 2:30PM May 8,1945, we managed to understand enough of the German language to learn that the Germans had unconditionally surrendered and that the thing we had all been hoping and praying for so long - the end of the war in Europe - was now a glowing reality. I am sure that Admiral Doenitz, learning that the 743rd was as far inland as Munster, knew the jig was up and gave up without further hostilities.

Munster was hit very hard, but I believe the greatest destruction. We saw at anyone place was the industrial city of Dortmund, which, without a doubt, was 95%destroyed. Everywhere the railroad yards were hit, and hit hard Tracks would be standing straight up in the air, locomotives and cars wrecked, and at many places we would do good to find two main tracks to get through on Herne was in peace time a city of some 93,000 population, and had not been so hard hit as some other places o Even though it was in the Ruhr Valley, about the only industries located there were a couple of coal mines, and bombs didn't effect them too much. We were told there that we could expect another move within a short time, and it was therefore decided 'best to remain in the box cars. They were spotted along the station platform, and our stay there wasn't too uncomfortable. The engineers, incidentally, made still a better record on the steel bridge they erected over the Rhine between Rheinhausen and Duisburg in the short space of five days. That bridge they named "Victory Bridge", and it was our privilege to operate the first train across the bridge o A trainload of coal, forty cars, pulled by a large German 2-10-0 locomotive, eased across the bridge at 10:00AMthe morning of May 12, with none other than our own CO, Lt. Col. Frank G. Cook, at the throttle. Several Generals and other brass were on hand at the ceremony our assignment while at Herne was the operation of the RUHR DIVISION, which had just been opened between Hamm and Munchen, Gladbach. Our job was to get all the captured equipment, loads and empty cars, off the division and into allied ports where they were so badly needed The best day we had was when we operated25 trains across the new bridge at Duisburg.
On May 24 we received orders to move, and 8 o'clock the following morning
the first train pulled out of Herne and headed through Hamm and Bielafeld into
Letter, Germany, a small village just outside of Hanover. It was there we had
the best of everything - C and K rations to eat, living in the box cars in a rail-way yard where we had nothing but chlorinated water to drink, and our sanitary..' facilities consisted of a neatly dug straddle-trench. This was finally improved to a ten-hole bench over a six foot hole, and we always found that the best rumors "came from hole No.4 - one rumor even went so far as to predict that we were going to return to Antwerp, which was one that was just too good to believe. Here we were assigned a railroad that had four of the main bridges blown out, so we were told that we would have to wait around for more than a month before the line would be opened. That, of course, gave us little to do in the way of work, and, not a man permitted to, fraternize with the German people, and not having even a movie for entertainment, life was rather miserable
Surprisingly, we found the German civilians well dressed and apparently not
hurting from lack of food while we couldn't associate with them, they all appeared to want to be friendly, and in business dealings with' them they were quick to inform us that they were strictly anti-Nazi (which was. only the natural thing to say, I suppose), but they simply couldn't be trusted and, of course, we had no way of knowing whether they were telling the truth or not. The women all were nicely clothed, and even wore silk stockings, which just weren't seen in Belgium The country itself would remind you a lot of the States in terrain and. scenic beauty with its streams and rolling countryside, and the vast farmlands that were every-I where adjacent ,to the railroad right of way. It goes without saying, though, that in the minds of everyone of us, no place on earth could even begin to equal our own United States.
On June 6 that rumor from stool No.4 blossomed into a reality - we were
going back to Antwerp, and at 6 PM the 7th we pulled out of Letter enroute to our old buzz-bomb alley. We followed practically the same route on the return trip a son the previous trip except that we returned via the Duisburg Bridge instead of
over the Wesel bridge. As the train transporting Headquarters Company was leaving Munchen Gladbach on the morning of June 9 one of the cars in the train in which some cooks were riding left the rails, and before the train had stopped that car had turned over on its side, and had pulled the following four cars off the track. Fortunately, no one was injured seriously - the worst hurt being our Executive Officer, Major Rust, who jumped from the kitchen car as it sideswiped a cut of cars on an adjacent track, and he suffered a sprained ankle
After leaving Munchen-Gladbach the train headed through Holland, and as
we neared the German-Holland border we got a good view from the train of the strong. Fortifications that the Germans had placed all along the Siegfried line preparatory to our entry into their "vaderland" Scores of pillboxes lined the border, but there wasn't one that escaped complete destruction at the hands of our armies. Even in the yards of the homes near the border concrete pillboxes had been built, and strong tank barricades that had been broken through in several places were still standing. About 7 PM June 9 we caught our last glimpse of Germany as our train headed into Holland with a helper engine on the rear of the train to help us over the heavy grades.
The ride through Holland was without a doubt the most beautiful we had anywhere. The railroad was undamaged, and the train made wonderful time. The rolling hills lined with spotless homes roofed with red tile made as scenic a picture as any artist ever painted The minute we crossed the border the tracks were lined with hundreds of people - men, women and children - many of them waving the Dutch flag to make sure we recognized them. It was really grand to get back to a country where we could wave at the people and chat with the few that could speak English
Our last memory of Germany is the fields of poppies that lined the right of way. To me it seemed rather phenomenal that those fields of red poppies were mingled with blue "range robins" and white shasta daisies - - with those three dynamic colors proudly raising their heads as a constant reminder to the German people that discord with the people who live under those colors can only lead to the death, destruction and complete defeat in which they now live.
Now we are back in Antwerp on our old assignment. Billets are no longer available, and most of us are still living in the railroad cars we acquired in Germany and which we have made quite livable. Quite a few are stationed in tents at Camp Beven, located at Antwerp North Yard. We now have a new Commanding Officer, Major Charles E. Breternitz, and are all enjoying life as much as could be expected so many miles from home. Now that the atomic bomb has set the rising sun, we have high hopes of a quick return to the land of "milk and honey". The record we made in delivering the goods to our buddies on the front lines we leave behind us as a standing memorial to those eight men in our unit who so bravely gave their lives to make that record possible and May God rest their souls!
Sincerely,