Thursday, January 26, 2012

Tuffy's War: Part Five of Six.

Tuffy’s War
(Part Five of Six)


Wally Lee Parker

... an opening thought ...

“Tuffy’s War” tells the tale of two brothers — Alvin “Tuffy” Luhr and Orland Luhr — who exemplify all the qualities newsman Tom Brokaw intended when he characterized those who carried the burden of America’s struggle during World War II as our greatest generation.  Both brothers once called Clayton — a little town in the northeastern part of Washington State — their home.  One brother has gone on to live a long, productive life.  The other did not survive the war; resting ever since on a small, ancient hill just a few miles from his hometown — a hill overlooking the farm speckled sweep of the Little Spokane River Valley.  This is their story — presented in six parts as an oral history augmented by materials drawn from newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and a slew of private and government documents.

… regarding copyright …

This material was originally published by the Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society.  It is under copyright to that organization and used here by permission.  Alterations of the original material have been made — including the addition of comments by Alan Berg.  Anyone wishing to reprint this blog version of “Tuffy’s War” will need to obtain permission from both the C/DPHS and the author, Wally Lee Parker, to cover the entire content as presented here.

Part Five
… firing from the hip …

            Tuffy’s 3rd Battalion led the Regiment’s thrust into Germany proper as part of a massive incursion of men and machines all along the western front.  The 3rd Battalion’s first target was the small town of Feusdorf.  And then the regiment leapfrogged through town after town, the three battalions of the 347th rotating in leading the assault.  Because little resistance was met, it became apparent that the enemy had moved its primary forces deeper into Germany — probably to a more defendable position.
            It was assumed that more defendable position would be the northward flowing Mosel and Rhine Rivers.
            On the 14th of March the entire 347th Regiment was trucked to a position about fifty miles east of the German border — trucked to a staging area not far from the Mosel River.  Contemporary accounts state that the sun was bright and the roads muddy — all this a welcome relief from the previously unrelenting winter cold.  All along the roads to the Mosel lay the abandoned equipment of an army in full retreat.
            The primary objective of the coming attack was the town of Koblenz, located on the wedge of land just south of the junction of the Mosel and Rhine Rivers.  The 87th Division’s 345th Regiment would cross the Mosel to attack Koblenz directly.  The 347th would attack on a much wider front to the south of Koblenz, its intent to cross the Mosel, and drive the German forces to the east side the Rhine.  The objective after that was to regroup, resupply, and then pursue the Germans over the Rhine and on into the heart of Germany itself.
            The triangle between the two rivers was just over two miles wide where the town of Koblenz had grown.  Just five miles to the south of that, the space between the two rivers had opened up to over six miles.
            Since the normal German tactic was to demolish bridges as the Allied army’s approached, the assault, scheduled for 3 AM on the morning of the 16th, would require crossing the Mosel by boat — doubtless against enemy fire.  In preparation, the battalions spent a day practicing with plywood assault boats.  The 1st and 3rd battalions of the 347th would be provided with seventeen of the barge-like boats each.  Intended to carry fifteen men, each boat would haul twelve assault troops, with three combat engineers to guide the boat over and then maneuver it back across the river once the troops had disembarked.
            The assault teams would be packed into the boats in three rows, four soldiers in each row.  The soldiers on the outside rows would man the oars.  One engineer at the back would steer with a paddle, and one engineer would be positioned on each corner at the front of the boat.
            Since the element of surprise would be lost as soon as the first wave of boats was detected — meaning quiet would no longer be an advantage — the last battalion across, the second wave,  would use power boats — larger barges with outboard motors attached.
            After the opposite shore was secure, motorized rafts — barges joined together to act as pontoons beneath large platforms — would start moving light vehicles and supplies over.
            The plan was for the 3rd Battalion to cross the Mosel in the vicinity of Kobern.  The 1st Battalion of the 347th would be crossing simultaneously about two miles to the northeast, near the town of Winningen.    The Mosel made a north to east loop between these two towns, so the 1st Battalion was to push southeast to higher ground once across, while the 3rd moved directly east to higher ground.  The 2nd Battalion, using the motorized boats, would cross at Kobern as soon as Tuffy’s battalion had secured the opposite shore, then push southwest against the town of Waldesch.
            Other elements involved in the attack were from the 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion, the 735th Tank Battalion, and the 35th Engineers Combat Battalion.
