Oral History Interview with Lawrence Esser.

Previous Next World War II Exhibit Page Home Search
Record 38/959
Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Classification Archives
Collection World War II Oral History Project
Dates of Accumulation February 13, 2003
Abstract Oral history interview with Lawrence Esser, who served in the U.S. Army from 1942 - 1945. He discusses his service in a Maintenance Battalion on the 9th Armored Division. He entered the serveice in 1942 and after training was shipped overseas in the spring of 1944. He returned in the fall of 1945.

Esser, Lawrence Interview
4 February 2003
Conducted by Bradley Larson

{B: indicates the interviewer, Mr. Larson; L: indicates the subject, Mr. Esser. [ ] These brackets, whether empty or enclosing dialogue denote either uncertainty about spelling or inability to decipher the dialogue}.

B: So if you could start by just relating your full name, date of birth and your parent's names.

L: My name is Lawrence Thomas Esser and my dad was Peter. My mother's name was Elizabeth. She was an Oshkosh resident. My dad was from Milwaukee. And I was born in Milwaukee and as a youngster, came to Oshkosh and went to schools here. And went back to Milwaukee. And after I finished high school in 1938 and took a job down there; I couldn't find anything here.

B: Was work hard to find?

L: Yeah.

B: It was, huh?

L: And I worked for a cab company down there as a mechanic. And in ah, oh my dad was my boss, incidentally. And it was a difficult thing.

B: Why was that?

L: He ah, being my boss, he wasn't going to show any partiality to his son. And I had very strict rules. (Laughter). I didn't get any breaks during the day. And holidays and so forth, being the only single man in our group, I was selected to do the, come in on holidays and things and work for, 'cause we always had to keep cabs on the road. And kept repairs during those days. But anyway he was a pretty good guy to me anyway.

So I went into services. The Automobile Dealers Association of America got with the government and they enlisted fellows that were mechanics. Because then we wouldn't have to be trained in that line after we got in service. And um, we were offered, and we could choose our own rank when we went in. Like ah, oh I could have told em I was a hotshot mechanic and I coulda had a master sergeant. But I was a little skeptical. I had once applied for the Air Force and the recruiting sergeant told me that if I would memorize the eye chart and come back to him, that once I was past him I would be okay because my eyes wouldn't be a problem anymore. But being a young guy at 17, I had heard a lot about the services being so strict that I didn't want to take the chance. So I never went back there.

But anyway I took the rank of technician fifth grade which was the equivalent to corporal in pay. And this was in 1942, January of '42. And I signed up then and was called into the services in April of '42. And we had to report to the engineer armory in Chicago. And we were sworn in there. And then we were put on a big empty trailer - and it was all open - late in the afternoon. And they carted us off to the railroad and took us down to Camp Sutton, North Carolina.

B: Had you traveled around much before this at all?

L: No. Around Wisconsin with my dad on weekends, short vacations and so forth. But I never really, oh I'd been down to Chicago a couple of times but never had any long distance tours. But anyway we got down to Camp Sutton, North Carolina and it was just some tents set up in a cotton field. Cotton, all cut down and things. And that's where our drill fields was. We had the old squad tents with the wooden floors. They had those up for us. We didn't have to put those up. And we didn't have, we had our civilian clothes and that was it. We did finally get issued some parts of our uniform. Some of ah, but they didn't have enough for to fit a tall lanky guy like myself and so forth.

We were there, we didn't have any equipment. We made our camp presentable. Take boxes, find wooden boxes and go find nails with stones and straighten out and make handles. Two fellows, one on each end carrying a box around, collecting gravel and stuff to make little paths up to our tent. And we had tarpaper shacks for mess halls. And we were there, I think I was there about two weeks and one of the things I always remember was down on the east end of the camp, we couldn't see em or anything but these freight trains, they had the most mournful whistle. And they'd go through there in the middle of the night, "Wooo, wooo." Just make you feel so bad. (Laughter).

B: I suppose you were kinda homesick, huh?

L: A little bit, yeah. And then from there, they had too many people. They had enlisted so many people into this. I was supposed to be, when I enlisted, I was supposed to be in Africa by the 4th of July. And, but they had enlisted so many people from all over the United States. And they broke us up and they sent a group of us up to Camp Perry, Ohio. And we started an ordinance training center up there. Teaching automotive functions. School, had a school on automotive. We didn't get, we were still in building stages.

