A Journey of Survival


My Memoir of World War II



Raymond Witges

March 12, 2000



My name is Raymond A. Witges. I live in rural Southern Illinois--Scheller, Illinois. I am shown in this picture with my loving wife of 52 years--Rita. I am 81 years old and I would like to tell my World War II story.

I served in the Medical Section of the 830th Engineer Aviation Battalion, 925th Engineer Aviation Regiment of the 9th Air Force (European Operations) and 8th Air Force (in England). I fought in the ETO (European Theater of Operation) against Hitler's German Army in World War II.

I can be reached at this address: Raymond Witges, 1856 N. Scheller Lane, Scheller, Ill 62883 Phone: 618-496-5680. (My daughter has an email address which you may use to contact me: phillipsbob27 at yahoo.com ) Please contact me if you have questions, comments, or stories to share. I will do everything I can to respond.

Here is the story of my World War II experiences--"A Journey of Survival."

Part I: My Journey in World War II--Leading Up to the Front Line Campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, and Central Europe.

War was declared on December 7, 1941 and my choice was to leave Southern Illinois University and enlist in the Army.

Perhaps it is best that my initial reaction was to try and form some plan to choose the branch of service in which I could plan to survive a war. After leaving St. Louis on the way to Peoria, Ill., I found that, at Peoria, I was sworn into the U.S. Army (February 5, 1942). My training shaped up at Camp Grant, Rockford, Illinois as a medic assigned to the U.S. Army;

Raymond Witges at Fort Grant, Rockford, Illinois, USA, 1942
[On right in lighter clothing]

however, there was a chance to go into a specialist school in which I graduated as a motor mechanic. We had our forced 21-mile march, bivouacs and close order drills. Here I met some soldier friends that I would really like to contact because I have a hunch that they took their training and had pictures made with me in the Spring of 1942 at Camp Grant. I believe that I recognize two Malmedy survivors (from war annals pictures). I would be grateful if anyone could contact me because I have a deep feeling for these men that survived the Malmedy Massacre in the Battle of the Bulge.

What is the next hope and expectation? We boarded a troop train at Rockford and headed to Boise, Idaho. Our train was powered by one of the latest and fastest of the newer streamlined steam locomotives. When we reached Cheyenne, Wyoming, two mountain climber locomotives took over the final task and pulled our train to Boise, Idaho.

At Gowen Field, Boise, our unit was activated as the 830th Engineer Aviation Battalion. Our Battalion consisted of Headquarters Company (Co.), Co. A, Co. B, and Co. C of which 850 men were the norm. The Medical Section attached to the 830th consisted of 14 men. My assignment was with Headquarters Company as a Medic that would take over in many emergencies of the Battalion Aid station.

Gowen Field at Boise prompted thoughts of the whys and wherefores of military life. Military planes were lost crossing the Rockies on their way for training at Boise. We were uncertain of events because so many men were going to the Pacific war against Japan.

After Gowen Field, our unit was organized and we were surprised to find we were heading East towards Fort Dix, New Jersey.

After Fort Dix, we headed for New York harbor where the liner Normandy was laying partially submerged and the cruise liner Queen Elizabeth was loading for a fast solitary trip with thousands of troops. We loaded on the ship, Pride of the Pacific, to join the convoy at Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Our convoy was formed at Halifax and the harbor was guarded by a submarine net just in case there would be an attack. Our convoy finally headed to sea with Reigina Del Pacifica in the center with the Battleship New York and the heavy cruiser Augusta guarding our right and left sides. Several destroyers were mingling among all ships--including merchant ships and oil tankers. At the lookout, any sign of a periscope was passed on and depth charges were launched by destroyers. The depth charges were, it appeared to me, the size of a 50-gallon oil drum. Our ship sounded like we were scraping rocks as the charges exploded. The German "Wolf Packs" usually would sink oil tankers at the tail end of the convoy. Our trip across the Atlantic lasted 13 days and many were sick from being at sea and eating British rations which we didn't consider appropriate in our bringing up--such as potatoes, brussells sprouts, and mutton. So much for our trip of 13 days in crossing the Atlantic! Finally, we arrived at our port of debarkation in Liverpool, England.

Part Two: Experiences in England.

From Liverpool, we were traveling to Nuthampstead, England, about 45 miles north of London. Our assignment was to clear a forest and build a bomber base that would accommodate B-17's. Our battalion symbol was a flying eight ball because our mission was "fastest with the mostest."