            Tuffy reported that Company M wouldn’t be taking most of their heavy weapons over with the first wave.  The troops would be carrying M1 rifles and carbines.
            The M1 rifles, .30 caliber machine guns, and Browning automatic rifles were all designed to use the same ammunition — such supply efficiency suggesting that the military could, occasionally, get things right the first time.
            We opened our machine gun ammo canisters, pushed the .30-06 cartridges out of the 250 round machine gun belts, and loaded them into empty rifle clips — eight rounds per clip.” Tuffy explained.   The M1 rifle ammo belts held ten clips.  We figured each of us would need at least 400 rounds of ammo since we had no idea how long we’d be on our own once we reached the other side.  That meant we’d each need to pack five ammo belts.”
            If a boat went down in the river, those five belts would add another 26 pounds to each soldier’s weight.  The belts, along with the rest of his equipment, would have to be stripped away before he would have any chance of treading water.
            The .30 caliber carbines many of the men carried used a different cartridge.  While the M1 rifle’s eight round clips were pushed into the top of the weapon, and ejected automatically when the last round was fired, the carbine’s fifteen-round magazines were snapped into the underside of the smaller weapon and had to be manually ejected.  The troops using the carbines loaded lots of extra magazines, taped them together in pairs — taped them such a way that as one magazine was emptied, the pair could be ejected, flipped, reinserted and another rapid volley of fifteen shots fired.
            I had an M1,” Tuffy said.  It was the best rifle you could imagine.”
            Beginning in darkness, the attacking battalions carried and dragged their boats through hedges and barbed wire to the cobblestone beaches.  The first wave of the 3rd Battalion made the crossing with little resistance.  Once we were on the enemy’s beach,” Tuffy said, “we spread out about four feet apart, and then, firing from the hip, we pushed up toward the high-ground.  You can imagine what kind of noise that was.
            The second wave began to receive some light machine gun fire.  By time the first wave of the 2nd Battalion began, the enemy was fully awake and engaged.  The engineers trying to move equipment got caught out in the middle of the river.  The Germans were firing all kinds of illuminating devices overhead so they could see them, so the rest of the guys had one hell of a time coming across.  And once the engineers got over with a load, they’d just have to go back to pick up more men and equipment.”
            By noon the Americans had pushed far enough inland that pontoon rafts could cross the river under a minimum of harassing fire.  And by evening the high ground had been secured.  The next day’s objective for the engineers would be the construction of a pontoon-treadway bridge for the rapid movement of men, jeeps, trucks, and tanks over the Mosel.
            And then, over the next several days, it was a matter of taking the towns between the rivers one by one.
            Tuffy recalled, “The local residents had taken refuge in their cellars.  They tried to keep out of sight as much as they could — just like us.  At night we’d take shelter in the upper parts of houses — some abandoned, some not.
            It seems our company’s Captain had gotten wounded, so we got a new one — a 90 day wonder.  When our new Captain sees us bedding down in the houses, he rouses us out saying, ‘By God, you can’t go living in these houses.  That’s against regulations.  Assemble out in that open space and put up your tents.
            We did as we were told.
            That night about twenty Germans came in and poured all the fire they had into our tents.  They withdrew into the night and our new commanding officer decides he’s going to set things right, so he grabs a captured German bazooka and goes after them.  The Jerries manage to shoot off one of his fingers during the hunt, so he’s evacuated back behind the lines.  That rids us of him.  I know all this because we put up our tents just like we were told — but it was crazy to be bunched up in the open like that, so we bedded down in the houses as first intended.  When the Germans came in to blow our tents all to hell, we were watching from the second story windows of the nearby houses.
            It was around that same time that that I took protection in one house, and up on the second floor I found this young woman and her year-old boy.  All she had to feed the kid was potato soup.  I got some ham from the cook so there’d be something else to add to the soup.
            One night I was taking some food up for the kid and a fire-fight broke out below.  I grabbed the kid and dropped to the floor.  His mother joined us a second later.  So we spent part of that night huddled together on the floor.
            The boy’s dad was fighting Russians on the eastern front.  There’s no way to know if he ever made it back from there.  Not that many of them did.”
            Eight days after storming the eastern banks of the Mosel, the 347th Regiment sat ready for another river crossing.  This time the entire 87th Infantry Division was gathering to play their part in a massive assault across the legendary Rhine — the last great river barrier on the western front.  The assault was intended to drive up the eastern bank, and eventually through the very heart of the Fatherland.

