Oral history interview of Robert L. Ernst

Veterans History Project: Oral History Interviews
Oral history interview of Robert L. Ernst
Brown, Myers
Ernst, Robert L., 1911-2004
Date of Original:
World War, 1939-1945--Personal narratives, American
Artillery--United States
World War, 1939-1945--Chemical warfare
Mortars (Ordnance)--United States
4.2 Mortars
Hays, George Price, 1892-1978
Patton, George S. (George Smith), 1885-1945
Dole, Robert J., 1923-
United States. Army. Mountain Division, 10th
United States. Army--Artillery
Walther Arms
Edgewood Arsenal (Md.)
United States. Army Air Forces
Herbert Smart Airport (Macon, Ga.)
United States. Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944
United States, Georgia, Atlanta Metropolitan Area, 33.8498, 84.4383
United States, Virginia, Prince George County, Camp Lee, 37.25868905, -77.32572788978945
United States, Georgia, Bibb County, Camp Wheeler, 32.8262498, -83.5585118
United States, Colorado, Eagle County, Camp Hale, 39.425108, -106.319979
Italy, 42.833333, 12.833333
Germany, Bavaria, 48.790447, 11.497889
United States, Georgia, 32.75042, -83.50018
video recordings (physical artifacts)
In this interview, Robert Ernst describes his experiences in the Army in Europe during World War II. He was a member of the U.S. Army's ski troops and trained at Camp Hale, Colorado. His unit fought in Italy and Germany.
Robert L. Ernst was an Army officer in Italy and Germany during World War II.
ROBERT ERNST VETERANS HISTORY PROJECT ATLANTA HISTORY CENTER Interview Date: Interviewer: Myers Brown Transcribed by: Stephanie McKinnell ROBERT ERNST: My son has asked me repeatedly what it was like, Daddy, during the war, and I answer him, son, what week are you talking about. I was in the army three years, what week are you talking about, what day. Also, in the day, what time are you talking about. Are you talking about 4 a.m. in the morning when we started fighting or are you talking about 5 p.m. when we had to count how many casualties we had. Quite particularly if the Germans stopped. So it was impossible for me to tell you or describe what it's like if you look at a man, see his arm blown off, picked up, and put into an ambulance. I can't tell you that. I can just give you other things during the war. What it's like in combat, no one can tell you. MYERS BROWN: The first thing we're going to do is, if you would, just tell us your full name, place of birth, and date of birth. RE: My full name is Robert Louis L-o-u-i-s Ernst E-r-n-s-t. I was born, brought up in Manhattan, New York City, right in the middle. Down here in Georgia, I'm a yankee. October 28, 1911. I'm 87. I'll be in 88 in two months. MB: When did you move down to the Atlanta area? RE: Five years ago. The only reason we moved is that practically all our friends either died or went to Florida. So we went down here and especially, we have two children and two grandchildren living in Atlanta, and we love Atlanta very much. MB: What age were you, did you get drafted, did you volunteer? RE: I volunteered, if I could, to get into the ski troops because I was a skier since 1936. The ski troops, which is the 10th Division, has the highest IQ of any army division there is, including Marines or Navy, only because all the skiers came from colleges, or they were ski instructors. Like Walter Prago was a ski instructor at Dartmouth. Many of these ski instructors from Europe, particularly Switzerland, came over here and they enlisted in the 10th Division. We had, the beginning of it, we had to have men enlist who weren't skiers. At the beginning, we were called the Light, 10th Mountain Light Division because we didn't have enough skiers at that time for a heavy one. We only had at that time about 8,000. It got more and more, and we finally got up to 14,000 men in the division. That included mule skinners [?]. We had mules in the snow where we trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, at 9,000 feet up to 14,000 feet. So only mules can get up there. Little cars could only go a certain amount up the hills, and the mules did the rest. We also had dogs. We had 500 mules and 60 dogs. The dogs sometimes took light provisions up in the snow. That was the way the 10th Division prospered. MB: What year did you enlist? RE: 1943. Barely 1943. MB: You were telling us you enlisted in 1943. What prompted your enlistment then? RE: Well, as I say, there's a right way and the wrong way and the Army way. When I enlisted, I said I wanted to go to the ski troops. When I went to, the sergeant looked at me as if I was nuts, crazy. Infantry, you're nuts. So as a result, I was sent to quartermaster in Camp Lee, Virginia, for