And I ah, was selected and went to White Motor Company in Cleveland, Ohio for five weeks on the scout cars and half-tracks, which were fairly new vehicles at that time. Prior to that they didn't have those type of transportation. And while I was there, a large group of us fellows were taken and sent to Camp Funston, Kansas, which was the World War I camp adjacent to Fort Riley. And they opened that up and that was where the 9th Armored Division was started and brought to life. But that happened while I was still in school. Well, when I left school at the end of my course, then they transferred quite a few of us from there right out to, out to Camp Funston. But it was fairly nice. White Motor Company took us to an all star baseball game and things of that nature.

B: What were some of the things you learned there? What were some of the things that they were teaching you?

L: Well, we normally learned how to repair the functions and so forth of the vehicle. Before that, when we were at Camp Sutton, well we all were new people. We didn't have too many regular army people with us. And so it was, like well, I had been a Boy Scout. Well, that made me a squad leader because I had been in scouting and things. And some of the fellas had been in bands. They knew marching and they'd, we learned how to march and the different formations we had.

B: Were the scout cars and half-tracks mechanically a lot different from what you had been working on with taxicabs?

L: No. I mean to some degree, yes. You had all armor around you and normally these were all four-wheel drive vehicles. But technically, the mechanics of it, the operation and everything is the same as what we had. Electrical systems were all bigger. We were with 12 volt. This was all 12 and 24 volt stuff. And but other than that, of course, but other than that, the normal things you learned, timing, timing an engine. We didn't have to do any overhaul work. But ah, except change parts. We never got down like taking a, when something was wrong we took the motor or transmission out and put a different one in. We never had to really, we could, a lot of us could do that. We had done it before but you had the various echelons: first, second, third, fourth echelon. If you go up to fourth echelon, that's all base work. It's the highest point there and things go back to there and that's where they do all the rebuilding and things. They were, but first echelon is your drivers echelon. And second echelon is, some of the things that the company mechanics from the individual companies could do, because they had their mechanics do. And then third echelon is when they came back to a unit like we were. A maintenance battalion or group that was assigned to a division or large group.

B: And that's what you were, a maintenance battalion?

L: Yes. I went, we were in the 131st Armored Ordinance Maintenance Battalion attached to the 9th Armored Division. And that was our function all through the war. And then from, like I say, when I left school we went directly out to Camp Funston, Kansas and we stayed there.

Oh, I went to different schools. I went to the ordinance school there where I learned the operation and the functions of the OQ2A radio controlled drone airplane that they used for targets. Out on the range for target practice for anti aircraft functions. We took and flew these things. They'd line up the tanks or the half-tracks, or even they'd have the ground or whatever. They'd have the machine guns set up on the ground and then we'd take and fly those down across the firing line. And then they'd fire at those.

If they hit em, they take, sometimes it didn't always work the way it should but when they'd fire at em and the round went through the parachute pack, because we brought em down by parachute. They were very difficult to, you know you're not sitting here. You don't have the feel. And trying to land em, so we always brought em down by parachute. But the round would go through and as it went through the pack, it would pull one fold of the cloth through into the other and lock em. And then all you would get is a streamer coming down. It wouldn't fully open.

But I did, and I did a lot of driver training while we were out at Funston. And then from Funston we went to Camp Ibis, California in the summer of '43. And that was 60, about 60, no it was about half way between Needles, California and Las Vegas. Out in the middle of the Mojave Desert. We didn't have anything. We lived in tents. We had tarpaper latrines. Each company had a mess tent. In the morning when we would get up, before the sun came up over the, I can't remember the name of the mountain range that was along the Colorado River there. But before that came up, we'd be out doing our calisthenics at 6 o'clock and as soon as that sun came up, your coveralls would get damp and pretty soon they were wet all the way up. Oh, about 130-140 at two o'clock in the afternoon. Well that was rest time then. You couldn't get out and work. You couldn't even climb on a fender to lay on it or anything. But we spent, I think we were out in the desert for about three months on maneuvers. Then we came back and then we went down to Camp Polk, Louisiana from there.

B: Well, you were all over, weren't you?

L: And then we got down there, let's see, in ah, sometime around September of '44, no '43. And in October of '43, we went out into the field on maneuvers down there. And we were out there until March. And then we came back into garrison in March.

B: Did you have a chance to go home on leave at any time? Was it common to get leave?

L: Right after I got out to Camp Funston, I, my wife, I asked my girlfriend to be my wife and we were married in Junction City, Kansas.

B: And she was from Oshkosh?

L: She was from Oshkosh.

B: So did she take the train down there then?

L: Yeah. She took the train down.

B: What's your wife's name?