At Nuthampstead, from September 1942 to July 1943, our men worked in deep mud, clearing the forests and pouring concrete. Our medical headquarters was located in a Quonset building and we were available at all times of the day to our engineers. For the most part, we had very few scares from Hitler's Luftwaffe. I remember the dedication of the air base and the formation of B-17 bomber airplanes and the high officers of the 8th Air Force--acknowledging a remarkable achievement.

I had many chances to visit the big bomber base, 8th Air Force, at Bassingbourne; this base was the headquarters of the commander of the 8th Air Force--Ira Eakers. I saw his plane being serviced with new engines and it had quite a history for being the command plane and the first B-17 bomber to attack the German submarine pens across the Channel. This plane impressed me so much that I vividly remember its name-- "Yankee Doodle."

The Bassingbourne base had so many memories because I would watch the B-17s assemble and join their formation heading for Germany. One day I watched the planes coming back from Germany when one B-17 pulled on a ramp and the crew ditched the plane as the nose started smoking; in a short time, flames consumed the main body, nearly to the wings, until foam was used to put out the fire. I stood by as a medic, just in case there would be a need. Machine gun bullets (in the plane) were exploding like pop corn.

Bassingbourne had quite a history and it was home base to the famous plane, the "Memphis Belle." Naturally, I held the men at the air base in my heart because they were the youth of our country. During my passes to London I would always catch a train at Royston, near Bassingbourne air base. I would engage a conversation while on the train with many air men and they would tell stories of their daring attacks--they would fly under bridges to flee while they attacked the railroads and Germans. I told them, "I'll see you next week," but I knew that many would never return; the loss rate was about 10% at this time.

One time I was heading for the Red Cross Club in London when the London sirens let out their rising and descending wails. I stayed outside to watch the searchlights; then the anti-aircraft guns opened up on a formation of Henkle III bombers. I reasoned that if the anti-aircraft guns were manned by young women, I could at least take my chances and watch the action. I then heard a "woowah, woowah" sound of the planes' engines as the Luftwaffe dropped a bomb--and the whistle before the bomb's explosion that rocked the building like an earthquake about a block away! The next weekend I viewed a building where the bomb had hit and people were still digging away rubble--it had been a church.

On one of my many passes, I decided to visit Edinburgh and Glasgow, Scotland. I wanted to see the Firth of Forth bridge and the shipyard where the Queen (ship) was built. As I started to walk toward the shipyard, a jeep pulled up nearby and the military police asked me to jump in. I related to them where I was going; they told me that many soldiers were "rolled" (robbed) in this area and it would be to my advantage to clear away. After I saw Edinburgh Castle and Glasgow, I boarded a train, "The Flying Scotchman," the world's fastest steam locomotive, and headed for London. The engine never stopped on the long fast trip. It took up water along the way by using a curved scoop that picked up water from a long trough as the engine sped along. When I arrived at London, I wanted to see this remarkable locomotive engine that broke the speed record. The drive wheels were immense--much taller than myself--over 6 feet. The crank that drove the wheels was near the axle to give it speed.

After my London arrival, I took a taxi to the Red Cross Club--where an area about a block square was burning. The taxi driver said there were a few unexploded bombs to drive around. At the club, an incendiary bomb had burrowed about a 3-inch hole in the registration counter. A fire had started and a lady at the club said that sand was used to put out the fire bomb. How lucky can a guy get to just miss an air raid?

Our next air base was Watton, England (in July 1943). At Watton, our boys (engineers) did maintenance work at the base and we, as medics, did our usual duties. Here at Watton, the British medical headquarters had a complete pharmacy to which I had access. I was able to obtain a full quota of drugs that went with us through the war. Our doctor insisted that we take advantage of the full quota in our portable medical cabinet (which I fashioned and build for quick access and delivery). We were thinking of preparation for an invasion--and driving the GMC 6x6 truck (a 6 wheel, 2 1/2 ton truck) was my duty. Supervising the tents, stretchers and all the equipment for a Battalion aid station was also merging in our plans.

At Watton, I had an unusual experience--seeing a B 17 bomber parked near the hanger. The fuselage near the side gunner had a hold that you could have shoved a full-sized refrigerator through. On the ground, a mass of blood and water covered an area about 30 foot square. I theorized that a German 88 anti-aircraft shell had exploded and tore open the immense hole. A poor tail gunner in the rear was apparently killed by a 30 caliber bullet: part of his skull and brains were still spattered above the turret. What a way to go with one bullet hole . . .