basic training. So when I got through with basic training, I went to OCS in quartermaster. The day before I was to appear, I was called in front of a sergeant, a colonel rather, with four other enlisted men who were due to be in the OCS quartermaster. The colonel says, how would you like to go to OCS in chemical warfare. The four of us says, no thank you, we want what we wanted here, quartermaster. He said, a truck will pick you up in one hour and send you over to Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland. You will go to OCS in that, chemical warfare. That's the Army, see. So after I graduated from OCS, we went down to Herbert Swan Air Base in Georgia, and when I was down there, we were given a leave of absence. So when I went home, one day I was walking on Broadway on 48th Street and I met a man who was a skier. He was in his ‘40's so he wasn't in the Army. He was an old friend of mine. He said, what in the world are you doing here? I said to him, I wanted to go into the ski troops but I can't get in. He said, “I'm one of the men who is getting the men into the ski troops at Camp Hale, Colorado. What's your number, where are you?” I told him where I was, Herbert Swan Air Base. “When you get down there, when will you be there?” In two days. “In two days, when you get down there, you'll be transferred to the 5th Division.” OK, thank you very much. I said to myself, yeah sure, you're full of . . . . I got down there 6 o'clock in the morning at Camp Lee, Virginia. I had to be there by 7 otherwise I went AWOL. When I checked in, the man says, you got a big envelope here. “Let me have it, it's from the War Department.” “You are hereby transferred to the ski troops at Camp Hale, Colorado. I says, check me out. He says, what are you crazy, you're going to go to infantry. I says yeah, I'm going to go to infantry. Well, OK, go out. So I got a hitch into Macon into the railroad station. At the railroad station I said, I have to go Denver, Colorado, how do I get there? He says, well, we don't have a train until tomorrow for you to get on. I said, I'm sure you've got some trains with troops on them, troop trains. He says, yes, one is coming through in about ten minutes. So I took out a five dollar bill from my wallet. I said, I'll bet you any amount of money you can stop that train so I can hop on. He took the five dollars. He went out and put the flag down. When the train came in nine minutes, it stopped. The operator of the railroad, the engineer says, what's the matter. He says, do you need any water. He says no. “Stop stopping me.” “OK.” In the meantime, I got on. And it was a troop train. They were all asleep by that time anyhow. The train was Eastern Illinois, and it went to Chicago. So I got off in Chicago. I went to the train [scheduler], [he] says, yeah, there's a train going to Denver tonight, the night train. Fine, I bought a ticket, went on the train. “But you can't have a sleeper, there's no sleepers, it's all filled with troops.” When I got on, I did the same thing with another five dollar bill. About ten minutes later, I was in bed. I got on the train at Denver, Colorado, and I went on Denver-Rio Grande Railroad that went up to the mountains to Pando, which is near Leadville, into the camp. I got on the train; it was a freight train of ten freight cars and one passenger car. On the passenger car were 50 nurses returning to Camp Hale and me! I'll never forget that. That was a joyful ride into Camp Hale. MB: When you left OCS, what rank were you? RE: 1st, you're always a 2nd lieutenant. Yeah, 2nd lieutenant. MB: You're out in Colorado, re-trained for mountain warfare? RE: Very much. These'll tell you in here what it was. I thought that I could ski after skiing in Vermont and New Hampshire. That was solid _ skiing in New England, but not in Colorado. 112 [inches] of snow. You don't ski like you do in the east. So I'll tell you something a little funny. I started out the first day with a group from division headquarters. There were about seven men. The man in charge, his name was Lemon, from Dartmouth ski team. We had a ski lift, a t-bar. That was the thing then, a t-bar lift, which is one of the longest t-bars in the United States. I went up the hill. Lemon says, Ernst, you go anchor, you're last. I said, oh, sure, after all I'm great. So we, seven of us started down the hill. In the east, you always lean forward on your skis. I leaned forward and I went down into the snow. I couldn't find my skis for a while, they were so deep in the snow. All of the sudden the six men ahead of me made a direct right turn, went back to the lift. I tried to make a turn like I would in New