L: Clara. It was Clara Stahle.

B: Were those wartime marriages, was that a common thing to get married during the war?

L: I wouldn't say it was common. I think it was just natural. You know, I would probably say common too. You didn't have a lot of em at the camps. The fellas [ ] to get home. But I married her on her birthday, September 12th, 1942.

And then we came home. She got out there on a Friday evening. We were married Saturday morning because we could go down, we could go over to this county, county clerk there and get our right license for three or four dollars. And I went over to a church. I had one of the fellows, one of the sergeants, and his [ ] had his wife there also. They stood up for us. And we had eaten in one of the greasy spoon joints in town because all the supper clubs had signs on the doors, "Dogs and GI's not permitted." That was common. And so we ate in one of the family style restaurants, they call em today. It wasn't too bad. She had her first run in with cockroaches. And then she came home. We got back to camp on, well Sunday we went back, we went out to camp Sunday afternoon with this couple and we had lunch, Sunday lunch with them, the boys. And she got a good taste of army cooking. She flipped her apple turnover over and it was all grease on the bottom from the grease that had been there. (Laughter).

I came back to camp and I had my orders ready. Got emergency leave. Her mother had passed away on Sunday. We knew it could have happened but we, she was doing real well and we decided well, we'd take the chance.

So then she went home and she stayed home for three months work. Got enough money to come back out there. And so she came back out and then when we went to, in spring when we went out to Camp Ibis, then she went home.

Again, she went and got herself a job and worked for about two months and then she drove out to California. I had a '34 Ford. It was in good shape. I had rebuilt it all and things. It was in good shape. She drove that all alone out there. That was her first trip of any kind. And we lived in Junction, or in Needles, California. She had a job, well in Kansas she worked for a general store. They had a military and a general store all in one. So she worked in there. She got to meet a lot of, oh what the heck were the names of some of those movie stars that were there. Some of the ladies. And then we went out, she went out to California while I was out there. She lived in Needles. Scurried across the desert at night because we weren't allowed to be in town. We only got passes Saturday afternoons and Sundays. So couple of guys lived in town. We'd go out the back , around the back, through the desert and come around down the road a few miles from Needles and go into town. And the place I stayed, go in there one night, come in there with dirty fatigues on. (Laughter). They were friends of some of the officers out there. They were having a party and I walked in and all these [ ] in there. "Hey you wanna call it that.." (Laughter). But they asked us to join the party.

But we had fellas from, I think there was one fella from up here, DePere that was in our unit. A couple of fellows, one of em a friend, one of the fellows that stood up for me is, he and his wife are from just west of us here. Southwest of us. They, his family owned the cheese factory and butter, "Foursquare" I guess it was called. But anyway most of the fellas were Chicago and California, I mean Illinois and California that were in our, made up our company.

And then we went as I said, to Louisiana. We lived in a house with two old maids and their invalided brother. And the gal worked for the county. She did the cooking for the inmates in the jailhouse there. And we paid $10.00 a week for our room. And then when they found out we had an alarm clock, electric alarm clock, our rent went up to $11.00 a week. But they were very nice with Clara. We treated, they'd make a nice southern dinner and we'd get part of it. Clara would make something German and we'd trade off. And we got along good. And so then when we shipped out, when I got ready to go, then Clara came home. I brought her home. She was pregnant.

B:: Came back to Oshkosh.

L: Then I got a leave. And a priority so that I could fly back. And ah, well we drove right straight through. W didn't take a break. We just came home and I left on a Friday night and got home Saturday and then Monday morning I had to be in Chicago to get my flight out of there to Shreveport. And then from Shreveport I had to take a bus to get up to [Keyesville} Louisiana is where we lived. Other that that…

B: So then you shipped out and you went overseas?

L: Yeah, it took us six days. We were on board the Queen Mary.

B: That must have been something, being on a big liner like that. What was that like?

L: Well, it was all areas. And you had a number and a color which was your area. We, and then like the promenade deck there, that was all closed in and that was the latrines. And they had just big long troughs running down there and the water runs through it. But the crew of the Queen was all English. I don't know, good or bad, but anyway we got there. The red ticket, we were put on KP. And we could go with that, you could go almost anywheres in the ship with that. And I got down in the engine room and things.

B: That must have been very [ ].

L: Those engines were damn near as big as this building.

B: Because that ship could really move. It was a very fast ship.