… as cold as hell ...

            Allied armies began their assault on the Rhine River on the 22nd of March.  Along the 87th Division’s stretch of river, the crossing was scheduled to begin at midnight, March 24th.  Surprise was not part of the plan since the enemy was fully aware of what the GIs intended to do, and troops in the Division’s other crossing areas were receiving fire before they even got their boats into the water.
            The disembarkation point for the 3rd Battalion of the 347th was near the small town of Brey.  After crossing, the intention was to penetrate into the village of Braubach.
            Less than an hour after midnight, Companies L and K of the 3rd Battalion were over and engaged in street fighting.    But at that point things began to fall apart.
            By time the boats had returned to collect the second wave, the Germans had zeroed in on the crossing point.  A constant barrage of German flares illuminated the river.  Attempts to obscure the boats with chemical smoke were having little effect.  What was to have been a crossing under darkness dragged on toward the daylight hours.
            We were packed into a barge like boat.  I recall it as a metal boat powered by an outboard.  The Germans had us zeroed from the start.  They had anti-aircraft guns in the hills above.  They were using those to fire flak — exploding shells — down at us.

Crossing the Rhine
(National Archive Photo)

            Something hit our boat.  We were going down fast.  The engineers spun us around and headed back for the shore — trying to get us into the shallows before we went down.  We were still under heavy fire when the barge hit bottom — quite a ways from shore.  We went over the side.  It was shallow enough that we could walk to the front of the barge.  We huddled there, using what was left of our barge for protection — machine gun tracers splashing all around.
            We tried to make it to shore a couple of times, but there was just too much incoming.  I don’t know how long we were in the water — but it was colder than hell.  It was long enough that I could barely feel my legs — and wasn’t sure if they would carry me anymore.
            We finally made a dash for the shore, then up and over the raised railroad tracks.  Once across the tracks we could drop down using the rail-bed for protection.  And they were shooting at us all the time.”
            With the situation disintegrating, both aircraft and artillery were called in to strike the embedded German positions on the east shore.  The 2nd Battalion of the 87th Division’s 346th Regiment had successfully crossed to the south, and was moving north to engage the German defenders at the 3rd Battalion’s crossing point.
            Later in the day treadway pontoon bridges were thrown across the river at more secure positions, and tanks and tank destroyers, as well as munitions, equipment, and men began flooding onto the east bank.  Somewhere in all this confusion Tuffy finally managed to cross the Rhine and join the firefight to clear Braubach — a task that went on throughout the next night, but was completed by noon on the 26th.
            With the western front crushing inward, the German military went into general retreat.  From this point forward, the chase was on.  But Tuffy’s war still had a few very brutal weeks to go.

… it was the damndest thing ...

            When they could, the army used small airplanes to check the accuracy of our artillery by flying near the target area and watching to see if things were landing on target.  The army’s usual spotter plane was a military version of the Piper Cub.  Other than the olive drab paint and radio, it was the same unarmored wood and fabric airplane I’d learned to fly in.

