|Cassette recorded Oral History Interview with Nate Wauda, member of the 127th Infantry, 32nd Division prior to the war and served in the 99th Division in Europe.
Nate Wauda Interview
22 January 2004
Conducted by Bradley Larson
(B: identifies the interviewer, Brad Larson; N: identifies the subject, Mr. Wauda. M: identifies Mrs. Marion Wauda. Open brackets [ ] or bracketed words indicate that either a word or phrase is not understood, or that proper spelling for the word is unclear).
N: Wauda. W-A-U-D-A. Born Neenah, Wisconsin July 29, 1912.
B: And your parent's name?
N: My parent's name, my father's name was Emil, born in Germany 1870. My mother Elizabeth was born on a farm right over here just south of Neenah in 1874.
B: That's great. Sounds good. Now I always like to start out talking before the war. Like in the Great Depression in the 1920's. So lets start out talking that way Nate, and you can tell me a little bit about what you were doing say, in the 1930's.
N: I graduated from Neenah High School in 1930. And I went to work at the Menasha Woodenware Corporation as an office boy. $10.00 a week, six days a week from 6 AM to 6 PM including Saturday. Two of us, Fritz Olson and myself were the office boys for the whole gang over here on Canal in Menasha.
B: Were jobs pretty hard to get?
N: Oh yes. Very, very hard to get. It was just the fact that my father had worked there in previous years and my brother, that they knew about me. Plus the fact that some of the people I knew were on the staff of the Menasha Woodenware. I was involved in a lot of amateur activities, mostly amateur plays, dramatics and so forth. So I got to know some of these people and I had a doorway to go in. If I hadn't had that, I might not have gotten the job. Because jobs were scarce and $10.00 a week wasn't much for the hours that we worked.
N: And in 1933 the Depression was just rolling right along and they were cutting back on people. So they went for last ones hired were the first ones they let go. So Fritz Olson and I were let go. And we were succeeded there the next year by a fellow who became the president of Kimberly Clark.
So anyway, I went away to school in 1933. Davidson College in North Carolina. And I couldn't make the whole [ ] because of money. So I had a year and a half at school and I came back just about the time of Pearl Harbor. But I already had been put back, I served in the National Guard, Headquarters Company, First Battalion, 127th for three years.
B: When did you enlist in the National Guard?
N: 1931. Within a year after I was out of high school.
B: Why did you enlist in the Guard?
N: Well, I wanted something to do first of all. I was bored not doing something productive, if you can call it that. And my brother had served with the Red Arrow in World War I. So he said to me, "Shorty, why don't you, if you want to have something to do, why don't you join the National Guard? You get to go to camp, Camp Douglas in the summer, and drill once or twice a month, you know. It's a good thing. And you earn a few bucks besides. And there's a lot of friendship there." And there was, a lot.
B: Were there a lot of your friends in the Guard?
N: Oh yes. Absolutely. Elmer Burr, one of my best friends. Yeah. In fact I rode back, Elmer and I were in Louisiana together with Red Arrow before Pearl Harbor. For a whole year before Pearl Harbor.. And in October I think, of 1941, the War Department said, "Any man in the service over 28 must go back home for an extended furlough. You're not out of the army. Keep your uniform. Keep everything the way it is. We'll call you back when we have room for you. We want to make room for the younger selectees or drafts-people coming through."
So Elmer and myself, quite a few of us, we were at Camp Livingstone, Louisiana. The Red Arrow. And he was in Company I. He was the "top-kick" and one of the best I ever knew when I was in the National Guard. [Before that I was in,] way back after '31, '32, '33, he was still the Company I First Sergeant. He was a cracker jack. And I Company, this was history, World War I was the key company outfit that helped break the Hindenberg Line and end the war. And they were given, what do you call it, the duty for staying in Germany until 1919.
N: Occupation. And they came home on a night in November. You should have seen that celebration. 11 o'clock at night, the train, the locomotive was on Garfield Avenue. The last car was by the valley and the train was over a mile long. Had four infantry companies on it. E and G in Appleton, and I Company and Headquarters Company from Neenah.
B: You were a young boy then.
N: Oh yeah. I was six years old.
B: You remember it?
N: Oh very vividly. My dad said, "Well," he said, "George is home." My brother is home, but he got hurt. He was driving a motorcycle ambulance and it cracked up on him. He ruined his legs for the rest of his life. But he had his time in with em anyway. So my father was military minded, you know. It was his oldest son. In fact he bought me a little khaki suit. He bought me a flag on Armistice Day in 1918. Well, I go back. So it was gonna be a big event. The boys are coming home from the war.
So Dad said, "Well, now don't go to bed tonight but just lie down and take a little nap because I'll wake you up in time. We're gonna walk up High Street to the [ ] Knitting Company on Commercial when that train comes in. And we're gonna stay there and see all those boys get off that train." That's what we did. It was quite a welcome. People lined, this was 11 o'clock at night, people lined Commercial Street from the Northwestern Depot all the way to the downtown main intersection. Bands playing, firecrackers and everything. They had red flares along the way. Oh ho! And relatives broke ranks and went out and hugged their homecoming boys, you know. It was a problem. They knocked their helmets off, the old-fashioned tin hats they had in World War I. That we had in World War II also. So it was quite an event. And it did something to me.
B: It made an impression on you. I can tell that.
N: It did. It really did. And then my dad could see that so he bought me a little khaki suit to wear. And he said, "Now you wear this every time you go to a parade, especially on Memorial Day." So that's why I wore that little - I think my mother had it in the attic for years.
So that was a great lift of patriotic, what do you call it, support for what the country did. I'll never forget it. And then when the Red Arrow left for Louisiana in October 27th, 1940 that train too, the locomotive was way down by the Valley Inn and the last car by Garfield Avenue. And they were taking the Red Arrow Division to Louisiana for active duty. They were activated.
And [Wally Olsen], he was the commanding officer of the headquarters outfit, I was in with him. I was his Company Clerk for three years. So we knew each other. And he got after me. He said, "Come on. You want to "up" with the guys and go back in the service?" "No, I'm gonna enlist in the Air Force." I really wanted to. So I had my physical examination. I was fine except for a little high blood pressure. My vision was perfect, 20/20, still is. So I couldn't make that. So I told the local draft board, I said, "When the first bunch goes, if you've got anybody going to Louisiana, let me know. Because I'd like to go along with the 32nd Division." Which I have a lot of warm respect for. And I think you do too. So that's the way it worked out. So ah…
B: Why did you pick the Air Force. Why did you want to be in the corps?
N: Well, I was an amateur pilot. A good friend of mine, he's dead now, [ ] quite a few, it was Fritz Stacker was one of my early instructors. So was the fellow that just got killed here a little while ago. Oshkosh hero in the air - one eye - oh what's his name Marion?
M: Oh, he just crashed a few years ago.
B: Steve Wittman?
N: Yes. Steve Wittman. This is what 92 years old does to ya.
B: So during this period of the 1930's, when you're in the Guard, are you aware or reading much about what's happening overseas in Europe or…?
N: Oh sure. Absolutely. Yes. And I remember that some of the well-educated people in the Guard, that had civilian jobs of course, the Guard was a temporary thing, were talking about the upcoming trouble in Japan. I remember a fellow from Waupaca. He lost his life in, I think it was in New Guinea. And he was a school superintendent in Waupaca. And he figured, you know, 'keep your hardware in good shape and your powder dry for those guys with the little eyes'. The Japanese. He did a lot of research on his own about history and what's going on in the world.
And we knew about Hitler of course, what was going on in Germany. That was more distant than the outlook in Japan.
B: Was it a topic of conversation among you and your friends?
B: It was eh?
N: After we got down to Louisiana… You know, when you get out of civilian life and you get into a military group, it's a different kind of a fraternity. It's much closer than a college fraternity or anything else like that. You know what I mean? A club. You're buddies. You're bound to be when you share the same grief every day. Excuse me, it isn't grief. It's a good life. But that's how it came about. We used to listen to him (the man from Waupaca). He'd call us in a night and he'd just sit and shoot the breeze about things. And he pointed out what was going on over there in Germany and Japan. And he said, "I just don't think it'll be anything else but." Maybe it's a good thing if the Red Arrow fellows are ready for it. But I was myself.
But of course I was too old so I was back home. But when December 7th occurred there in 1941, I just happened to be home temporarily on an extended furlough. And I got a job with Kimberly Clark. The job I had before with Central Paper Company, the man said, "Well, you go in the army and I'll support you all the way. When you come home you can have your job back." That didn't happen. I wrote him a letter in October of 1941. I said, "I have to come back for a maybe a few months, not permanently but I'd like to come back to work." The answer was, "Well, things are different. My son is out of college and he's got your job. So I'm afraid we can't have you back for now. Good luck."
