WORLD WAR II
Oral History Interview with Kenneth W. Neubauer

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Record 77/959
Copyright Oshkosh Public Museum
Classification Archives
Collection World War II Oral History Project
Dates of Accumulation 2001 - 2001
Abstract Oral history interview with Ken Neubauer by Brad Larson for the Oshkosh World War II project. He discusses his experiences in World War II. A transcript is on a computer file in the archives.

Interview With Kenneth Neubauer
August 23, 2001
Conducted by Brad Larsen

{The initial "L" denotes the interviewer, Brad Larsen, and the initial "N" denotes the interviewee, Kenneth Neubauer}.

L: O.K. We're ready to roll Ken. O.K., it's August 23rd, 2001 and I'm in my office with Ken Neubauer and we're going to ask a little bit of questions here. I guess the way I like to start out Ken, is just talk about your date of birth, and where you lived and what you did prior to World War II.

N: Well, I was born in Tustin. That's in Winnebago County in 1925. And at that time you know, the doctors came out to the house so I was born in a farmhouse.

L: Your folks were farmers?

N: Yeah.

L: What do you remember about the war, if anything, prior to Pearl Harbor? Do you remember about ah, what was happening in Europe or China? Did you pay much attention to what was happening there prior to Pearl Harbor?

N: Not really too much. I remember in school ah, about going's on in China. How the Japanese were raping China. But outside of that, not until Pearl Harbor and then I really go to watching things.

L: Just about everybody that I've talked to can remember exactly what they were doing on December 7th

N: It was a nice bright sunny day. We'd had just a new snowfall. And I come back from, I went out in the farm woods and was rabbit hunting. And right after we were having dinner, it came over the radio.

L: You were all together as a family?

N: Yeah.

L: What was your family's reaction when it came on the radio?

N: Well we were kinda you know, shocked. We didn't know what happened, you know.

L: Now you had, you mentioned earlier you had brothers of military age?

N: Yeah. My younger brother ended up in the Korean War.

L: So when they announced that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor you were pretty much in a state of shock. What did your parents have to think about it? Did they say anything.

N: I can't remember what they said but I know …let's see, I was only sixteen then. So when I was seventeen, I wanted to go into the Navy and they wouldn't sign for me so I finally ended up in the Army when I was eighteen.

L: Tell me about that. Did you enlist or were you drafted?

N: Well, it was a little bit of both. Being on the farm, the draft board said you could stay on the farm so then the cheese maker needed a truck driver so I went and drove truck and then they, they reclassified me right away.

L: Ahh. So then you got drafted.

N: Yeah.

L: So where did you go? Where was your training?

N: I took my training at Camp Blanding, Florida.

L: Infantry training?

N: Yeah. Infantry training and then from there they let you come home for a week and then we went to [ ] Camp Miles Standish in Massachusetts.

L: You mean you left for overseas right away?

N: Yep.

L: When you trained, did you ah, were you assigned to the 3rd Armored already?

N: No. Once you get over there, these divisions that had casualties, they draw replacements. You know. If a unit had a hundred casualties, they'd just take a hundred out of the group that come in.

L: So when did you finish your training? When were you ready to go overseas? What year would that have been?

N: 1944. Probably in September.

L: So they'd already landed in Europe?

N: Yeah. They landed in June, yeah. Yeah. So I missed probably most of the France and ended up somewhere's in Luxembourg or Belgium or somewhere's in that country when I caught up with where I got assigned to the 3rd Armored Division.

L: What was it like being a replacement? These weren't the guys you trained with.

N: No. No. Well it's just like walking into a strange because you know you didn't know nobody and hadda get acquainted all over again.

L: So you landed, you were actually then in Luxembourg?

N: I think somewhere's in that, I don't know exactly where I got.

L: September or fall?

N: Yeah. It was fall.

L: Well now tell me. So you had, you think that you were well trained by the time you got over there? Did you feel that you were prepared? Did you think the war was winding down? Did you have any thoughts about what was going to happen?

N: Well, yes. We had just as much training as the rest of the guys. Of course, they got a little more, you got experienced in a hurry.

L: Some people have told me that, that there are certain things you can never train for.