L: You lay there, and the bunks that you had were all tiers. About four of em high. And I know that one night I was laying there, I could watch - I had a string tied to the wall light and I could watch that thing move back and forth. And one time, it went almost 45 degrees, and it stayed there. I got a little apprehensive. (Laughter). It came back.

And we went down, we left New York Harbor and we went down south to the Azores. And when we got there, then we headed north and we went up into the ah, what the hell do they call it, up to the River Firth? And they took us off the boat in lighters. They had these big barges that came out and we took our gear and went down on there. And they took us over, and then they landed, took us to England and we got a train there and we went to ah, [Tidworth] Barracks which is about, it's on the Plains of Salisbury. And we got our, collected our equipment. We had to take it out, the guns and everything were all in Cosmoline. That all had to be cleaned up and we had to get the tanks and things. Checked em over before they were issued to the units. And um, then from there we got, I had a 24-hour leave. Got into London.

B: Tell me about England. What was it like?

L: Much like it is around here. The countryside and everything. We didn't get too much with the local people around there. Some of the ladies, yes, they came and had goods to sell. (Laughter). But the barracks we were in were old, old stone buildings, two story, great big fireplace on one end. Which hardly ever heated the thing. And the ah, it was cold and damp.

B: Had the invasion of Normandy taken place by then?

L: Yeah. Because we went in, that was in June and we got over there sometime in July. We landed on the, on Omaha when we went from England. We left Portsmouth and crossed the channel in an LST. And we got, we landed on Omaha. And at St. Lo. And then we moved up, we moved right up the, once we started in, we could move without any resistance or anything. They moved right on straight up into [Lintgen], Luxembourg which was about 15 kilometers north of Luxembourg City. And we found the, we were set up in a, on two sides of a road that was woods that was on both sides. And we bivouacked in those until we, well we didn't move on until the Battle of the Bulge.

B: How did you hear about that? Could you tell me a little bit about the Battle of the Bulge? How did you, were you involved in that in any way?

L: Yeah. We were, I can't tell you, I didn't really get into any actual combat with anybody. Oh, a couple of times we, as we were going along, we'd, these Germans would come out of the woods. I know one time we had to kinda hold down on a few of the fellows. They were ready to fire. And these guys had their hands up and everything. But, then a couple times we were threatened. I had some, I was interested in aviation and I had been, I was a student pilot when I went into service. Anyway I had collected some aircraft instruments, from a wrecked aircraft.

B: German or American?

L: German. And word came down, "Get rid of all your," came down through the convoy from the front. "Get rid of all your souvenirs. There's some SS troopers up ahead." So everything went, dumped out. Because if you were caught with anything, they didn't [ ]. (Laughter).

B: Was collecting souvenirs a common thing for…?

L: Yes. The thing that bothered me is, well when you're convoying, usually you're going and stopping, going and stopping. And we went through the Leica camera factory. Went right by it. That was one of my, one of the things I wanted most was a Leica camera. And the doggone convoy wouldn't stop. One of those times they went right on through. But ah…

B: So you lost your souvenirs.

L: And we are set up, we had canvas repair people, instrument repair people. And the small arms group. And artillery people. Instrument people. And these people had their trucks with their supplies and everything. We had six by sixes. And a ¾ ton. But they had the 6 x 6 and they had all bins in there and that. They had em all fixed up. They could sleep in there and everything. They had it real cozy when we stopped. But we had 16 men in our platoon and we had , well we had the truck driver and his assistant. And then the mechanic that sits in the back of the truck. And then we had another ¾ ton that hadda pull the trailer. Well, we pulled one too with spare parts in it. And they had the3/4 ton with a smaller trailer and that had a welder and an air compressor on it.

B: What would be a common or a typical repair or maintenance that you would do on an armored vehicle?

L: Well, change tracks. Or get in there and repair an engine. Find out why the engine wasn't working. Replace spark plugs and ignition systems. We could pull an engine if we had to. It was very seldom that we ever had an engine. Transmissions, yes, but engines, well on a tank the final drive would go out. Well then that was the whole nose of the tank. Had to pull that out to get at it.

B: Wow! That sounds like heavy work. So you must have been set up to do those kind of…

L: Yeah, we had a couple of wreckers with us; heavy-duty wreckers. And they had, they would have to go out and pull some of that stuff in too.

B: You mean something that was broke down or that was battle damaged and would have to be pulled in?