So I never cared about that. I wrote to the employment office here in Menasha. Happened to know the guy in charge, Harry Gates. Told him the situation and he said, "My God! He'd do that to you?" I said, "Yes, he did." Well, "So we'll find you a job at Kimberly Clark." And that's how I got started. I put in almost 50 years with KC. So that's how things happen.
M: It was a good change.
N: But going back to the military life. In the National Guard I learned a lot about military life. It's not a total thing. You're not there every day like you are when you're in uniform. But I learned a lot of things I liked. And I was a Company Clerk when I was the National Guard.
B: Did you feel you were well trained while you were in the Guard?
N: Oh yes, yes indeed. We went to Camp Douglas, which was Camp Williams. That was the home training camp in Wisconsin for the Red Arrow or the 32nd Division. Way back to World War I. So, yes I got very good military education from the Red Arrow in Camp Douglas. All the angles of military life, just as raw and real as they are were right there for me to grab and realize what they are.
B: Were there World War I vets in that division?
N: Oh yes, oh sure. Officers, most of em. Yup. J. Tracy Hale from Milwaukee was a veteran of World War I. He was the commanding officer of the 127th which I'm sure you know is rated as one of the finest military infantry regiments in history. The one-two-seven. They cracked the Hindenberg Line for one thing. And they were very effective in New Guinea. And Elmer Burr was with em.
B: Well what happened on December 7th at that point in your life?
N: Well I came back to work on Monday morning on the 8th, and they all passed my desk and said, "When are you going back?" "When are you going back?" So I got a letter from Ft. Sheridan, Illinois that I would be matriculating soon. They'd let me know when and where to report. At that time the 32nd was in Fort…? Somewhere near Boston, Massachusetts. They'd been pulled out of Louisiana. The second series of maneuvers ended in October. And I had the first part, the September part, but then I was excused to go back. Because I was only considered a returnee because of my age.
So Wally Olson, who had been my CO back in the National Guard, was the assistant S-1 or G-1 of the 32nd in Louisiana. So I had some good feedback right there. So when I went away he said, "Well, we'll look out for you Nate. We'll watch for you, you know. What happens to us." And he said right out to me, he said, "If we need to call you back, will you come back to the Red Arrow?" I said, "Absolutely." An outfit like that? Oh yes!
But it didn't happen because while that was all possibly happening, the Red Arrow Division was secretly called from Ft. Devons, Massachusetts on four trainloads of troops and trucks and all to San Francisco, en route to New Guinea. It was done secretly. So in that interval of time, I was notified by 6th Service Command in Chicago at Ft. Sheridan, "Please do not return to your original outfit. They have been secretly sent to a distant destination. Report to Fort Sheridan, Illinois on such and such a day. We will reenlist you somewhere else."
Then my father died suddenly in March of '40, '41, and '42. So I got a hold of the people down there at Ft. Sheridan's 6th Service Command. I told them what had happened. They said, "Well, we'll find you a position here and get down here. So we'll give you three weeks of bereavement time," they called it, "after your father's been buried."
So I went down there, and here's an old officer from back at Camp Douglas. [I got into personnel at Ft. Sheridan and ended up ] Sergeant Major. And I was there all the spring and summer of '42 and Colonel Fred Rogers, there were eight of us then. I was considered regular army because I'd had previous training with the 32nd and so forth and so on. I was not a draftee. You understand what I mean. So I had a better start right there. And Colonel Rogers was a veteran of World War I, a nice guy. And there were eight of us that were in that classification. He called us in one by one. And he said, "You fellows been doing a good job here. I admire your attention to duty and so forth. Here's something I'm going to give you. You can open it now and look at it. Open it up." A set of gold bars with crossed rifles of the US pin. "Now, I'm giving these to you Sergeant, but you can't give them back. You gotta wear em." Every one of us made it in OCS.
B: Was that a big surprise to you?
N: Sure, it was in a way. I considered OCS, officer candidate school. I applied for Ft. Benning. I applied for Oklahoma artillery. And they sent me to Camp Davis. That was the advanced artillery school of the West Point system. And boy that was tough. Oh, it was tough!
B: Why was it tough?
N: The West Point system was used in the training. All officers were West Point graduates. So the way they handled us in every phase of our daily work, or spare time, our studies, our attitudes, our dress, our uniform and so forth. Our general, you know, "What sort of soldier are you?"
I'll never forget the day we graduated. Colonel [ ], a veteran of World War I and a hero, a three-star general, he was the head of that particular OCS. They called, they always called it the West Point School. It was tough, the toughest one of all. And we started with 840 men, students. And we graduated 208. The rest were all, [ ] out. So he got up there on the stage at the theater and he said, "Gentlemen, you're about to become an officer in the United States Army. I want to give you one word of advice. Make it your daily, serious effort guide. Never expect an enlisted man under your command to do anything you haven't done yourself first." He said, "That's all I've got to say, and you know what that means." And it worked out pretty well.
B: Had you had any experience with artillery up to, prior to being sent?
N: Oh yeah. Oh sure. We had 90 millimeter at Camp Davis. And we fired a lot on the range there, down on the ocean at Wilmington, North Carolina. We had a firing range down there. We had a lot of target [ ], target [ ]. This famous woman flier, I forget her name now, she flew a Ventura, a Lockheed Ventura plane towing a sleeve target 500 feet behind the plane. At 28,00 feet. We shot at that sleeve with 90 millimeter guns. We started first with a mechanical director which was done with various things, things were different sizes to get the solution of the right triangle. Hypotenuse, range, altitude. And then they came out with the MN Director which was electronic. A professor dreamed it up one night, how to solve the right triangle by electricity. And it became the M10, the anti-aircraft that was used all from then on in World War II. And still, they don't use it anymore because it's no longer necessary.
B: Was that considered to be pretty tough to hit something like that?
N: Oh yes. Oh sure. Oh, very hard.
B: What was your job as an officer? What were some of the things you would be responsible for?
N: As an officer, I was a battery commander. I was responsible first of all for the health, mental and physical health of my men. Their health. Second, their amount of education and training. What do they know and what don't they know. What do they have to be brought up to [ ] on. Third, their attitude. What kind of a man is he? And that sort of thing. In other words, dedication. As the boss always told us, get those kids dedicated to what they're doing. Make em feel that they're in a responsible place. That they have a chance to make something of themselves while they're alive.
B: And while you're going through this period in your life in this training, tell me about what you were thinking about the war itself as it's raging in the Pacific and in Europe.
N: Well my biggest fear was Europe. I figured that Japan was [element] but we had Italy and Germany under two communistic dictators. Hitler and Mussolini. And we always felt, when we'd get into bull sessions with the fellows at night, you know, we always felt that we could probably fight better against the people in the South Pacific because it's only one nationality. But to face up to people that were much like we were, they spoke English just like we did, the Italians and the Germans, you know. So we had more respect for that end of the whole bargain. What we would have to do. And we worried about it. I did.
B: How did you view your enemies up to this point? Now you hadn't been overseas yet and faced them. How did you view them? Thinking back when you're a young man.
N: Well I loved my country first of all. Had a lot of patriotism in my heart. And I was a Christian. And I think that was the factor that helped to decide. Where is, where can you do the best, where can you do the most to help this situation? You don't have to be a hero but do your part. Get in there and pitch, you know. Where can you do the most, the best? And I felt it was in the ETO (European Theater of Operations).
B: Well, what happened at that point then, after you graduated and became an officer?
N: Well, that was funny. My date of rank was January 7th, 1943. And I graduated from North Carolina, Camp Davis, West Point school. My first assignment was, I was regimental adjutant at 2nd. Lieutenant's rank in New York. Fort [Totten] New York. Right out of OCS, here I am, an adjutant's got a lot to do with a regiment of 2,000 men, you know. So that's where I ended up. With the 701st Coast Artillery Anti-aircraft. One of the best aircraft battalions we had in the service. So was that when I started out and became a battery commander from then on. Had a 90-millimeter battery.
B: How many guns in a battery?
N: How many guns? Four. Four 90 millimeter, and we also had eight of the other smaller caliber, 40 millimeter Bofohrs. They called it the Bofohr gun. You've seen em in pictures, shooting. The barrel moved. The barrel doesn't move on a 90. The shell does. So that was the way that it turned out.
And we moved up to Camp Miles Standish, Massachusetts, the first unit to be up there. And we established a training schedule and we took out our, took our guns out to the ocean and shot targets above the ocean. And a lot of 50-caliber machine gun work too. I did that. I was an instructor for that. There was a lot of things to do.
