This section includes several of David K. Webster's many wartime letters home.
I find that it no longer discourages me. The army has lived up to my worst expectations; but it has also revealed some good points that I never knew it had. The group life is sort of fun, because it is always amusing. Out of 2000 men there are bound to be some cards. Practically all the boys have a fine sense of humor and joke about the bad side of camp.
Then, too, you meet interesting people from everywhere, married men, divorced me, wild men, mountain men, maimed men (one Otto McKay, part of a machine gun squad, has a finger missing on his left hand. I still can't figure out how he got in here), lying men (much as I hate to insult the South, I have yet to hear a Southerner that wasn't slinging the bull), conceited men; bossy men; thieving men (the supply sergeant of Company W has a profitable sideline of selling the articles from barrack bags that have been stored in his tent. He lives next door to us); dirty men (one in our tent hasn't taken a shower yet. His hands are always dirty); disgruntled men (they have just completed a little barbed wire enclosure for men who went A.W.O.L and returned); old men and young men (this is distinctly a young man's outfit. Half the fools joined it without giving it a second thought. Boyish and overenthusiastic, they firmly believe they are going to kill hundreds of Germans and Japanese. They talk as though paratroops met with no resistance in enemy territory.) The infinite variety of men in the army makes life more interesting.
Another attractive feature is the free clothing. I have had the good fortune to get two pairs of boots that fit, two coveralls that wash and wear well, a couple of regular size shirts, a razor that I never use, an overcoat so heavy that it could stop a bullet, a cozy field jacket, an oversize cartridge belt, and a steel helmet which may later come in handy. Every day seems like Christmas when you get gifts like these. Our Uncle Sam treats his nephews quite well.
Enough of this. A man died in Company W day before yesterday, but outside of that nothing much has happened. Tomorrow all the companies are going to run up Mount Currahee, to see who makes the best time. A minute will be added for each man that falls out. I hope we win.
I myself am feeling well. My muscles are loosening up, my hair is growing longer, my cold is dormant, and my spirits are O.K. I have not yet been in town.
Both your long letter and Father's were very, very welcome. News from home is really appreciated. Please remember, however, I cannot go to Atlanta for another 7 weeks at least. A weekend pass here is restricted to a 50-mile radius and is good only from noon Saturday to reveille Monday. Since Atlanta is 4 ½ hours away by train, I have no prospect of going there. Nor will I see much of the country around here, except on long hikes. My off time is spent writing letters; in the future, it will probably be filled with rifle cleaning, running the obstacle course, etc. Anyway, I don't have the ambition to travel around in dirty day coaches. Please make all this clear to Moeyer, otherwise I shall be told in every letter to look up somebody in Atlanta.
In case I forgot to do so, thanks for the money. You need not send any more for quite a while, as I still have $8 of the first ten. There is nothing to spend money on here.
Lights are going dim again. Just when everyone gets ready to write a letter, the lights dim and go out. This is the second night in a row that it has happened. Last night we finished our 4-mile run in the blackout and went running down the streets, screaming like madmen. Tonight at 8:05 four of us are trying to write letters. I can do it even with the light out, for Mrs. Hussey's flashlight is gleaming on my left. Bed time. Good night.
Headquarters Co., 2nd Bn.
Since you ask for it, I'll try to give you as complete a description of my excursion abroad as possible. Any gaps will be the holes cut by the censor.
We must have reached the French coast at about 10:50 D Day. We were stood up and hooked up twenty minutes before we jumped and during that time you could hear the pilot gunning, then slacking the motor and you could see the tracers and flares outside. I was scared almost speechless. About 11:10 the green light came on. Somebody got stuck in the door; I thought I'd never get out of that damned plane, but when I did I regretted it, for all I could see was water, water, everywhere. I came down so fast I didn't have time to take off my reserve and landed on my face in about three feet of water. Scared? I was shaking all over.