War Department Field Manual - 1947
Army Ground Forces Light Aviation

            While we were in the Rhine River area, German small arms fire managed to hit our spotter plane’s pilot — the bullet penetrating his leg between his knee and his hip.  He had to land.  The brass came to me and said, ‘We see you’ve got flying time in a Piper Cub.  Would you fill in until we can bring in another Army Air Corp pilot?’  They said the replacement should be forward that afternoon.  So, for the next five hours I was a pilot.
            I don’t remember snow on the ground when I took off, probably because I was at a lower altitude.  But at higher altitudes, there was plenty of snow.  To see the ordnance hitting, I had to fly within 500 feet of the ground.  I’d radio in, and the artillery would correct their aim.
            I wasn’t aware of any ground fire being aimed at me, but I’m sure it was.  After all, the other guy had been shot.
            I don’t recall thinking about getting hit by our own incoming.  As far as I know, none of light planes that the Air Corps had spotting artillery for us had ever been shot down — by either side.
            And I didn’t get my Air Corps wings either.  Just my usual ten dollars a month extra combat pay.”
            By the 1st of April Tuffy’s regiment had settled into a rest area located near the German town of Villmar — about 25 miles east by northeast of the 3rd Battalion’s Rhine River crossing point.  For the next week this became the marshaling point for the Regiment’s next big push.
            The events of the days after the crossing are hard for Tuffy to separate.  So much was happening so quickly.  Sources indicate that during this time period, as the Regiment moved through town after town, numerous captives — both prisoners of war as well as slave laborers — were found.
            We drove up to this camp,” Tuffy reported.  It was a slave labor camp with a factory for making munitions right inside the compound.  All the prisoners were women — mostly French and Russians.  The German guards were long gone, and we weren’t too worried that they might want the camp back.
            None of us could understand what the prisoners were trying to say, but the women were making gestures that seemed to indicate that they wanted us to cut the wires so they could get out.  They didn’t have any place to go, but it didn’t seem right to leave them penned up that way.  So we cut an opening in the wire.
            Some of them came out and started crowded around us — still trying to talk.  We just kept shaking our heads, trying to show them that we couldn’t understand.
            One of the women was making a gesture indicating that she was hungry.  That’s when we made a mistake that I still regret.  One of the guys pulled out a K-ration and tossed it to the woman.  And all hell broke loose.
            It was like throwing a bone into a pack of starving dogs.  They were fighting tooth and nail to get to that little bit of food.  We started throwing every scrap of food we had to them — just to keep them from killing each other.  It was the damndest thing I had ever seen.  It was ugly — terrible.
            Finally the truck with our kitchen stuff came forward, and by dark we had fed the bunch.
            Like I said, they had a munitions factory in the compound.  It reminded me of when we had been resting in the basement of a church.  We were ready to head down the road, so we were moving toward the stairs when a German mortar round landed on the top of the church, rolled down the roof, and dropped right into the basement stairwell.
            It didn’t go off.
            We called the munitions demolition squad, and they came and took the thing apart.  There was no firing pin in the shell.  It may have been that some slave laborer decided to leave the pin out, and very likely saved our lives.  You can only imagine what would have happened to that person if they’d been caught doing that.
            They also had a Gestapo Headquarters in this camp.  In one of the sheds near the headquarters we found a car.  It looked like something out of a movie magazine.  It was a big convertible, and it had a big rudder — tailfin — rising up on the back end.  It seemed so funny to find something like that in a slave labor camp.”

… this damn sergeant major ...