Well then my administrative experience in the National Guard came to the head. And I got into the administration end of it so I became a regimental adjutant as a first lieutenant. But then of course I had my hands full. I had Colonel Lawrence Mitchell, USA Army, World War I who was stationed at Pearl Harbor when it happened. And before, and he told us all about it. And I'll tell you what he told us.
He said that was a setup. He said the, what do you call it, "The admiral of the Navy was there. And the top man of the Army was there at Pearl Harbor before this happened. And they brought in the [SCR sic] 210 radar set, which is a clumsy old bedspring that turned around in the air like this, you know. But there was a definite order: This is restricted. Nobody, but nobody is allowed to go inside that cyclone fence. One man, a sergeant from West Point was in charge of it. And he had the books and all the rest. And he'd play with that little bedspring, you know. And we'd wonder what he was doing. Many of us tried to find out what it was all about, you know. No, we weren't allowed to."
Well then when Pearl Harbor happened, what he told me, he said, "In the days just before Pearl Harbor," Colonel Mitchell told us that, "The first thing they did was they set out, everybody goes home on the week-end on Saturday. They come back on Monday, except maybe 10% stay on the post at Pearl Harbor. All aircraft are grounded. Gasoline tanks are emptied. Machine guns are taken off the planes. Pilots are put on a free 72-hour pass over that weekend. And that morning, December 7th, I talked to the sergeant who was there, in charge of that radar set? 210. I said, 'What the hell, sergeant,' this is after it happened. I said, 'Tell me, what happened?' 'Well,' he said, 'I was up at five o'clock before it got daylight. I'd go down to my place, unlock the locks to get into the place behind the wire fence. Turn on the thing, start swinging it around and everything looked normal. I kept swinging it around and I knew there was a squadron of B-17s coming in from the United States on a 90 azimuth. That's east, straight east coming in. So that was there. I identified that. And then I kept turning to the left, sweeping towards zero. And there was a cloud on my screen. And I worked it down and sure enough, there was something big moving toward Pearl Harbor from the northeast. So I went to the duty officer, he was a 2nd Lieutenant and I said, 'Sir, there's something on my screen, on my blip here that tells me something's coming this way from the northeast.' 'Aw, go on.' He said that because they were never allowed to be involved with that thing, actually; the officers at Pearl Harbor. So they had - what the hell, if we can't touch it, we won't touch it - so they avoided it. Well that was the flight of bombers of the Japanese air force coming." So that's what happened.
B: How long did you stay at Camp Miles Standish then?
N: Miles Standish? Oh let's see, I was at Fort [Totten] until March of the next year. In that interim I went to school. I went to, they sent me down to school in North Carolina and that's where I met her.
B: What did they send you to school for?
N: Advanced training on the electric director. The M-10. And a few other things too along with artillery. I'm trying to think now. Yeah, it was in the summer of '44 that we broke out of Camp Miles Standish. We went to Fort Bliss, Texas. El Paso. And there we were selected. The War Department selected 24 artillery outfits to be sent overseas for final training. They had 42 of em but they were going to break em down to 24. So there was competition. So the boss said, "Now come on, we wanna go, you know." And we were the second one selected from the top.
But another letter came down from general headquarters, from what's his name? A guy in Washington. That all artillery, all coast artillery and aircraft units presently on duty will be transferred to the infantry. Report to Fort Benning, Georgia to the infantry school.
So in the fall of '44 I was shipped to Ft. Benning, Georgia with all the rest of em. And my outfit got the third best shooting at Fort Bliss, Texas. Boy, I was mad!
B: What about the news coming from overseas at that time? How did that impact you and your fellow officers; the invasion of Europe. Do you remember what you thought about that?
N: Yeah. We thought about it. Our concern about what Hitler could possibly do. We didn't know about concentration camps; that we didn't know yet. But some of the other victories, we knew what they were. They were terrible. We were worried about that. We got a big, "Listen fellows, we got a big job to do." Those two, that Italian and that damned German over there. He wasn't a German, he was an Austrian. (Mussolini and Hitler). An Austrian Jew.
So that was it. We were, there was something over there that we knew was tough. And the common reaction was, "It's going to take a long time, fellows. We aren't goin home tomorrow, if we're going home at all."
And Japan was already at war in 1941. It seemed distant in a way. Too far away for us. We were closer to Europe than we were to Japan.
B: Let's turn now just for a minute and talk about America during this period. People pulling together and coming together to fight a common enemy. What was the mood of the country during those years?
N: Good. I would say unusually different and really elevated. I'm thinking about the women who left their children at home, left their good life, their good clean bed and went to live in more meager circumstances. To work in the aircraft factories to build the B-17s and the B-24s and all the rest of it. And the ammunition factories. They were great, those gals were. They really were.
M: Rosie the riveter.
N: The riveters. And that was hard work, dangerous work.
B: You were made aware of all this?
N: Oh sure, yes.
B: What was your main source of information would you say?
N: From travelling. When you traveled, you'd always run into them. You'd get on a train, you're going on special duty for, at some place, for a couple, two-three weeks. You'd always find four or five of these women coming, either coming from home or going home for a few days rest. And we'd go to the club car, have a beer or two and talk awhile. We'd let them tell us - what's it like? "Ho, ho ho mister. We wish we had pants on and we could go with you guys with a rifle instead of doing what we're doing. But we're gonna do it. We're gonna do what we're doing because we're helping you fellows. You just give those bastards hell." That's what they all said. "You take whatever you've got with you, you give those…" So there loyalty to what we were supposed to do was tops, those girls. They were an inspiration to us.
And the Army nurses as well. There's one of em right there. (Referring to Marion).
B: Was there any sense that America might lose the war?
N: Yes there was. We didn't think, we thought at least it was going to go longer than it did. There were a lot of us, I myself had - I'm from Missouri, you gotta show me, you know - what's going to happen. We were really afraid of Hitler and his group. Because we, what was given to us at OCS I remember, was a lot of lectures on the rise of Nazism, National Socialism in Germany. [Dennis DAQ] knew all about it and the origin of the Waffen Scheutzstaffel, the SS. Nothing about the concentration camps. That was odd. I remember we didn't hear anything about that at all back there. But we found out later. My outfit took Dachau late in May of, early in May of 1945.
B: When was your outfit sent over to Europe?
N: Well, they went over before I got there. I was shipped as a fill-in, you know [reserve] coming in. They went over in 1944. The 99th Division. They were a division unidentified. We had no shoulder patch. We had no patch on our helmet. All we had was our rank. Our operations were completely secret. There was an experiment that the War Department tried. The top guy in Washington dreamed it up and it worked pretty well.
B: So you went over as a replacement officer? When? When did you go?
N: At the end of '44. And I had the misfortune, I was in charge of 204 men. We were going over, it was right about the time of the Battle of the Bulge. And they needed men quick. So they put 4,000 on the West Point. It was the former USS America. And we sailed from Boston into Scotland. [Grenach] And at night I was on the bridge duty on the way over. I had to watch for periscopes. Can you imagine that? At night? And I developed a heck of a respiratory problem. I got sick.
And so we got, first of all on Saturday afternoon coming in the Firth of Clyde, we saw a battle between a German submarine, which could have gotten us but didn't, and a British Air Force bomber. And they got the submarine about 100 yards to our starboard. And we watched it come up like that, quiver for a moment and go down. All hands lost. The commander of the ship said, "Well gentlemen, now hear this." He was a Navy man. "You just witnessed your first combat in World War II. That British bomber destroyed that German submarine. All hands lost. So you're on your way. Keep it up and do it better than they did it." But he gave us a Yaaaaay - shot in the arm!
B: Were U boats a concern for you as you were heading over? Was it something that people kept first and foremost in their mind?
N: Well, it's hard to say. We knew where we were going. We knew what faced us. We left our loved ones behind, you know. We, the future looked pretty dark but the camaraderie of the fellows that were in the same kind of clothes that we were wearing did it. We were all buddies. One thing about your buddy in the service, there's nothing like it.
When we crossed the Remagen Bridge in Germany in '45, we saw the first German jet. What had happened was, the bridge had been partly bombed by the Germans. It was an old railroad bridge across the Rhine. The very first bridge available on the Rhine River. And a young lieutenant from Kansas saw it through his binoculars and we secretly lined it up in the… so we got across but we were attacked by this plane. We'd see it coming, and no sound but it was going awfully fast. Go by and skip bomb the bridge, and Pssh! And then go and make a turn and come back. What the hell is that? An FW-190, a German fighter plane converted to a jet. The very first one we saw. And he always missed the bridge. He never hit it.