England. I fell flat on my body, on my face deep in the snow. My rifle that was on my shoulder hit me on the head, hit off my helmet and I went deep. In the meantime, the other six went up, came down, and as they approached me, they all sluiced and put snow all over me. Lemon said to me, Ernst, are you still cocky? I said, no, get me out of here and show me out to ski. From then on, I was taught. It took me a month to learn how to ski in deep snow, entirely different. MB: What other type of training did they teach you? RE: Oh, in the first place they teach you how to shoot a rifle on your stomach with your skis in back flat. You don't crouch, skis in the back. You shoot with your rifle. That goes with the mortar as well. If you don't have skis on, which we did. Also, the altitude, up to 13,000, we had a lot of men who had to get out unfortunately. Most of them cried when they had to get out. They turned blue. We couldn't have them because we felt we didn't know where we were going to fight. And if you turn blue, you're a casualty immediately just because you're in high altitude. A small number did, as far as percentage wise, a small number only turned blue. Most of us had been in the mountains because we had skied before, so we could take the altitude. MB: Most of the men that were in the 10th already had ski experience? RE: Almost all. If not, they had cross country skiing if not downhill skiing. They had mountain climbing. They had men who enlisted were mountain climbers or skiers. After that, we had to get soldiers to fill up the 10th Division to the full 14,000. We had to teach them how to ski. We had schools all the time. Even like me, I didn't know how to ski in deep snow, they didn't either, even if they were Dartmouth or Seattle. Female: _teaching their training _? RE: Yes. After a while I did, yes. MB: Were there any south _ as far as _ 10th issued special equipment _? RE: Oh, sure. We had special clothing, snow pants, snow trousers. Of course, our jackets, snow jackets. We always had in the back, what do you call it, on your head, hoods over your head because it snowed a lot. Goggles. Heavy underwear, always heavy underwear all the time. MB: As far as weapons, were you _ M-1's? RE: M-1's. MB: When you were training in Colorado, what was the rumor, where did you think the 10th would be deployed? Was it _? RE: Well, we never knew, we never knew in advance. There was a talk about our invading Norway and killing the Germans in Norway, but we didn't have enough men. This is what I deduced in division headquarters. We didn't have enough men, 14,000 men in Norway is nothing because Norway is pretty big and the Germans had many more than 14,000. But we waited until we were sent over to Italy and they found out that the Germans in the mountains of Italy had armament, artillery, that they fired down from the mountains into the valleys. It was difficult for the American and British and many others to go in the valleys of Italy when the German were in the mountain tops shooting down. We couldn't, you can't shoot up as well as you could shoot down. So that's why the 10th Mountain was the one and only equipped to go into the mountains of Italy on skis because the 10th Division went in January, early January we fought. They actually got there in late December. Now . . . . MB: December of ‘4_? RE: '44. Right, and into battle January 5th of '45. I personally have had an unusual thing. I was in two theaters of operation. Why? Because having been going through OCS at chemical warfare, while I was with the 10th Division, a letter was sent from Edgewood Arsenal Headquarters saying they want 25 men who graduated OCS to go, come back and take a special course in the 4.2 mortar, 4.2 chemical mortar. You ever hear of a 4.2 chemical mortar? I have a picture of it. It's, 4.2 is equal to 105 mm, 155 is the biggest gun there was, 105 is pretty big too. But we do it by hand. MB: What was the _ chemical corps _? RE: Well, the chemical that originated in there, of course, was mustard gas. More important because we didn't at that time use gas at all, smoke. If you could fire a smoke screen in front of the advancing troops, that was very important. But the biggest was explosives, shells which they made. A 4.2 mortar is the only, one and only mortar that has a rifled barrel. A rifled barrel made the shell circle like a football. A football is thrown in a pass, is thrown around to go into the hands. The shell did the same. It was so accurate, other mortars sometimes flipped over. When it does, it's not that accurate. It prevents it from going too far. But a 4.2 mortar used to have only chemicals, but it was then