N: Exactly. Right.

L: And you know, in a way I understand that but in a way I don't. What do they mean by that?

N: Well you never know, you know. Nothing's planned. You never run in….nothing goes to plan, let's say, you know. They plan an attack but it never goes that way. And you just have to implement you know and. That's like if you get caught with your pants down you got to do something about it.

L: So you were assigned as an infantryman?

N: Well I was kinda more fortunate. I got in the armored division which had armored infantry. And we didn't have to do as much walking. Most of the straight infantry units, they would ride on our tanks but any time the tanks start drawing fire, you could see those guys get off the tanks and run because the tanks were what was drawing the fire.

L: So you had, you carried an M-1?

N: No, I had a carbine.

L: What kind of a weapon was the carbine?

N: It was a little lighter and a little smaller and it carried a clip of either 15 or 16 shells. In the clip. And ah, and we didn't have to do as much walking as the straight infantry because most of us were in, were assigned to half-tracks which accompanied the tanks.

L: So what was your role then, what was your job? You just accompanied the tanks. Were you in front or behind them or…?

N: Well usually we followed when they would, when they would make a drive and I can recall they were, the tanks were having trouble. We were in this little village. Well we didn't get in it but the tanks were in it down in a valley where there was a little river. And they ran into trouble because they ran into anti-tank blocks. And they were shooting it out and we were sitting up on the hillside and this woods had been logged off and was all full of brush piles. And one guy had to go to the bathroom and he got off and walked in there and a rabbit jumped up and he shot at the rabbit and here there was several hundred Germans. They were hiding in there waiting for us to go past and then they'd hit our supply lines. And as soon as he shot, they started surrendering. Well then, I don't know. There was a hundred or more in there. And we took their weapons and sent them back. Start marching.

L: You one thing I have a question about, what was the German soldier like? What was your enemy like? When you got over there in 1944, did you expect ah, that the Germans were close to surrendering?

N: Not really. Things were pretty tough yet and then when they took us to give us a rest, and the Germans hit the, I think it was the 106th Division that had been put on the line, and they just run right over 'em. And for two, three weeks we had to be really careful because they had captured our supply depot. And they had our uniforms. And a lot of the dead ones we found, they had their, our uniform underneath theirs to keep warm. But a lot of 'em had our uniform on and they could speak English and they infiltrated and they were everywhere.

And they kept changing the password every few hours and there was one day a Colonel come through and I says, "That's not the password." But I knew the jeep driver and I told him, "The only reason I let you through is I know the jeep driver." And I, so and he says, "I'm going to get the new password." See, they changed it because that's what they kept doing to confuse the guys that were infiltrating.

L: That must have been during the Battle of the Bulge.

N: That was the Battle of the Bulge.

L: What was winter warfare like?

N: Terrible. It was cold and the snow was like three feet deep. And the people that lived there claimed it didn't get that cold normally and they didn't have that much snow but they sure had it that year.

L: Did you have adequate clothes? Food?

N: Not really. I didn't have until, I froze my feet first before I got some boots.

L: Was that a common thing? To have…

N: Oh yeah. There was lots of frostbite and gangrene. Guys in the hospital with gangrene in their feet.

L: So day to day you were cold and?

N: Well the hands and feet just, they didn't really have enough adequate stuff for the… A pair of gloves and you know, and they weren't real heavy ones and they just didn't cut it in that colder weather.

L: What happened to the weapons in that cold weather?

N: Well they were alright. They worked.

L: You know, here's a question for you. I interviewed another gentleman. He also was in the infantry, I mean an armored division. And he had some very strong feelings about the M-1. That it was a great battle weapon.

N: It was.

L: How about individual marksmanship in battle?

N: They were very good. And during the Battle of the Bulge, everybody was like, I had a carbine and everybody was looking for an M-1 if they could find one. Bigger, more powerful. See the carbine is lighter and smaller shell.

L: Well, I find that interesting, and he said one of his favorite weapons, or their favorite weapons was the 50 caliber machine gun.

N: Right. That was a nice, yeah, every half-track had a 50 caliber on it. And whoever was sittin' side of the driver, if you stood up, you were right in the ring. It was on a turret.