So we'd wait our turn. It was an old railroad bridge and they put planks between the tracks so they could run tanks and trucks over it. 44,000 troops went over that bridge before it went in. And I went across the day before it went in. I waited my turn. I was in my Jeep on the right side. My driver and a guy in the back. And fellows were standing along the way, hollering at us, you know. And here's a fellow says, "Hey, can I bum a ride?" Then he hit his helmet on, you know. "Sure." "You'll have to sit on my lap, C'mon." So he sat on my lap. So we made our shot across the bridge, you know. When we got over on the other side, "Have you got any cigarettes?" "Yeah, I got some German cigarettes. They're not very good." "I don't give a damn. Gimme some." So I gave him the whole pack. They came in a little red box. So we buddied just for a couple minutes, you know and, "Well, so long guy. See ya. So long." Away he goes.
Years later I was on a job for Kimberly Clark in Pennsylvania trying to find someone who made good heat exchangers for the paper mills. And the production manager in the meeting that I had with the company that morning sat in the corner in his chair and just looked at me, looked at me. What in the hell! So we went to lunch. He said, "You know, I stared at you all morning long but I seen you somewhere before, buddy. Can you remember?" "Well, what do you think?" "Did you cross the Remagen Bridge in Germany?" "Yes, I did." "In March, '44?" "Yes, I did, '45." "You know a guy that sat on your lap and begged some cigarettes from you? That was me.'
B: I'll be darned!
N: So we became good friends. Exchanged pictures and letters and stuff. And I, oh that was quite a day. Now that's the sort of thing wars are. That's the sort of thing the military does to ya. You make a friend, that friend's a friend for life. You never forget em. They can be the son of a president or a poor guy from around the corner. They're still a human being like you are.
B: When did you have your first contact with the enemy?
N: With what?
B: With the Germans. When did you have first contact?
N: First contact? Well let me think now. We were in the Ruhr. The Ruhr valley of Germany was the base of the war materiel manufacturing. That where they made their tanks and their guns and all their big stuff. The Krupp Iron Works, one of the biggest in the world was in the Ruhr. That was our object, my outfit. My division. Was to break it up, and we did. So that was where it started. It started on the western edge of it. And we ah, took, just mopped it up.
B: Would you be willing to explain that first action?
N: What we did? Yes, we had what we called a horseshoe. The units would go out like this. And quite a distance from the immediate target. The immediate target might be a small town where there is a factory building war material for the Germans. And of course they're protected by their own troops. The Wehrmacht which was the regular army, and some SS. Waffen SS. So we hadda be, we hadda play war games now. Now we gotta do what we're taught to do. But we'd come in on em. We'd close the horseshoe. Blow em, just artillery, that's where my job came in, antiaircraft, what I had remembered anyway. But then I was in FO. I became a field observer, (does he mean forward observer?) artillery observer in field artillery overseas.
B: Now I'm going to change tapes here in just a minute because we're running short. But first describe what an FO would do.
N: Okay. FO had a radioman and a telephone man. The FO had a telephone. The radioman a hundred yards back of him in protection had a telephone and a radio. And he would, you would give him the information over the telephone. "I've got a target." And we had maps and we knew our coordinates and all that sort of thing. And it's a, it might be a building or whatever. And, "Give me a round of smoke. A round of smoke. And I'll call you. I'll set it for you." "So what are your coordinates?" I'd give em the coordinates from my map of where that target was. So I'd listen for the "Pssssh." And watch where it landed. If it landed beyond it, I'd say, "Over 100." A hundred yards beyond it. "Left 200 yards." You gotta estimate this. That's why it takes a good pair of eyes. And watching what you're doing, you know. You gotta be very careful. You look off and you'll miss it. You gotta watch that whole thing. And then, "Gimme another round of smoke." The second round is maybe right on target. "Fire, you got it." And, "How much do you want?" We always had a kidding way of doing it. "A hundred thousand dollars." Of course their weren't [ ] shells. So that was it. That's the way we did it.
B: Sounds like a dangerous position. You're out in front of everybody.
N: Oh, you're way out. You're four miles ahead of the troops. Sure. Oh yeah. The German, at night especially, the German patrols would walk right by us, talking in German, calling Hitler a son-of-a bitch. Yes, we laughed, not loud. But we [ ] laughed. Then we heard em sing "Lili Marleen" when they felt like they wanted to sing.
B: So you had to be pretty careful to avoid those patrols.
N: Oh, you bet. You can't sneeze. You didn't dare sneeze. We'd stuff, of course you're outside all the time, you'd get a runny nose. So we'd stuff cloth, not cloth but tissue up into our nose so we wouldn't sneeze. You give yourself away and you've had it. And we'd go up to an OP, our division point with a Jeep. A driver, that was all he had to do was drive the Jeep, you the FO and your radioman and your telephone man. Four of us. And so he'd park the Jeep and then we'd walk a hundred yards to a good position for observation.
(The first tape ends here).
B: As a forward observer did you have any close calls that you could tell me about?
N: Oh yeah. Part of it was L5. Since the L5 liked single engine airplane with the starboard door taken off. And you were strapped in your seat on the right. And the pilot's over here. So you're, this is for hidden targets. Targets that are not clear. They're obscure so you'd get up in a plane and get up maybe a thousand feet and look for em. And then you circle and you develop a GTL, a gun target line. And then you pat the guy on the right shoulder, just pat him. "Okay, make the turn." They make the turn. Every time you pat he goes on the 45 turn. And then you want to get your open door lined up so you can look ahead maybe five, ten miles. And here you'll see something that looks like a military target. Then you say, "Okay, make one more turn, same way and I'll pat you on the back and we'll call for fire." And then you watch as the plane comes around. And just as the plane comes around and starts to make the turn to expose that gun target line to you on your telephone. You give the command, "Fire for effect. Give me smoke." And they'll fire a round of white sulfur ammunition. Makes a big cloud of white. And then you give him the same thing you do when you're on the ground. So many yards over or under, so many left, so many right. And then, fire for effect.
And that was very effective when we had to do it. I probably did it four times. Went to four different targets. Most of the targets were on the ground and you do it from your belly. But you have to be careful not to expose yourself. And of course, we were lucky. I was lucky. All the FO's in the area got knocked out but I didn't.
B: Now, what did you carry with you as far as your armament when you were an FO.
N: I still have it, my M-1 carbine and a 45. No grenades. Had a 45 and my M-1 carbine.
B: What did you think of the M-1 as a weapon?
N: The carbine? Good. Very good. You could fire from the hip with it. That was the most desired thing. With an M-1 on a long target far away, you'd bead on a guy with an M-1, 30-caliber rifle. That's different. But you didn't have that chance when you're in a crowded bunch and there's something goin on. You'd want to be able to fire from the hip and you just keep it at level and it fired 30 rounds at a time. The, what do you call it? The magazine holder that you poked into it had 30 rounds of 30-caliber ammunition. It's for close in fighting and you can spray with it. It never got hot. It was cool. I still have it at home. Maybe I better give it to the museum. I bought it in Fort Bliss, Texas for $158.00. You could when you were back in the states. You could buy binoculars or you could buy a rifle or a pistol.
B: You said it served you in good stead?
N: Oh sure. Oh yeah. Especially at night, you know. When we were in close quarters, scrapping. And maybe four or five Germans were comin at us. We could fire into where they were and we knew it chased em away.
B: Was that a fairly common thing that would happen, that you would get in a firefight?
N: No. Not too very…no. No, the closest, when we were in a building for instance, a house or a barn and there was a German patrol going by and we were trying to get some way of getting to them, we'd fire at them, they'd fire back.
B: You made a distinction before when we were talking about the regular German army and then you talked about the SS. Maybe we could talk about that a little bit.
N: Alright. Fine. The German army is the Wehrmacht. It's the German word for it. Goes way back to Bismark. He was the first German who established a good West Point type of military training for his German men. And they were good soldiers and they were tough.
B: How so? You say they were tough but what do you mean by that?
N: They were so disciplined that they stayed in the same place all the time. American GIs didn't; they moved around. They crawled on their belly. You know, they'd break up a formation. And they'd scatter around. But not the Germans. The Wehrmacht, they'd stay in their position as if they were rooted to the ground. They were disciplined to do that. I don't know why. But that's what made them a good target.
Now the SS, that was something else. They were especially trained killers. And ruthless. There was a little sportsmanship, if I may use that word, in war between Americans and the enemy. Many times a German soldier is hit and bleeding to death. You're going on a run and you stop to do something for him probably before you kept on going. But not the SS.
B: How did you view the SS? Wicked as opposed to the regular German army.
N: Oh, totally inhuman. Totally inhuman.
B: Is there any examples that you can think of that might illustrate what you're mentioning? Is there anything that comes to mind?