Once I got out of my chute I assembled my M1 (I am ammunition carrier in the MG platoon) and lay down in the water to await developments. All I could hear now was German machine gun and sniper fire. I felt very much alone. Another battalion flew over a little later. I could see tracers going into their chutes as they came down. Then I heard the slow swish-swish of somebody sneaking through the water. When he got near enough I signaled him and was delightedto put it mildlyto find out it was one of the men from my plane.
That night was like a nightmare. We wandered around in the water from 1:15 to about 8:00, circling, staggering, going over our heads in the deep, ten-foot wide drainage ditches that bordered the flooded fields, picking up men from almost every regiment that jumped. Since none of us knew where we were, and since our cheap pocket compasses were waterlogged, we just tried to reach high ground. We kept as low as possible and avoided obvious thoroughfaresslightly flooded roads. Some of our boys were machine-gunned on these roads, dry plateaus, etc. Whenever they shot a flare, we stood stock-still; even our shivering stopped. Just as the sun came up we stopped to watch a large group of B-26's bomb the beach defenses, laying a string of bombs, almost a mile long. A lovely sight. I passed the bodies of two paratroopers cold and white and very still in the shallow water who had either been drowned or machine-gunned, but I didn't stop to see who they were. I just didn't have the stomach to roll them over.
Finally we hit dry land. As luck would have it, we immediately met D Company. We passed huge craters, thirty feet deep, made by our naval bombardment, went through an old deserted, undamaged village, where we helped ourselves to wine (the infantry coming in later complained that the paratroopers had taken all the wine in France wherever they went) which warmed me considerably. Incidentally, I never did dry out thoroughly. About an hour later, we met Headquarters Company. Then things got dull, for headquarters just tags along behind the other components.
By now the dead Germans were getting thicker. Killed by paratroopers during the night, they looked like wax figures you see in a museum. I felt no emotion towards them. They were lying about in the little villages our boys had seized during the night, but the French paid no more attention to them than we did, although they were a little afraid of the black-faced, wild-eyed paratroopers who had killed their rulers.
We kept on marching. The days are blurred; because they were so much alike. About the third day, however, some German paratroopers almost caught us in a trap. We were stopped on the edge of a small town. A sniper opened up on us from the church steeple. When a bullet kicked up the dust next to my face, I decided to move across the road behind a stone wall. Meanwhile the lads in Headquarters Company, bored with a secondary role, were crowding around to shoot at the sniper. They blasted him with M1's, M3's, tommyguns, bazookas and rifle grenades. Just as our Intelligence sergeant jumped around the corner to blast him with a tommy gun, all hell cut loose. He was killed instantly by a machine gun. We looked behind us. Smoke was coming down the road. We looked to our left. Germans were pouring out of the woods and sneaking around our front. Headquarters Company started to sweat. We fired through all the openings in the hedgerow. I got up behind a tree and blasted away at 200 yards at the woods. Probably never touched a German, but it was fun trying. Things were sticky, however.
What saved us there were the tanks. A column of tanks had just passed through us on the road several minutes before. The colonel sent a man down after them, got back three, and ordered them to fire at the enemy. They did. They mowed the fields and hedgerows with their machine guns and threw 75's into likely spots. Fifteen minutes or so of this and the Germans waved the white flag. It might be well to add that we were on the high ground, they bunched up on the low. We continued firing until ordered to cease. Thanks to the armored corps, we had won.
It turned out that there was about a battalion of German paratroopers opposing us, that they had bicycled some forty miles into battle, that most of them had not yet jumped in combat, that the tanks' shells had piled them up dead two and three deep, that they had only about 125 men left alive out of about 500. These figures are all hearsay, but most stories agree on them. Our boys had a merry time picking up Lugers and German jump knives.
After this, the line companies met scattered opposition from snipers and machine guns, but headquarters just tagged along. One night opposite [censored] I had the scare of my life when an 88-millimeter cannon worked us on outpost.