made into a high explosive in it, and that's what we had. So I came back to the 10th Division. Just before we were to go to Camp Swift, Texas, certain _, the 25 of us who took that course were sent over to England to form 4.2 mortar battalions. I was terribly disappointed because I went over early, I went over in November to England. From there they were formed battalions, 4.2 mortar battalions. We went from there to France, through France, and into Germany. While we were there, I got in touch with my colonel, who was in charge of enlistments of the 10th Division, who was in Italy. Going from one country to another sounds impossible, but these countries are no bigger than states in the United States. I mean Texas happens to be bigger than Germany. So just to go from Texas over to Oklahoma. When I got in touch with him, the man who took my job in division headquarters in the chemical warfare office got killed the first week they went over there. He stepped on a German shell in the soil, what do you call it, a mine, a shoe mine. It's called a shoe mine, and he was blown apart. So he was able, just by luck, colonel was able to get in touch with me and says come on over right away. So I got on a truck, you know, trucks going in and out. I got there in two days. Then _ with the 10th Division. In for January and February, and in March, it was late February, I was called back to the 4.2 mortar battalion to back up Patton's tankers. He wanted backup in it because he, Patton, went fast, and, boy, he went hard and heavy. He wanted someone with mortars, which we had in trailers, in Jeeps and trailers so we could follow. The other mortars were by hand, but we had the Jeeps and trailers so we followed him. He got into trouble, he would continue well off and we _ fire and kill them. So I can tell you stories about Italy and Germany. MB: Why don't you tell us about Italy first? RE: I will. MB: I'd like you to, after you tell about Europe, I'd like to hear _. RE: Well, in the mountains of Italy, we had of course, very good food given to us by trucks and by trucks that come by Jeep, by mule. When we finished our meals in metal plates, we would, whatever we had left, we put in the garbage can. Italian boys would stand by the garbage can, and when we were all done and finished giving out food from our plates, they took the cans, and they poured it, from the cans into big bags, plastic bags, and brought it down below. They fed the people of that village with what was left. The food was good, it was just mixed up. Meat, potatoes, spaghetti, and a lot of Spam. MB: Spam was issued a lot? RE: A lot. I happened to love Spam because I love ham, but we had Spam a lot. Bob Dole was in our outfit. He was, he never trained, he never skied. He never trained in the United States in the 10th Mountain Division. He went to OCS. He was not a skier, but he was a 2nd lieutenant. Two weeks before the war ended, Bob Dole was _ a group that went to combat to take over a hill occupied by the Germans. He was in a hole, see, and a German armament hit him on the back, on his right arm. He was knocked unconscious, and he slumped down in the hole. Two medical men crawled on their stomachs to try to pull him out. The two men were killed. So they left him in there while they were fighting. It took, from what I heard, eight hours before American troops there were able to kill enough Germans where they retreated off the hill, upon which the medics came and pulled Bob Dole out of the hole and brought him down into Florence to a hospital. Bob Dole was told he had to have his arm taken off, but he said no. For three years, Bob Dole went in and out of hospitals before he kept his arm. If you see him now, he has a pencil or pen in his hand, he can't use his arm so well. He can't shake hands. He uses his left hand. MB: Do you ever recall meeting him? RE: No. I met him in Atlanta when he was running for president. I and another man in Atlanta went to him, we shook hands, and we met Bob Dole after he gave his speech. Very personable man, a wonderful man. He speaks very well. MB: You were attached to headquarters. So what was your daily duty? I mean, I know you said it varied from day to day. What were your responsibilities? RE: “Ernst, go out there to this ___. I understand they need some ammunition, but we're not sure what type or how much or so forth. The telephones are down, so go out there.” I couldn't look for shoe mines, impossible. This one hour I would find out what they needed, do this or do that. At that time, I was 34 years old, the youngest in the division headquarters. They were older. This is what I did as far as, a lot of other things