N: Yes. One night in the moonlight along the Danube River. We came across a German bunch and we were having a set-to with them. And the visibility wasn't too good because the moon was shining but there was still a lot of shadow. But this one SS man, the way he acted, he just came right out into the arena of fire, if you want to call it that. He had two Lugers. Now he was just, the Wehrmacht wouldn't do that. The German regular guy would take more patience to find a way to be protected when he was shooting, behind a tree or whatever. But these fellows, no they were right out there.
Just firing into the air just to let em know they were, scare the life out of the GI I'll tell you, you get scared too when you got a guy like that right in front of you. And then there were those that were very smart. When you had em cornered, they'd give up. But also, their buddies would take care of you. When an SS man was giving up and raising his hands like this, you know, and the GI would go for him, take his gun away, the first guy's buddy back there would, Bang! And another American boy gone. They worked in pairs. They covered each other. They had a system, a deadly system. They were inhuman, Brad. But I found out in the war trials, in the…. It made me so…. I couldn't talk about it for a long time.
B: How did you view the Germans as you crossed the Rhine and you were steadily moving to the east, did your perception of your enemy change?
N: Did what?
B: Did your perception of the enemy or the war change at all as you continued to move east?
N: We felt good because we thought we were making progress. In the Ruhr valley especially. Because it was tough, but we were successful in almost everything we did and that gave us a lot of, you know, support. And they were backing up, the Wehrmacht. They were turning and running.
B: Did your unit have many casualties?
N: Oh yeah. The outfit I was with, they had 34%, which is quite high. In the South Pacific the Red Arrow had 47% casualties.
B: How did that impact you personally?
N: What do you mean, casualty?
N: Well, I might say this, in the situations where those casualties occur, the, what's happening is so different in your human life; it's a different experience, that you seem to be covered with an armor of "I'm safe." But you're not, of course. When you get hit, you get hit. But it's unreal. I can't, I can't compare it to anything, Brad, of what it's like. And one thing about it is, you're not scared. I never was. You're not afraid because too much is going on. You're just trying to do whatever you can to stay alive.
But of course, the aftermath, that's the other thing. The aftermath is worse. Because as you leave the area, you're always afraid somebody's following you. And knock you off. Or you're remembering losing two or three buddies, and that's not very pleasant. When you lose a buddy like that, you look down at him and you say to yourself, "Well, there's a father and a mother back in America that doesn't know that they've just lost a son." That's the primary thought you have. It's gonna be a week or two before the War Department tells em that there boy's gone. That sticks with ya.
It's no joke. There's no joke about it. You might see in the movies, guys laughing. Nobody laughs in combat. They swear, they pray out loud but it's no joke. And when it's all over, that's when you get the reaction. When you crawl in somewhere, in a hole or some place to sleep for the night or get a couple hours of sleep, that's when you can't sleep because it comes back. Then you, the thing that you say to yourself then, "Well, maybe this is the last night I'll sleep. Maybe tomorrow or [then] I'm gone."
It's a big wall of uncertainty in front of you all the time in combat. But you do your best to get through it. And you look out for your buddies. That's number one. You'll stop doing what your doing to help a fellow that's knocked down.
B: Could you describe for me the average way you lived in combat, how you slept, or how you ate or what you ate? You mentioned you were laying in a hole. Could you describe that for me?
N: Oh sure. We'd like to find a tree that leaned and we'd lean against the tree and sleep standing up. To get a little rest. If we were in a safe position. If we weren't in a safe position, we'd never stand up. We'd be on the ground. But if we were in a rest situation and we were moving, and we came to a grove of trees, we'd find, at night we'd find a tree that was tilted a little bit so we could lean back and sleep on it. We didn't like to get on the ground and lie down on the ground and sleep.
N: Well, you just never, you're not quite ready to do something if something happens. If you're down on the ground and somebody comes up and is gonna raise hell with you, you going to want to be on your feet before you can help it. And you can't be that if you're down lying on the ground. They'll get you first. So there isn't much sleeping.
B: How did you function without sleep?
B: How did a person function without sleep?
N: Well, I don't know. I really can't tell you that. You get pretty tired. But you know, then again maybe once in every 12 days you'd have a little break and then the guys would get together and they'd swap cigarettes and chew the rag, you know, and tell a story or something. "You hear that story about the gal in France…?" You're back to normal. It's a lull in the activities. It isn't constant. And if you're lucky and you have a good move, you've done some real good work on the line doin it, that's a good time. You celebrate. Nobody has any beer but they just…
B: Did your mail catch up with you then?
N: The what?
B: How often did your mail catch up with you?
N: Well, I can tell you the last letter I got overseas was in June of 1945 when she was home from, she'd been discharged from the Air Force. And she was pregnant. So I knew that. That was June of '45. I did not receive a piece of mail until the 27th of November. I was cut off from, well all of us were. She's got a box of letters she wrote to me and they came back.
M: They all came back a month later, all tied up. Because he was separated from his unit when he was ill in Scotland and recuperating. In all that time, the mail keeps going to the original address that you give the postal department. So I got em at home in the attic in a trunk.
B: What kind of food did you eat when you were out there in the line.
N: German eggs and brown bread. Not [ ] old K rations, but they were not much. Like a box of Cracker Jack. We, the farmers, the rural German people were good to us. Wherever we saw a white sheet hanging out of the window, we knew we could go in there and get something to eat. And they'd fry eggs for us, give us that nice German brown bread which tastes pretty good. That's what we lived on.
And then we'd get a rest, maybe every two or three weeks and then we'd have a rear echelon [carnage], burn up the old uniform, put on a new one. Because we lived in this uniform all the time and it got pretty dirty. So they'd give us a good shower, soak us with some kind of material to keep away the bugs and disease. Give us a brand new, I think I had three different uniforms.
But anyway, you know sitting here talking to you it kinda comes back. I think I've gotta say this. When you're in this kind of an arena of activity with the uncertainty that lies over your head all the time you're there, I think it's God himself that takes care of you. He makes it possible for you to have some kind of resistance to reality. Because if you didn't have it, you'd go nuts; and some guys did. They screamed, they'd just lose their…. But if you had an inner faith [as I have, in fact I had] he keeps, it's gonna get better. It's gonna get better. But with some fellas, that didn't happen.
B: What would happen with somebody like that, that would lose it?
M: Would crack up.
B: Would they?
N: Oh sure.
M: There'd be some of them in the hospital.
N: Oh yeah. Yeah. [ Yeah, this, go back] go back to the first aid center. Battalion aid center in the field and they'll take care of you. They'll get you on a truck and take you somewhere. Oh yeah.
B: Is there any, as you think back now and you say things are coming back, is there any incident that sticks out in your mind more than the others, either good or bad? Is there anything that really comes to mind as an example of your period of combat?
N: Oh yeah. Probably one of the last ones we had. We were now with Patton heading south, what they call the southern redoubt. And we'd been pushing and we had one scrap on the Danube but I told you about that. That was a close call.
We had to cross the Danube River in moonlight to get to the other side. Now the Danube's not blue, it's brown. It's muddy. And we had little marine boats, they called em. They held six men. And we'd shove off and the current was pretty strong and we had to end up on the other, if we got across initially but we were a half a mile down the river. But this particular night that didn't happen. And my boat was hit and we were in the water before you knew it. And I don't know, I can't tell you how I got to shore. All I can remember, my eyes were shut I guess but I could feel the bulrushes rubbing my face. And of course I was wet almost up to my neck. And holding my gun up in the air. But got to the muddy bottom and plowed up on the bank. Crawled in where I was out of sight. But it was, we lost 34 men trying to get across that river. The German, group of Germans, I don't know if they were SS or what they were but they spotted us and let us have it with a machine gun. [ ] with a machine gun, but I was lucky. That was the first thing.
And then we got back into the moonlight. We got in another scrap with some more of the SS this time along the way but there weren't too many of them so we made it okay. And then we got to a town and I was an artillery observer but I was moving with the unit. And we always had the targets numbered. Like Target 33, Target 34, 35 and so on. And we had a little map and we knew what those targets were. And we went in to Target 30, we were in Target 30 and were gonna go to Target 32. And we went to Target 32 by mistake. We should have gone to 31. And we called 155 artillery on the target that we were in the town. So we went into an old barn and we got into the basement of the barn. That saved our life. Boy that town was really hit. American artillery was pretty good.
B: You mention 155. Explain to somebody listening to this tape, say 50 years from now, explain what a 155 was.
N: Okay. A 155 is an artillery weapon of two different sizes. The smaller size is one that's a short barrel, and it's a cannon. And it's for shooting targets close up. 155 is the millimeter diameter of the barrel, and of course the circumference of the shell. (?) And it's very powerful and very damaging. It'll tear quite a hole in the ground when it lands and it makes quite a mess. The "Long Tom" is the other one. The 155 Long Tom. That's got a barrel that's about ten feet long. And it shoots a shell further. Has a greater range than the little short , "howitzer" is the first one. H-O-W-I-T-Z-E-R. That's the short, you've seen pictures of cannons. I'm sure you have. That's a howitzer. But you'll also see the pictures of the long barreled big gun. That's the long range. And they're very effective. A Long Tom will, if one landed right here, you'd lose 1/3 of this place.