L: Right. And one night we were changing a final drive on an M-4. And they had big barrels, 55 gal. drums. And they were sittin along the road. You could see em all the time. Had road tar in and they were empty. And we needed some light so we took and set one of those, poured some gas in it and set it on fire so we could have some, greater share of light instead of just a little hand light around. Extension cords. And in the morning we find out (laughter) there's an antitank sittin in the town about two miles down the road. But they were a lot of fun…

B: Was American equipment pretty sturdy in that it was well built and didn't really need…?

L: We had very little problems with it.

B: You did, huh? Over all it was pretty good?

L: And then we also carried spare tanks with us. Each, like in our battle group each one of the maintenance companies, A,B and C would have two or three, depending on what was given to us. Medium tanks. We never had any of the big heavy stuff. It was all medium or light. Might have two or three medium and two or three light tanks. We never had any wheeled vehicles extra, just the tanks.

And then the mechanics, or the fellows that were qualified as tracked vehicle mechanics, they were the drivers. And then they'd take a small arms man and put him up in the turret and he would be the loader. One of the artillery repairmen would be the gunner. And then somebody from the instrument or one of the other groups there, they would be the assistant driver in the tank. And that's the way we would go.

B: Did you salvage any parts? Did you always have spare parts or were you looking for spare parts in, let's say, damaged equipment?

L: No. We never had that opportunity to stop?

B: Did you always have enough?

L: Yeah. Our supplies were fairly good.

B: They were? Kept up with you?

L: And we never really had any fuel problems. We had the advantage of switching from 1st to 3rd Army. But we might for two or three days, we'd be under control of 1st Army, and then they would switch control. We'd be transferred to Patton's 3rd Army. Well, with Patton we had all the logistical supplies we needed. Gas, oil, everything else (laughter), you got all you wanted. And then when we went back to 1st Army, our rations were very, very excellent. Patton, he was a C-ration boy. And we got a lot of extra food when we got switched. It kinda balanced us out a little bit.

B: So then you must have had to move every few days as the lines moved? Did you continue to follow along?

L: There were many days that we would be going down, like say, one of the highways there. Not the autobahn but some of their better highways there. And the foot infantrys, your infantry units would be maybe two, three days behind us. And here we were out with our battle group there. With the troops that we were servicing. Hell, we'd be out two, three days, four days ahead and nothing on either side of us. The Germans wanted to come, they could have just walked right behind us, cut us off.

B: During this time, did you have any doubts or any thoughts that America or its allies would lose the war?

L: No. I don't think I ever heard anybody mention it.

B: You had confidence that … How about as you got into Germany, was there a sense that the war was drawing to a close?

L: No. We never, we never got enough information really, to know what the particulars were? I mean we just knew what we saw everyday and that was it. We never got to know much about where we were going or anything.

Well, one little incident there just before the Battle of the Bulge, I was mounting a bulldozer blade on an M-4 tank. And the wrecker had brought the side beams and some of the other parts to it all on a chain together. And he dropped it down where I was working. And I took a chain that was wrapped around and I couldn't get it loose. I snapped it and I dumped the whole across my arch. And I was tied down there and I couldn't get it off or loose. Couldn't get my foot. And they had to get a wrecker back again. And I couldn't walk on my foot. It was all swelled up right away.

And they had to put me back to an advanced aid station. Cut my shoe off and looked at it. They didn't have any x-rays and they didn't know if I broke my arch or what. So then he sent me back further. Well then they found that it was alright. Just a bad bruise there that was causing it. But I couldn't get a boot on. So they wouldn't let me go. They wouldn't return me to my company. And I ended up at another aid place and they were gonna ship me to England and the weather closed in and they couldn't fly us out. So they put us on the train and sent me back to Paris.

So I spent about three days there and…

B: That was pretty tough to take, huh?

L: Yeah, it was in a sense. I wanted to get back with my outfit.

B: Oh, did ya?

L: Anyway we, well I made a good deal of it. I kept busy. I ran the ducks and helped these fellows that were, oh jeez, odors were terrific. They'd come in with these body casts on all full of blood and everything and you know, it was on there for three, four days or better. And they'd help em shave and wash, and brush their teeth, and feed em and things like that. And it paid off because at night when the night shift was on, and they had their dinner about midnight, then they'd invite us over. And they had steaks and ice cream and stuff that [ ] (laughter).

And we read the mail for the guys. If any had come. Very little of it ever got through because some of those guys were there for awhile. We'd write letters for em to the…

B: I imagine that was very hard though, in a way, wasn't it?