It was a grey drizzling night. We went down a causeway littered with stinking dead Germans who had been caught by our artillery. It was the colonel's wish that we establish an outpost on the other side of a 20-yard wide, deep sluggish river. Since the bridge was blown out, we had to cross three at a time in a leaky rowboat paddling with old boards. No sooner were we all lying on the sandbar, surrounded by flooded fields and water, than BLAM, a shell lands on the opposite bank. I've never dug a hole so fast in all my life. One of the fellows scraped a slit trench with his mess kit cup. Then they decided to bring us back and set up an outpost on the side nearer our own lines. I wasn't sorry. We scattered out and dug in. Once again the 88 fired. From then on that goddamned gun worked over the bank. I kept my head down all night. Every shell sounded as though it would blow me to pieces. When daylight came we returned to our company. I was so jittery that my hands were shaking all that day. Luckily none of us were hurt.
Several nights later the regiment moved out across that causeway, over a makeshift bridge built by our engineers one night, through some wild woods, and into the city of [censored]. It was on the outskirts of that place that a mortar shell landed about six feet behind me, blew off my helmet (don't button your chin strap) and knocked me flat. When I got up my right arm was bleeding a little, so I went into the nearby aid station, thinking it would only take five minutes to get fixed up. The next thing I knew I was being evacuated to England. Although it meant a good rest, in a way I was sorry to leave, because I wanted to see a little close fighting.
If you ever go into combat, don't let the noise scare you and never get so terrified that you lie in your foxhole or refuse to move. Always keep going, always keep alert, and don't rely too much on the men around you. If you go out on an outpost or a patrol or flank guard, make sure that somebody else besides your squad leader knows where you are. Everybody forgets, occasionally with tragic results; the more people who know where you are, the less chance of your being forgotten. You won't have to be told to keep your gun and ammunition clean, to dig deep, to get all the rest you safely can, or to keep spread out. As a matter of fact, you can learn far more from the Intelligence bulletins (orderly room) and the "Infantry Journal" than I could possibly tell you from my meager week's experience.
Telegram to parents of David K. Webster, received July 22, 1944:
REGRET TO INFORM YOU YOUR SON PRIVATE DAVID K WEBSTER WAS SERIOUSLY WOUNDED IN ACTION FOURTEEN JUNE IN FRANCE LETTER CONTAINING PRESENT MAIL ADDRESS FOLLOWS.
Headquarters Co., 2nd Bn.
Dear Mother and Father:
It's hard to believe that I'm still alive, but this is just a note to let you in on the fact and to tell you that I am back in England for a few more days, having a tiny sliver of shrapnel taken out of my arm. A mortar shell landed right behind me, knocked me flat on my face, took off my helmet, and cut me in just one spot. Since the battalion aid station was only around the corner, I dropped in for repairs. They passed me on and on and out of France on an L.S.T. I hope to go back soon, for I owe the Germans several bullets and as many hand grenades as I can throw.
Until we jumped on France, I had thought the German a clean fighter. Now I know better. They caught some of our boys in their harnesses, cut their throats, hung them, bayoneted them, stripped them and shot them. They wiped out an aid station. They didn't give us a chance. We do not intend to show them mercy.
The whole thing has been like a vicious nightmare. Of course I cannot tell you what the situation is, but after seeing that beachhead, a breathtaking panorama of military might, I know we cannot lose. As for the paratroopers, they are out for blood. I hope to be back in on the kill.
Thinking of you all as always. Rest easy.
Det. Of Patients, 4153 U.S.A. Hosp.
Dear Mother and Father:
After a beautiful jump and approximately eighteen lively days in Holland, I am back in the land of mild and bitter, largely through the courtesy of a Wehrmacht bullet which whipped through the calf of my right leg. I was lucky to get out with my life.
Holland, all Germans there notwithstanding, is an excellent country. Although the Dutch underground hasn't gotten a tenth the publicity accorded the French F.F.S., which, incidentally, I never once saw in Normandy, we got more help than we ever got from the French. A resistance leader met us on the jump field and is still with us; almost every line company has at least two Dutch volunteers who joined us to kill Germans and who have shared every fire fight.