Then we had the 240, which was a good weapon. 240 millimeter. The shell is about 12 inches in diameter. And it'll knock out a city block.
B: How did you decide which to call in?
N: Just general observation.
B: So did you depend on you experience to tell what…?
N: Sure. Yeah. If it was a supply line moving along a road, let's say. There's four or five wagons and horses. Or trucks moving ahead of us. Getting away from the action. We're gonna chase em. You look at that target and you can tell. Is that worth $100,00.00 or is it worth $10,000.00, you know.
B: So it was your call.
N: That's right. And we sort of did that as a joke in a way. "Gimme $100,000.00 on this one but…" Or "Gimme $50,000.00 and that'll do it. $10,000.00 will do it. So they know about what you're talking about, you know. It's just a kind of an understood language between the gunners way back, about five miles back of you. You up there at the front. Toward the end of the war we used to… Sometimes at night you lay in your foxhole waiting for something to happen and you're very quiet of course. Cannot sneeze, as I told you, plug your nose. We usually hear the Germans walking along with their, they always carried so much gear. Their mess kit and everything else would clank, clank clank. You could hear em coming a mile away. Some of em were cursing Hitler. "Schweinhundt!" "Hitler, das schweinhundt!" Schweinhundt in German is a curse, really.
B: A dirty pig.
N: Yeah. And then sometimes we even heard them singing "Lili Marleen. That's a very famous World War II German song. If you ever hear it, you'll like it. Then you'll remember what I told you. Yeah. I've often asked myself this question: How did I make it? How come I got through when a lot of fellows like me didn't? When I think of those 200 men that went overseas on the America before I got to Scotland, only 40 survived the Battle of the Bulge.
B: And what do you answer yourself when you ask yourself that question? What do you answer to yourself? Why did you make it?
N: Why did I make it? Thank you, God. You did it. That's all you say. That's all you can say. If you have a religion, Catholic or Protestant, it makes no difference, or Jewish, if you can say that, it gives you strength. Really. If you can't say it, you're in a nervous fit. I knew so many fellows, Brad, in close quarters or were in a building getting knocked out by the SS. And they'd grab ahold of me and almost tear me apart. "Teach me how to pray, teach me how to pray. How do you pray, how do you pray? I'm scared, I'm scared." You get a lot of that.
And then you get guys like Bill Faulkner. I remember him. Boy he was, he emptied eight M-1s in that building we were in that night. And he killed fourteen Germans. He was a real soldier. "C'mon, gimme that, gimme that rifle." He just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang bang. Get up there, "C'mon, you guys." There are soldiers, you know, that can do that.
It's a funny thing. You don't hate the enemy. You're fighting a system or a thing. It isn't a human being until he yells, "Mutter, mutter [ ] hilfen mir mutter!" He's been hit, wounded. Then you realize you hit a man. Otherwise it's kinda funny, you look at [that]. It's unreal, very unreal.
One thing about it is that it doesn't last too long. A combat scrap will last no more than 30 minutes and then you get a rest somehow. Either you're captured or you're safe. One or the other. But I would say the American GI, of course I was an officer. And we're usually up where the scrap is the toughest. The seniors are back, the non-coms and so forth.(?) But you have a lot of pride for your American buddies, I tell you. They mean the world to you. You don't care who they are, what they are or what their name is, whether they're Polish or Jewish or what the hell. They're your buddy. And in the afterlife, after the war is over, just like that fellow out there in Pennsylvania, that's that [ ] "You're the guy that gave me the cigarettes goin over the Remagen bridge."
B: What happened as the war wound down? We're coming toward the first week in May. Explain to me what was happening to you and your outfit. And then also explain what happened on the day the war ended.
N: Okay. We were in what they call the redoubt. We were heading south, General Patton heading south. Did you see the movie, the Patton movie? Remember that convoy where he's helping those mules get along? I was in that convoy.
B: You were?
N: Yeah. Anyway we're moving and we're moving fast for the goal which was the redoubt that was the Berchtesgaden, Hitler's hideout. And well, we were exhilarated I think, because we had been quite successful. We had just gone through the one scrap which I just described to you where we were in that house and that one fellow, "How do you pray, how do you pray?" That night was a terrible night. But then the guy with the M-1 that emptied four of em, four or five of em from a window. And the guy that, a German grenade, they're about that long. And they had a handle on em. This one came in and it was lying on the floor and he picked it up and threw it out. It went off outside. Boy that was close! That happens.
I would say that we felt pretty good until we hit Dachau. And what we saw there kinda put a sobering stoppage on any enthusiasm that we had. It was taken the day before by one outfit in my division and there was a moat around the first building. A water moat. There was a drawbridge into the gate. "[Deutches] Krankenhaus" it said. A sign that means German hospital. That was not true of course. But the dead German SS that were floating in that moat, there were about a dozen of em, bloated from being in the water. All that sort of thing. That kinda cooled things down for us, I tell you. Because the horrible sight we saw told us, they're still alive, some of those guys, you gotta get rid of em. You gotta get past em. And of course what happened beyond that isn't worth talking about.
B: Had you known anything about the concentration camps?
N: Not a thing. Were never told. I don't know if it was deliberately handled that way or not but we didn't know this was a concentration camp. We just wondered what the sam hill are these dead soldiers doing floating in this water here? What was this. Then we saw that krankenhaus, hospital. It was a German hospital. What the hell went on here? Well we sure found out quick. When we got back to our outfit, they told us what it was. 49,000 people had been killed there.
B: Could you speak German?
B: And understand it?
N: Oh yeah. Enough to get by. Oh yeah. I could talk to a German and he would understand me and I would understand him. And I had to have quite a bit of it when I got into the holocaust thing. Interrogating. My job, my assignment, the war ended the tenth of May. We were still fighting on the tenth of May. It ended on the 8th of May. And so I came back to my outfit's headquarters…
B: You mean they were still fighting after…?
N: Oh sure. Two days.
B: People wouldn't surrender or what? They didn't know?
N: Well, the word didn't get back. See we had no communications. Here we were, still scrapping and a Jeep came along and blew its horn or something. And they caught our attention. "What the hell you guys doing?" "What do you mean, what the hell are we doin? Don't you know? Can't you see?" "Well the war's been over for two days." "Now you tell us."
And the next day, oh boy. So the next day they sent me out to collect all the unfired enemy ammunition in the area. I had four GIs with me. We spent a whole day picking up a lot of 88-millimeter shells, I'll tell you. We put em on a pile and put in about 100 quarter-pound pieces of TNT. Hooked em all up and tied em up to a detonator. And I said, "Now listen fellas, you all go to your four positions, at least a half a mile away from here. Because when this goes off, it's going to be quite a…
When you hear me fire my carbine three times, then each one of you fire yours if you're at the place you're supposed to be. If I don't hear four more carbines, I'll know something's wrong." So we waited and sure enough all four reported they were safe in the distance. And then I said, "Okay, let er go." So we, I don't know what we used to blow it up but we had fireworks better than the 4th of July.
B: I'll bet!
N: I went back to my outfit at 7 o'clock. I was tired and hungry and the First Sergeant says, "Where the hell have you been, Lieutenant?" I said, "What do you mean, where have I been? The boss sent me out to clean up all the German ammunition. I've been gone all day." Well, they want you at division headquarters right away." "What do you mean by right away?" "Now. Colonel so and so wants to see you soon as you get back." "Well, is there a new war comin on or something?"
So I got my things together and got in a Jeep and at one o'clock in the morning I got to division headquarters at, I forget, Kitzingen. Kitzingen, Germany? And he says, he's a colonel, he says, "Where in the hell have you been?" "Well," I says, "That's a good question," I says, "Out in the country shooting up German shells that weren't exploded." Oh, well he was a good friend of mine so it was all right.
He says, "I got a job for you." "Oh, you have, what that?" "You report tomorrow morning to so and so at Com Z Headquarters in," Let's see, where was it? What town? Big town. "Com Z, Combat Z Headquarters. They got a job for you." "Oh, they have, huh?"
Well anyway, so I'm there in the morning, tired and hungry and that's when I was assigned to the Nurnberg thing. The Colonel, it was a Colonel that talked to me. He said, "You got a dirty job ahead of you, Lieutenant." I said, "What's the dirty job?" "Can you talk German?" I said, "A little." He said, "You're going to the little town of [Ochsenfurt]. That's going to be a gathering spot for the German SS coming in from the field. They'll be brought in. You'll have to classify them, interrogate, then classify them, protect yourself and send those that are guilty down to [Ansbach] near Nurnberg. There are going to be war trials goin on down there. You are now a member of the Nurnberg Tribunal." "Me? A 1st. Lieutenant?" "It makes no difference. You're picked."