on foot. MB: ____. RE: Not only that, but I was only, at that time 1st lieutenant, eventually made a captain but at that time, 1st lieutenant. I did things like that. Let me tell you . . . MB: You were saying that division headquarters, would it usually be set up _ tentage or _? RE: We tried very hard to find a building so that our telephones could work because the regiments were separated in different places. It was spread out. So we were always in back of the regiments. Of course, the Germans always tried to bomb the regimental headquarters, that was a wonderful thing, but we were far enough back where it would make it difficult for them to reach us. MB: Who was your, who was the 10th Division commander? RE: General Hayes. MB: General Hayes. And who did he report to, next up the chain of command, who was above him? RE: The, General Clark. Clark did the ordering and so forth because after the mountains came the plains. Then they went into the plains all the way up to the____. Right, luckily for us, at the beginning of the____, which is at the end of Lake ____, that's a tough thing to go up to the ___ because the Germans could defend the ___ easy, but the war ended. MB: Talking about the Germans, what was your assessment of, as far as ____? RE: They thought they were so great, but they weren't that great. They thought they were the best in the world and that the Americans were stupid and not so good, but they learned differently. They always remained cocky. In fact, after the war was over, I caught some men and I asked for their guns. A German Nazi lieutenant, or we called him lieutenant, obeyed, gave me his gun and then spit in my face. Whereupon I took the butt of my rifle and put it in his mouth. He's got some teeth still missing. That's the Germans. I've got another story here about the Germans. On our way, it was cute, we were on the road to ____ at night, and I happened to see man standing on the side of the road. I said, why don't we stop up there. I looked at him, and he was English, an English major. I said, come here. He says, I says where are you from? “I just escaped from a German POW camp.” I said, “Get in, we're going to the nearest town and we'll let you out.” “Oh, my God, that's wonderful.” So he got in the Jeep. I says, are you hungry. He says, Oh am I. I said, well, what would you like. He says scotch whiskey. Well, we happened to have a flask underneath the seat, and we gave him the scotch whiskey, and when we let him out, he was half pottered. But he was so glad to get out. MB: As far as your interaction with the Brits, British and English, how was that relationship? RE: Very good. We even got a Scottish brigade. Before they attacked they would have the trumpet, what do you call it . . . MB: Bagpipes. RE: Bagpipes. They'd blow the bagpipes. When they blew the bagpipes, the Germans knew where the hell they were. They would bomb. In ten seconds they'd bomb them. So I had to go over to them, tell them don't use any bagpipes whatsoever, don't tell them where you are. OK. MB: When was that, when did that happen? RE: I don't know, during the war, what day. MB: On this sheet, it said you first saw combat in Germany, that's when you were ___? RE: Right. When I was on the mortar battalion, we were going behind Patton's tankers. I got word that you're going to come to a concentration camp about a mile away. Get in there and give them all the food that you have in your trailers or your Jeeps, but only take ten minutes because we need you. I said, well, where is the concentration camp. You'll smell it. I went a mile further, and, boy, did we smell it. We went into the concentration camp, and the men, they had just, the Germans had just fired out of the, by Patton's tankers. So the concentration camp had no Germans in it. They fled. They were later caught and killed. I went in there. The Germans came all bashing out, and we took all our food and we dumped it. The meat was Spam in cans. So when they picked up the cans, when the concentration men picked up the cans, they tried to open them by pulling the thing out. They couldn't do it, they were so weak they couldn't open up the Spam to get food. I yelled to my men, open up all the Spam cans quickly. We've got only now five minutes. So all of us took the cans of Spam and just pulled them out and threw them on the ground so that we got all the cans opened up. They were so weak they couldn't open up the can of Spam. MB: When you go to this concentration camp, was that the first time that you had run across one? RE: Yes. MB: Had you heard where ___? RE: Oh, God, of course. They weren't rumors, they were truth. MB: Sure. RE: Not rumors. Small