Part Three: On to Omaha Beach

In July 1944 we headed for Southhampton (England) after field training under simulated battle conditions. Planted charges of dynamite were touched off as we practiced advances across an open field in formations that were spread out. We would hit the ground and roll to confuse the enemy.

I can't remember exactly how or when the GMC 6x6 was loaded in the LCT (Landing Craft Tank--a big flat-bottomed boat with a drive-off ramp at its end) at Southhampton harbor. I do remember my first encounter with a "buzz" bomb; it sounded like a large racing electric motor. When the bomb exploded, the ground shook in our tent. I shall never forget one infantry man who set up in his tent and said, exact words, "Goddamn, a buzz bomb!"

At the harbor, we were rammed by an ocean-going freighter that tore a hold in the side of our LCT, about 4-foot square, as it spun us around. I figured I would jump out after the LCT started to sink so I wouldn't be cut up by the freighter's propellers. As luck would have it, I survived and we laid up in the harbor as welders repaired the hole. Another stroke of luck--in the area where our LCT craft was struck, there was a double-walled fuel compartment. Our craft didn't sink.

We were now on our way across the Channel to Normandy, France. About midway, the chaplain's assistant offered some prayers and asked for guidance--as the sounds of gunfire grew and became more vivid. I did a final check on the GMC 6x6 to seal the gear housings and the ignition against water.

Our LCT was just one of the many among the masses of ships heading for Omaha Beach. Our LCT stopped about 3 to 4 hundred yards from the shore--I figured I would be driving in about 6 feet of water; to my amazement, the tide receded and I drove off on a sandy shore. I guess luck was with me again because there were plenty of shell "holes" to dodge.

As I drove on the beach, I heard the big guns and I drove past a pile of teller mines about 20 feet across and ten feet high--I estimated several thousand.

It was July 7 at Omaha Beach when I headed for Carentan (France), 21 miles west--the front was stalled because of heavy fighting. According to the war-related annals, I heard shells from the heavy cruiser Augusta and the battleship New York--shelling at 25 miles.

I had a close buddy that went with me through the many dangers that lay ahead. He would always be there to offer help and we had quite a few experiences: some memorable, some not too pleasant. At Carentan, we dug a foxhole big enough for both of us and slept in it for about a week. Our Major, the second in command of the Battalion, approached me with a fire bomb and said, "The Germans are planning an attack at midnight and they intend to cut the peninsula in two." He said that we would not be able to save the vehicles if the Germans broke through so we were to ignite the bombs by the intake manifolds--then the Germans couldn't use any of the vehicles for repairs. As luck would have it, I heard the "squeege" sound of tanks and heavy machine gun fire around midnight. We were apprehensive--playing a waiting game--while battleship shells were saving the day for us against the Germans. How lucky could we get! The German drive failed and, after a few days, we were headed north of Carentan going towards and through Montebourg (France).

The city of Montebourg was totally leveled to rubble and the only thing I could view standing was a statue of Joan of Arc on a horse. The stench of decaying flesh was quite apparent as I drove the GMC through the town and headed for Lessay (France). By this time, the Germans were trapped and surrendered the Port of Cherbourg (France). We traveled to Lessay; here we had many memories.

Part Four: The "Nitty Gritty" of War

At Lessay (France), a quite modern air base, our commander told everyone to stop and pick up shrapnel because about 6 vehicle tires were punctured as a result of heavy shell fire before we arrived. Shrapnel was everywhere.

At Lessay, I got a call to try and rescue two soldiers that were wounded or maybe killed in a minefield. A soldier had come through the minefield alive and told us where to find the men. The men in our Battalion always called me "Widge" (a nickname for my name Witges) and they knew that was the short cut way of calling me personally. We started in the minefield at about 11 p.m. and the engineers, after clearing away several mines, approached the men about 1 a.m. The engineers said, "Widge, we can't help you anymore, we are picking up everything." My good buddy and myself had two stretchers with us to carry the wounded. Both soldiers were dead. An S mine had exploded between the two: one was wounded in the buttocks with steel balls from the mine; the other, hard to say, because his frontal area was burnt and burning from the blast. Thus continued my initiation to combat, and there was extreme danger due to the mines and trip wires.