As for the average people, they gave us everything. When we filed through a village, the local citizens handed us hot coffee, cool beer, fresh milk, and all the apples, pears and peaches we could eat. Old farmers unbidden helped us dig our slit trenches. A wonderful people.
The country itself impressed me as very rich, very progressive, very modern, and very clean. The good black soil seemed able to grow anything, there was plenty of fresh milk (we milked the local cows whenever possible), the cities were all new and beautifully designed for low-cost, healthful living; and everything including the people, was so spick and span and better than England it took my breath away. Holland is years ahead of Great Britain.
Our combat experience in that delightful country started out very easy,
but got worse and worse as it went along, until finally on the day I was
hit, the Germans counterattacked with vicious artillery support and raised
six kinds of hell with us. I was wounded just in time to escape the worst
Co. E, 506 Parachute Infantry
Dear Mother and Father:
While recovering from a hangover, I shall take time out to write you a brief note. My life has been so pleasant-as a matter of fact, this period in Germany is the only time I enjoyed in the army-that I have not had the urge to correspond. Although we are not allowed to fraternize with the women, we can, and I for one do, sunbathe or tour the countryside all day when not on guard, swimming, climbing over the hills, etc. Our living conditions have been superb and the food very plentiful, but what I like best of all is the sunny climate. No rain in the last ten days. If I had to live in Europe, I would live in Germany.
What have we been doing here? No action, but rounding up and guarding the thousands of German soldiers who have come down from the mountains to surrender. Every road you travel is lined with men loaded with packs and looking for somebody to surrender to. We have picked up and looted individuals from the Wehrmacht, the S.S.very snappy, thoroughly hated soldiersand the Luftwaffe, officers, noncoms and privates. From them we have obtained pistols, knives, watches, fur lined coats, camouflaged jump jackets (from a Luftwaffe officer who did not appreciate the fact that I was reliving him of excess weight). Most of the these soldiers have taken it in pretty good spirit, but once in a while we get an individual who does not like to lose his watch. A pistol flashed in his face, however, can persuade anybody. I now have a Luger, two P-38's (similar to Lugers), a Schmeisser machine pistol, two jump smocks, one camouflaged winter jacket, several flags about three by two, and a watch. If they ever let us, we'll mail some of this back.
One of the best things we have appropriated is liquorgood French champagne and better brandy. While in Berchtesgaden I went up the hill to Hitler's bombed hideout and grabbed two cases of excellent champagne from the wine cellar. Now we can get drunk every night for nothing. What a life!
For a while were allowed to take one German truck per squad. The captain found a beautiful Mercedes Benz, belonging to some S.S. general, but lost it to the regimental commander while we kept our Volkswagens, Schwimmvagens, staff cars, pickup trucks, fire engines, ambulances and big troop carriers. When we went down the road, we looked like a column of gypsies. The big trouble with these vehicles was the fact that they had been driven so hard and so long that most of them broke down shortly after we got them. Whenever we needed gas, we just drove into a service station and helped ourselves. I wouldn't trade Germany for England and France put together.
Now we are resting and waiting for something to break, something about furloughs home. According to the point system, my score is 74. I hope I never visit the C.B.I.
You asked about this man Guzowsky from Brooklyn. He was in the 4th Infantry Division, was wounded in the right leg on his way into the Siegfried Line, and lives in that section of Brooklyn which overlooks the Narrows. Walter Guzowsky.
Would you do a favor for me? A friend of mine from Hartsdale and Taft was killed in an airplane accident in England in the fall. He was a very happy-go-lucky fellow, always full of good spirits and horseplay. I brought him up to the house several times. His name was Charlie Mead, and although I have already written his mother, I would appreciate it if you would go up and see her and tell her that I'll really miss Charlie and that I'm very sorry I am not able to see her myself.
The shirts and trunks arrived recently. Most welcome. Pictures also. Ann is really growing up.
We have now seen England, Scotland, France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and Germany. I haven't lived in a slit trench since October fifth and very glad of it, too.
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