concentration camps all over. You hear Auschwitz, but there were small ones all over. They were just as cruel. The men, you could smell the camp. There wore terrible clothing, and they were thin as could be. Female: ___ RE: No, we didn't. We were too occupied to find out. As far as Germany, I was in an observation post, see, in an old ___ school, an observation post where I would guide our 4.2 mortars as to where to shoot, where to fire, what range to fire, and what direction to fire. While I was up there, the Germans found me from a distance and fired their 88. The 88 just hit about ten yards away from my head, as you can see here. Luckily I was lowered down in my hole and the shrapnel went over my head. The percussion of it hit my ear, and all of the sudden I look up, I can't hear a thing. I was stone deaf. So I said to my radio man, radio in to get my fellow officer up here, I'm going back because I can't hear. I went back and I went into a MASH unit. The MASH unit was just like you see on television. They said, examined my ear and so forth. They said, “Well, luckily your eardrum is damaged but not broken. Stay in MASH here. If it doesn't clear up, heal up, I'm going to send you to a hospital.” In three days it healed, and I was able to hear, and I went back to my unit. That's how I got my Purple Heart. I didn't think anything of the Purple Heart until I got out of the Army when I found out a Purple Heart was equal to five points of getting out. The points system meant a great deal. You have a certain amount of points to get out. If you don't, you stay in the Army. That Purple Heart got me out. I also had a second Purple Heart. In training in the United States at Herbert S___ air base, I was, we had to train to put canisters of mustard gas up into an airplane so the airplane could take off and release the mustard gas. Well, I did it, put it up, not knowing there was a slight leak in the tank. It fell on the back of my leg. I looked back and the man, officer _____, pulled my pants down and sent me to the hospital. But luckily it just had a scar which I can show you, and it's still on after 55 years. I got a Purple Heart for that. I didn't deserve it, five points more. Oh, going along the road, drive, during the day, we went with the mortars. We suddenly got rifle fire from the side of the road from a factory. The bullets were going all over. It wasn't going so correctly, and I stopped, I said, “Out,” and we all jumped out on the side of the road. I says, get around. So half of us went one way, half the other way. We went in back of the factory and went quietly up the steps to the door. We could still hear the firing. The Nazis were still firing. Burst open the door. We crammed through it with our rifles. The men turned around. I looked at them. They dropped their rifles. There were six Nazis. I said to the sergeant who spoke German, how old are they. Thirteen years old. When the German army fled with the American army in front of them, they gave their uniforms and guns to these thirteen-year-old boys who lived in back of the factory in the rear in the _ there. So I said, tell them to take their pants down. So they took their pants off. Now tell them to take their shoes and socks off. Shoes and socks. Now tell them to take their underhosen down. They got scared stiff. They thought we were going to shoot them. Now tell them to go home and never to come back again with a rifle. Amazingly they believed it. They scrammed through the door. We saw them and we laughed like the dickens to see them, you know what was flopping in the wind as they went to their house. Imagine when their mothers saw them coming in the door, it was funny as could be. Then the sergeant says, lieutenant, we're in a cigar factory, a Prince Albert cigar factory, make the finest cigars in Germany. Asked can we get some. I said sure, take boxes quickly and get out of here. So each one of us took a box and put it, we went back to our vehicles, to our Jeeps. We got in. Each one I could see opened up the cigars and put a cigar in his mouth. By that time, it was 6:30 p.m. and dark, so I said to, sergeant says to me, “Lieutenant, here's a cigar.” I said, I never smoked in my life. Oh, you got to smoke a cigar, try it. Alright, everyone else is smoking a cigar, I'll smoke one. I put a cigar in my mouth, I lit it up, about five minutes later I get a call, what in the world are you men doing with your headlights on your Jeeps? I looked back and I could see the twelve cigars lit, and all of the sudden I hear an airplane above me. I look up, it's a German plane. I yelled out, throw your cigars to the right, get it out of the way