B: Do you remember what you thought of that when he told you that?
N: I just was completely baffled. I didn't know what the hell I was gonna do. I didn't know what I could do. I found out. Sure, I had the contact enough with those fellows to be able to pick them out in a crowd and identify them, talk to them and so forth, classify them. Separate them, separate the Wehrmacht from the SS.
B: When I watched your tape that you did in the '90s at a learning and retirement, I got the impression that was a tough job for you.
N: It was.
B: Dealing with these people.
N: Oh yeah. It was tough. Sure. We were in a little town of Ochsenfurt on the Maine River near Frankfurt. I had a room in a house in the village. Had a nice bed; I never slept in it. I slept in my sleeping bag on the side of my desk in my office. In the compound.
I had two wonderful American Master Sergeants, two Jewish boys. George Bauman, the first violin in the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. Dick [Prishman], the manager of WCCO, Minneapolis radio station. Wonderful two boys. They helped me a lot. And then I had a staff of 28 Germans who spoke English and were typists; they could handle a typewriter. I got all this together in about a week or two. So we went to work.
And they came in by the thousands, about two or three thousand a day. And we had to put em through. I didn't have any time to sleep in the house.
B: How did you handle dealing with these SS, knowing what you knew. Was there some way that you were able to put this in, keep it strictly professional?
B: How did you do it?
N: I don't know how I did it. I just, I'd get them out, we had a place outside where they could sit down and I was cool. I wasn't vulgar, I wasn't profane, no I was not an ogre. I just told these fellows, "Now gentlemen, we are at a point where we have to make a decision. The war is over. You don't have to fight no more. We're gonna take your Lugers away from you, and your dogs. Your fighting days are over. We are not here to punish you. We aren't going to, but the tribunal in Nurnberg is going to decide whether to punish you. This is where you save your life. You tell the truth; don't try to get by with something that you, you know. And so tell us exactly what we want to know. We will feed you, we will give you places to sleep. We have an infirmary. We have a doctor to take care of you if you get sick. You will not be mistreated. Our commanding officer, General Eisenhower has told us this: 'You gentlemen have a high responsibility. You are not to oppress the German soldier that you have captured. You are to give him the best possible future he can have, whether he's guilty of a crime or not.' 'You carry that out, Lieutenant.' I got that from, what was his name that, the guy with the high-pitched voice? Oh, [ ] the meeting I had the next day. Anyway, that was what Ike wanted. That's the way he wanted it. In other words we weren't, we wouldn't say, "You son of a bitch, get over there!" And all that sort of, no, no. We treated em like human beings.
B: Although I imagine there were times when you wanted to do that.
N: Well sure. Oh of course, absolutely. Sure, we remembered what we'd seen, what I'd seen, been through. Oh yeah. And then we'd just been through Dachau, so that's the other thing was on our mind.
B: It must have taken tremendous self control to be able to do that.
N: Well, yeah. We were mad.
B: [What] were the German civilians that were in the area where you were?
N: At Dachau for instance, they didn't know that was a concentration camp. We interrogated them.
I said, "Vas das a krankenhaus?" "Ja, Ja." [ ] What else? Well it was something else. And then we would tell them what happened.
B: And what was their reaction?
N: They couldn't believe it. "Ach, the Deutche, no the Germans don't do that." "Come and see." And we had corpses piled up all over the place at Dachau.
B: By this time in your career, you must have been hardened to the sight of death.
N: Oh yes. Oh yeah. Yeah. I had to be.
B: And I imagine just that alone was not an easy thing to acquire, that crust.
N: No. Unh, unh. Well I'll tell you honestly, I'm a Christian and I've often told myself since then that I'm awfully glad I was when I went overseas in World War II. I wouldn't have made it otherwise. I wouldn't be here today if I hadn't been.
B: Is the war something you think of very often today?
N: Well, yes. No and then things remind me of it, yes. But that's a different war. That was a different war.
(The second tape ends here).
B: Okay, one of the most memorable…
N: Things that happened was at Ochsenfurt was the Germans going through to be classified either Wehrmacht or SS and either go home, those that were free to go home, we sent home the next day on trucks within five kilometers of their home. They had a pound of candy, a pound of cheese and a package of tobacco. They were given good treatment while they were there, not more than three days; they got two good meals a day. They were given wonderful medical attention if they needed it, recreation, they could swim in the Maine River in the afternoon. And at night they could get out and sing songs, German songs. And this is what I did. I made em do that.
And I told em. I said, "Deutche, German soldiers, we're here to help you in every way we can. We want to make you feel good. Will you please take off your insignias off your clothes? We don't want those. This is not war now. This is peace. And you're going home. [Heim bekomen]." And [ ] go up, you know. And the next morning there'd be about 150 two and a half-ton trucks to take those men within five kilometers of their home. Gave em their candy and their cheese and so forth.
And a very unusual thing happened. One of my German soldiers coming through, he was Wehrmacht, there was a German Lutheran minister, August Schmidt. Dusseldorf was his home. And he talks perfect English. He says, "I was really shocked," he says, "Three years ago my wife and I were working in the garden when they came. They took me. I didn't have time to embrace my wife and say goodbye. I haven't seen her since. I don't know whether she's still alive. Dusseldorf's been bombed out." He said, "I hear about the American camp. I hear about the French camp. I hear about the English camp. They tell me, 'you go to the American camp. They will help you.' " He said, "I want to come here, ask you please, Lieutenant, could you please help me find my wife?" "Why sure, we'll do all we can." He says, "I will work for you. I can typewrite." "Good." So he started to work for us.
About three days later, I was supposed to have a room in a house down in the village. And the other guys all stayed down there. This guy called me on the phone. He said, "Lieutenant, there's a woman here who has ridden a long ways on a bicycle. And she wants to talk to you. Can I bring her over?" I said, "Sure." So she came over, thin, haggard, dust covered. She'd ridden 150 miles from Dusseldorf on a bicycle. I said, "[ ] you come?" "Frau Schmidt. My husband, the preacher," she said, "They took him from me two years ago. I don't know, my home is bombed out." she says, "Gee, but I believe in my dream said, 'You go to the American camp. They find you, your husband.' So I come. Will you help me?" I said, "Sure. We'll find him."
I already had a hunch. So in the ensuing time, I said, "Now," first I gave her a meal and told the guys, "Get her to bed so she can sleep." So she came to my office and I said, "Have you got a picture of your husband?" "Ja, ja." There he was. That was her husband. So I didn't let her think I knew. So the next morning I had them meet just by arrangement in the room next to my office. I've never seen a reunion like that in all my life. And there were 6,000 soldiers in that camp at that time, German soldiers.
And they had a P.A. system. I said, "Deutche soldaten, achtung. Versicht, bitte." "Listen, please. A German woman has ridden on a [fahlrad], so many kilometers. And she has found her husband here who was taken from her two years ago. And they are back together again." You could have heard that shout of joy for 50 miles.
So the next morning all these people went home on a truck. Two and a half-ton truck. And within 2 kilometers of where they lived. That was almost [ ] a million mile. Anyway, oh there was a big scramble. The truck drivers wanted to have these two people ride in the cab. So I made the announcement, "Now , some driver will be selected by a draw and the longest straw is who will take these two people in the cab." And the boy that got the job, when I said, "Truck No. 54 over there, you got it. You're gonna take em home." I saw the kid get out of that cab and run toward me. And I thought, my gosh, what is he after me for? Frank [ ] he [ ] from Neenah, Wisconsin. I didn't know he was in the [ ] business!
B: Well I'll be darned!
N: And he says, "I got the long straw." And he, our helmets came off and we hugged each other. He was in my Boys Brigade group for years here in Neenah. Frank [ ] Aw, he never got, he used to call me up after the war and tell me about it. So those are the good things that happened.
But let me say this in summary, as Eisenhower said to us that day in, at Com Z headquarters where this whole thing all started, and all the rest of his deputies, that "We are not going to punish these Germans. We're going to make them feel that they are alive and human beings and we're going to treat them human beings. And any one of you officers who does anything unkind to any one of these men, you're going to be court-martialed and lose your stripes. Now mark my word. If they're criminal, you know what to do. But if they're not criminal, you better do what is right, and I'm telling you what it is." That's the way he was. And my, I got a commendation from that camp which caught up to me, caught up with me in December when I was sending people home from LeHavre, France. Red Cross and the USO and everything else.
B: Well, when did you get to go home.