L: Why was that such a good weapon?

N: Well, the 50 caliber is a pretty good sized shell and they, you know it was fast. Like they use that to shoot at airplanes and 50 caliber was what most of our fighter planes had and these B, the B-17's had, that's what they had, you know - 50 caliber machine guns.

L: Did you see very many fighter planes? Did you have pretty close air support?

N: Yeah, we had real close. Several times we got strafed.
L: Did you really? By those same 50 calibers?

N: By the same. By our own airplanes but it's one of the, you know when you're up there in the sky it's hard to tell what's down, you know, who's down there on the road. You know and if they don't have the information that we advanced several miles, that's what happens.

L: Did you see any of the German air force?

N: Yeah. Well of course you know, later in the, after they went through the France campaign they got pinned down a little bit. They weren't too heavy no more. They used to come out at night. We called them 'bed check Charlie.' They'd come out and drop a flare and then, they had really good flares, light everything up and then they'd either strafe or bomb ya. I can remember one night, a whole antiaircraft unit pulled up behind us and they set up. But they put up camouflage nets you know. Over the guns so that. And that night when the plane come over and he dropped his flare and he just kept on bombing us and they were under orders not to shoot.

L: Well, you know the Battle of the Bulge is a, I interviewed several people that participated in that Battle of the Bulge. But you probably, your most vivid memory of that whole period of December and early January?

N: Well, I don't know. It was ten or eleven days, like this morning? You seen how foggy it was this morning? Well, that's the way it was. There was about ten or eleven days from the time they started that campaign of the Battle of the Bulge until it was either, it was right close to Christmas when the sun come out. When the sun come out, it wasn't twenty minutes after the sun come out that the P-51's were out there. And that made, that stopped everything. They didn't move no further.

L: They didn't huh? What was the terrain like there? How would you describe the terrain where you were in?

N: Well the Battle of the Bulge was quite woody. There were a lot of woods and it was a little hilly, not real, you couldn't call it real hilly but it wasn't smooth and flat. Lot of woods.

L: I imagine you got experience pretty quick then huh?

N: Right. Yeah. And in these woods, you know, when the artillery shells you know, they set them shells to burst before they hit the ground if they want. So in the woods, it's real easy. They just shoot into the woods and when the shells hit the top of the trees, they'd explode. It just rained shrapnel down. Where if the shell hits the ground you know, you have to be fairly close you know. You just get hit from the side.

L: Well, how could you protect yourself against something like that?

N: that wasn't very easy. 'Cause I hadda pick guys up one day that were in a bunker, and they had, they had wood poles over the top of it. And they still got it.
L: The Germans would shell and the shells would come…

N: Yeah when they shell into the forest like that, the shells would hit these trees and go off and that's really murder because that causes a lot more casualties than if they had stayed on the ground because they'd have to get right close to you.

L: So were you in constant ah, front line deployment or did you get rotated and have some rest periods in the back?

N: Well, that's what we were on when they started the Battle of the Bulge. Then nobody gets a rest when something like that happens. Nobody gets any rest but, yeah they would try to rotate you.

L: However in looking at your book you gave me, "Spearhead in the West", it looks to me like the 3rd Armored Division didn't get much of a rest at all.

N: Didn't seem like that. No.

L: Because I'm about halfway, a little more than halfway through the book Ken, and I just, I am just amazed at the ah, the activity of this division.

N: Really that was about the only rest that really when we got pulled off the line there, just before the Battle of the Bulge that really amounted to anything. Otherwise, any of the other things was just get clean clothes and that was it.

L: What did you eat? I know this sounds kind of a mundane thing. You know, folks in the future might be interested in this. What on a day to day basis as a combat infantryman, what did you eat? How did you subsist?

N: Well they had K rations and C rations. C rations were a can. And you'd open 'em and they were like real thick soup or then you know. And it didn't taste very good cold.