            On the 6th day of April the 347th Regiment assembled in its bivouac area near Villmar — a few miles east of Limburg — and began pushing by motor caravan 200 miles east by northeast into central German.  The objective was the area around the small but well known winter resort of Oberhof.  Moving rapidly and against little resistance along the four-lane autobahn, by that evening the 347th had obtained its objective.
            We set up our company headquarters in a hotel in Oberhof.  Oberhof wasn't very big, but they had ski runs and toboggan slides and stuff like that.  We dropped a bunch of communication wires — had them running out from our hotel to all our other locations.
            While we were getting set up, we had this young kid come in as a replacement.  He’d been drafted when he was seventeen and a half years old.  He had his 17 weeks of training, and they shipped him right to the front.  I told the Captain, ‘That isn’t fair to the kid.  Why don’t you keep him at headquarters for a while?  Let him answer the phone or run errands — at least until he gets some idea of what this is all about.’  And the Captain said that sounded like a good idea since he needed somebody to do those kinds of things anyway.
            It was night, and my turn to go into the building and get my feet dry came up.  I was there when the damn Jerries — Waffen-SS — counterattacked, overrunning the headquarters.  All day this German woman had been watching what we were doing.  We think she was the one who told our attackers what we had done, so the Germans just followed the telephone wires to headquarters.
            They killed the kid right off the bat.  When the war ended the kid’s folks wanted to meet with us, wanted to know what had happened to their boy.  We couldn’t turn them down, you know.  So I told them just how it happened.
            Anyway, I would say that there were probably a dozen of our guys in the building when the Germans attacked. 
            They came in fast and shooting like hell.  And then the lights went out.  It was basically hand to hand in the dark.  When you grappled with somebody, if his uniform felt like it was made of German material, you tried to kill him.
            After the German’s started their attack our artillery got the great idea that as long as most of us were probably already dead they might as well get rid of a bunch of Germans too — so they started dropping mortar shells on our position.
            Of the dozen guys we started out with, by next morning there were just three of us left.
            I’d been having ongoing problems with this sergeant major.  When the Germans hit the house, the only weapon I had was my .45 automatic handgun — that was my personal weapon ever since I’d been put in charge of my own machine gun.  During the attack, this sergeant major, having lost his sidearm, demanded my pistol.  I refused.  He was threatening me, so I shoved my gun in his gut and said, ‘Get down in the corner and stay there!’
            Somehow our Lieutenant had made it down into the building’s basement.  I went down, found him, and brought him back up.  The concussions from the mortars had deafened him — he couldn’t hear.  And of course there wasn’t any way to see anything down there in the dark — so he was just lost.  His hearing came back the next day.
            This sergeant major was going to court-martial me for disobeying an order — which was strange since losing his weapon could also be a court-martial offence.  My Lieutenant countered that he wanted to write me up for a Silver Star — for going into the basement after him.  The Lieutenant suggested that if I turned down the Silver Star, and the sergeant major dropped his intent to have me court-martialed, we would just call it even.
            I fought with that sergeant major all the time after that.  After all, I had called him a yellow son of a bitch.  It seems his dad was a congressman or something, so he figured he could do pretty much as he pleased.”
            The next day the 347th pushed off toward the Czechoslovakian border, its eventual target the town of Plauen.  In the next week and several days the Regiment met varying degrees of resistance, though for the most part the remains of the German army seemed more interested in surrendering than fighting.
            My final run-in with the sergeant major was somewhere along our push toward Plauen when he demanded I pick two guys and go out to stop an expected counter-attack.  I told him ‘I know I have to go, but I don’t have to ask anybody else to take on an impossible situation like that with me.’  I refused to pick, and was ready to go myself when two other guys — all I can recall was that one was Jewish and the other Italian — came up and said, ‘We’ll go with you, Tuffy.’
            We packed everything we thought might be useful onto a jeep and trailer, and, taking some help to unload the stuff, drove out along the road we expected the Germans to come down.  We saw a ledge area above the road.  From there we could see the Germans coming, and when we opened up, they’d be below us, with a creek below that and the ground rising steeply on the other side.  There wasn’t really anywhere for them to go except back the way they came.  We piled all our stuff on the ledge — a bazooka, a mortar, and all our ammo.  And we took the .50 caliber machine gun off the jeep too.  The help took the jeep back down with them.  We climbed onto our ledge and waited to see what came.
            A while later we see this Tiger tank coming down the road.  Behind it, the tank’s supply truck.  And behind that, more trucks.  When the Tiger passed below, we laid into it with everything we had.  The thing was so damn big, the only place we figured we could do it any damage was in the sprockets and wheels that drove the treads, so that’s where we were concentrating our fire.