L: Yeah. To see those… You look at yourself and you say how lucky you were. And I talked em into lettin me go. I got my shoe on, my boot on and I talked em into releasing me. And they sent me to a replacement depot up at Etampes, France, which was about oh, 50-60 miles southeast of Paris. And we got there at noon and this place was a slave labor, had been a slave labor camp. They had a long [bag] of barracks. They didn't have a damn thing there. They didn't have enough mess gear for the fellas. Anything. Some were eating on the trays. Some were eating out of the bottom part of it. Some had spoons. Some were eating with forks. Others with knives. And no place to sleep. We were, it was so crowded. And then they had these prisoners serving. If it hit the plate, fine. You had some…

{The first tape ends here}.

B: Okay. Tape 2.

L: The next day, we stayed there overnight, the next day five of us put our heads together, grabbed our clothes right after lunch, grabbed our clothes, there was a big hole in the wall. We walked. I didn't wear my, I knew where my outfit was but I didn't know if they were going to move. I had no idea. There was nothing said before I left. But anyway, five of us left and we were heading back to our outfit. We were all up in about the same area. We weren't going to sit there and take that.

So we went down the road aways, got questioned and the road guards questioned us because we didn't have any weapons or anything, and no paper work. Anyway they [ ]. So we went aways. We got a telephone, telephone wire repair group. And they took us all the way into Paris and over to the Redball Truckline. And got us, we got in with those guys. We got a ride all the way up to some big transportation center in Belgium. I can't remember the name. It goes way back into World War I, and I can't remember the name of it.

But these guys, they gave us blankets and things. We had our supper there with them. And we stayed in their barracks for about an hour and we took our blankets and went out in the warehouse and slept on cargo or whatever was available. Them guys were fighting with their razors and knives. [ ] All the time. We just couldn't take it. So in the morning we had breakfast and we headed out. And I don't know, we didn't have any maps or anything. I don't know how we got where we did.

So by ten o'clock that morning we, remember we left at noon the day before, and here it is at ten o'clock in the morning and I'm not too far from Luxembourg. And so I got back to my unit and they contacted my battalion headquarters. And they said, "Sorry, his papers have all gone up to Division and he's AWOL." So I said they've located the forward replacement depot and our liaison officer took me over there and they wrote, my company commander wrote to this place that I had walked through a hole in the wall from and got them to send my transfer papers up to this place in Verviers, Belgium. And then I was up there for oh, I don't know, four or five days.

B: Did you get in trouble for it?

L: No. It doesn't even appear on my, anywheres on my records. And then from there I went up to, up someplace near the river that separates, I was right on it, I think. That separates Luxembourg from Germany or whatever is across the line. {Our or Sauer River?} And stayed in a big castle there. Then next morning I got transported back to my company.

B: Were the fellows glad to see you come back?

L: Yeah.

B: They were, huh?

L: And then I got back in the morning on my birthday, 12th of December. I did some laundry and I had that drying. And then in the afternoon word came down, start breaking camp but don't make it look like we're doing anything. Just a piece here, a piece there. And then we found out the Battle of the Bulge had started. And then we had to, because we were right up in that , in that area there.

And then so then we ran around the country. I can't tell you where we all went. I know we got, we were, had one vehicle that was in for repairs and we, I don't know, they lost the nut for, that held a steering wheel onto the post or something. And I was elected to drive that one. (Laughter) Anyway we took off, like I say, nobody ever knew where we were going. Guys used to say, "Larry, why are you always watching out of the back of the truck for?" I says, "Well, you guy might not care but I don't know where I'm goin, but I sure like to know where the hell I came from." So anyway…

B: Well, what did you think when you heard about this big German offensive?

L: Well, not really anything. We're numb. 'We don't hear all that stuff. And we didn't know it was the Battle of the Bulge at the time. Just that we had to move, that the Germans were making a drive. And so anyway we went out and our route took us somehow we got into Bastogne. And we were bringing up, because we had this equipment, we were at the rear end of the convoy behind the cooks. Well the cooks weren't much of a drivers, Mexican. They had been Mexican rail hands. Or cooks for Santa Fe Railroad. But anyway, they lost the convoy. We didn't know where to go so we just stopped there, rolled our bedrolls out on the sidewalk and slept by our trucks. And the next morning - we figured they'd come back looking for us - the next morning they did. They got us just before lunch. And we got out of there and right after that the Germans closed in. We just, we got through there without, I mean we had no idea that the Germans were even around us at that time. But when we found out, when they said the Germans closed in at noon there, well we knew we were lucky.

B: You didn't have a lot of information then did you?

L: No. We never, we never knew much where we were going or anything else. But that's the way it went. I didn't have anything really…

B: Do you remember the end of the war in Europe? Was there a big celebration?