Another thing, the two dead soldiers that my buddy and I carried out of the minefield, were close and dear friends of mine--they did such wonderful jobs of preparing meals at Headquarters Company. I knew them quite personally because of daily kitchen inspections for the health of the Battalion. Such a loss of life, I will never forget. I will always remember their faces.

Our engineers kept up the work at Lessay air base. One of the vehicles which was deadly to attacking German aircraft was a four-barrel, 50 caliber turret-controlled machine gun, mounted on a rubberized half-track vehicle capable of high speed travel.

One day, two planes approached the base and machine gun tracers from the planes began to rain from the sky. The pilots put the planes in a stall and each one baled out above the base. The bullets were coming my way in an arc that told me in my mind--"you'd better duck!" Just in time! I watched the ground erupt with bullet holes where, a few seconds before, I had been standing! How is that for luck? I was now watching behind a silo structure in front of a chateau. I was told later that the pilots were our own fliers and it was a case of mistaken identity since one was guiding another whose radio had gone out. The German planes could easily be mistaken for ours because the Focke Wulf 190 and the Messerschmitt 109 were prominent at this time.

We were about to leave Lessay and head for an apple orchard that was cleared to make an emergency landing strip to evacuate the wounded. When I arrived there were about 30 men on stretchers. One German and one U.S. soldier were laying side by side. Many were smoking cigarettes. They were ready to be loaded into two engine transports to be taken to England.

This was my taste of the "nitty gritty" of war.

Part Five: Breakthrough to Paris

At the apple orchard strip, I watched our bombers as they made their attack on Saint Lo (France). From my vantage point, I saw formation after formation of B-17 bombers with fighter planes circling the formations. To my amazement, I saw three B-17s spiraling downward towards the ground. I guessed the planes to be at about 40,000 foot altitude and about seven miles away from my viewpoint on the ground. As the planes spiraled downward, I saw no parachutes open. I guessed that there were about 30 men who must have lost their life in such a brief time--10 men in each plane.

While I was in Normandy (northern region of France), I went to an American cemetery to view the spectacle of approaching burial. One long trench was carefully dug about a quarter of a mile in length and all soldiers were neatly arranged in body bags. Records were being checked while a road grader was idling nearby--ready for the grim task of burial.

I also visited a German cemetery with a 25 acre field filled with wooden crosses. While I was there, a 6x6 truck with about 30 German dead was readied for the somber task of burial. I only saw a few grave diggers digging the traditional individual grave as a soldier's final resting place. When I think back, I can only wonder why so many Germans were forced to say "Heil Hitler" and "Seig Heil." Obedience to "Der Fuerher!" A grim reminder, isn't it.

After the bomber attack on Saint Lo, our soldiers made a breakthrough and the 90 miles to Paris was made at break neck speed. Patton's 3rd Army was giving the Germans a taste of their own invasion medicine by encircling and cutting them off. That is why our Aviation Engineers were right up there--at many times with the tanks and the infantry--to ready the airfields for fighter bases. Of all the fighter planes, one in particular caught my eye as the one to watch--the P-47 Thunderbolt.

Two high officers from the 925 Engineer Aviation Regiment were scouting an airport near Paris when they were ambushed and killed by the Germans. I talked to the master Sergeant who was the driver of the command car that viewed the action: he tried to save their lives but only he got out alive. Most officers, like Patton, carried minimal personal protection--only pistols. I can only surmise that this must have been "the way it was."

At the breakthrough, we were traveling at high speed. I was "chewed out" for not "floorboarding the son of a bitch" GMC 6x6 fully loaded truck through the mass destruction at Saint Lo.

We stopped at Mont Saint Michel, between Normandy and Brittany peninsula. As we were at the monastery we could see the smoke and hear the guns battling the Germans in the final phases at Brittany to the south. Now on to Paris and the next stop at Villaroche (France) air base.

Part Six: What Would Happen Next?

I can't exactly tell you the route we took by Paris. I believe it was west and south and then crossing the Seine River, east of Paris, on the way to Villaroche, France. We crossed the river about 3 a.m. and arrived at Villaroche airbase some time during morning light.

At the air base we had strict orders to not touch any switches because they were wired to a master switch leading to a massive munitions dump. We sat tight and waited until all was cleared by the aviation engineers.