quickly. We all threw it, jumped, went with our Jeeps as fast as we could. At that time, it was about 50 miles an hour, away, and luckily we didn't get bombed because the cigars were there. From the airplane, they were bombing the cigars. That's the first and last time I ever smoked in my life. MB: Where were you when the Germans surrendered? RE: We, when the war ended, we were in Bavaria near the Czechoslovakian border. We were near there. There was, we went through towns and we'd sleep in houses, apartment houses. I went to one apartment house with, oh, about twelve of us, there was a woman there. I guess her husband was killed. She was saying, she spoke English, oh, we hate Hitler, we hate Hitler, I hate Hitler, we don't go for Hitler, we're so glad you're here. So I went through her drawer and opened up the drawers of the bureau. At the bottom of her clothing . . . TAPE 1 SIDE B …was a big photo of Hitler. They never liked Hitler when the Americans came, this is what they were. MB: Were you still in Europe when you heard that Japan had surrendered? RE: Oh, no. I was home. MB: You were already home? RE: Oh, sure, the end of the war, we were home, ready to go to the mountains of Japan when the war ended. We were all given the 30 days leave when we got back to the United States. Here's a story. My brother had gone into the war ahead of me. He had a low draft number. I hadn't heard from my brother in two years because when you're all the way ____, it was crossed out. You're not allowed to tell where you were because it might be found, and the Germans or Japanese . . . so I didn't know where he was. Two weeks before the war ended in Germany, I get a, I went in a Jeep to get some ammunition sent to us. On the road—before then, my mother had written me the day before, “I just heard from your brother Alan, he's with something called 442 FA.” That's field artillery. I'm going along the road, and there's a truck in front of me. My God, it says on the back of the truck 442 FA, so I says come on, stop the truck. We did. I says, where are you. He says, oh, just a mile down the road on top of that hill. I could hear the noise. I said, do you know my brother Alan Ernst. He said, sure, he's our medic, he's right here. I said, I haven't seen him in two years. “Follow me, I'll take you to him.” So I follow him along the road. We went out of the road, up into the mountain and stopped at the bottom of the hill. He yelled out, medic, medic. My brother came rolling down a hill, he was fat. He had this medical ____ around his bosom, around his waist, so he rolled down. He had on a helmet, too. I had my head down, and he says, “What's the matter?” So I put my hand out. So he looked at my hand, he says, “I don't see any . . . oh, my God.” We hugged and kissed. Five minutes later, “medic, medic,” up the hill. Then we parted. After the war was over, I was able to go back there and see him for another day, then I didn't see him again for months. Where he went and I went, we were lucky to be alive, both ___. Lucky, that's all I can tell you, pure luck. MB: The question we should have asked, where were you when Pearl Harbor was attacked? RE: In New York, in New York City, on leave. The war was, Japan had to quit. Then I went back to my outfit. I went back to my outfit. MB: No, see, when you heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor. RE: When you heard it, it was in August. MB: No, when the Japanese attacked. RE: Oh, when Pearl Harbor, I'm sorry. I was working in New York. MB: ___ you were lieutenant and later a captain, what did you carry as a personal ___? RE: Same thing. Well, wait a minute. We, that's another story. Patton says, “The Wolf pistol factory's right near you, get your battalion—this was the mortar battalion—and get in there and take over the pistol factory. So went into the pistol factory. It was just lunchtime, a lot of them were eating lunch. So we took over, it was easy to take over the whole factory. When we did, Patton sent a major and a colonel in a Jeep to the factory and says, General Patton would like to have a pearl-handled pistol. So I went across the street where the men who worked in the factory were Polish, they were slaves. You may have read in the paper recently that the paying, those men who worked in factories never got paid. I got the manager of the factory out, over, and I says, have you got a pearl-handled pistol. My sergeant could speak German, which they understood. He says, no, we don't have, but we have these pistols. He showed us a sterling silver pistol. The sergeant says, oh, that's wonderful. So I said to the manager, put together a pistol for General