L: I don't know. We never got back to… When the war ended, we were up in, between, in Czechoslovakia, right on the border. We had gone up ah, the 14th Armored, which was kind of a, they hadn't seen much service and they were on their way to Prague to help [ ]. Well they got into trouble and they asked us to go over. Our combat command to go over there to support them. And we were on our way over there when the war ended.

B: What did you do then? Did you have any kind of a celebration?

L: No.

B: No? Just glad it was over? How did you get back then to the states? And when?

L: When we came back to the states I don't remember the date times anymore. But, oh yes I do. We got back in the states on Columbus Day . We landed in Boston Harbor on Columbus Day of '45.

And anyway, when we, we went into a town {Larry is still in Europe here}, it was right on the border there, and what you see now, what you see now up there in these towns was going on there too. We couldn't even go into town at night. Because you didn't know which, they didn't like the GI's. But you had that, across the border there, you had the intermarriage and yet these people were fighting one another like [ ], didn't make sense but that's the way it is. And you see that same thing now with the Israelites and Afghanistan and, same darn thing you got going on down there.

So anyway we, they started a big collection of military vehicles from the units that were up there that were being disbanded and so forth. And then we took those and then we drove from up there down to some airfield in France. We convoyed all the way back. It took us about five, six days or better than that. And with these, with these vehicles. And then from there, we went, I think we went to Camp Lucky Strike.

B: LeHavre?

L: Yeah. We spent several days there doing nothing but eating and sleeping and lolling around. Well, we did get a couple of baseball games going to keep active. We put on weight. 200 pounds. 243 pounds. (Laughter).

Well anyway, we came home on a brand new Victory ship that was on its maiden voyage. We landed in Boston Harbor on Columbus Day. One of the fellows who, that happened to be on board our ship, I don't know what unit he was from or anything but, 'cause we were all mixed up and we didn't have any organization there. And he had been, he went, we came up and he was on the deck leaning over the railing, talking to his wife. And then we got orders to pick our gear, go down and get our gear and disembark. And on the way up the ladders with his gear, he had a heart attack and passed away.

B: Was your wife waiting for you or was she back in Oshkosh?

L: She was back in Oshkosh. I got home one day before my daughter's first birthday. Talk about a long mile. That flight of stairs up to the apartment [ ].

B: You come back to a place like Camp McCoy and then from there?

L: No. We came into Fort Sheridan and then we had to go through some briefing and so forth. And then we were given leave. I think we had five days. We came home and then we had to report back for our discharge to Fort Sheridan.

B: So what happened after the war? Did you stay here in town then?

L: Yes. I went to Oshkosh Business College under the GI Bill. I worked out at Pluswood nights. And it was two years that I spent there. Then I got a job, went to a place called Kontra's Auto Body. I knew automobiles, cab company, bodywork and everything. And I was made more or less, assistant manager. The boss was gone a lot. We had a Hertz Rental Car agency. And they had a franchise for that.

And he had, I shouldn't say he, we, the fellas in the shop and myself helped him design a speedometer lock that went over the back end of the speed thing. You couldn't disconnect it. Because that was a good way of cheating. Disconnect the speedometer cable. And we always, we helped them design that and put it into production. So he was gone selling that a lot. So the body shop was left up to me, doing the…

B: Is the war something that you think of very often today?

L: No. As I said, I, well I was called back, 1950 we had some family trouble. Not myself, but my wife and my mother had a disagreement and everything. And I said, "Well, the only way to get along with the family is to get away from them and see em once in awhile." So I went down to try to enlist. But I came out as a Tech, Tech 3, which is the equivalent to a staff sergeant's rating as far as pay. And I couldn't get back in. So I didn't know what to do. And the recruiting sergeant says, "Go over to the Guards, reserves, and enlist. Sign up again and then in six months, you'll get your staff." And then he said, "In six months, go active." Because when I went back to try to enlist, I could only get a corporal's rating which with a family and things, living around camps I knew what it was like and I thought, oh I can't make it go on that. So anyway, that's what I did.

Well then, through my work and everything, and changes, I just stayed in the Guards. So I had four and a half, well when you count my call up for the Berlin, the Cuban Crisis, I had a total of 20 and a half years. So I retired as a captain in the Guard. But no, they said I didn't have any…. A lot of funny things happened that you look at. But as far as, I feel these fellas that, we had a breeze. When I look and talk to these fellas, like the guys that I was with, Service Company over here in the 127 that were in the islands and Guam and all the places. When I know what they went through, we had a breeze.