One of our trucks headed back towards Paris for supplies about 7:30 a.m. The Seine River bridge that was used that morning was blown up later in the day--thus disrupting the truck's return trip.

At Villaroche, I am not sure if it was the 82nd or the 101st airborne troops that were being readied for combat farther east. I could feel the tension because I knew what they were probably going through; the front was moving rapidly eastward. Many German army groups surrendered at this time and we were ready to pick up our equipment and "get going."

As we moved towards Verdun (France), we could still see the trench markings from World War I. We stopped as the P-47 Thunderbolts dive-bombed about a mile ahead of us--dropping 500-pound bombs and turning the 50 caliber machine guns on--using them as a brake--then going nearly straight up again in the air. Every plane made it okay. No losses--what a break! And what praise for these flyers!

After Villaroche, we settled in the city of Giramount (France) for the major part of winter, September 1944. Our dispensary, or Battalion aid station, was apparently the focal point of the entire city--in a theater building. A landing strip northeast of the city of Giramount was "no mans land." The city was in the front line and several infantry men were killed by being "nosey." They had to go and talk to their buddies--unaware that the most deadly guns (German 88 guns) of World War II were zeroed in to particular spots to blow someone away.

While at Giramount, a group of our boys were at a barracks in Chernay, west of Giramount. These guys were lucky! The largest railroad gun in World War II lofted a shell that burrowed a hole in the barracks about 8 inches or more across--and the shell didn't explode! Now I remember the story of "Schindler's List" and how Schindler made shells (purposely bad ones) for the Germans.

Patton was running so fast in pursuit of the Germans that his fuel supply had trouble catching up with him!

Our aviation engineers were patching wherever they could to help get air bases in operation. I was kept mostly in a case of bewilderment because I knew so little of what would happen next. I do know that when we went back and forth to the city of Giramount, we had better know the "password." A guard would put a shell in his rifle chamber and yell "password." This was "it" until we moved to the battle action at Metz.

Part Seven: At Metz

We went through Thionville on the way to Metz (France). After crossing the Moselle River, we turned and headed to our right. I was driving the GMC 6x6 and observed a tank with a machine gunner pointing a 50 caliber machine gun from a turret. The tank's gun was covering (protecting) two soldiers as they advanced door-to-door clearing snipers. There was considerable fire from the German burp guns but, thank God, there was nobody killed while I was driving by the side street on the way to the air base.

At the air base, we were shelled by the Germans who were firing 75 millimeter guns at random from Fort Driant (France) at the west bank of the Moselle river. Our guys turned the table on the Germans by using two captured famous German 88 millimeter guns to silence the guns at Fort Driant. The Germans were fighting for survival and made efforts at night to supply their men or drop bombs on our aviation engineers.

One night, our anti-aircraft guns were firing intensely while we were sleeping in a barracks about 200 yards from the 8,000 foot runway. The German planes dropped 7 bombs on the runway which created holes about 10 feet across and 6 feet deep. Would you believe that I didn't know about the damage? I had slept through it all! Just a part of war . . . .

Our Major asked me how many German planes were shot down around Metz. I told him I didn't know. He replied, "two or three." He said that the next day we would be getting a crack anti-aircraft unit and they would put up concentrated aerial bursts over Metz. The next time I saw him, he told me that 10 or 11 German planes were shot down. This was obviously the difference a crack unit could make!

Raymond Witges at Metz in front of German war plane
[On left in darker clothing]

Our aviation engineers worked desperately preparing the Metz runway and were taking a rest from overwork on New Year's morning, January 1945. Then it occurred:

We had moved our medical headquarters to a more modern SS barracks north of Metz. I heard a noise outside--and, looking up, I saw a squadron of German Messerschmitt 109 fighter planes heading along the Moselle River towards our air base. "All hell broke loose" as the fighters made a pass at our air base where 37 of our P-47 planes were parked like sitting ducks! I thought I should go to the air base; I saw a ME 109 clearly heading back north and I watched him dive towards the ground, sending up a puff of black smoke. Our air base was the most hated by the Germans because from here our 365th fighter squadron was taking out (destroying) German tanks and motorized vehicles in the "Battle of the Bulge."

The surprise New Year's day attack by the German fighters had done much damage. The German fighters, on their first pass had done the damage but, as they turned, 11 were shot down and the other 14 were chased down by our fighters and didn't make it back. I remember that 37 of our P-47 planes were destroyed at the air base by the sneak surprise attack. All the planes burning and the wreckage of planes destroyed really was imprinted upon me. Yet, good luck was with us--not a single man on our side was killed!