N: I came home in February of 1946. I had to go to Nurnberg two or three times to identify a man on the stock, they called it. The one, probably the one that created the most excitement in the room at the time, and there were a lot of brass there from all nations, British, French, American and German. And [ ] was there. Herman Goering was sitting there with his earphones on. And all the rest of em, Jodel was a general; Field Marshall Jodel, the top man in the German Army who I interviewed. Had a nice talk with him and he was one of the first ones to be executed. But anyway, what was I trying to say? Hm. It just sailed away on me.
M: Your tape ran down, huh?
N: What? Huh?
M: Your mental tape ran down.
N: Well anyway…
B: Well tell me, what did you think when you saw these Nazi leaders, the men that for years you had only read about and had, you knew they were running your Nazi army. What did you think when you saw them sitting there?
N: Yeah. What made them what they are. What thing under the sun, in the world caused them to take the road they took. Who was it, who was it that inspired them? What situation inspired them? What was it that caused them to be so dedicated [ ] such a terrible crime? I even said that to Jodel when I talked to him. I said, "I respect you sir." I said, "You're a top ranking German general, the head of the German Army. Many American men regard you with pride because of your career." "Das ist guht, danke." He says, "That's they way I was raised. Mein father, my grandfather and my great grandfather all men in the German Army under Bismark." He says, "I was born a soldier. I was taught to do my best for my country. And do what my country want me to do." I said, "Do you believe in God?" "Ja. I think God tell me to do what I did." He had nothing to do with executions. He was just the head of the armed forces. But because of his position, that's why they executed him. But he was a clean-cut fellow, straight up and down when he sat there on the rack. I noticed him. Yeah.
B: When you got back home to Neenah, you mentioned when I first came that it was many, many years before you could think or talk about things like this.
N: Yeah. It's true. That right, Marion?
M: Right. I never even knew it, some of these incidents. Little incidents of people I did know, of course. He'd share them with me. But I never knew anything about the concentration camps or of the Nurnberg trial, never.
N: It's something, Brad, that in side thought, [ ] you really can't imagine, can't believe could have been true.
M: It's so awful.
N: Many times, many times before I started to talk about it, I'd say, "No, that never happened." I wasn't there. I must have had a bad dream. And some of those things still make me sick when I think of them, what they did.
The executioner at Dachau, a man twenty-four years old, when they brought him in I knew right away he was a tough one. And so he, I had to interrogate him and I did, politely, but he was very, very negative. Oh, and he swore and he cursed and he, whew, called me all kinds of names and everything else. But he was punished for what he was doing. And I punished him by having him dig a ten-foot hole, a hole in the ground ten-foot square and six foot deep. I said, "You take a shovel and you shovel it through that old, you know."
And one night that hole was probably no more than a hundred feet away from the edge of the street. And Dick [Prischman], was the one that told me. I was in my office workin. He said, "Lieutenant, there's a pile of people out by the fence. And they're growling and complaining about this camp. Oh, they're mad. You better go out and talk to them." So I went out and I said, "Vas ist loss? What's the matter?" "Oh, you Americanish, you are brutal. You are the devil. What are you doing with that poor German soldier over there?" "Well," I said, "He's getting a spanking. He's been a bad boy and he's getting a spanking. That's all. He's not getting hurt. He gets fed. He can go to sleep when he goes to bed." "Oh, [ ] "Be quiet." I asked him to come down and tell you why he's there and what he did. Quiet. So I went and got him. He had his shirt off so he put his shirt on. Walked up by the fence. And I said to him, "Now you just answer my questions and if you don't answer, it's alright, I won't punish you." "What is your name, what did you do?" "Oh, I was a executioner at Dachau." "What did you do there?" "I was the man at the top of the roof of the building that killed 500 people. And there was a hole in a pipe going through the roof. And I was the one to give my German soldiers the signal to drop the can of prussic acid down. And that acid went into the big room and 500 people died in 15 minutes." He said it just like that. And you coulda heard that crowd, "aaahhh." They couldn't believe it. "Now," I said, "This man told you the truth. He was the executioner. When he knew that the room full of naked people, men women and children, and the can of prussic is like a can of tomato juice with a plastic bottom would drop through that pipe into the room below. Prussic acid is the worst gas there is. The worst in the world. That gas went down and they suffered and they screamed and they hollered. They died inside of 15 minutes, 500 people at a time." "That's why I was there."
B: And this man showed no remorse?
N: None. I said, "Would you do that if your father and your mother were in there? "Ja!" "Heil Hitler!" He was like a devil. So I, he went up the steps, the first night in November of 1945. He went up with Jodel. I'm only giving you the surface of this, Brad. If I hadn't married that nice girl, I don't know, I probably wouldn't be here. I had a good bringing up, came from a good Christian family. And that's the thing that put me through.
B: When you got back to Neenah, what happened to you then?
N: I went back to work for K.C. That was nice.
M: You had a little boy then.
N: Yeah, we had a little boy.
M: A few months old.
N: Yup. By the way, he was a Viet Nam, Silver Star, Sergeant Major.
B: Was that the man that was here?
N: No. That's his brother. He was in the Navy. He was Navy Viet Nam war and Dick was Viet Nam war in the infantry. So there are four stones out in Oakfield Cemetery with a bronze plate. And four flags flyin someday.
M: It seems like such a totally far-removed part of his life because I never went overseas. But it's so horribly different in contrast to the Christian homes that we were brought up in and what we were taught to learn, to love our neighbor, love our neighbor as ourselves. And so on, just like the Bible says. But it was so far removed that it was just like another horrible world.
B: Did people talk about it much after the war? I mean the citizens of Neenah?
N: No. It's only been in perhaps the last five or six years that someone or something has gotten the high school students to, because from them has come the idea that this was a lot of untrue, whatever you want to call it. That this never happened.
M: they think it never happened, some of them. Those down near that place in Illinois, the "Skinheads," they call themselves. There was a group of them that said that was just malarkey.
N: Now the Neenah high school students I talked to, I talked to oh probably half a dozen senior classes at Neenah High. I gave them a general talk like I'm talking with you. At first, when I first came in the room, or I was sitting when they came in, they were high school kids, you know. They were laughing and talking and looked at me and smiled and went and sat down. And at first they were a little restless until I started to tell you the story I told to you. You could have heard a pin drop. And when I was over, one by one they silently walked by me and put their hand on the top of my head. "Thank you. I'm glad I'm an American." Every one of em. They found out. Yeah, it was quite an experience, Brad.
B: Well, thank you very much. Is there anything that we should wind up with or,?
N: Well, let me think a minute. One more story.
M: Have you been to the Holocaust Museum? I don't know if that's the proper name of it, in Washington? Well, one of Charlie's professors at Oshkosh when he was attending, an undergraduate…
N: [Lowenthal], do you know him?
M: [Linenthal], do you know him?
M: He, I'm sure he's the one that Charlie said was a partial manager or whatever you want to call it…
B: Consultant I believe he was, yeah.
M: In putting it together, because he was so, he, Charlie was just so pleased with his, not only with his [ ] as a professor but also his attitude toward the terrible wrong that had been done. And I was, I don't know that I would like to see it but I think I would if I ever could see the museum. And it might be some way to tell kids to see what really happened. Go to Washington and see the museum.
B: Well thank you very much.
N: You're very welcome. Over there is something I want you to briefly look at it. It's under your papers there. In the redoubt Sunday afternoon, we captured 27,000 Germans and there was a nice home, stone house in this little village of [Erdman]. And as we came to the place, the owner, a nice old man, he's white-haired, came to the door and he says, "Please, please don't smash my house. GIs were inclined to take their M-1's and break everything that was glass, you know. And I told em, I said, "No, don't one of you do it." I said, "Don't do this here, anywhere." So anyway, they didn't. But he was so, so thankful and as the men said that we were looking for the Gestapo. They hid their cat-o-nine tails, was their trademark, their weapon. A bamboo handle with six long rawhide strips with barbs. And they beat the people they wanted to beat with, to death, some of them. The Gestapo. And they always hid them in their homes. We found a lot of em. They didn't find any there. And he said, "Please don't hurt me." So I didn't. And so I went and I said, "Okay fellows, assemble out in the street and I'll be with you in a minute." And I thanked him. I said, "Herr Erdman, thank you for letting us look at your house. And I'm glad we didn't find anything." "No, no. No Gestapo, no Gestapo. But moment, bitte. Come." And he went into his library. Had books all over the place. He opened a glass door. "This book I had to pay 100 francs for, er marks for in 1941." He said, "I don't want to read it. I don't want it. I was compelled to keep it in my library. I give it to you." So that's the book.
B: Well… (The third tape, and the interview ends here).
|Oral History Interview with Nate Wauda.
-WORLD WAR II
-Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
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