Tiger Tank
Armored Infantry Field Manual - 1944

            I think we were far enough up the embankment that they couldn’t get at us.  They were churning up dirt and rocks trying to turn the tank on that narrow road, and all of a sudden the tank just stopped.  We didn’t know why.

Armored Infantry Field Manual - 1944

            It just sits there, and we just kept pouring shells into it.  The supply truck pulls up and the guys start hopping out to see what’s wrong with the tank.  We gave them hell.
            Tracers from our machine gun set the barrels of tank fuel in the truck on fire, and as soon as it started to burn, the supply troops took off running, with the tank crew piling out and joining them.
            Next thing the explosives in the truck stated going up.  It was one hell of a mess, and the Germans weren’t waiting around to sort it out.  They all took off — the ones we hadn’t killed anyway — running back down the road.  Their other trucks were backing away too.
            We sat there though the night — and nothing else happened.  Next morning this guy — one of ours — came sliding down the bank from above.  He said, ‘Let’s get back.’  Nobody had to ask us twice.  Whoever he was, he knew where our company had settled in — how far back they had moved in anticipation of the counterattack.
            So we’re back, and along comes this damn sergeant major.  ‘You aren’t supposed to be here,’ he yells!  I guess I was supposed to be dead.
            I said, ‘I was told to come back, so I came back.’
            About this time a full colonel comes up and says to me, ‘Tuffy, what’s your problem?’
            I said, ‘This damn sergeant major’s my problem.’
            So the colonel asked me what had happened.  I told him we had stopped the counter attack, and when somebody who seemed to know had come along and told us to return to headquarters, that’s what we did.
            The colonel asked the sergeant major, and the sergeant major said, ‘These men aren’t supposed to be here.  They’re supposed to be up there watching for a counterattack.  They’re supposed to stay there and hold that position.’
            The colonel says to the sergeant, ‘Let’s go take a look at just what happened up there.’
            And right where we said it had happened, there was the Tiger tank.  Apparently all the explosions along with the Tiger trying to turn on that narrow road had dislodged a rock from the embankment.  As it rolled, that rock was just the right size and shape to wedge into the drive wheels of the tank, jamming the works up and stopping it dead.
            I know we were being watched over by some higher power that day.
            I don’t know what the sergeant said to the colonel while they were gone, but when the colonel and sergeant came back, the colonel turned to the sergeant and said, ‘I’ll give you 15 minutes to gather up your stuff and get the hell out of here.  I don’t care where you go, but don’t stop anywhere in General Patton’s army.  Nobody wants you here.  If you’re here sixteen minutes from now, you might just end up a casualty.’
            And that’s the last I saw of the sergeant major.”

… like some kind of toy ...

            Those Tigers were nasty things.  I can’t remember when or where it occurred, but I recall we were staying the night in this little town — sleeping in the buildings — and we heard this tank roll in.  By the sound we figured it was a Tiger.
            It sat in the street awhile, motor idling, like it was waiting for something.  After a while we heard it turn around and clank off into the dark.
            After the tank left, everyone started moving around and talking and such.  Then all hell broke loose.  Another Tiger tank fired up and started shooting all around.
            We were firing back from the houses — even though it was kind of pointless to shoot bullets at a Tiger tank.  But some damn fool in the upper level of one of the buildings started firing his machine gun — using a belt with tracer ammunition.  That Tiger turned its big 88 toward the glowing stream of tracers and blew the entire upper floor off that building.
            What we figured the Jerries had done was tow the second Tiger in behind the first.  They used the idling engine to cover the sound of them unhooking the second tank, then the first tank took off and the second just sat waiting for us to give our positions away.
            As soon as they’d done their damage, they left.”
            As the 87th Division moved toward the Czechoslovakian border, it was constantly liberating foreign prisoners — including captured American soldiers — and taking large numbers of Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS troops prisoner in turn.
            On April 16th the 3rd Battalion of the 347th rolled into what was left of the city of Plauen.  Just six days before that an estimated thirty thousand of the one-hundred and ten thousand residents of the city had been killed in a massive air attack.  The German military had largely abandoned the town, all that remained were dazed citizens and liberated slave laborers.
            The 347th took control of the surrounding towns and settled in, as ordered, to hold their positions and await the arrival of approaching Russian forces.  Sitting within spitting distance of the Czechoslovakian border, elements of the 3rd Army had effectively cut Germany in half.  The Russians were pushing toward Berlin from the east, and the Western Allies were pushing across northern Germany from the west.  Though fierce fighting continued elsewhere, things were relatively quiet where Tuffy was bivouacked.