Within the next few days, I watched as P-47s took off from our air base with their 500-pound bombs and full complement of rockets and machine guns. The planes were about ten feet off the ground before they finally cleared the runway. Everyone needed a prayer as the airmen headed for Luxemburg where the big guns were sounding. You could hear them in the distance.

One day, I got a call that I should come quickly to the Metz main gate. When my buddy and I arrived, a soldier was completely shredded and looked like a char-broiled burger; I was surprised that there was a significant absence of blood as we loaded the soldier on a stretcher to be taken to the grave registration site. Another soldier had had his face blown away--you could see the facial skeletal bones of the forehead, eyes, nose, and mouth. I had help loading him into the ambulance as he was still alive--moaning, "ugh . . ugh . . ." I knew that the evacuation hospital was nearby--as I could not help him here. After a high-speed siren drive northeast of Metz, the soldier was still alive. I heard later that the poor guy had lived for two weeks. No one can really know what explosives can do unless you see, as I did, the horrors our soldiers encountered from mines and "booby traps."

I happened to be looking west at Fort Driant and saw about a dozen bed sheets come out on the hillside--this was the white flag surrender of the German-held Fort. A convoy of our army trucks headed towards the Fort's hillside to pick up the surrendered German troops. the surrendered German troops.

In closing my experience at Metz air base, I was amazed at the amount of damaged German aircraft and hangers laid waste. I also had the experience of being shot at by a sniper in a bordering pine road southwest of the air base. The bullet hit a limb nearby and made a "zing" sound; this put the fright and haste in me--and luck saved me again.

Now, after Metz, a state of destruction and confusion lay ahead.

Part Eight: The Rhineland Campaign Intensifies

As I was driving the ambulance back from the usual duties as a Medic, I was surprised to see so many tanks heading north of Thionville on the road towards Luxembourg. Every tank was driven with precision in a straight line and the interval was perfect. Even though the road was snow covered, Patton's tanks kept a steady pace north. Several tanks were coming back from the front and they were in and out of the ditches as if they were demoralized. I can't imagine what group this was.

A short time after, the tanks of Patton's group engaged the Germans in battle; the "Siege of Bastogne" ended and the Germans were in wholesale retreat. According to the annals of war history, a statement was made that the Germans lost 800 tanks and armored vehicles out of a possible 1,000.

Now it was time for us to move north and east from Luxembourg. As a delaying action, the Germans were experts at demolition of bridges and setting up their 88 guns--deadly up to several miles. Our soldiers were called on to advance and fight the Germans. Our Aviation Engineers were even called into action. I have no idea how many or who were the casualties of war in our group. I suppose the hush of casualties was the best for morale.

We would come to a town completely destroyed and then another not destroyed entirely. The town of Duren (Germany) was completely destroyed. Aachen (Germany), partially destroyed, was a brief stop for us while we organized our march east in the Rhineland Campaign.

After Aachen (Germany), we viewed destruction of factories, homes, and strategic bridges. We traveled northward on the west bank of the Rhine River. We passed Cologne (Germany) and headed north toward Krefeld (Germany) and stopped at the city of Verdingen (Germany) near Krefeld. The Germans blew all the Rhine River bridges and we found we were in the British and Canadian sector, waiting to engineer some type of pontoon crossing over the Rhine. The River was a quarter of a mile across at Wesel (Germany).

At Verdingen, the following episodes took place: our commander got an order from the German force across the river that they (the Germans) would start shelling Verdingen beginning at noon the following day. We were to evacuate all German civilians according to international law. The home I was scheduled to inform was occupied by a German woman in about her mid 40's. After speaking to her in German, I was so impressed by her kindness towards me. She asked that I come to the basement of her home and she showed me a picture of her 19 year-old son who had been killed flying in the German Luftwaffe. While we were talking, she showed me the water-powered washing machine and the pot-bellied, coke-fired water heater. (Can a person have hatred after viewing all the death and destruction--knowing that both sides suffered so terribly?) This lady was sincere when she asked if I would take care of her home. I assured her that I would take care of everything as long as I was there. As you can expect, the lady was hauled away; the shelling started promptly at 12 noon the next day. Shells were coming in regularly at about 3-minute intervals. The shelling was a lot like lightening strikes--some close, some further--no one could predict.