A friend of mine, a close friend of ours I knew before we went into service, he was a Marine over there. I don't know if I could have survived that. They really had it rough. So like I say, I can say that I was there, and I helped. But the only thing I had really, is going AWOL.

B: Tell me, I just have a couple questions. Tell me what did you think of your enemies? The Germans and the Japanese? How did you, thinking back, put yourself as a young man and try to think back now to the war. How did you view your enemy?

L: Like I say, times that we had contact with them, they were on their way in. They had given up. And some of these fellows were so angry. I didn't have that animosity towards them. And a lot of these guys, I don't know for why or what, but they were ready to pull the trigger. And I couldn't do it. I know I had a sergeant in my, my platoon sergeant. We had to pull a gun on him. He was always drunk, out of shape, and he went into, we were convoying through this one town and he goes in and he tries to rape this one girl.

And this fellow I talked about was our truck driver. This [Belker]. He and I went in there and we could hear the screaming. Her parents were there too. And we went in there and we actually had to, he had his carbine and we actually had to pull our guns on him, our own guns. In fact, he had a German revolver. They had to take it away from him. He was going to kill me.

B: While you were overseas, did you ever meet anybody from your hometown? Did you have any…?

L: I can't remember, know where it was. It was some place near Aachen or Duren. It couldn't a been Duren because that town was devastated. It was only a few chickens and stuff. Houses and stuff were there but there was no population. But I went into a, we would go and stop in some of these towns. Well then we would go into the houses and take the living room and dining area. We wouldn't mess around with their bedrooms or anything like that. Well, we might use their kitchen to cook our "10 in 1" rations or heat up our C-rations in but we never bothered the people.

But anyway, I was in the dining room and they had a buffet. And I pulled a drawer out and was looking through it just out of curiosity. And I found a ration book with the name Esser in it. But I couldn't talk the language. But I did be able to determine that this had belonged to a woman that was a teacher. But she wasn't there and I cannot understand that she wasn't there because I don't see how anybody could go anywheres over there without a ration book. But I never did, never tried to look, I couldn't find, well I didn't have much time. I only had an overnight that we were there. But I never looked, tried to locate her. I mean ask some questions, but when you can't talk the language, you're a little. But there were a lotta, lotta people over there that talked English, surprisingly.

B: How was your mail from home? Did it arrive…?

L: It followed us pretty well.

B: It did, huh?

L: When I was at that replacement depot in Verviers, I worked in the mailroom for something to do. Sit around doin nothin all day. I went down and worked in the mail room sorting, taking this mail in and readdressing it to, have it move it on to wherever this, wherever our records showed that this person had moved to. And boy, there was a lotta, some of those fellows had big packs of mail.

No, I never had any trouble with mail. My wife would write to me almost every week.

B: She would, huh?

L: The biggest problem was with our Mexican men.

B: Did you ever hear any rumors or did you know anything about the Germans and their concentration camps.

L: I think there was some in the army newspaper, the Stars & Stripes. But we never really paid much attention to it. One fellow one night, we got caught in an artillery duel. We were out in the middle of em. And we had to take cover under our trucks. And a kid from Texas, he was having a lot of marital problems at home, and I guess he oh, being underneath all that banging and booming and the flashes and everything, he broke and we had to really lay him out before we could control him. Next morning he, we, he was in a, we got him over to medics and we never did see him after that. I guess from what word we had, they sent him home. But other than that we, well we had a, one fellow, right after we got in [colon] {Cologne} up there, he was drinking some green whiskey. Got all barreled out of shape and he was trying to ride a bicycle with a submachine gun across his back. It didn't work too well and he fell off. But other than that, things were pretty quiet.

B: Well, thanks a lot. It's been very enjoyable. I really appreciate this.

L: I just wish I could remember more names, more places.
Event World War II
Category 6: T&E For Communication
Legal Status Oshkosh Public Museum
Object ID OH2001.3.43
Object Name Tape, Magnetic
People Esser, Lawrence
Subjects World War II
United States Army
Maintenance & repair
Armored vehicles
European Theater of Operations
Title Oral History Interview with Lawrence Esser.
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION ~ For access to this image, contact

NOTICE: This material may be freely used by non-commercial entities for educational and/or research purposes as long as this message remains on all copied material. These electronic pages cannot be reproduced in any format for profit or other presentation without the permission of The Oshkosh Public Museum. © 2005 Oshkosh Public Museum, All Rights Reserved   
Last modified on: December 12, 2009