And K rations were dry. They come in a little package. I, jeez, I can't remember. They had some kind of crackers in 'em and they had a bar in there. And oh, there was a little can, a real small can that was either, oh I can't even remember what was in there. Sometimes it was some kind of meat and some of them had eggs in 'em I think; scrambled eggs with something else mixed in 'em. I really kind of forgot what was in 'em but I remember there was a little, looked like Cracker Jack box and it had a little small can of this meat and some crackers and a chocolate bar, and I think there was four cigarettes in there. The cigarette companies really got the guys to smoke because of the war. While we were in combat, we got fourteen packs of cigarettes every two weeks. Whether you smoked or not.

L: Did you smoke?

N: No.

L: Well, were you able to supplement these things at all? Did they bring up hot food?

N: Yeah. We had a kitchen and when things weren't you know, real bad, the kitchen trucks would come up and we'd have a hot meal.

L: A few minutes ago you mentioned clean clothes. Every once in awhile you got a chance to…?

N: Well yeah. You don't have no place to wash 'em and you just was dirty and when it's cold like that, nobody wants to change clothes

L: I think that's something that a lot of people don't think about. And they just don't consider what it's like to be there and certainly I don't. And I talk to a lot of veterans and…

N: When you're on the move you don't have, you can't was clothes or nothin'. You might be able to rinse out a pair of sox. Yeah, you know and in the summer time it's fine. You can dry, just hang 'em on a vehicle or something while you're moving. But in the winter time they don't dry very good.

L: And how did you sleep? Did you sleep in your vehicles? Or did you, did you stop for the night?

N: Well, Lotta times we'd stop for the night. We'd just go in a house or a building and you know and take your bed roll in there and sleep.

L: So after the Battle of the Bulge was over you continued moving east?

N: Yeah.

L: And into Germany. So looking through the book a little bit, it looks like you were with one of the first divisions to go into Nazi Germany.

N: Yeah.

L: At that time did you have a sense that the war was winding down or did it still seem to be…

N: Well, not really. They fought like hell. And ah, we were just lucky we got, we didn't but another division got some men across the Rhine River on that bridge. It collapsed, well they got enough across that they had a, we had a bridgehead across the river you know. And then I forget how many miles the smoke. They set up smudges so they couldn't see where we were building a bridge. You know they build a pontoon bridge and push it and by having a bridgehead on the other side, otherwise it's kinda impossible to do that if you don't have somebody on the other side because you know what's gonna happen when you get that far. You're gonna get hit with something, even if they can't see you. They tried shelling and they sent planes and tried to ah, but they couldn't pinpoint where we were building the bridge. And once we got, soon as they got the bridge across, we started rolling across with all the equipment.

L: You said the Germans were fighting like hell. What kind of a soldier were you up against?

N: Well, you know, our Sherman tanks had a 75 on them for a gun. You hit a Tiger tank with that and it'd bounce right off the front. And they had 88's. They'd hit our Shermans with an 88 and they'd go right through the front. The only advantage the Shermans had they were a little more maneuverable and they had a hydraulic turret. The gun turret was hydraulically operated. Where the Germans, they had to crank theirs by hand. You know. So but it says in the , well I don't know if it says anything in there but on these History Channel, they come right out and admit that. They got …
We had more tanks to lose that what they did. We were making more tanks than they were, so, but that was the only thing. They were more maneuverable and they could swing their guns a lot faster but like I said, their shells, you had to get a side shot at the German tank with a Sherman.

L: Were the individual German soldiers as good as the American or allied soldiers?

N: Oh, yeah. They were trained really good. 'Course towards the end then, we started getting, you know reserves and kids, young kids and stuff.

L: One thing I noticed in talkin with another veteran ah, who was in the Battle of the Bulge, was, and this has come up time and time again, the German machine gun. That they fired so much faster than the American machine gun…

N: Yeah. They had pretty good machine guns.

L: How often did you get mail from home?

N: Well that varied. Once they got kinda like me, when I got to a replacement depot, it took like three months to get caught up. But once your mail got caught up it was ah probably seven, eight days before we could get mail. See, just so you don't change addresses all the time.

L: When you go mail from home, did you have any thoughts about what was happening back home? I mean honestly, you missed the home, I know that but I mean, I guess what I'm trying to get at Ken is war production, and were people back home pulling together?

N: Nah, really I didn't. I was only eighteen but ah, no I never thought of that.