Part Nine: Close Calls

At Verdingen, there were again close calls and all the fears that mounted from being in the Front. But, call me lucky. The German shelling of Verdingen had been intense for several days. At one point I stepped outside of a German home to urinate back of a huge maple tree near the home. Just at that moment a shell exploded and tore away the home's tile roof and ripped the bark of the maple tree. The shell's explosion sounded like a strike of lightening 10 feet away! But the tree took the blast and I survived!

Another episode also occurred at Verdingen when my buddy and I were walking away from our evening meal. We heard the whistling of a bomb and then the blast that almost knocked us down. I had no idea that there were two blasts to a bomb--the first from the bomb that was pushing us away and the second, when the air comes rushing back! This bomb killed 21 soldiers in a nearby infantry group and had hit about a block away.

Another episode occurred during heavy machine gun fire at the Rhine River--about 400 yards from me. A pedestrian railroad overpass was my way of viewing what was going on--where, why, and by whom. Call me "nosey, " but I was on this overpass, glassing (using binoculars) to view the east side of the Rhine. I suddenly saw the blast of a German 88 gun several miles away and it was pointed directly at me! A pause ensued, then the shell flew directly over my head--coming dangerously close--making its heavy whirring sound. I escaped uninjured--lucky again!

I drove the ambulance along the Rhine and our big guns were shelling Germans across the Rhine. Our group had 105 or 155 heavy artillery and were shelling an intersection 21 miles across the Rhine. A plane was spotting for the gunners. I boarded the ambulance with door glass rolled down. I drove away just as the big guns began firing--the muzzle blast from the guns felt like I had been kicked in the head!

Part Ten: The End Is In Sight!

Crossing the Rhine at Wesel (Germany) was next, at the British and Canadian sector. The pontoon bridge had soldiers with rifles; they fired a steady barrage at any chip floating on the River--just in case there would be explosives or snorkels floating. The bridge crossing was uneventful.

We went through Munster (Germany) across the Rhine and headed for a point of encirclement at Paderborn (Germany). While on our way to Paderborn, we came to an intersection where a German civilian was standing. The Major, our commander of the medics, asked me to stop and ask the German the direction to Paderborn; the German replied "Gerate Aus," meaning "straight ahead." The Major said, "Widge, do you believe he is telling the truth?" I answered that I thought he was being truthful. The Major said, "maybe we should turn right." Well, we drove straight ahead. And would you believe that, according to war history, there were 350,000 Germans entrapped straight ahead--East of the Rhine! As we drove ahead to Paderborn we could hear the tank battles that were, the war annals say, the largest tank battles of World War II.

The trap was closed at Paderborn when the southern sector under Patton joined with our group. A short time later, the Germans collapsed--out of fuel, out of mobility, out of airplanes, and out of morale. Germany surrendered at Reims, France on May 7, 1945.

Regrettably, General Rose, Patton's ablest tank commander, was killed at Paderborn. General Rose and General Patton were to be remembered as brilliant tacticians in mobile warfare.

In concluding, I would like to say: God bless all the people who did so much to win the war: land, sea, and air. I honor you.

Sincerely, Raymond A. Witges, Medical Section, 830th Engineer Aviation Battalion.

Post Script

Here is material that came from my Honorable Discharge:

Raymond A. Witges
Technician 4, Medical Section, 830th Eng Avn Bn
From 5 Feb 42, Peoria, Ill. Discharged: 10 October 1945
Military Occupational Specialty (Surgical technician 861)
Battles and Campaigns: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland-Central Europe
Decorations and Citations: Good Conduct Medal G.O. 4 830 Engr 1943
European-African-Middle Eastern Theater
Ribbon w/4 Bronze Battle Stars; 6 overseas
Service bars. 1 service stripe.
Wounds received in action: none.
Highest grade held: Staff Sergeant

____________________________________________________________ Copyright Notice: This war memoir is copyrighted. No materials shall be used from this account without my written permission.
This summarizes only some of the war experiences--there were many unrelated war episodes left out of my "journey."--Raymond Witges.

A daughter speaks: In bringing my father's story to the world-wide audience of the Internet, I wish to thank Bob Phillips who so graciously gave of his time and technical expertise in setting up this web page. See also by Bob Military Insignia (mostly pre-WWII)