World War II era poster

            On the 6th of May the Battalion was ordered to begin offensive operations again.  By that evening, after progressing against little resistance, they were ordered to hold positions again.
            Word came that the German High Command had surrendered unconditionally on the 7th, and, though all offensive operations were to cease immediately, the surrender would actually become official on the 9th.  In the meantime, all Allied forces were to remain at high alert and respond to any provocations using the usual wartime rules of engagement.
            At that point it became the Regiment’s job to process the thousands of German soldiers coming forward to surrender.  And it finally became apparent to the American GIs that the war in the west was really over.
            Likely it was within a week of the official surrender that an order was received from “higher headquarters” asking that several “volunteers” from each company of the 347th Regiment be sent to the recently liberated death camp at Buchenwald "to,” the order stated, “bear witness to the unspeakable atrocities which had been found there.”  The death camp was approximately 100 miles northwest of Plauen.
            As Tuffy recalls, “Three of us were assigned a jeep and ordered to drive to the camp.  I can’t recall any prisoners still being there.  The German guards had largely abandoned the place a week before it fell into American hands.  The only living people I remember being at the camp were other GIs.

Buchenwald - April 14, 1945
(National Archive Photo)

            The camp had an odor to it.  It wasn’t like rotting flesh.  It was just different.  The only way I could describe it was to say it was a ‘human’ smell.
            I remember the railroad cars — just like the kind used for hauling coal or gravel.  The cars were sitting on a railroad siding and piled as high as they could get them with bones from the furnaces.  It was the damndest thing.
            And in one of the offices they had this tub kind of thing down on the floor.  It was long, like a coffin, but covered with glass.  It was full of a liquid — alcohol I would guess — and floating in that was this naked girl — maybe eighteen years old at the most.  They had pickled her.
            She was on display like some kind of toy — like something they kept because they liked to look at her.
            It just made you mad — and pretty well explained all in itself why this war had been necessary.
            I know I should remember more about the place.  But it’s something I’ve pushed out of my mind for so many years now.  I just couldn’t envision humans who would want to do that kind of stuff to other people.  But what really makes me mad are the people who now go around saying it didn't happen — those damn idiots who say the reality of the death camps was all made up.  I was there.  I know it was real.  And everyone needs to remember that.”
            Though the war in Europe was over, the Pacific was a different matter.  For the 347th Regiment's remaining time in Germany, the unit began a schedule of training exercises intended to prepare the troops for entering the Pacific war against Japan.
            On the 15th of June, Tuffy’s regiment began a three day motor convoy to a redeployment camp in the vicinity of Rheims, France.  And on the 26th of June, another deployment to Camp Lucky Strike just a few miles from the French port city of Le Havre.
            On the 4th of July the 347th Regiment left the European theater on the American luxury liner ’West Point’ — steaming past the Statue of Liberty into New York Harbor on the 11th of July.
            The regiment reassembled at Fort Benning, Georgia.  There it was learned that the regiment was being disbanded, its men to be reassigned into units headed to the Pacific.
            They put me in Regimental Headquarters — doing paperwork.  The main thing was to issue transfers.  We were moving people as fast as we could.  Each transfer would have two weeks to report to their disembarkation point on the west coast.  That would give the men at least a few days to spend at home while in transit.
            When they came, my own papers said I was to report to Fort Lewis, and from there to a ship headed toward the South Pacific.
            It was the 6th of August when we heard the news.  I had gone home to Loon Lake — waiting until the last possible minute to report to Fort Lewis.  Marjorie and I were taking some time to drive to Warm Springs, Oregon, to visit her folks.  We had just started southbound down the old highway between Deer Park and Spokane and were passing through the Dartford area when the announcement came over the car’s radio.  They were talking about a Japanese city being wiped out by one bomb.  Everybody seemed really excited, but it was something you just couldn’t quite understand.