L: I guess that kinda goes with what other veterans have told me too. Because they were too darned busy. Trying to stay alive. They had too much going on right now. Do you think that's accurate to say that?

N: Yes.

L: So, I'm sorry…

N: About the worst I saw was at Nordhausen. You'll probably read it there. You probably haven't got to that in that book yet but if you do. That was terrible. Auschwitz where they ah, where they were doing, doing away with the bodies.

L: Did you know about that before you got there?

N: No.

L: Had you heard about it at all?

N: No.

L: Rumors [ ]?

N: No.

L: So you got there and I imagine it was quite a shock, huh? What did the men in your unit think?

N: I don't know. That's the worst we ever saw.

L: Do you think people back home knew anything about what was happening?

N: I don't know. Well, I still can't understand why anybody would do anything like that.

L: That's probably one of your most vivid memories I would think. Of all the things that stick out in your mind from World War II, probably what is the most vivid memory? What would you say?

N: I don't know. That I got back home safe?

L: What did you do when the war ended? In Europe?

N: Well we was in the occupation then until, I didn't stay there too long. Then I come home.

L: Was there a big party?

N: Oh yeah. Yeah. We had… Now you brought it back. We were in this house. We had, you know, we had took some houses for billets. This was a nice house, and on the third floor - they had two stories and kinda up in the attic there was one room and me and, me and my buddy we were up there. And he was the jeep driver for the company commander and the company commander wouldn't drink. You know the officers go liquor rations and the only thing he drank was champagne. So whenever we would run into some champagne, the jeep driver would trade him the champagne for his liquor ration. And so he had that all stashed away. He was the jeep driver for, he had a crate on the back of the jeep and he had this stuff all in the… So we were opening that up and one of the truck drivers, he was from Tennessee, we called him 'rumpot' and he was drunk most of the time. And he come up there and he wanted something to drink, and so he give him a fifth of rum. And he took that rum and he dumped in down just like you do a Pepsi. And then he started down the steps and we just heard this awful noise and he fell down a flight of stairs that goes half way and then this way and he ended up all the way down but he never got hurt. He was…

L: Celebrating.

N: Yeah.

L: Must have been a darn good feeling to be able to…

N: Yeah.

L: Make it through there. So then you got sent home. Did you think you'd have to go to the Pacific?

N: Yeah, we kinda thought that, that we might go to the Pacific but then they dropped that atomic bomb so…

L: What did you think when that happened?

N: That was a relief. Yeah. Where all the things I see that they done to the boys over there, they had it comin'. You maybe seen some of that too on - how they treated - terrible.

L: When did you get back to Oshkosh, Ken? When you got back, you left Europe, tell me a little about that. When you finally got back here. When and how and?

N: Well, I got back here in '46, [ ] it was early in the spring because I got married while I was back here. In April.

L: How had Oshkosh changed? Maybe it didn't, or had it?

N: Not a whole lot. Because I wasn't gone that long you know. I was only gone like three years.
We got, we come into New York and they put us on a troop train and we didn't stop. We stopped some place in Ohio and changed engines. Everything got pulled to the side. Yeah, because they told us when we stopped, "Don't get off because otherwise you're gonna get left because." All they did, they took a few minutes. They just switched those engines and even the passenger trains were all pulled off to the side.

L: Where were you discharged?

N: I got discharged in Fort Knox. That's where all the gold was then. Now it's gone.

L: So Oshkosh was pretty much the same?

N: Yeah.

L: What did you do when you got back?

N: 'Course, I didn't live in Oshkosh before, you know. My parents lived, well they had moved. They lived on the county line between Waupaca and Outagamie counties. Just outside of Winnebago county. At that time. And when I got discharged, I come back here to come, got job. I got a job on the farm that I own now.

L: Still the same farm?

N: Yeah.

L: That's great. Maybe sometime you and I can talk about farming. Not today. But you know, there's a term that other veterans have used and it's kind of a puzzlement. Maybe you could help me understand it. What is a 'foxhole buddy'? Veterans will often refer to, "he was my foxhole buddy."

N: Okay, when you dig this foxhole, sometimes you dig it big enough so the two of youse, depending on, they did more of that in the Pacific where you'd have two or three guys in a hole because ah, the fighting was altogether different. Where there wasn't a lot of this foxhole deal over in Europe. Especially during the winter time.