Patton. So they put together a pistol. I said give it to this man, the manager. They had a shooting gallery downstairs. I says, let him shoot this pistol. In the meantime, we aimed our rifles at the manager, six of us. We didn't want him to turn around and shoot us. I didn't trust anybody. So he shot the pistol, make sure that if we give it to General Patton that it works, that it wouldn't explode in his face or his hand. So the man left for Patton. My sergeant says what about us. I says, hey, that's a great idea. I said to the manager, give us six pistols. He gave us each pistols and ammunition. We took it home. I cleaned mine out when I got home. Beautiful, gorgeous pistols, sterling silver casing, and engraved. MB: What happened to it? RE: What happened to it is at that time they said no pistols are allowed. So I took it into a store and had it made and secured. MB: Do you still have it? RE: No, I don't have it, it's insecure. Now I have one more story. After the war was over, I went in a Jeep for some reason, I've forgotten what reason, it was to do something probably, when are we getting out of here. But it was two weeks exactly after the Germans surrendered. This was way up in the mountains of Bavaria. While we were traveling on the road, I noticed something moving in the bushes on the side of the road. I said, stop. I looked. We got out, went in there, there was a Nazi soldier. So we went up to him, our rifles, and took away, he had a pistol and he had a ___. So we took that. I says, what are you doing here. And he told my sergeant who spoke German, “I escaped from a Russian prison camp.” He said it was horrible. He says, I've been doing nothing but walking at night only. I said, where do you live. He says, I live about a hundred yards away. Where. He says, down that hill on a farm. My wife and child are there. I said, alright, get in the Jeep and if you're lying, I'm going to take you back to the POW camp. We went up the hill. I looked down in the valley. There was a beautiful farm house and a magnificent farm. We went down, I could still the road, down the road to the farmhouse. Whereupon a woman dashed out of the farmhouse with a little baby in her arms. He jumped, the Nazi soldier jumped out of the car and hugged and kissed her and the baby. They talked. I just stood there watching them. When they got done, he looked at me, and I went over to the soldier and I grabbed him by his jacket. I put my face six inches from his face and I says ____, which means, I am a Jew. Whereupon the wife screamed and turned around, ran, took the baby in her arms into the farmhouse. Soldier, Nazi, turned absolutely white, and I had to practically hold him up from falling down. I stood there holding him for about ten seconds. After which I let go, and I said to the sergeant, let's get out of here. Got into the Jeep, I went up that hill. I could still see. At the top of that hill I said stop. I turned around, there was that soldier petrified, standing there, just looking up at me with his mouth wide open. He couldn't believe I didn't kill him. He will never as long as he lives I'm sure, forget that incident. MB: What did you do when you got home? How long did you ___? RE: Well, I was married. Because I visited, my brother got home then, too. Meanwhile, luckily I was able to, 30 days we get together, my mother and father, so forth. We visited the relatives. MB: Did you go back into the same line of work you had been in before? RE: Yes. No, I didn't. My father in law was in the jewelry business, and he had a company, and he wanted me to come in and eventually take over and be the president of it. I went in. After about a half a year, six months, I said, Dad, this is not for me. I don't like jewelry. I just don't see it. I'm going to go back in the textile business where I was. I went back into a big firm, textile firm. From there on, I went to my own textile company with two other partners. For the rest of the years, which was fourteen years, in the textile business. At which time I was able to retire. Fourteen years, for fourteen years, we made money, a profit. MB: I ask everybody else this, what did you do with your GI Bill? RE: I used the GI Bill to take a business administration course. It was very good. Also, which I think is even more important, I bought a house in Scarsdale, New York. I got what they call a GI mortgage, 4.5%, 30 year GI mortgage.
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Original Collection:
Veterans History Project oral history recordings
Veterans History Project collection, MSS 1010, Kenan Research Center, Atlanta History Center
Holding Institution:
Atlanta History Center