Tuffy Luhr
(Photo courtesy of Alan Berg.)

            A few days later the Army Air Force dropped a second bomb.  Everything was in turmoil then.  And it came out shortly after that the bombs were likely a fatal blow.
            That was a terrible thing to do – but …
            It must have been a bewildering shock to the world.  For years everyone knew that the real mass of American power had been thrown at the Third Reich — that it was America’s official policy to win the European war first.  Now all available power was to be concentrated on Japan.  Our citizens understood how difficult this was likely to be.  The navy had already endured wave after wave of Kamikaze attacks, and the general understanding was that the Japanese were preparing to throw every remaining man, woman, and child at any invader — even if that constituted an act of national suicide.  The estimates suggested as many as a million American casualties were yet to come.  And then, without warning, out of this dismal certainty that the war was likely to stretch well into 1946, came an official report of what appeared to be a super-weapon.  Considering that the bomb project was one of the best kept secrets of the war — at least from the public’s perspective (if not from the knowledge of certain temporarily allied foreign powers) — it’s reasonable to believe that people were initially at a loss to understand the implication of what was now being said.  Within hours President Harry Truman was clarifying the confusion, and people began to understand that the war might actually be — through some miracle of science — coming to a swift and welcome end.
            The President's news release was finalized before the bomb was actually dropped.  Since it wouldn't be known whether the bomb would be dropped on the primary target, Hiroshima, or the secondary target, Kokura, until the attacking bomber had a chance to evaluate the target’s visibility from the airspace over Japan, the prepared news release left a blank space for the name of the city struck.
            The statement began by saying, “Sixteen hours ago an American airplane dropped one bomb on (                     ) and destroyed its usefulness to the enemy.  That bomb had more power than 20,000 tons of TNT.  It had more than two thousand times the blast power of the British ‘Grand Slam’ which is the largest bomb yet used in the history of warfare.
            The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor.  They have been repaid many fold.  And the end is not yet.  With this bomb we have now added a new and revolutionary increase in destruction to supplement the growing power of our armed forces.  In the present form these bombs are now in production and even more powerful forms are in development.
            It is an atomic bomb.  It is a harnessing of the basic power of the universe.  The force from which the sun draws its power has been loosed against those who brought war to the Far East.
            After detailing the history of the development of the bomb, the President’s statement continued, “We are now prepared to obliterate more rapidly and completely every productive enterprise the Japanese have above ground in any city.  We shall destroy their docks, their factories, and their communications.  Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan’s power to make war.
            It was to spare the Japanese people from utter destruction that the ultimatum of July 26 was issued at Potsdam.  Their leaders promptly rejected that ultimatum.  If they do not now accept our terms they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the like of which has never been seen on this earth.  Behind this air attack will follow sea and land forces in such numbers and power as they have not yet seen and with the fighting skill of which they are already well aware.”
            On August 9th the city of Nagasaki was obliterated.  And on the 15th, Japan surrendered.
            With that our planned deployment to the South Pacific was scuttled,” Tuffy said, “and I was transferred to Baton Rouge to work in the headquarters and wait out my discharge — which officially arrived on the 1st day of November, 1945.
            And then I went home.”

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