L: Was it always the same person? Say for example, you get to a place and you're going to dig in for the night. Was it always the same person?

N: Well, a lot depending on what you had with you for weapons. If you had a machine gun or bazooka, it probably always was the same guy. Because they usually worked as a team.

L: So that was, when somebody says they were foxhole buddies, that's somebody they share this hole with then, live with. I imagine you got to know them pretty good then.

N: Well, yeah. And like I said, there was more of that I know in the Pacific than there was in Europe because they moved, they had a lot of armor. In the Pacific, you didn't see to much armor, the way I gather.

L: Now you didn't have any family, brothers or anything in the military during the war?

N: No. The only, my dad's younger brother was in the Pacific in the Navy.

L: Any other family members?

N: See my brothers were all younger than me.

L: Any cousins or…

N: Yeah, I had a cousin and he was in the 82nd Airborne. He was over there in Europe. I thought I, one day I seen some of their vehicles but ah, you know a division is a big outfit.

L: Yeah. Kinda hard to get to know everybody in there. Well let's see how we're doin on our tape here. We got a little left to go through. I guess what I'd like to do is see if there is anything - I've been asking all the questions and it's kind of the fun part but how about is there anything from you Ken?

N: Well, I was just thinking. One day we were at the place they call the [ ] Canal and we stayed on the, we crossed it the next morning but that day there was so many B-5… B-17's going over, the ground shook. From the motors. Just from the engines. And as soon as they got over us, the started getting antiaircraft fire. And it got really heavy and it took a lot of them down. And when, the next day we crossed and here there was I would say like 160 acres of solid, all antiaircraft emplacements you know. And here these guys were flying right over them. You know if they'd a flown a few miles to the south or to the north, they woulda missed it. And these were guns that were not moveable because they left 'em. And I couldn't believe that. That was kinda hard to, but we seen some of these planes go down. Some of them, when they get hit in the right place, all you see is a big flash and there ain't no plane there.

L: How'd you feel about those airmen up there compared to?

N: Well, that was terrible. And you couldn't believe it you know that they were flying right over this, all these guns.

L: Is World War II something that you think about very often?

N: Not any more. Nah. I got home here and I got into farming for myself and I got so busy I never thought of it any more. For a long time.

L: Is that true today do you think? Do you think much of it today?

N: Only when you see some of this. When they show some of these clips on TV It happens. It brings back some kind of thoughts. Otherwise, no. Try to forget it.

L: That's probably pretty difficult. A lotta guys like yourself who saw things that were pretty awful. It'' not pleasant to remember it. That's one of the reasons that I really appreciate the fact that you come and talk to me face to face and honestly. It means a lot to me. I know it's tough.

N: Yeah, we ended up thirty five miles south of Berlin. I forget the name of the river there. What, whatever river it was. They said, "Well, this is as far as we're going." So it was three days before the Russians come.

L: You met some Russians?

N: Not personally. I didn't but I know some of the guys in the company did.

L: Any other memories that you want to get on tape?

N: Not that I can think of right now.

L: You know Ken, if you think of something you want to talk to me about, just come back and we'll do another tape on it.

N: O.K.

L: That'd be fine. It would be great for me. I appreciate it very much. Our education project here, we are gonna, now that we have the money, we'll be able to make it a reality and I hope it will make an impact on the kids and we want them to really understand what some of the local people went through.

N: Yeah, I had, my two sons were in Viet Nam and one of them stayed in the Reserves and he ended up going to Desert Storm.

L: Well eventually, we want to do oral histories with all of them. Korea, Viet Nam, Desert Storm. We're focusing on World War II right now for obvious reasons. Eventually we want to include all of them. Well thanks, Ken.

N: O.K. Thank you.
Event World War II
Category 6: T&E For Communication
Object ID OH2001.3.8
Object Name Tape, Magnetic
People Neubauer, Kenneth W.
Subjects World War II
United States Army
Armored vehicles
Tanks (Military science)
European Theater of Operations
Title Oral History Interview with Kenneth W. Neubauer
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Last modified on: December 12, 2009